A ‘cruise’ down the Yangtze – Three little gorges and one giant dam

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At Chongquing bus station, we were hurriedly handed our passes and bundled onto a coach full of over excited Chinese holidaymakers. Four hours later we arrived at Wanzhou to board the Yangtze River Cruise ship – and, if anyone is thinking luxury liner around the med at this point…don’t!

Following the crowd down the gang-plank, we collected our keys and found our room, amidst a frenzy of excitable tourists. The cruise guide’s only way of communicating with us was to yell “Nihao” (Hello) with various levels of volume and intonation…worked fine!

Our room smelt funny and was far from five-star, but our 4 berth cabin with child sized bunk beds and airplane style bathroom was perfectly adequate for the four-day trip – plus we had it all to ourselves after several Chinese couples refused to share with us…possibly as it is rumoured that Chinese people apparently believe that Westerners smell of sour milk!

As much as we wanted to see the scenery of the Little Three Gorges and the spectacle of the controversial Three Gorges Dam, we had mixed feelings about the trip!

After a fitful night’s sleep – partly as I was convinced I was covered in bed bugs and partly as “Nihao” was still ringing in my ears and causing me to develop a nervous twitch – ”Nihao” woke us at 6.30am to check whether we wanted to go to the Ghost City…no thanks and rolled over again.

Transferring from the tired looking cruise ship into a smaller ‘luxury’ tour boat, we spent the day navigating the impressive and imposing scenery of the Little Three Gorges in the lower reaches of Daning River (the largest branch of Yangtze River) in Wushan County. I can’t tell you anything about it, other than the names, as the six hour commentary was all in Mandarin.

Passing Dragon Gate Gorge (Longmen Xia) and Misty Gorge (Bawu Xia) we alighted into yet another boat for the narrow entry into Emerald Gorge (Dicui Xia).  This time a small bamboo vessel with an entertaining oarsman in traditional tribal dress, which caused a storm of camera shutters from our fellow travellers.

On the way back we visited a small hillside village selling food and handmade wares (and charging for the privilege of tourists crossing their threshold).  A tasty roast potato kebab later, we re-boarded and headed back to our temporary home.

The following morning we left the boat and took a bus to Yichang and joined the other busloads at the Three gorges dam.

At almost 2,500metres long and with a dam wall 180metres high, the world’s largest power station was completed in 2006 and has improved trade routes along the Yangtze, created economic development opportunities across the west of China and put China on the map as a driving force in mega construction capability.

However, during the project more than 1.3million people were displaced from their homes (in many cases forcibly). There are ongoing environmental concerns relating to flooding downstream and numerous reports of changes in the local climate and devastation of ecological habitats as a result.

To sum it up, a very interesting trip! Impressive scenery, an outstanding engineering and construction project, an overpowering insight into man versus nature and an intensive exercise in cultural immersion. You can however, do the whole trip in a day by Hydrofoil (didn’t know that at the time)!

Not sure I would do it again, but for just over 50quid, glad I gave it a go.

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