<A> My Yantse River Cruise 2002

Written by Apr 29, 2007 16:04
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<A> My Yantse River Cruise 2002 Part One

Yangtse Cruise – upstream (August 2002)

Part One

From the moment this trip was booked it was expected to be the highlight of our holiday as before very long the Three Gorges Project will be completed.

From our hotel in Wuhan we had been due to join our cruise ship, the President Cruise No.6 at Yichang. Unfortunately here had been a large amount of rainfall and the river level was 35 metres above normal. 2002 had been a year of above average rain throughout the country with 1070 people killed and nearly 80,000 injured since June by Floods and Landslides. Due to the conditions we were forced to join the ship at Maoping as the ship could not sail safely Upstream against the force of the river in full flood. This meant a very long coach trip with a late arrival, missing a trip through the Gezhouba Dam and the Gorges as far as the Three Gorges Dam. By the time we reached Maoping it was dark and to join our ship we had to cross a series on narrow pontoon bridges only a few feet above the swirling chocolate brown water of this mighty river in full flood, for some this was a nervous crossing as in parts the safety rail was a very long piece of bamboo held in the centre by one man! After being shown to our cabins, well furnished with their own bathrooms we had little time before our evening meal was ready. The cruise as to start the following day but the day was not to be the relaxation of a normal Cruise. Wake up calls at 7.30, Tai Chi lessons at 7.45 (optional) and breakfast at 8.00. Before the ship sailed we visited the Three Gorges Dam Project Visitor Centre. From there you can get a clear understanding of its purpose and from the high vantagepoint appreciate what a gargantuan project this is. Once finished the Dam, 2.56km wide, will raise the water. Level by 175 metres with the effect to a much lesser extent at Chongqing, 600km upstream. This is both a Hydro-electricity project and Navigation and Flood Control project. 18,200MW of electricity will be capable of being produced which will cater for over 20% of the country’s’ needs, avoiding the burning of 45 million tons of coal per year, thus reducing pollution levels. As a result of the extensive flooding that will take place over 1,000,000 people will need to be relocated, 58% living in towns and cities and 42% in rural communities.
After lunch we set sail for the 90km trip to Badong, taking us through the Xiling Gorge, the longest of the three, from Nanjingguan to The Fragrant Stream, being 75 km long. At some points the river width is reduced in the Gorges to less than 100 metres making navigation, especially in the low water season, very hazardous. This is caused by a number of shoals, reefs and whirlpools. Which make navigation difficult as they cause the water to move in ever changing directions To appreciate the scenery it is best viewed from the uppermost deck taking advantage of an in-depth commentary provided by the crew, ensuring you don’t miss anything on this once in a lifetime trip.

This Gorge comprises a number of smaller gorges each individually named. The lesser gorges all have names and most are separated by Shoals and Reefs, which can make you wonder what history they have witnessed. In order east to west they are, Bingshubaojian (Book of War Art and Sword) Gorge, Qingtan Shoal, Niuganmafei (Ox Liver and Horse Lung) Gorge, Yellow Ox Gorge, Kongling Shoal, Hers you will now come to the New 3 Gorges Dam which has been mentioned above. Once completed, in 2009, all ships will have to use the navigation locks. here is also Zhongbao where you can see Huangling (Huangniu) Temple. Deng-ying (Shadow of Lamp/ Shadow Play) Gorge, Nantuo Sanbadao (Three Knives), Nanjingguan Passand Sanyau Cave. Kongling Shoal, also called the Gate of Hell, is the most dangerous place in the Gorges. There are a lot of reefs in the shoal. One of them lies in the centre of the river and boats passing here have to sail towards it. When the boat gets close to it, it can pass safely by turning its rudder gently and use the force of the water to navigate this famous obstacle. If the navigator is timid and turns the rudder too early the boat could strike a reef called the “Come to me” stone.

On reaching Badong the boat tied up for he evening. Whilst on board, apart from the fascinating scenery, there is plenty to do. During the day you can learn Tai Chi or Mah-jong, attend lectures about Kite Flying or the Chinese Tea Culture or just relax on the sun terrace at the back of the boat. The view is just as spectacular looking backwards. This also tends to be more relaxing as you still get the commentary with few other people as most are packed tightly at the front of the boat. There is also bar and refreshment facilities at the rear offering personal service as usually there are few people to serve! Other facilities on board are Hair Dressing and Beauty Treatments, Massage and shops. Suffering from stiff shoulder muscles for a few years I opted for the Massage treatment. On booking I was greeted by a very gentle looking girl who booked me in with a friendly smile. I will see you tomorrow then I said, Oh no she replied, I specialise in Ladies feet, the gentleman behind you will look after you. I gasped, I have never seen such muscles, and surely he was a weight lifter! The following afternoon came the appointed hour; this was to be an upper body massage. Part way through he noticed by stiff shoulders and asked in his best English if I wanted a special treatment to cure this. Not knowing what he meant I said yes but immediately I heard him talk to one of his associates and there was much laughter, what had I agreed to!

Lying face down it was difficult to see what was to follow. He proceed to put 2 large vacuum cups on my shoulder and once the air had been pumped on he left them there for 15 minutes and carried on with a scalp massage, very very relaxing. Eventually the vacuum cups were removed, the stiffness had gone for the first time in 2 years. There was only one downside to this. As it was a nice sunny day I decided on a spot of sun bathing. It wasn’t till I heard gasps from people about me who asked, what has happened to your back, that I realised the results of my treatment. I had 2 large purple circles, nearly 6” across, where the vacuum cups had been not a pretty sight!

