13.05.2015 - 14.05.2015 28 °C
Day 8 Shibaozhai – May 13, 2015
With no bus to catch and no luggage to place outside our room we got off to a lazy start of our first day on the river. After an excellent breakfast in the main dining room we had the mandatory Safety Briefing and then an overview of the day’s activities. All morning we sailed along the Yangtze as one huge industrial port city after another passed by in the haze. The climate here again is very humid and often misty and with the huge particulate load created by all the heavy industry. We seldom saw a perfectly clear blue sky.
Another city on the banks of the Yangtze as we make our way down stream
The highlight of the day was our afternoon visit to the Shibaozhai Temple, a 12-story pavilion and pagoda built in 1650 along the Yangtze.
We docked at a small series of floats and made our way up a long concrete combination boat ramp and road.
Ship docked at road to the Shibaozhai Pagoda – as the river rises in the winter much of this area will be under water
The road was lined with local vendors selling their wares.
Vendors waiting for the ship’s passengers to walk by
All of the vendors we have encountered are pushy but very friendly and have great senses of humour. They will accept “no” for an answer but not without a good pursuit. Dave had tried to sell his watch and his Canadian ball cap several times but they were confused at first but then recognised the humour once they realise that he is trying to beat them at their own game. We have truly enjoyed the Chinese people. Although their culture has trained them to be very pushy in crowds, there is never a hint of anger even in their crazy traffic. They are curious about us but very open and friendly and always ready to laugh.
Due to the major differences in water level between winter and summer everything along the Yangtze has to be built to accommodate the 15-20 meter (45-65 feet) change in the level of the massive headwater that stretches for several hundred kilometres upstream from the Three Gorges dam. It is a bit like a tidal river on the Bay of Fundy in Atlantic Canada except you get high tide in the rainy season and low tide in the dry season. Nothing permanent can be built below the high water mark.
Low water level of the Yangtze
Low water level of the Yangtze
The primary purpose of building the Three Gorges Dam was flood control. Since the 1920s over a million people have perished in seasonal flooding along the Yangtze. The Dam has virtually eliminated this annual flooding. Our tour guides have been very open with us that the damning of the Yangtze has had some very serious environmental as well as social impacts on the country and our main tour guide said that only long term history will decide if the dam was a wise decision.
This afternoon our guide led us on a walking tour through the local village and on to the pagoda. The village is a pleasant street scape of small shops at street level with apartments on the second and third levels.
Typical new village for relocation
The village is one of hundreds that the government built to relocate the citizens who were displaced when the Three Gorges Dam was built. Like most of the rural villages that we have seen the village is populated by the very young and the elderly. The young and middle aged adults have all moved to the cities for office or factory jobs. They frequently leave their children with their parents who look after the very young. We have seen this town after town.
After our village walk we cross a rather elaborate suspension bridge to the base of the pavilion area.
New Suspension bridge connecting newly built village to ancient pagoda
The suspension bridge was built as part of the village relocation to higher ground. As well a massive concrete dyke was built around the pavilion to protect it during the high water season.
Concrete wall constructed to protect the ancient pagoda – note the water levels
They have done a lovely job of making the entrance to the pagoda beautiful. There were plenty of signs in both Chinese and English
Wall at the base of the Pagoda
The gorgeous Shibaozhai Pagoda
After climbing the twelve flights of stairs up the pagoda we get to tour the little area at the top.
Top of the Pagoda
With the customary vendors
Vendors at the top of the Pagoda
At the top of the pagoda there is a little courtyard with a foot bridge. Like everything in China there is a saying or superstition that goes with it. If you can cross the little bridge in an odd number of steps (the lower the number the better) you will have a long and happy life.
Sue earning that long and happy life
We have been greatly amused at the Chinese signage. While most signs are translated into English and all are completely comprehensible, the translation is sometimes quite funny.
