Yangtze River Cruise April 15, 2013 Touring The Three Gorges Dam

The dam - 181 feet above water ( 600 feet deep in total) and over a mile wide.  Generates 11 times the power of the Hoover Dam

The dam – 181 feet above water ( 600 feet deep in total) and over a mile wide. Generates 11 times the power of the Hoover Dam

Michael promised this part of our China tour would be at a more relaxed paced, however we had to have breakfast early to catch the bus by 830.  Woo hoo, an extra half hour this morning!  This morning we are off to tour the dam site and locks.  The air is very thick this morning and made worse by the calm warm weather.

In preparation for this blog I have tried to do some research to gather more information on the building of the dam and the pros and cons of the dam.

We missed the opportunity to sail through the locks due to recent poor weather causing delays.

We missed the opportunity to sail through the locks due to recent poor weather causing delays.

While touring the USA we have visited many mega projects and the construction of these projects are interesting and make for a great read. After seeing the railroad built across the Florida Keys I purchased and read the book,” The Last Train to Paradise.”  I learned so much more about the railroad and hoped to find something similar about the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.  I found no such book ( yet.) The internet has some information but given the various sources the information is one sided, either against the dam or painting a glowing picture of it.  I can’t seem to find a middle ground.

The concept of the dam is over a hundred years old.

When completed the lift station will be able to lift smaller vessels from downstream to the reservoir level in a matter of minutes

When completed the lift station will be able to lift smaller vessels from downstream to the reservoir level in a matter of minutes

In 1990 construction began on the dam which would become the largest power generator in the world. In addition to the dam, the “lock” system is big enough to handle containerized sea vessels allowing Chongqing to become the world’s farthest inland seaport.  Construction of the dam was completed in 2006 and the last of it’s 34 generators installed last year.   I find it difficult to obtain facts and articles regarding the project. For instance I found articles indicating the cost anywhere between 27 Billion ( US) to 75 Billion. ( Just a bit of a gap); In the construction of the dam, 13 cities, 140 town and over 1600 villages have been submerged.  I did ask if the cities, towns and villages were destroyed/ moved prior to the flooding and was told yes.  However the literature I have found indicates otherwise and says these flooded areas ( including mines) are leading to the pollution of the water.  In the process 1.3 million people were displaced and once again the literature indicates these people for the most part are worse off, while our guides tell us they are much better off. 
 Trying to make farmland on the once " Mountain Top"

Trying to make farmland on the once ” Mountain Top”

The farmers were moved from the fertile valley to high mountain tops where they are scratching out small plots to grow their produce and also plant fruit trees to harvest.  I am not sure they are better off.

The following information is taken directly from the website  www.chinadam.com and spells out some of the controversy.

 

Table: Summary of the arguments in favor of and against the dam

 

 Issue : Cost

Negative: The dam will far exceed the official cost estimate, and the investment will be unrecoverable as cheaper power sources become available and lure away ratepayers.

Positive: The dam is within budget, and updating the transmission grid will increase demand for its electricity and allow the dam to pay for itself.

Issue: Resettlement

Negative: Relocated people are worse off than before and their human rights are being violated.

Positive: 15 million people downstream will be better off due to electricity and flood control.

Issue: Environment

Negative: Water pollution and deforestation will increase, the coastline will be eroded and the altered ecosystem will further endanger many species.

Positive: Hydroelectric power is cleaner than coal burning and safer than nuclear plants, and steps will be taken to protect the environment.

Issue: Local culture and natural beauty

Negative: The reservoir will flood many historical sites and ruin the legendary scenery of the gorges and the local tourism industry.

Positive: Many historical relics are being moved, and the scenery will not change that much.

Issue: Navigation

Negative: Heavy siltation will clog ports within a few years and negate improvements to navigation.

Positive: Shipping will become faster, cheaper and safer as the rapid waters are tamed and ship locks are installed.

Issue: Power generation

Negative: Technological advancements have made hydrodams obsolete, and a decentralized energy market will allow ratepayers to switch to cheaper, cleaner power supplies.

Positive:The alternatives are not viable yet and there is a huge potential demand for the relatively cheap hydroelectricity.

Issue: Flood control

Negative: Siltation will decrease flood storage capacity, the dam will not prevent floods on tributaries, and more effective flood control solutions are available.

Positive: The huge flood storage capacity will lessen the frequency of major floods. The risk that the dam will increase flooding is remote.

 

I have found a great deal of worrying information including information that the builders and others were corrupted and materials and construction systems may have been jeopardized and the dam may fail in the future.  Given the volume of water, the resulting devastation is unfathomable.

Completion of the project is almost done. 

Local Attire

Local Attire

The construction of a small vessel lift, which has been delays several times, has resumed.  When it is finished, small vessels can be loaded into an elevator type system and lifted to the reservoir level, taking just minutes instead of hours and of course frees up the locks for larger vessels.

