Yangtze River Cruise

 
4 Day Yangtze River Downstream Cruise | 5 Day Yangtze River Upstream Cruise

The Yangzi River (Changjiang, or Long River, to the Chinese, the Yangtze to traditionalists) offers travellers many kinds of expeditions. Although steamers no longer ply upriver from Shanghai (improvements in road and rail links have made this an uneconomical alternative), there are a variety of modern and luxurious cruise ships that explore the stretch of river between Wuhan and Chongqing, including the spectacular Three Gorges. But for those keen to see the remote upper reaches of the Yangzi—impossible to navigate due to its turbulent course through mountain meadows and narrow gorges—overland expeditions to northern Yunnan, Tibet, and even as far as the river’s source in Qinghai, are possible.

Yangzi travellers can choose the slower upstream journey, embarking at Wuhan or Yichang, or the downstream trip embarking at Chongqing. The legendary journey through the Gorges can be made in style on a variety of comfortable, international standard cruise ships. The cruises usually involve daily shore visits or excursions on small boats to explore tributary streams.


The Long River (Chang Jiang)

 

The Chinese name for the Yangtze is simply "Long River." This, the third longest river in the world, flows from melting glacial waters in Tibets to the East China Sea at Shanghai, almost 4,000 miles. Physically as well as culturally, the Yangtze has always served as a natural divide between northern and southern China. Since ancient times, its beauty and grandeur have inspired poets and artists alike, while its importance as a commercial thoroughfare and cultural lifeline remains central.

 


Three Gorges

 

Few travellers can fail to be impressed by the dawn voyage through the towering walls of the Three Gorges. The most spectacular of the gorges, the Qutang Gorge, was known to foreigners in the 19th century as ‘The Windbox’. The name seems inappropriate on a fine day with a light mist hanging between towering cliffs, which themselves soar in deep shadow to over 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) either side of the river. Yet in a storm, with a high water level, the gorge was impossible to navigate, and many lost their lives while travelling through the Qutang. Look out for the Meng Liang stairway, a series of holes on the rock face which stops halfway up the river cliff. High on the slopes of the rock face were found some of the 2,000-year-old coffins from the state of Ba.

The twelve peaks of Wu Gorge all have poetic names. They include Fir Tree Cone Peak, the Gathered Immortals Peak, and the Assembled Cranes Peak. As the Chinese have a great love of weaving legends around strange natural phenomena, these gorges and mountains are therefore among their best-loved landscapes. The most renowned peak in this sense is Goddess Peak (Shennu Feng), which is said to resemble the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a pillar. Legend has it that the young goddess was the daughter of the Queen Mother of the West, who fell in love with this lonely spot and made her home here.

 







Three Gorges Dam

 

Three Gorges Dam, the largest water conservancy project ever undertaken by man. The Dam is now being built in Sandouping, which is in the middle of the Xiling Gorge, the logest of the three gorges on the Yangtze River.

The massive Three Gorges Dam (Sanxia Ba), about 40 kilometres (25 miles) upriver from Yichang. Rising water levels in the gorges have made necessary the relocation of over one million people and scores of historical sites. The waters rose a further 40 metres (131 feet) between 2007 and 2009 to a final height of 175 metres (574 feet) above sea level, and the Daning River has subsequently disappeared. Yet the ‘taming’ of the Yangzi has not taken away the sense of adventure.

The construction of the project will cost 230 billion Chinese Yuan, an equivalenl of 28 billion US dollars. The building of the huge dam is for the purpose of flood control, electricity, navigation, and imigation.


Few travellers can fail to be impressed by the dawn voyage through the towering walls of the Three Gorges. The most spectacular of the gorges, the Qutang Gorge, was known to foreigners in the 19th century as ‘The Windbox’. The name seems inappropriate on a fine day with a light mist hanging between towering cliffs, which themselves soar in deep shadow to over 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) either side of the river. Yet in a storm, with a high water level, the gorge was impossible to navigate, and many lost their lives while travelling through the Qutang. Look out for the Meng Liang stairway, a series of holes on the rock face which stops halfway up the river cliff. High on the slopes of the rock face were found some of the 2,000-year-old coffins from the state of Ba. It is a picture of the entrance to Qutang Gorge that appeared on the reverse of the old five yuan banknote (still to be found in circulation), and now decorates the latest ten yuan notes.

