2007 China May Holiday Part 2 - Yangtze River Cruise

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November 23rd 2007
Published: November 23rd 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

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Yangtze River Cruise

Rice PaddiesRice PaddiesRice Paddies

Spot the ox-drawn plough?
The journey from Chengdu to Chongqing took about four hours, and went through some of the most fertile and hilly land in all of China. We passed through extensive areas of terraced rice paddies, where we saw many of the farmers ploughing their ground in the traditional way, that is, using a simple wooden plough pulled by one or two oxen - no wonder that this area is called the breadbasket of China - and eventually caught our first glimpse of the mighty Yangtze River as we approached Chongqing. The Yangtze in this area is virtually the dividing line between the rice growing area and the grain growing area of China, the grain being grown in the flatter areas between the river and the coast. After we got off the train, we once again joined the milling throng through the exit gates and found our guide by virtue of the fact that she was holding up a large sign with “Heather” written on it. Heather is the ESL teacher at the school here, and Ray, her husband teaches some of the English classes along with Brenda in the primary school. June (75 yrs old) and Marg (72 yrs old), two friends of Heather and Ray who had flown in from Australia and met us in Chengdu, were the other members of our party of six. Chongqing is a huge city (30.9 million), not nearly as pretty as Chengdu and quite a bit dirtier. Our guide took us to a travel agency in downtown Chongqing where we collected our tickets for the boat trip on the river. From there we walked a couple of km, which was a bit hard on June and Marg whose luggage was a large case each, down to the port at the river where we boarded the boat about 7 pm.

We were shown to our cabins, which were quite comfy and compact, and dropped our bags before heading up onto the viewing deck at the front of the boat. Although we had first class cabins, with our own ensuite, we were still required to pay 45 Yuan for the privilege of using the viewing deck. We didn’t know this beforehand, and were not given any forewarning, so although we paid it, we subsequently suggested to the travel agency that this cost should be mentioned beforehand and built into the total cost of the trip. The boat pulled away about 11 pm that night, and after we spent a little time on the viewing deck, taking in the night sights from the boat, we retired for the evening. By putting our pillows at the opposite end of the beds than how they were set up, we could lie in bed and look out the window at the scenery passing by as we travelled downstream. However the night was dark and once we got away from the vicinity of Chongqing, the views of the riverbanks took on a certain sameness and we fell asleep quite quickly in our single bunk beds.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny (behind the er, “fog”) and our boat pulled in to the riverbank at Fengdu, said to be the abode of the devils. Situated on the northern bank of the river between Zhongxian and Fuling, the city was depicted as the 'City of Ghosts' in two ancient, classic Chinese works - "Monkey King" and "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio". The origin of the town's extraordinary reputation can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) when two officials, Yin and Wang, became Taoist recluses here and eventually Immortals. Later in the Tang Dynasty, their names were combined to mean "King of the Underworld". Thereafter, Mt. Mingshan gained its reputation as the 'City of Ghosts' where the king lived.

Going on a bit further downstream, we came upon the city of Wanzhou, which is a big city and port on the Yangtze, and a main entrance point for the three-gorges dam. We had the opportunity of taking an optional extra, for 80 Yuan (about $13.50) per person, which was a bus trip to the biggest waterfall in China. We decided that we might as well, since we probably would not get another opportunity. From here, we disembarked and boarded the bus which took us for an hour and a half trip through the countryside, past many more rice paddies to the Qinglong Waterfall - a huge and picturesque natural feature which is 115m high and 64.5m wide - well worth the bumpy bus trip and the cost. The cave behind the waterfall was formed during the Jurassic period, and in this cave there is a natural spring, whose waters are said to give one “longevity”. Naturally we all had a taste and while some people were proclaiming its sweetness and quality, as far as I was concerned, there was no “WOW” factor. During the time we went on the bus to the waterfall, the boat continued downstream, and we rejoined it at Baidi (White King) City where the boat was to dock for the night at the Zhangfei Temple, which is famous for its architecture, calligraphy and images. Although a tour of this temple was included in the cost of the itinerary and not an optional extra, we decided to give it a miss, being somewhat all templed out and also very tired, and we did not relish the thought of returning from this tour after midnight and then having to get up at 6.30 am the next morning, so we contented ourselves with a view from the boat’s viewing deck of the Temple all lit up.

The following morning we were taken on a tour of the White King City. This was disappointing, as I didn’t see any white kings, nor smell the bleach! The story goes that an ancient warlord built this city and one day he saw what looked to him like white vapour rising from a well, so he decided to call himself the White King. The main thing that this city has going for it is the fact that it is located at the entrance to Qutang Gorge, the first of the three gorges, downstream from which is China’s latest engineering mega-marvel, the Three Gorges Dam. The vista of the entrance to the Three Gorges is printed on the 10 Yuan note. I quote here from the brochure: “Qutang Gorge is the shortest but the grandest one in three gorges. The Mt. Bai-yan in south bank and Mt. Chi-jia in north bank, stand face to face, high and craggedess, like a grandiosity gate, so it is called ‘Hui-men’. The Yangtze River is mighty and rapid here. There are many sight spots: Bellows Gorge, Cliff inscriptions, Rhinoceros-watching-the-Moon Peak, etc”. What more needs to be said?! From the White King City we boarded a different boat, which ferried us across to the other side of the river from where we could look back across the river for a different view of the White King City and a view of the Qutang Gorge, before we rejoined our River Boat and began the journey along the Gorge.