Following the tour of the site, our bus returned up to the ship in time for lunch.  We remain docked and leave around 5 p.m.  We have an afternoon to relax and catch up with some housekeeping things.  We finally can get laundry done ( at a price) and I think most on our tour took advantage of this.  It was interesting to see when the laundry returned…Brian had nicely ironed underwear.  At home his shirts don’t get ironed, so a little treat for him!

After a little nap we went to the upper level and sat out and enjoyed talking to others and just relaxing.  Shortly after leaving the dock we sailed through the Xiling Gorge.

Fishing the Reservoir

Fishing the Reservoir

The area is 66 km in length and is the longest and deepest of all the gorges with cliffs rising to 4,000 ft.  I stayed on the upper deck snapping photos and enjoying the setting sun. The overpowering smell of Jasmine was a refreshing change from the city smells.

We have been told, prior to the flooding, all the vegetation that would fall below the waterline was removed, so the shoreline has several feet of bare rock above the water. We never did see any regrowth so I wonder how they keep it so clear…or perhaps I really don’t want to know how it’s done!  The waterway is very busy with boats and barges hauling their cargo up and down the reservoir. I missed the Captain’s welcome reception, but was on time for dinner. There was entertainment that night but we opted for an early night.

Heading into the Xiling Gorge

Heading into the Xiling Gorge

Don S - Pat's other half.  Don and Pat have done a great deal of travelling and we enjoyed hearing of their past adventures.

Don S – Pat’s other half. Don and Pat have done a great deal of travelling and we enjoyed hearing of their past adventures.

Pat and Don had some extra excitement.  When we arrived in Shanghai...no suitcase.  Fortunately it showed up the next day.  Her favorite expression..." Where's Don?"

Pat and Don had some extra excitement. When we arrived in Shanghai…no suitcase. Fortunately it showed up the next day. Her favorite expression…” Where’s Don?”

April 16–Sailing into the Shen-nong Stream ( via ferry and sampan)

MS Yangtse 2 Our Cruise Ship

MS Yangtse 2 Our Cruise Ship

This is a day most on tour have been looking forward to.  We will be boarding a ferry and sailing into the Shen-nong Stream where we will get on small paddle boats to enter the narrow parts of the stream.  This area is home to mandarin ducks, golden hair monkeys and the hanging coffins.  We are fortunate to be one of the first group boarding the ferry so most of us were able to get space on the upper deck. 

Travelling the river or fishing.... not sure

Travelling the river or fishing…. not sure

The weather is definitely cooler now and most of us are sporting light jackets.

We disembark at Badong and board the ferry for a picturesque trip upstream.  The scenery is beautiful but devoid of wildlife of any kind.  We see people fishing but not sure what they are catching ( if anything.)  We arrive at a small floating dock and board our paddle boats.  The boats are powered by men with large wooden oars.  Upon closer inspection, it seems the men pulling the oars are not young men. 

70 and 80 year old men propelling our boats upstream.

70 and 80 year old men propelling our boats upstream.

Our guide tells us they are in their 70s and 80s and one of the men on another boat is in his 90s.  They have been relocated up the mountains and make the trek ( often 2 – 3 hrs. )from their hilltop homes, down to the stream daily, to work on these boats and also farm in a small way.  The job of moving these boats is hard as we go upstream and their backs are bending with the effort.  Prior to the flooding of the river, the river was very narrow and rapid. Going upstream was hard and dangerous.
Demonstrating "trackers" pulling the boat upstream

Demonstrating “trackers” pulling the boat upstream

For generations, men worked as “trackers” pulling the boats through the gorges. Rather than wear wet clothing, trackers in previous generations wore nothing while pulling the boats upstream. Today the men no longer get wet ( other than sweat) and are dressed appropriately for the weather.  They gave us a demonstration of how the trackers used to pull the boats upstream.  Our boat neared the shore, two men jumped off carrying ropes, which they stretched out full length.  They then proceeded to use the ropes ( still attached to our boat) to pull us upstream. 
Our paddle boats - note the men with the oars

Our paddle boats – note the men with the oars

A pretty easy job on  the quiet stream today but one can only imagine how difficult it would have been to pull a boat through raging currents and rapids.

As we continue upstream, we see construction of a large bridge and notice a highway being built on the mountain tops.  We get to see this road all three days of our cruise and yet see very little traffic on it.  The government is putting in infrastructure to support transportation and growth in the area. During the relocation process factories were moved to these hillsides to help secure jobs for the local people. 

building the mountain top highway

building the mountain top highway

Despite attempts to keep the residents close to their previous locations, many people left the area and moved to the big cities.

