The Chang Jiang or Yangzi is the largest river in China and the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. It flows 6 300 km from its source in western Qinghai province, north of Tibet, to the East China sea at Shanghai. Now that I have seen it I must visit the Amazon someday.
Buying a ticket for the cruise down the Yangzi was like buying a lottery ticket. There are some very expensive luxury boats but amongst the several ordinary boats leaving Chongqing every day, some are new, some are old, some are clean and some are not. The central booking agency in the Chaotianmen terminal showed me nice pictures of a relatively new boat but the Guo Hua was old and the toilets were so filthy that I had to hold my breath not to throw up. It was not my lucky day. That, and the miserable weather put me in a foul mood and made for a bad start on a cruise I had been dreaming of for a long time.
The Guo Hua tied-up for the first night at Fengdu, 170 km from Chongqing. Some passengers went ashore at 6:00 am to see the city of demons and ghosts on Pingdushan mountain before our departure at 8:00. The next stop was here to visit the 11 storied Lanruodian pagoda climbing up the side and on top of the rock called Shibaozhai (Stone Treasure Stronghold) under a cold drizzle.
The cruise had started poorly but the climate improved as I got to meet some of my shipmates. These two ladies from Nanjing were pleased to practice their English with the only westerner aboard. I was flattered by their attention which pulled me out of my bad mood.
The boat was old but my cabin was OK and my seven cabin mates were quite friendly. As always with me, people made all the difference. The couple with a 5 year old boy and two older men spoke only Chinese but three engineers on vacations from their plant in Shenyang spoke a few words of English and served as interpreters for the others.
It was raining as we passed Wanxian where some boats stop for a few hours to allow their passengers to enjoy the park around the tower seen here. Considering the weather, we did not miss much.
This bridge across the Yangzi is one of the factors that make Wanxian an important transportation and communication hub between eastern Sichuan and Hubei province.
A little further downstream we pass the town of Yunyang on our way to Fengjie where we will spend the night. It is of interest to note that all the towns along the Yangzi are perched high up on the hills to preserve them from the ravages of the river whose floods have been terribly destructive. As we move toward the famous three gorges I wonder how high the water will reach when the Sanxia dam is finished.
Very early in the morning, we leave Fengjie and enter the Qutang gorge, the northernmost of the three. Its a pity that the weather was so miserable for it would be a good place to take pictures if it had not been raining.
Construction of the Sanxia dam in the Xiling gorge 150 km downstream from here will begin in a few months. In ten years, this view will have disappeared under the world's largest water storage reservoir. The numbers are staggering. The two km wide, 185 meter high dam will create a vast lake stretching back 550 km almost to Chongqing. It will require the relocation of two million people and cost more than 20 billion dollars. It will put an end to flooding and its hydroelectric production will increase China's total installed capacity by 20%. Five huge locks will make the upper Yangzi navigable by ocean going ships and Chongqing will become a world metropolis rivalling Shanghai.
Tourists disembark here to transfer to smaller craft for a six hour cruise through the three lesser gorges on the Daning river.
These specially constructed boats have the required horsepower to fight their way upstream against the strong current. Occasionally, the long steering oar in front is manned vigorously by two sailors to direct the boat off the rocks and through the rapids. It looks heroic and the tourists love it. These gorges on the Daning river are smaller than the Yangzi gorges but they are more spectacular because of the towering cliffs and the rapids. Of course they will also be submerged as the water backs up the Yangzi.
The middle gorge, Wuxia would have been spectacular with a little sun. Whenever the rain abated, people would come out to look around and to take photos but never for long before the rain chased them in again. We all felt the same way about the shitty weather and our disappointment hung heavy like a wet cloak on the ship's atmosphere.
It was getting dark when we entered the 76 km long Xiling gorge where the Sanxia dam will be built. I would have liked to see the exact site but it was night when we passed it. It was pitch black so I did not see much of the Gezhouba dam at Yichang except the very deep lock which was lit up.
Some of the better moments on this cruise through the rain were spent eating, drinking mi jiu and solving all the problems of the world with my cabin mates Zhou Guo Shi, Li Ding Ming and Wei Zhen Shan on vacation from Shenyang.
The next morning we were out of the mountains and into the endless plain where the Yangzi spread out like a lazy lake on its way to the ocean. Many passengers had gotten off at Yichang to take the train to Wuhan.
It went on and on through the endless plain with nothing much to look at except the other river traffic and the occasional small village like this one on the river bank. Now I saw why so many had left at Yichang.
Passengers going south to Guangzhou or Guilin got off at Yueyang. By now the weather had cleared and the sun came out. It was about time, for this cruise would have been great had the weather been nicer. I know because I bought several excellent post cards showing what it could have been like! Naturally, I can't show them here, you know, copyright and all that!
My cabin mates and I took advantage of the good weather to visit this pavilion that first built in the Tang dynasty (618 to 907), to house a poem by the Confucian official Fan Zhang saying about the same thing as Jack Kennedy's "Think not of what your country can do for you but rather of what you can do for your country"
We debated this concept and had our last conversations about the life of the average worker in China. I was getting off at the next stop Wuhan and they were going on to Jiujang to visit the famous Lushan mountain.