<A> My Yantse River Cruise 2002 Part Two

Part Two

After some evening entertainment provided by he ships crew and a good nights sleep came an early breakfast, 06.45 - Some holiday! This was because we had to start early to go an excursion along the Shennong Stream. A small boat pulled along side to take us to the head of the Shennong (Divine Farmers) Stream. We changed boats again into small boats carrying 12 people rowed by local (Tujia) people. What a dramatic change was in store for us. Leaving behind the dark brown liquid chocolate like waters of the Yangtse we were very soon in a narrow gorge of crystal clear water. The sun was having great difficulty early on penetrating the high sheer cliffs of the gorge. Shafts of light coming through gaps in the trees high above caused a brilliant sparkling effect as the oarsman rowed along the stream. Along the cliffs you can see the remains of ancient plank rods high above the water line, which was the only way through this area many years ago. You could also hear the sound of Golden Hair Monkeys, but not see them, high in the trees. The early morning sound of the birds was also very welcome. Also in the cliff face are coffins in ancient karst caves.

Through the Yinwu (Parrot) and Longchuan (Dragon Boat) gorges we sailed till we reached a large bend in the stream. He we went ashore and visited a small market were local people sell items to tourists. As we moved from one straw hut to another and inspected the goods on offer you realised what a hard life these people have. You could see the people walking along the narrow paths with incredible gradients carrying large loads, yet always with a smile for you. We left after half an hour for the return trip, it was now a very hot morning, sun umbrellas really work keeping you relatively cool. The oarsmen seem to enjoy these high water conditions, so different from other times of the year when they have to use ropes to pull the boats through the shallows. Here they seemed to be having a race to see who got back first. The trip back was just as good as earlier as the sun was getting through to brighten up the gorges. We arrived back to the point where crystal green gave way to chocolate brown 2 1/2 hours later.

Back on board for a refreshing cup of tea. We set sail for Shibaozhai, which would take us through Yangtse Gorge number 2, Wu (Wuxia) Gorge (45Km), the gorge of the 12 peaks and Yangtse Gorge number 3, Qutang Gorge (8Km). We travelled through Wu Gorge, which due to the high peaks and cliffs, rising some 3000 feet. Very soon after setting sail we soon begin to enter the narrow Wu Gorge. It is difficult to visualise the sight of a narrow gorge only 100ds of yards wide yet having cliffs rising to 3000feet. It takes 2 1/2 hours to travel the 45km but goes very quickly. All of the 12 peaks have poetic names, the most famous one being Goddess Peak) Shennu Feng) which is said to resemble the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a pillar. On the left bank you pass the Kong Ming Tablet at the foot of the Gathered Immortals Peak, it has carved inscriptions in the calligraphy of the General and Military strategist Zhuge Liang. The characters are large enough to be read from the passing boats. On leaving the gorge you then approach the town of Peishi, which sits on the border of the provinces of Sichuan and Hubei. This is now lunchtime with 2 hours before we reach Gorge No. 3, Quatang Gorge, and the shortest at only 8Km but still having some interesting sights. This Gorge is also known as The Windbox due to the un-navigable conditions that can occur during storms. Along one side of the gorge you can sae the Meng Liang stairway. This is a series of holes on the rock face, which stops halfway up the steep cliff. High up on this cliff face have been found a number of coffins, over 2000years old, from the state of Ba. Examples can be seen in Chongqing museum.

After leaving the gorge it is well worth visiting the bridge of your cruise ship to see the zig-zag route ships have to take to safely navigate this ever changing river. Here the river widens to over a mile wide, such an extreme change to the narrow gorges.

This is now a good time to relax after the excitement of the day, enjoying the changing scenery as you continue to an overnight stop at Shibaozhai. You will have the opportunity to take part on onboard activities such as learning Tai Chi, Marjong, ballroom dancing or, if you have one, relax on you private cabin balcony.

After a good nights sleep we awoke early and after breakfast went ashore to visit a Pagoda and local market. On the outside of the pagoda is a line indicating the height of the water level once the dam is completed. It will be impossible to visit then and the local inhabitants were preparing for that large event by starting to demolish their homes. To reach the top of the pagoda you have to climb a series of ever steepening wooden steps, not everybody made it as in the heat of the morning the exertion soon begin to tell. For those visiting the market and not wanting to walk a form of local taxi is available, a form of sedan chair. This is a char with 2 long bamboo poles tied on. Two hors later it is time to return to the boat. Near to the embarkation point is an old man sitting in his sampan smoking a long pipe. Naturally everybody wants to take his photograph; first a small donation is asked for, a very profitable session for doing nothing. Back on board it is time to start the last leg of our cruise, 260km to Chongqing. The day is spent relaxing then preparing for the night’s festivities, the Captains party and entertainment provided by the ships crew. The meal was very good, including the steamed frog, which tasted like chicken but with very little meat on the legs. One thing for sure is the hard work the crew put in on these ships. They work very long hours and multi task to the extreme but are always very polite with a smile for everybody.

After 3 splendid days we woke up next morning if the city of Chongqing, known as The Furnace, it doesn’t take long to find out why it is so called. This city deserves a report of its own. One item to mention though is the mural by the artist Mr Liu Zuozhong. H spent 20 years sketching the sights of three gorges area and on hearing of the dam project he set about on his famous mural, the Picture of Thousand Miles Three Gorges. This depicts the Yangtse River from Yichang and Chongqing, and the changes the dam will make. The mural is over 100 metres long and over 2 metres high. The painting was started in February 1993 and was completed in September 1995.

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