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Frozen lake holds fish treasures for Mongolians

By Xu Taotao (China Daily)

08:38, January 15, 2013

Local people seek the Lake God's blessings before launching the winter fishing season on Hulun Lake. Below: Big fish from the first catch are displayed on the frozen Hulun Lake. (China Daily/Kong Xiaoning)

The Mongolian ethnic people's tradition of fishing under thick ice is back on display at Hulun Lake.

It's the coldest time of year on the grasslands of the western Hulunbuir prairie in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. The day's highest temperature is a mere -26 C; the low is -40 C.

Hulun Lake, one of the five largest freshwater lakes in China with an area of 2,339 square kilometers, has completely frozen. The icy surface glitters in the sunshine. Locals fearlessly drive cars and tractors on the ice, which has an average thickness of 70 cm.

For hundreds of years, the Mongolian people have kept their tradition of fishing in the winter on the lake, which abounds with more than 30 species of fish. At this time of year, the fish are large and mature, with plenty of stored fat.

A ritual ceremony is solemnly held before fishermen start working the nets. Out on the ice, a few kilometers from the shore, local fishermen put up a temporary platform and an altar, piled with sacred Marnyi stones (praying stones carved with auspicious patterns and considered shrine objects). Then they make a rectangular hole in the ice.

At 10:18 am, a host declares the Fourth Fish Harvest Festival on Hulun Lake to be open, and fireworks pop merrily. People crowd around the altar, burning paper money and joss sticks. A cow's head, a pig's head and various fruits and snacks sit on the altar, all sacrifices to the Lake God.

An old woman wearing a traditional red Mongolian costume joins four young men, also wearing colorful traditional clothes, and they sing and dance around the Marnyi stones, each holding a bowl of liquor. Then, the liquor is poured into that hole in the ice and more sacrifices are added to seek the god's blessings.

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