The Three Gorges Dam was once the world's largest single construction project. As part of my Yangzi River cruise, I got taken on a bus tour of the dam where we crossed over on a bridge to the south bank and taken to another park area which features various bits of machinery such as a bulldozer and digger used in the construction of the dam.
I found this to be more far more interesting than the dam. The locks work in both directions meaning that ships coming from downstream can navigate through the series of five lock stages at the same time as ships navigating upstream. The whole process takes around 4 hours in total. The locks are designed to be 280m long, 35m wide, and 5m deep (918 x 114 x 16.4 ft).
Before the dam was constructed, the maximum freight capacity of the river at the Three Gorges site was 18.0 million tonnes per year. From 2004 to 2007, there was a total of 198 million tonnes of freight that passed through the Three Gorges Dam ship locks. The freight capacity of the river increased 6 times and the cost of shipping reduced by 25%, compared to the previous years. The total capacity of the ship locks is expected to reach 100 million tonnes.
The Three Gorges Dam is located in Sandouping, about 30km from Yichang. It is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world and once the world's largest single construction project. With a long history of planning, the dam body was finished in 2006. When finished, it contained 32 main generators, each with a capacity of 700 MW. All of the originally planned components of the project were completed on October 30, 2008, when the 26th generator was brought into commercial operation. Six additional generators in the underground power plant are being installed, not expected to become fully operational until around 2011. The total electric generating capacity of the dam will then reach 22,500 MW.
I visited the dam in April 2008 and wasn't overly impressed. Yes, it's big, but more in length than in height. For me, the Hoover Dam in the USA is far more impressive. Add this to the controversy of it and the environmental impact and you'll have to weigh up all the pros and cons of the dam when you visit.
This scale model of the Three Gorges Dam is located in the Visitors centre which is located on the north bank of the river beside the dam itself. However, another scale model of the dam inside the Three Gorges Museum in Chongqing is much better!
The main reason to come to Chongqing is to take a cruise on the mighty Yangzi River down river to the massive but controversial Three Gorges Dam near Yichang. I booked a first class cabin (as I was travelling on my own and didn't fancy sharing with other Chinese travellers) at a hostel called The Mix Hostel in Chengdu for around Y1490. This included a bus from Chengdu to Chongqing, 3 nights on the boat and a trip along the Little Three Gorges. I arrived on my boat, called the Chang Hang Jiang Shan II, at about 7pm after being taken to the wharf by the cruise company. The itinerary along the way consists of visits to temples, a city called Fengdu, known as the Ghost City, some waterfalls and the Three Gorges themselves known as Qutang Xia, Wu Xia and Xiling Xia. They are not as spectacular as they once were due to the rise in level of the river but still impressive all the same. The best part of the trip was a visit to the Little Three Gorges as the river here, called the Daning, is shallow and the cliffs are very narrow. Make sure this is included in your trip.
It is a real shame, but, the Ming steps are slowly disappearing as the water level of the Yangtze River raises to the targeted height of 175 meters.
Standing for thousands of years, these steps were carved into the cliff face above the Yangtze River during the time of the Ming Dynasty. The steps and paths were used as a trade route for hundreds of years as well as a shortcut between villages and towns by the locals.
There are not many sections of this structure left to see as they have already been claimed by the river, which is slowly turning into a lake.
I feel privileged to have seen them with my own eyes.
A fellow traveler asked me, “What do you think the major industry is in China?” to which I replied, “Flag making!”
It is amazing to see the number of flags that fly from anything that closely resembles a flagpole! If it is straight, it is a flagpole in China.
Children play with the national flag, every boat on the rivers fly the flag, T-shirts have the flag printed on them…the list goes on.
Patriotism at its best!
Fake Rolex watches, brand name handbags, polo shirts, pens, birds and fake antiques are all on offer here. Being a regional area of China there are also a number of bargains to be had that represent "old China" or "country China."
