We are safe and sound aboard the "Yangzi Explorer" headed to the Three Gorges of the Yangzi River. The Yangze is the second longest river in the world. It is the lifeblood of China's trade with millions of tons of commercial traffic along its waters.
But this River, like our familiar Mississippi, is also a source of great pain and tragedy due to the massive floods that have killed thousands of Chinese almost every decade.
We are headed westward up stream for the next 4 days to see the largest dam project in the history of the world--The Yangzi Three Gorge Dam Project--named for some of the deepest gorges found as the river cuts through mountains 3000 feet above.
According to the Government, the Project will end the historic flood problems that beset the residents of the Yangze since ancient times as well as provide a new system of hydroelectric power for the region that will turn towns like Chongqing, the largest city in China with a population of 32 million into a Hong Kong of Central China. But the plan has been attacked because the lake created by the creation of the dam has raised the level of the river and placed numerous precious agricultural land under water. Loss of agricultural land is a serious issue in China since much of the land cannot be farmed due to its location and the qualify or lack of quality of much of the soil. In addition more than 1.5 million people lost their homes to the Dam and have been "relocated" in many instances against their will to other places. Some experts claim that no dam can hold back the Yangze and that sooner or later this dam must fail. An outcry has arisen from the permanent loss of archaeological effects now covered by miles of river water and lost forever to the Chinese people. Nonetheless the central government continues the project. Time will tell whether it is the boon to the Mainland that the Central Government claims it will be.
Many cities and towns abut the River which flows eastward from from high mountains in the West through deep crevasses more than 6000 miles to the China Sea.
We find ourselves staring in wonder at homes and terrace farms flourishing along side of incredibly steep hills and mountains.
At some points we are amazed how a house could be built on so steep a hill. We see caves along the shores of the porous rock beside these these waters.
Because the river rises and falls more than 75-100 feet according to the season, there is a growth line along the base of the mountains adjacent to the water proving that we are in the low water season.
We see homes next to steps that range down 150 feet or more into the water to reach boat landings. It is hard for us to believe that the water here is now more than 100 feet deeper today than it was before the dam was built. I wonder how much further these steps go into the water than I can see. I wonder how far that home resident had to travel to his boat before the dam was built.
There is no river delta like our Mississippi region. There is no flat land.
Once we reach the dam, we travel through numerous locks like in the Panama Canal to raise our boat from lower levels of the waters to the east to the higher levels of the river to the west. Remember we are headed west bound or upstream to Chongqing. At an appointed time, 6 boats including the Explorer enter the lowest lock. The lock is flooded to raise the boat to the water level of the higher adjacent lock. When the water in both locks is the same level the doors between the two locks is open and the boats moves into that higher of the two locks. The process repeated until all 9 locks are cleared and the boat is on the high side of the dam.
We have not seen sun since arriving here. It is not the photographic opportunity I'd hoped for. But the recurring fog is a marvelous setting for pictures.
I learn from others that painters world wide have come to this region and to Guilin and the Li River just to catch these cloudy, blue-grey, white sky moments. This will be a real photographic challenge. Now we are beginning to see the beauty of the river. We are seeing a bit of sunshine.
On the second day of our trip we stop at the Ghost Temple of Feng du, a place where Chinese have believed for generations that both good and evil spirits reside. Our Guide from the boat takes us on this tour after we travel across a pontoon bridge to the high steps that we must walk up to get to the top. We travel through a "Hello" Market to a sky lift that rushes us approximately 1/2 mile up the mountain adjacent to the river to the 290 steps we must climb to get the the Temple. Dee and I make it and it is a trip worth taking.
We learn that most Chinese are Buddhist, but another religion Taoism, as well as Islam and Christianity, to name a few, are the spiritual lifeblood of the population. At this Temple, we learn that the Ancient Chinese believed in heaven and hell and that Dante's Hell fairly compares to the place of punishment described by the Chinese believers. Here, at the Ghost temple we learn of the many practices and rituals to enter the region in spiritual safety from the evil spirits said to occupy this side by side the good spirits ready to assist the traveler. Even walking into the Temple requires adherence of certain practices.
It is an interesting experience learning that the Chinese still practice their religious beliefs with a fervor that I was told did not exist here.
As we return to Ski Lift that rushes us down the mountain we stop at a local market.
Here there is the food that I saw in Chinatown in San Francisco. There are yellow chickens with their heads attached. We see Pig Snout and other delicacies that I cannot discern or imagine. Dee makes me take this picture. I realize that despite visiting Chinatowns across America repeatedly since law school I had never visited a Chinese market until about 3 weeks ago.
On the morning of the third day we are approaching a tributary of the Yangze and will head out for ride in a paddle boat with our fellow passengers. We leave our boat and take a smaller ferry to a landing adjacent to a man made dock that separates one portion of the tributary to narrow dark gorge that cuts through much higher mountains towering darkly above the dark waters ahead.
As we leave our boat we guided to these San-pans where we meet small sinewy men who guide us to these small boats perhaps 20 feet long and 3.5 feet wide at their widest point. There is no ballast or keel to steady the boat when you enter it. The boat is tender--if you put your foot down on one end another end goes up. This is not what I like. But when you move too slowly someone leaps to your side to "help" you move. This isn't exactly comfortable.
You soon learn that these little guys as strong as they move with you balanced along a 1/4 inch ledge on the outside hull of the boat while they "assist you. Not one of them falls. We learn that their language is not Chinese; but it is loud. We are reminded that there are 56 different minorities in China and we have just met one of them. But these people, we are told are disappearing as their River is being changed by the dam. For centuries they have lived in this region; but the advent of the dam that has inundated lands they lived in for centuries with more than 100 feet of water. Likewise, the TV and Radio has inundated their children with a vision of the big cities that has lured many of their children to seek the better life of the places like Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing. After some excitement getting seated aboard the 7-8 boats taking this trip, the 10 of us in our boat are are safely in place.
Each boat has three of these small men rowing from the very front and one rudder man aft.
A young woman dressed in Red, is our guide. She speaks perfect English. She explains that she is one of these people and that she still lives in her village in these remote mountains.
The gorge is deep and the dark waters become darker yet as the sun hides beyond the 1000 ft cliffs we are told are above us. The foliage growing above us creates shadows that doesn't thwart the sunlight reaching us on this dark and misty day. We are told the waters here are more than 100 ft deep. Yet the width of this tributary at is narrow point seems to be no more than 30 feet. I wonder how narrow this place must have been before the dam when the water was only 5-7 feet deep.
The men row in unison and they grunt and stroke in cadence. I see their work on the river is the source of their strength. I laugh when I realize just how naive I am. There are no villages near these waters. These men live high above us along side the ridges so high that I cannot see them. I wonder just how far up hill they walk each day to go to and down from their homes.
The boat moves swiftly up the river and we hear the voice of the female guide telling us of the relocation of homes when the water rose upon government command and the loss of a generation to the big cities. Yet she stays here. I don't ask why. I sense she loves this way of life that has been part of the life of her ancestors for thousands of years. Then we hear the solitary sound of a single flute eerily echoing through the gorge and we see a man sitting next to a huge rock playing. Our guide whispers that he is welcoming us to the gorge. With that the boat turns and we begin our the trek back to the sound of the flutist and the cadence of the rowers. None of us say a word.