Raft on a creek off the Yangtze
Cruise The Yangtze
To Three Gorges Dam
CRUISE on the Yangtze, China’s longest river, to the Three Gorges Dam is a life enhancing experience that you must not miss.
Our sojourn began in Beijing. After a two-day city tour we flew down to Wuhan, a modern metropolis in Hubei province. Liu Kezhi, deputy director of marketing and communications of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) – our host – greeted us at the Shangri-La Hotel in Wuhan.
"The construction of the Three Gorges Project has highlighted China’s social, economic and cultural development," he said. We were eager to see for ourselves.
Homes along the Yangtze
After sightseeing in Wuhan, and a brief pit stop in exotic Jingzhou, we sped down a two-lane expressway, with a divider that was topped with bushy planters. It was a nice civilized touch as it painted a pleasant picture of an otherwise empty road. I was intrigued with the countless farms of rice paddies, cotton and lotus fields along the way.
At Yichang we veered onto another highway. As we passed a military checkpoint we realized we were closing in on the famous Three Gorges Dam. The road curved around the mountainside, with deep ravines menacing below. We drove through several tunnels, the last being the longest in the world, at 3100 meters.
Boats on the Yangtze
With the mighty Yangtze on the left, the towering mountains on the right, their jagged tops hovering in the mist, we drove on. We passed through a gate, with a smartly dressed soldier at rigid attention, and entered the grounds of the Three Gorges Project. We crossed a new bridge that brought us into Zigui, a new city built by the government to relocate farmers uprooted by the dam construction.
Wang Lidong, vice general manager of Changjiang Cruise Overseas Travel Company, said the Three Gorges Dam will be completed in 2009 when it will become the ninth wonder of the world. CCOTC, with 14 cruise ships, specializes in the Yangtze experience www.ccotc.com. In U.S. call Orient Royal Cruise at 1-888-565-4088, www.orientroyalcruise.com.
At the Three Gorges Project Hotel, director of construction management Ding Hua introduced us to the biggest construction project in the history of China. The Yangtze valley, home to one-third of the 1.2 billion Chinese, slices China in half, north and south. The third largest river in the world brought culture but also floods. Every 50 years or so it overflowed with disastrous results. It last happened in 1998.
East King docked next to sister ship
The Three Gorges Dam will allow for flood control, improve navigation and generate electricity that will reduce the need for coal dramatically and thus eliminate much carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Construction began in 1993 and will be completed in 2009, making the dam the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world. It’s as high as a 60-story building. Very impressive.
I gazed in wonder at the massive dam and locks. Inside the power station I saw massive rotators and 12 turbines for hyrdroelectric generation. The operation room next door was vast, spotless, like an empty hangar, except for one wall where several technicians sat at banks of computers and monitors.
Trackers pulling a sampan
We next drove to a dock where we boarded the MS East King. This 5-star luxury vessel was ready to take us on a thrilling adventure down the fabled Yangtze. Designed by American naval architects, the ship is super comfortable. Every cabin is Outside Deluxe, full-windowed, with VCR, minibar, radio and air conditioning.
The fog was closing in while we slept through the night. At 7 a.m. the mist on the craggy peaks was turning into raindrops below. We sailed passed the city of Baidicheng and through the narrow cliffs of Qutang Gorge, at five miles long the shortest but most magnificent of the Three Gorges.
I strode on deck in a rain jacket, balancing an umbrella in one hand and a camera in the other, while a fierce wind lashed the raindrops against my face. I stood my ground, transfixed with the wonder at the high peaks on both sides of the canyon seemingly closing in on us. The sweeping inclines of the mountains that are clothed with green vegetation and capped by clouds, gave me an uncanny feeling of mystical embrace. The misty atmosphere only added to the majesty of the scenery.
Cruising the Three Gorges in the rain
At 8:30 a.m. we were streaming through Wu Gorge, the deepest of the three gorges. We stopped at the port of Badong where we disembarked for a short side trip. We filed into a sampan to sail 1.2 miles up the Shennong Stream. Three trackers rowed in front, two in the back. To navigate a stretch of rapids all the trackers, except one in the rear, put their oars down, got into the roaring waters and struggled to tow our sampan with burly arms and rugged ropes. They hauled the boats along narrow tracks carved out of the cliffs.
Back on the MS East King we made our way through Xiling, the third and, at 50 miles, the longest and historically the most dangerous gorge. We sailed through a narrow waterway hemmed in by steep cliffs. It felt eerie.
Three Gorges Dam Operation Room
Finally, the Three Gorges Dam. Our cruise ship went through one of the five massive step locks. It took three hours for the water to transport the ship past the dam. Every minute was awesome. I loved it!
Get Ready To Go
AHI Travel offers 11-night tour comprising three nights at Beijing Hilton, two nights in X’ian at Hotel Sofitel, three nights aboard M.V. Yangtze President through the Three Gorges plus excursions in Fengdu, Badong and Yichang, ending with three nights at Hilton Shanghai. Looks like a fantastic journey with all the sights and attractions, such as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Terra Cotta Warriors and more. This sounds like a fantastic adventure.
There are eight departures between Sept. 3 and Oct. 29. Depart from San Francisco for $3,729 per person (based on double occupancy), Chicago for $3,889 and Washington for $3,939.
AHI Travel, 6400 Shafer Ct., Rosemont, IL 60018, phone 800-323-7373, www.ahitravel.com.