The Heilongjiang provincial news media re reporting that workers are toiling to build the first proper road from Xilinji (the county town of Mohe County), to Mohe itself, the “Arctic Village” at the very tip of China. When it opens in September, the route will bring coachloads of domestic tourists to the banks of the Amur River, facing the Russian village of Ignashino, so they can say they’ve been to China’s most northerly point. (The fact that there’s another, tiny settlement named Wusuli a few miles further north and forty miles downriver is immaterial - Arctic Village is where the fun’s at, and it’s officially China’s most northerly point. The Chinese don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.)
|Liam's private jet approaches Mohe airport|
I’m very fond of Mohe, as in 2001 it was my final destination in the journey I made around the far-flung points of the Chinese compass for Green Dragon, Sombre Warrior. It took a rail journey on what was then the old lumber trail to cover the final, white expanse of 600 miles on the map between Qiqihar and Xilinji, from where I rode a battered old minibus through Scandinavian pine forests fifty miles to the Amur River. It wasn’t even tarmacked in places, where now tourist revenue has funded the new highway. I found a bed for a few kuai in a “hotel” where the toilet wasn’t even a hole in the ground, as the earth’s frozen most of the year. Instead it was a pile of poo below a raised wooden plank. For dinner I had all there was on offer - boiled aubergine with garlic and coriander - which was better than it sounds.
That’s all changed now that the Chinese have invested in an airport for Mohe. Yes, an airport. I live in Kenilworth, a town of around 30,000 people, which keeps getting its plans to reopen its railway station turned down. Mohe has thirteen and a half inhabitants and three dogs, one of which is blind, and it has a bleeding airport.
During China’s eleventh five-year plan, Mohe County invested 1.2 billion RMB (£116 million) in its tourism infrastructure, including five-star hotels, the new airport, and (for pyromaniacs and the more mawkish tourists) a memorial hall for the massive fire of 1987 that wiped out the town of Xilinji and much of the county’s forest cover.
I’d recommend the trip to anyone with a few weeks on their hands, especially as it’s now a lot more pleasant than it was a decade ago. Of course, I can always boast I visited it before it got all commercial and sold out to The Man.