|A 4 hour bus ride after arriving by train brought us to Yichang and our boat for 4 nights. Boats are similar to those that ply the Nile River in Egypt- large and about 4 levels. Cabins all have a view of the river, and private facilities.
At 6.30am we are woken by cruisy music wafting through the cabin to get us up for a 7am breakfast- western style, chinese version, then we're off up the river. By 8.30 we are moored so that guests can go off on a tour of the new Three Gorges Dam- we stay on board and eventually at 11.30 we are cruising through a series of 3 locks lifting us up into the newly created lake and on into the gorges themselves. The size of this prohect is gigantic. New bridges span the river high above us- at present the river is 139 meters above it's original level, and by 2009 it will be 175 meters above the original level. 1.8 million people are being moved to higher ground- sometimes to other cities but generally to just higher up the mountains. At distances along the river there are markers showing where the new water level will be and you can see what is going to be swallowed up- much of the buildings have gone already and it is mostly farmland left to disappear- you can see old roads that also disappear into the river. We travelled through the gorge until we reached Bading where we moored for the night. During the day there were talks on chinese medicine, painting and a thai chi demonstration as well. Afer an enormous dnner the staff put on a kind of fashion parade- they looked like glittering jewels.
The following day saw us get on to a smaller boat which took us up a side river called the Shennong Gorges- 50 kms in length, which narrowed until we reached a small village and were put into "peapd" wooden boats rowed by 6 men upstream. When we ran aground they got out and towed us a further 1.5 kms by each pulling on a rope, then turning around and drifting downstream. This was the traditional way the farmers got their produce to market, and since their fields are now mostly flooded many of them have found that the rise in tourism is enabling them to stay in the village and tow people upriver. We all looked like orange ducks as the cruiseline made us wear our lifejackets for the day....! It was a great trip and in a beautiful area. In the afternoon talks on chnese kites and mini snuffbottle paintng- very entertaining. After dinner we all trooped upstairs to the theatre area where we were given masquarade masks and had abit of a party with demonstration dances put on by the staff (they seem to have several jobs to do and try very hard!).
Next day we trooped up 200 steps to a pagoda and temple - the view would have been good except for the pollution- shocking and getting worse the closer we get to Chongqing. All the people who are being relocated have been give 20,000 yuan pp by the government. A family, by combining this money can buy an apartment with running water, flushing loo, TV and fridge. They have really "made it" if they can have a bottle of wine on the dinner table at night. If they still want to farm then they can buy land further up the mountain. We get mixed stories as to how happy they are with these arrangements- some people who moved away are coming back so i think there are some problems for the government.
For our last night we dressed up as well as we could for the Captains' banquet and afterwards the various groups put on abit of a talent show whch our group won- the prize was a bottle of rice liqueur donated by one of the passengers. WE think he must have bought two bottles, tried one and decided not to drink the other because it was pretty foul, and then the cruise people (who put the show on) had the cheek to charge corkage for drinking the bottle (which the passenger had bought from them in the first place!).
The Gorges and the Yangtse River area was amazing, definitely a highlight, even with the polluted air. There were coal shutes all along the latter half of the river that we cruised on and Chonqing is the industrial area full of factories and beching smoke.
Off the boat and out to the airport via Chonqing (the most populated city on the world at 32 million)to fly to Xi An.