We had been told we may see the golden hair monkeys on this trip into the stream, but we did not.  We did see one “hanging coffin” and the photo I have does not really given one the proper perspective.  The photo was taken with 20 x zoom and then edited to zoom in further.  In reality the coffin was barely seen with the naked eye as it is very high up on the cliff and scientists still cannot prove how these coffins were placed here.

Hanging Coffin of the "Bo" people

Hanging Coffin of the “Bo” people

It is thought the most likely method was lowering the coffin and men by ropes from above. It seems a dangerous job for the living.  The Bo people of this area left  during a war and went to other populated areas where they assimilated into other populations and their culture lost.  By examining these coffins the scientists are learning more about these lost people.

China’s hanging coffins come in three types.  Some are cantilevered out on wooden stakes ( as  in this photo).  Some are placed in caves while others sit on rock outcroppings. 

Hillside memorials for the dead

Hillside memorials for the dead

Most of the coffins have been opened and then restored and in some cases, secured in place so none will be lost.  The ones in this area are thought to be about 400 years old, but others in China date back 1000 to 2500 years.

Upon return to our cruise ship we set sail towards the Wu Gorge.  This is the second of the three gorges.  It winds 45 km with 12 peaks on each bank.  Sometimes it looks like you are going straight into  a mountain when the river turns and the scenery changes once again.  The most famous of the peaks is commonly known as “Goddess Peak.” 

Goddess Peak

Goddess Peak

There is a rock outcropping near the top and when seen from below, looks like a girl looking down at the boats in the river.  This is the tallest of the peaks and is the first to get the morning light and the last to have the evening light as is known also as “Looking Sunglow Peak.” There are several “legends” about the peaks and the “goddess.”  The most common story is about the girl named Yaoji, the youngest daughter of the Queen mother in the western heaven. On a mid autumn day Yaoji and her 11 sisters descend themselves to the secular world to enjoy the scenery.  They found the gorge to be beautiful and dangerous so they decided to stay to protect the boatmen and in time transformed themselves in 12 peaks and Yaoji is their delegate standing on the northern bank.

For those of us who upgraded our rooms, Ian found out we were entitled to dine in the private dinner room on the 5th deck.  We decided to give it a try during lunch. 

Private dining room - had to try it once

Private dining room – had to try it once

We received a cool reception and after making a few calls the head server “allowed” us to enter the room and have a table.  However he also reminded us the food served here is the same as the main dining room.  We felt as welcome as an ant at a picnic and after our lunch, decided we missed our group and would not be returning to eat here.  Ian and his traveling companion Pat 
Ian - kept us laughing... and spending!

Ian – kept us laughing… and spending!

have taken this trip before and have been very helpful is preparing us for the trip ( before we left home) and also helping some of us get “good deals” when shopping. They both prefer to sit at the back of the bus and we find there must be monkey business going on back there given all the laughing and noise.

We spend the after sitting out and enjoying the scenery.  We see lots of buildings and small towns but they seem devoid of people and the buildings look empty. 

Ian's partner in crime...and fun

Ian’s partner in crime…and fun

The mountainous peaks trap the air and the air is thick and blue and worsens as we travel upstream. At 4 pm we dock at FengJie while some people took the optional White Emperor City  tour.  Baidi or Baidicheng city literally means “White Emperor City”  and much of the city has been relocated higher while the older parts of the city was submerged.  The Baidi Temple now sits on an island – formed when the rising water cut off the land access – and is accessed by a bridge. We did not take this tour but those who did said they enjoyed it. We sailed away at 7 pm an went back to our room to enjoy the verandah as we sailed away.

Sunset on the Yangtze River

Sunset on the Yangtze River

The scenery today was spectacular and will end the post with the addition of more photos.  While doing further research I found a video on the dam which had a fairly even bias on the dam.  It’s worth a watch.  You can view it by going to Youtube and look up “ Un-gorgeous 3 Gorges – China” or trying www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z9K82ZVdMA

washing clothes in the dirty water

washing clothes in the dirty water

Prior to the flooding of the river, there were several types of stone engraving on the rock walls.  In this area, the engravings were reproduced higher on the mountain so the memory of the etchings would be preserved. For a better view double click on the photo.

Prior to the flooding of the river, there were several types of stone engraving on the rock walls. In this area, the engravings were reproduced higher on the mountain so the memory of the etchings would be preserved. For a better view double click on the photo.

farming on a mountain top

farming on a mountain top

Sunset Pagoda

Sunset Pagoda

April 17, 2013 Last full Day of the Yangtze River Cruise

Scenery upstream of the city of Fendu

Scenery upstream of the city of Fendu

This morning we will dock in the city of Fendu. The new Fendu was built between 1985 and 1993 in anticipation of the old city flooding with the building of the Three Gorges Dam.  The new city is built high on the mountain, ( Ming Mountain)well above the current water line.  The morning is warm and the day gets warmer and very humid.  At times taking a photo of something off in the distance is impossible due to poor visibility. 

