A journey along the longest river in Asia is one of the classic ways to see beautiful parts of China. The Yangtze River starts in the Tibetan Plateau and flows across central and Eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea in Shanghai. One fifth of the land area in China is drained by the Yangtze and it is home to one third of the Chinese population. Sailing along the Yangtze River can be done either as a short trip in Shanghai or a longer cruise—particularly to the spectacular Three Gorges area. Many of the cruises travel from Chongqing and either Shanghai, Wuhan, or Yichang.
Shanghai was known as the Paris of the Orient in the 1930’s, and is a glittering city once more with a booming economy. It is largely a peninsula between Hangzhou Bay and the Yangtze. Visitors can take a boat trip on this section and see the mouth of one of the world’s greatest rivers, which includes those who live alongside the Yangtze in junks and who make a living from the river itself. The sights and smells of the river and the markets are evocative of a special oriental charm that the city has, and its appeal has not been lost over the years. There are parts of China that are moving rapidly into the 21st century, such as the new buildings on the Bund in Shanghai, and yet other areas that still retain that centuries old tradition, and much of this is seen on a journey on the Yangtze River.
For most people, a highlight of any trip to China is to sail in the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River. This is an area of the Yangtze long associated with poetry and legend and is known for its dramatic beauty.
“Bidding the town farewell when morning clouds hang low
A long trip through canyons I made in a day
Monkey cries were heard on either bank all through the way
While the boat passed by mountains all in a row. “
Li Bai (701-762)
The Three Gorges varies from 1000 feet to just 330 feet wide at the narrowest point and is a spectacular 126 mile stretch of the 4000 mile river. In 2003, a controversial dam project across the Yangtze was completed, giving new opportunities for cruising the area but retaining the symmetry of the gorges. In contrast to the breathtaking natural scenery of the Three Gorges, the boats pass through the world’s largest dam with its five stage ship locks, which is a feat of engineering in itself. The Qutang Gorge is probably the most beautiful of all the Three Gorges and winds from Baidi City to Daxi. The Qui Gate is also known as the Qutang Pass and is formed from two mountains, Mount Baiyan and Mount Chija, creating a majestic entrance to the gorge. This is a deep, narrow, and fast flowing gorge and there are a number of attractions along the way, including Bellows Gorge, where ancient hanging coffins can be seen, and the Rhinoceros Looking at the Moon, a strange rock formation.
The second gorge is Wu Gorge, considered the most elegant, and it begins at the Daning River Estuary and finishes at Guandukou. Wu Gorge is made up of three further ones, the Iron Coffin Gorge, Golden Helmet, and Silver Armor Gorge. With twelve peaks above Wu Gorge, this creates a mist, and it frequently has an air of mystery with fog and strange clouds about it. The peaks are full of legends and popular stories, which add to the mysterious atmosphere in the gorge.
Xiling Gorge is the longest and starts at Xiangxi Kou in Zigoui County and ends at Nanjin Pass. The scenery is breathtaking but, because of the reefs and dangerous rocks, it is also known for the danger it poses. There are karst caves, springs, and strange rocks along the gorge, and two of the most notable attractions are the Three Travellers Cave and the Huangling Temple. The gorge also has four smaller gorges feeding off it, including Lantern Shadow Gorge, and is the highlight of a water journey in this area. The dam projects have helped calm the dangerous waters in this area, but the cliffs and rocks are imposing and create a sense of mystery.
Whether looking at state of the art dam engineering or a fisherman sailing by with a cormorant, the Yangtze remains one of the world’s greatest water journeys and the perfect way to see traditional China and some of the best this country has to offer.
(Image by Flickr user : sullivan_ng)