Umbrellas were all the rage with the ladies as most locals were using them to provide shade from the burning sun. It was over 35 Degrees Celsius when we visited in July 2008.
Just as you would in every other part of China that you visit, remember to haggle for a good price as a starting price of 200 Yuan can often be purchased for 30 Yuan!
Food stalls are everywhere in China, and Yichang is no exception. Anne and I frequented a number of these stalls on a regular basis to stock up on bottles of water and, Anne’s favorite, peach juice.
Although some of the street food looked very nice, and the prices were even nicer, I kept thinking of those adverts on television about the traveler holed up in a dingy hospital somewhere with food poisoning. (And the thought of Anne’s voice ringing in my ears for years to come, “I TOLD YOU SO!”)
You see, when I was in Zimbabwe I got salmonella poisoning, when I was in Uganda I got food poisoning, when I was in……the list could go on…just ask Anne LOL:))
The City of the Underworld is a bit “corny” but, as a captured audience, Anne and I went to see what this was.
A fleet of busses collected us from the dock and we were driven for less than one kilometer to the entrance of “the Underworld.”
After “running the gauntlet” through the dozens of stall holders who were trying to sell us everything from cheap T-shirts to alcohol, we began to climb the 600 plus steps to reach the top. All in 37 degree Celsius heat and 95% humidity…what a mission.
Once we reached the top we enjoyed the coolness of the temples and assorted buildings that housed all types of statues and figurines that represented the afterlife and underworld. I must say that this entire experience, I felt, was “corny” and something that I would not recommend you go out of your way to see.
The cost was free as it was part of our 3 day Yangtze River cruise cruise.
I find it interesting to see people going about their daily lives in a fashion that is so unfamiliar to me.
From an elder of the community carrying a sack of rice with a young man, Men of all ages manually loading a large ship with bags of heavy produce, fishermen trawling the calm water of the Yangtze to sustain their simple way of life to the young family that were removing rubbish from the water to see if there was something worthwhile to sell in the markets. The Yangtze showed them all.
The number of vessels that go about their daily business on this waterway is amazing.
It seems that as you round every bend in the river there is another flotilla of heavily laden ships that are delivering their cargo to Ports up and down this majestic waterway.
From car carriers, container ships, cruise ships, coal or wheat carriers to local fisherman trying to make a living, the Yangtze has it all.
The Three Gorges are simply stunning.
The huge peaks of this spectacular gorge and river system, that dwarf the large ships as they quietly go about their daily trade, are spectacular and the sheer cliff walls are something to behold.
Each of the three gorges take between 3 and 5 hours to navigate and the sense of Mother Nature intimidating us mere mortals was something special. As we sailed slowly down the mighty Yangtze River I could not help but wonder about the sheer magnitude of water that was being held away from its ultimate goal of reaching the ocean. I also attempted to picture what it would be like to sail these same waters when Mother Nature unleashed her fury in all her glory and the calm Yangtze became an angry bubbling soil stained torrent.
Anne and I actually took a three day Yangtze River cruise that actually started in Chongqing and ended in Yichang.
The number one reason for visiting Yichang is the Three Gorges Dam project and the chance to see this magnificent series of gorges before they are flooded and lost to the world forever.
Anne and I did exactly that and we decided to take the river cruise as a way of experiencing the wonder that is the Three Gorges Dam.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most amazing aspects of this monumental project is the amount of infrastructure that has been built.
The entire way from Yichang to Chongqing is dotted with the brand new cities that comprise mostly of modern high rise buildings, new ship docks, shopping centers, schools and office blocks joined together by new roads and bridges.
Most of the old cities were on the opposite side of the bank and the new cities were simply built, the residents relocated and the old city demolished and sent straight into the history books!
Most residents seemed pleased to be relocated to their new residence but there were a few exceptions. An example of this is the 82 year old couple who were relocated to the ninth floor of their new building while their 43 year old daughter was given an apartment in the same building…on the first floor. (There are no elevators in any new buildings!!)