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June 18, 2007

China Part III - The Yangtze River

Our plane arrived in Yichang in mid afternoon and we immediately boarded a mini bus for our trip to board the ship for our Yangtze cruise.  It was about a 2 hour trip, in pouring rain from the airport to the dock.  We stopped for dinner on the way and also stopped at a convenience store to stock up on snacks and drinks for the cruise.  As we neared the river we left the fertile plains and climbed through mountains.  It was a challenge manuvering our luggage, down the steep stairs on the side of a cliff, in the dark, in pouring rain, to the deck of the ship – but we all made it with no mishaps. 

IMG_4871_editedThe Yangtze, which is the third biggest river in the world,  meanders over 6,300 kilometers from its source to its estuary.  The plains downstream from Yichang have been subject to massive flooding with flood levels 6 – 17 meters higher than normal.

Close to Yichang, the Three Gorges Project is in the final stages of development.  It is a massive dam, which when completed will provide flood control for 1,530,000 hectares (3,780,600 acres) of rich farm lands in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river.  It will also have a total generating capacity of 18,200 Megawatts, which is enough power to replace 40 to 50 million tons of raw coal combustion each year.  As a comparison, the Grand Coulee on the Columbia River has an installed capacity of only 10,830 MW.  Further, it will improve navigation capacity on the 660 km long waterway from Yichang City to Chongqing  from 10 to 50 million tons as well as improve navigation below the dam in the dry season. 

IMG_4874_editedIn the morning, the sun was out and we sailed upstream through 4 locks that are located beside the dam.  This is a dual-channel five-step ship lock and also a one step vertical ship lift (under construction) As the water above the dam has not yet reached its maximum height, the fifth lock was not used by us.  By now we were in the first -Xiling Gorge, 76 km long – of the Three Gorges.

The mountains were right beside us, rugged, steep and mainly tree covered.  Even with this difficult terrain, the edges close to the river were cultivated in steeply terraced fields.  A roadway runs along the river, through many tunnels and over many bridges.  However, the river remains the major transportation route.

IMG_4890_editedThe normal river level, on completion, will be at 175 meters but was at about 150 meters as we sailed.  There have been massive relocations of cities that would be covered by the water.  New cities were built (this is one) above the new water line and the old cities have been demolished.  The rubble was removed so it would not contaminate the water covering the old sites.  About 1,136,000 million people have or will be resettled.  Can you imagine the logistics to a project of that magnitude!


Early in the morning on day 2 of the cruise we took a smaller boat to travel up the scenic Shennong Stream and through its gorges.  At the upper reaches we transfered to a flat bottomed wooden boat that was paddled by 8 very fit men.  When the stream became too shallow, we were pulled upstream by the “trackers” on the riverbank.IMG_4948_edited

All along the river we have seen evidence of coal mining.  These huge bunkers are built into the side of the mountain and the coal barges are loaded by gravity feed from them.  With the majority of the electricity for the country generated by coal plants we understand the demand.

IMG_4951_editedThis view of  the 8 km long third Gorge – Qutang – which we had just come through, was taken from White Emperor City.   We climbed several hundred steps up Baidi Mountain to reach this complex which is almost 2,000 years old.  Since the level of the river has been raised so much, the White Emperor City is now on an island.

Along the sides of the steps as we went up were vendors, all wanting us to buy their product.  The English they spoke related only to  their sales and we don’t think they really understood those words either.  As we passed by they called out “ Lady, lady, maybe later”.  Not really a very good sales pitch!


On our 3rd day on the river we visited Ghost City, where it is said that people checked in after their death.  Many statues of ghosts and monsters bearing ferocious expressions and exaggerated poses are set throughout the buildings.  One of the streets has many vendors and is called “The Market of the Nether World Street”.   There was a sign posted that set out the conduct expected of the vendors.  We particularly liked the 4th rule  -“No terrifying visitors to consume”.  We found English signage in all of the tourist areas, but they do certainly have a way with words.


 As we continued up the river that misty afternoon, the mountains receded and fertile fields took their place along the river.  There was a lot of river traffic servicing the shoreline.

 We arrived in Chongqing after dark and were intrigued by the light show from the buildings along the harbour.   The shoreline was lined by brilliantly lit party boats and floating restaurants.  At about 10 pm the boats shut off their lights and the buildings quickly followed suit.  What a  spectacular welcome at the end of our cruise.

We stayed on board that night and after breakfast the next morning, we disembarked for the next leg of our journey.  We’re headed to the grotto carvings and the pandas.

Till then

Bernie & Ross


Posted by Bernice at June 18, 2007 06:07 PM


What an amazing journey. But seriously, how can it possibly match up to Hamilton?

We look forward to seeing you guys when you return.

All the best, J & A

Posted by: Jill & Alan at July 30, 2007 07:07 PM

Absolutely fascinating stories everywhere you have travelled. I think this holiday will cap everything before it though. As always beautiful photographs, bringing the written words to life. I can almost believe I was with you at times. Keep up the fantastic story-telling. I can hardly wait for the next installment.

Posted by: John Mitchell at July 30, 2007 09:51 PM

Again you have outdone yourselves with magic moments with your camera clicking. I just can't imagine the feelings that one would have seeing this up close and personal. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Louise Fell at July 31, 2007 10:43 AM

Just incredible! You wonder about all those people who have had to move because of the dam. It appears that they are building new cities that will accomodate and look quite interesting. Quite a massive undertaking. Your pictures are gorgeous and I imagine it is difficult to choose the ones that you wish to keep or maybe you will keep all 2000. Anyway, it has been an adventure to see each of your journals. Sincerely, Bette

Posted by: Bette Andrew at August 1, 2007 01:42 PM

Again such amazing information about China. I wonder how the moving of those cities affected the people who lived there. Have you considered writing a book about your travels? I think it would sell. Looking forward to the next installment. Sincerely, Bette

Posted by: Bette Andrew at August 11, 2007 01:26 PM