The twelve peaks of Wu Gorge all have poetic names. They include Fir Tree Cone Peak, the Gathered Immortals Peak, and the Assembled Cranes Peak. As the Chinese have a great love of weaving legends around strange natural phenomena, these gorges and mountains are therefore among their best-loved landscapes. The most renowned peak in this sense is Goddess Peak (Shennu Feng), which is said to resemble the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a pillar. Legend has it that the young goddess was the daughter of the Queen Mother of the West, who fell in love with this lonely spot and made her home here.

 




Chongqing

 

Chongqing is the usual embarkation point for the journey downstream. The new municipality, established in 1997, is the main industrial centre of southwest China. It served as the country’s capital during the Sino-Japanese War, when the city’s notorious foggy weather saved it from Japanese bombers. Chongqing’s history dates to the fourth century BCE, then known as Yuzhou. Its modern name Chongqing means ‘Double Celebration’, adopted by a Song dynasty prince-cum-emperor from Yuzhou.

The following riverside towns are in the same order as they appear going downstream from Chongqing. While historical background is given, bear in mind that most of these towns have been partially or completely submerged by the new dam. Entire new towns constructed nearby lie above the final water level.

 





Shibaozhai

 

The name of Shibaozhai means ‘Precious Stone Fortress’; the precious stone in question is a 220-metre-high (720-foot) rock on the north bank that, from afar, is said to resemble a stone seal. (Seals in traditional China were carved at the base and used as a form of official signature.) In 1662, during the Qing dynasty, a temple was built on top of the rock. Originally the temple could only be visited by climbing up an iron chain, but in the late 19th century a nine-storey wooden pagoda was built next to the rock so that the ascent could be made by staircase. An extra three storeys were added in the 20th century, and now the 12-storey red pagoda rises alongside the rock to the base of the temple. The rising waters of the river now surround the pagoda, which has been preserved on an island behind a dam of its own.

 






Baidicheng

 

Baidicheng—or White Emperor City—can be reached by ferry from Fengjie. It
offers splendid views into the mouth of the Qutang Gorge, and has a temple which was originally dedicated to the mythical White Emperor. In the Ming dynasty the temple was re-dedicated to General Zhuge Liang. One of its halls contains a ‘Forest of Stelae’, a collection of tablets which includes several rare stone carvings. The Bamboo Leaf Poem Tablet, on which the characters of a poem are engraved in the form of three bamboo branches, is one of only three of its kind in China.


 





WuShan

 

Wushan is situatd at the confluence of the Yangtze and Daning rivers, just above the western entrance to the Wu (Witche) Gorge. The town has existed since the later part of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600 - 1027 BC) and is now home to 30,000 residents. The name of the town originates with Wu Xian, a respected Tang Dynasty doctor in the Imperial court who is buried on Nanling Mountain on the opposite bank of the Yangtze River. Wushan is the administrative site of Wushan County, a mountainous region rich in medicinal herbs that encompasses the Daning River valley and half of the Wu Gorge.

Wushan is the starting point for the popular boat trips through the Lesser Gorges on the Daning River. The river winds its way 33 kilmeters (20 miles) through the beautiful Lesser Gorges; birds singing and monkeys chattering can be and sometimes seen from both banks. The water is strikingly clear in contrast to the muddy, turgid waters of the Yangze.

Traditional courtyard style homes line the streets in Wushan, which are named after the 12 peaks of the Wu Gorge. This is the starting point for a day excursion up the Daning River to view the spectacular Small Gorges - Dragon Gate, Misty or Emerald. Continue on by sampan to the picturesque mini-gorges of the Ma Du River for more amazing scenery.


 



 
Yichang  
At the eastern end of Xiling Gorge, just past the dam site, is Yichang. Already a thriving economic center, Yichang is on the threshold of becoming a major tourist destination with its close proximity to the dam. The mountain roads around the city offer panoramic views of the Xiling Gorge below.