Ghostly masks for sale and the usual trinkets

Ghostly masks for sale and the usual trinkets

We set out to tour the “Ghostly” area  and wend our way upward to the reconstructed temple.The entrance to “Ghost City” is littered with wooden shacks housing a hoard of vendors trying to sell ghostly masks, food and drink and the usual trinkets.  It’s a bit of a climb so Brian opted to wait it out until our return. As we make our way to the top we pass many grotesque looking sculptures. 

One of many ghoulish sculptures

One of many ghoulish sculptures

Apparently they are to scare off evil spirits although it seems there was a story to each of them.  I’m afraid by now I’m getting a bit “Templed” out and may not be taking as much notice of my surroundings. Our guide indicated we may be put to a test in order to be allowed into the 600 yr. old temple.  Considering the temple has been reconstructed I’m not sure how they can say it’s 600 years old. If one passes the tests they can be deemed pure of heart and would be allowed to enter.

As you approach the Temple from the back side, you come to three bridges. 

Our tour directors Donna and Bob crossing the "Judgment Bridge" together.  Donna with a camera in front of her face.....as usual!

Our tour directors Donna and Bob crossing the “Judgment Bridge” together. Donna with a camera in front of her face…..as usual!

One bridge is for health, one for judgment and one for money.  One can pick which bridge they choose to cross, or they can cross all three.  For the first test, one must cross the “judgment” bridge. As you cross the bridge, you cross it with your loved one or you must be thinking about who you want to spend eternity with.  You must cross in 9 steps without slipping or falling.  Sounds pretty easy but the curve of the bridge and the worn stones make for a very hairy crossing and staying on your feet can be a challenge.  I think no one makes it across when it’s raining or wet.  If you slip you are deemed to be a bad person and you will spend eternity in the rivers of hell.

The stone test.  Move the round 200 lb. stone so it comes to rest on top of the pedestal

The stone test. Move the round 200 lb. stone so it comes to rest on top of the pedestal

I missed the second test but did find the information on it. You have to roll a 200 lb. ball onto a stone pedestal.  Many have tried and failed.  There is a local villager who can do it in one quick motion, but it took him two years of practice to hone the skill required.

The third test is standing on a small round rock with one foot and count to 3 while doing it.  Apparently you are to be facing into the Temple while doing it, but no one told our group so they did it with their back to the Temple and many of our members aced this test.

There are many ghoulish places and objects but the one that turned my stomach and made me take a hasty retreat was called the “ Ghost Torturing Pass.”  It was models of people being tortured in unspeakable ways and a place I’d like to forget as it was extremely graphic.

We made out way down the hill on an outside walkway and did not see Brian. 

Dakota and his sweet waitress

Dakota and his sweet waitress

We realized he had been left further up the path so our youngest tour member Dakota made the trek up to fetch him.  Dakota is very young and was travelling with his mother.  He proved to be a real asset to our group and we routinely used his strength and speed as needed.  He is a real credit to his mother as he is so kind hearted and genuinely a sweet guy.  He was taken by one of our on board waiters as seen in this photo.  They make a cute couple but none of us had room in our suitcase for her.

We make it back to the ship for lunch which had a special treat for us… a plate of chicken feet.  I’m pretty sure it went back to the kitchen untouched.  We sailed away early afternoon and most of us enjoyed the day just watching the scenery pass by as we sat on our verandah. 

Distant mountaintop, now an island.  Had water buffalo grazing on it.

Distant mountaintop, now an island. Had water buffalo grazing on it.

We were surprised to see a number of water buffalo on an island, grazing happily in the sun.  No photos…could barely see them with the binoculars.  They weren’t alone on the island, their human caretaker was on the small island ( once a mountain top) with them.  Have no idea how they get them off and on the island.  This is the first time we have seen grazing animals.  The small amount of beef we had was listed as Australian beef and most dairy products are from New Zealand.  Given the scarcity of farm land in south China, I’m sure they can’t afford to use it to graze cattle on.

This evening was our farewell dinner followed by a show put on by staff and passengers.

Staff providing evening entertainment - much better than the passengers!

Staff providing evening entertainment – much better than the passengers!

We took the song “ Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore” and reworked the words to pay tribute to our guide Michael, who coincidentally was celebrating his birthday.  Upon return to our room, we have to pack and be ready to leave early in the morning.

I’ll end with just a couple of photos from today.

Off loading coal.. or ore

Off loading coal.. or ore

Factory moved to the river's edge

Factory moved to the river’s edge

Double click to increase the photo size and read more about the 3 bridges

Double click to increase the photo size and read more about the 3 bridges