Then we began the walking trip back to the ship, across the suspension bridge and up through the gauntlet of local vendors. As we went through the vendor area we make two of the very few purchases that we made on the trip – a couple of T-shirts. Sue also negotiated a great deal on a “genuine” Ming Dynasty plate that she had been looking for. All transactions were conducted with a great deal of exaggerated body language, walking away, and much laughter. All parties were happy with the result. We were told that the vendors enjoy a good bargain and that certainly seemed to be true. We also saw a group of workers moving a tree that they were about to plant. They chanted as they worked together to move that tree.
Chanting and working together to move a tree
The rest of the day we explored our small ship and watched the scenery on the Yangtze River as we cruised along the river through the afternoon and evening. It was completely different from our European river cruise three years ago. Here there are very few towns along the river. There are a few rural settlements from time to time but mostly there are scattered cities with major clusters of high rise residential units and a few factories. Once again this is the result of the relocation of towns and villages when the dam was built. Cities of over a million people just spring up in the middle of vast expanses of country. We have also come to the conclusion that the Chinese are the world’s most prolific bridge builders. There are several styles of massive suspension bridges that loom up every so many kilometres. Unlike the bridges over European rivers these bridges have all been built since the flooding and are a hundred or even more feet above the river in order to allow passage of the ship traffic even during high water season which is at least 40 feet higher than it is now.
One of many bridges across the Yangtze
Day 9 - The Three Gorges – May 14, 2015
This morning we get up extra early in order to witness the ship’s entry into the actual “three gorges.” For the next 180 kilometres we will be traveling through the most scenic stretch of the Yangtze as it forces its way through a spectacular series of limestone ridges known as the Three Gorges.
Part of the Yangtze we sail through from Chongqing to Wuhan
We are up at 6:00 am grab some breakfast and head out on the top deck to get some pictures of the truly amazing scenery as we make our way through the Qutang Gorge, the shortest (5 miles long), and narrowest (500 ft. from shore to shore) and most spectacular of the three large gorges. Our pictures best tell this story as it is an amazing experience. For this the most spectacular of the three gorges we get a full commentary over the speaker system pointing out the main features and explaining some of the history of the area.
Qutang Gorge – note that the vegetation stops at the high water level
Leaving the Qutang Gorge
New city between the Qutang and Wu Gorges built to house some of the people displaced by the dam downstream.
Another new city in the Gorges area combining the traditional pagoda with the new condos. Note the height of the waterline. There are likely the remains of an abandoned city at least 100 feet below the water level
Another beautiful bridge over the Yangtze
After breakfast as we enter the Wu Gorge which is 25 miles long. We get off our ship and board a series of smaller (20 passenger) boats for an excursion through a small narrow waterway known as the Lesser Three Gorges (the Goddess Stream) which is a small tributary of the Yangtze that runs several kilometres up through another narrow series of gorges.
Entering the “Goddess Stream”
Two of our little boats in the Goddess Stream
In spots the stream is only wide enough to allow one sampan style boat to pass through at a time with the walls extending straight up for hundreds of feet. This was once just a brook but the Three Gorges Dam raised the water level 70 to 100 ft. depending on the season. The water is quite low at this time as indicated by the water line where the trees grow.
We make our way up through these remarkable canyons flanked by towering cliffs. Along the way we witness many fascinating sites including the hanging coffins of the Ba people and the ancient plank road carved into the cliff side.
Ancient plank walkway carved in the cliff side
Eventually we turned around and headed back to our river boat for lunch. We spent the afternoon sailing through Wu (‟Witches”) Gorge which is the longest of the three gorges and is renowned for its magnificent scenery.
By mid-evening we arrive at the actual dam itself and our evening entertainment is an interesting adventure as we make our way through the 5-stage locks of the Three Gorges Dam which allows our ship plus any others to get past the massive dam.
Inside the locks
Despite a steady drizzle many of us stay on deck in order to assist the captain in guiding our ship through the amazingly tight fit in the locks. We are nestled tight up against the walls of the lock so one can reach out and touch the massive concrete walls. On the other side we have two smallish commercial ore carriers, one with a cargo of coal and the other with a load of aggregate.
Our neighbours in the locks
Once we clear the locks we tie up for the night. Tomorrow we tour the dam itself.