During the afternoon, the boat travelled along Qutang Gorge and docked at the city of Wushan. This city is on the entrance into the Yangtze of the Daning River, up which is the “Lesser Three Gorges” feature. Here we were transferred into smaller boats for the journey along the Daning River, as our boat was too big to cope with the shallower water and the lower bridges. These boats took us several kilometres upstream, to a little town called Wuxi, where we transferred into yet smaller boats. Upon arrival we all had to don life jackets before we set off further up the river along the “mini-three gorges”. One of the men in charge of our little boat dug out some key rings with pictures of the Mini Three Gorges on them, and gave one to each guest on the boat, which held about twenty people. I thought, “What a nice gesture, to give everyone a souvenir!” whereupon this same man then turned around and asked everyone for payment of 10 Yuan each! I thought, “What a cheek! But also, how enterprising!” and paid him for our key rings quite happily. There were many interesting features to see from the boat, among which were several occurrences of cliff coffins. These were simple wooden coffins that had somehow been placed in caves in the sheer rock face of the cliffs either side of the Daning River. How they were placed there remains a mystery, but it is thought they were put there by the ancient “Ba” people, who believed that this would ensure the dead person would be closer to heaven. We returned to the larger boat after an hour or so, which took us downstream to rejoin our big boat in time for tea. Along the way there are many places on the banks of the river where there are huge sign boards, with a horizontal line and “175m” painted on them in red. These are to indicate the level to which the river will rise by 2009, when the Three Gorges Dam will begin its full operation, which is to provide hydroelectricity for much of China. This is a good thing, as it will eventually eliminate much of the “fog” which seems to hang permanently over many areas of China, even rural areas. It also means that many people will be displaced and much fertile land will be inundated. The government has a compensation plan in place for these people, but it will involve a huge logistic operation in relocating so many.

We were called the next morning at 5.45 am to come and see the sunrise from the viewing deck. We called back through the door, “Thank you”, and promptly rolled over and went back to sleep. We got up about an hour or so later and went out on deck, where it was windy and the sun was just rising above the cliff tops, although once again the sky was very “foggy” and so the sunrise was not as spectacular as it might have been. For the next couple of hours we travelled along the second gorge, Wu Gorge, about 40 km in length and with cliffs on either side rising to about 900m. Around midday, our boat docked at a small town called Zigui, which contains the Memorial Temple of Quyuan, who was a great poet of ancient China. Once again, we disembarked, only to be herded onto several traditional dragon boats! These were striking in their appearance, slim lines and colour. We had to don life jackets again, and this time we had to provide the power, as each of us was given an oar, and encouraged to join in a chant, to the rhythm of which we paddled, and the boat master kept time by beating on his drum at the front of the boat. It soon turned into a min-race between our boat and the one next to us, and I don’t care what anybody else would have you believe - we won! Anyway, these boats took us to the Temple where we spent about an hour looking at the works of Quyuan. A young man who was a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, and who was on his vacation, had befriended us a couple of days earlier. His English was patchy but he relished the opportunity to practise talking with us. He explained a number of features of the Quyuan Temple and the poet’s writings to us, which was great because otherwise we wouldn’t have understood a thing! He had been very chivalrous the previous day in helping June and Marg up and down the many steps to and from the waterfall, and over the slippery rocks made wet from the spray.

Returning to the boat, we had lunch and while the boat travelled along the 80 km of the third gorge, Xiling Gorge, we packed our bags ready for disembarking when we got to the end of our trip at a port called Maoping. We took a kind of cable car from the dock up a height of around 150m to the road, where we were met by a driver who loaded us onto a minibus and drove us to the airport. On the way, we passed the actual dam wall of the Three Gorges Dam, and what an amazing site! This is the largest engineering project ever attempted in China, and its size and the work involved in constructing it would rival any other dam in the world, I think, even the great Hoover Dam in the U.S. We arrived at the airport at 4.40, exactly half an hour before our intended departure time for Beijing. Imagine our horror when we found that the desk at which we were to check in and get our boarding passes had closed! However, an officer came along, reopened the desk and issued us with our boarding passes, after which we bade a hasty good-bye to Ray, June and Marg and then ran to our plane. Ray and the two ladies were flying an hour or so later than us to Xi’an, where they would spend the next week seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors and other sights of Xi’an, then travel by overnight train to Beijing. The two ladies flew back to Australia the following Saturday, and Ray returned to TEDA. Meanwhile Heather and we boarded the plane (we were the last three on board) and settled ourselves down in separate seats, which were the only ones left. We had prearranged that I would take a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible. The reason was that the plane was due to touch down in Beijing at 7.10 pm and the last bus for TEDA left at 7.30! We only had carry on luggage, which meant that we didn’t have to waste time waiting for any checked baggage to come through.

The plane landed on time, and then proceeded to taxi to a spot that was a good kilometre and a half from the terminal, and we had to wait to get on a special bus that would transport us from the plane to the terminal. Once inside the terminal I literally ran all the way through it to the bus information desk just outside the door. After a few minutes I located our bus and explained in a mixture of broken Chinese and broken English that I was one of three people to take the bus, that the other two were two ladies who were still coming and could the driver wait for five minutes or so. He assured me that was OK, so I left my bags on the bus and doubled back to look for Brenda and Heather, who came along some ten minutes later, having had to wait for a second bus to transport them from the plane to the terminal and then wend their way through the terminal. Eventually, however, we all made it safely on board with our luggage, and settled ourselves down in the layback seats for the two-and-a-half hour drive to TEDA. We arrived just after ten pm and got a taxi from the bus depot back to the school.

Although we had had a truly marvellous time, we were glad to get back, although the thought of having to be up early and appear in front of the class at 8.30 the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, did not fill me with excitement. Nevertheless, we unpacked a few things from our bags and hit the sack pretty soon afterwards.

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