Last weekend we set off with Big Blue dive shop to go and see the ancient underwater city of Qiandao Lake. The lake is located a good 5 hour drive outside of Shanghai and we left late Friday afternoon for what was supposed to be a fun dive excursion.
The lake is rather vast and it’s – of course – artificial. The area surrounding the lake is absolutely beautiful and it sports the best bike paths I’ve ever seen in China.
As for the diving, the underwater city is of course the main draw. The Lion City was built during the Han Dynasty and remains relatively intact at a depth of roughly 20 to 40 meters.
The weekend was cloudy to rainy with an average air temperature of 24C. We were expecting cold water, so we brought some extra neoprene layers to complement our 7mm wetsuits.
It should have of course already rang some alarm bells, when some instructors were getting into their drysuits, but then again – we are German girls, we can handle a bit of cold, right?!
The first dive was set to take place right off the shore to used to the thicker wetsuit, the fresh water and the water temperature. Equipped in my extra layers I was nice and toasty, the bigger issue really proved to be visibility. I couldn’t see my dive buddy, I couldn’t see my instructor, heck.. I couldn’t even see my dive computer, resulting in several angry beeps by the aforementioned and sudden and unexpected surfacings. Sans instructor and also without the other dive friends we made. All in all a rather unsettling experience, that wasn’t exactly being helped by the instructor mentioning it was his first time to the dive site as well. Wait, what??!
But fine, whatever. Let’s get it over with, eat least I wasn’t cold. Or so I thought.
After the rather disastrous shore dive adventure we boarded a little boat and set our for the 1 hour ride out to where the city was supposed to be located. Supposed to – because who really knows. There is no surface buoy marking the descent area and we sat on the boat for another hour, waiting for a local dive guide trying to find the city. Easier said than done in that kind of visibility, which is next to none.
By 2 in the afternoon, starving by now after a 7.30am breakfast (thank goodness we had a Snickers to share before we got on to the boat), it was finally time to descent. This was going to be the coldest dive of my life. At around 7m depth there’s a thermocline and the water temperature drops from 20 to 10 degrees. Your heart starts racing and you have to make yourself breathe slowly. Further down you go and finally at 26m there it is. Or you think it is. Point your flashlight in the right direction and you see some wall, a lot of silt, and little else. What followed was the least eventful 25 minutes of my life. A lot of rubble, a hole in the ground, some frescoes, that’s it.
Meanwhile I could think about is how death by cold would work. Would my organs just shut down slowly and I would remain at the bottom of the lake in a frozen grave??
By the time we finally decided to ascend, I couldn’t feel my toes, my fingers nor my face anymore. It took two hands to inflate the BCD and I suppose my body core temperature had dropped by a few degrees. How else to explain that hopeless shivering that made it hard to chow down on rice and veggie lunch with chopsticks.
Here’s us and our instructor.. At least he was just about as cold as ourselves. And he didn’t lose us down at the city. And we manage to pull off some fake joy.
We were supposed to go for a third dive, which Eva and I decided to skip – drysuits should definitely be a must when attempting to dive the place and letting people descend in 7mm wetsuits seems a bit reckless. Afterall, 7mm got cold last year in Korea, where we dove in 20 degree water off the coast of Jeju Island.
So after lunch the second dive was well prepared with this awesome buoy.
Our drysuit companions were ready to jump right back in. Of course, dry and warm – that would have been nice.
So instead of going for another dive, we went for a lake swim – also a rarity in China. In fact, the first actual swim since moving here (setting last summer’s miserable attempt at the ocean aside) – that was sweet.
It took over an hour for my toes, fingers and lips to turn from blue to a light rose again and I decided right then and there – &%@* that next dive on Sunday morning. No way that I was going to go back down there, just to be cold and swim around in muddy waters.
The next day was a bit nicer with some sun and while all the men went back down to the city, Eva and I wandered around a bit, she went swimming, I read a book and also managed to get the sunburn of a lifetime. After being so cold on the previous day, I just couldn’t imagine the sun being so strong already. Dumb me, poor skin, hello cancer.
This trip was a fun excursion, but the fun surely wasn’t acquired on the dive side of things. I’d recommend to stay away, unless you’re a drysuit aficionado and rather go ahead and organize your own dive trip to anywhere in Asia. Big Blue is an operation run by a bunch of more less sharp laowais, who could use a bit of Organizing Group Tours 101. I’d call this the worst diving of my life. Sad but true.
But here’s a preview of what the city could have looked like and it’s a view you might be lucky enough to experience once or twice a year.