A Cruise Down the Yangtze
We just finished our last school vacation that coincided with China’s May Day Labor Day holiday. We took a 7-day cruise down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Shanghai, covering 1548 miles. The Yangtze, or Chang Jiang as it is known in China, which means “the long river”, is the 3rd longest river in the world, behind the Nile and Amazon, and being about 70 miles longer than the Mississippi.
We were scheduled to start in Chongqing, a city of 4.6 million, with surrounding area population of over 30 million. It is considered China’s fastest growing region. Chongqing was part of Sichuan, so food there is spicy and hot! It now is its own province, similar to Beijing, and Shanghai, being a large “city-state.” Chongqing is located on a peninsula where the the Yangtze meets the Jialing River. It was China’s capital during WWII. The land in and around Chongqing and the Yangtze is hilly and even mountainous. In fact, mountains rise up from both sides of the Yangtze.
We flew to Chongqing from Shanghai. On arriving there, we were informed that because of the drought in Western China, the river was too low for cruise ships. We would be going by bus from Chongqing, along the river down to Fengdu to board where the water was higher, about a 3 1/2 hour ride. The road trip was very interesting as we got a great view of the Yangtze from the riversides on roads that seemed to hang on the banks above the river. There were numerous tunnels through the hills on the sides and new bridges spanning the river.
The sides of the river are terraced with farms growing rice, corn, cabbage, and other produce.
At Fengdu, we boarded the Prince, a medium size cruise ship on the Yangtze, holding about 200 passengers. Our cabin was quite comfortable. It had its own balcony so we could see the Yangtze from our room.
Each day we had excursions off the boat to see the sights along the way. The weather was very cooperative and we had clear weather for almost the whole trip. We were very impressed with the number of ships and barges going up and down the Yangtze. It is a very active river, and the lifeblood of China. We saw container ships, car ships, oil barges, coal barges, sand barges, all types of ships.
Some of the highlights:
Three Gorges-we went through the Three Gorges of the Yangtze, quite beautiful as mountains rise up on both sides of the river. We took a side trip up some of the smaller gorges on a smaller boat, then even smaller gorges in an even smaller boat, or sampan.
Three Gorges Dam-we passed through four locks of The Three Gorges Dam, considered the largest hydro electric project in the world. It supplies 10% of China’s electricity. It is over a mile across. It is quite a controversial project as it displaced over 1.4 million people. Its main purpose is flood control, as the Yangtze floods badly about once every 10 years. It is already helping some because of the drought. The Yangtze is usually yellow-colored because of all the silt it carries. The silt backing up behind the dam is another controversial item. The river we saw from the start was mostly blue-green. It wasn’t until we were well below the dam that it became silt-colored.
Yellow Mountain-We took a side-trip to Yellow Mountain. It is the mountain(s) used in the movie Avatar. It has the sharp jagged peaks seen in many traditional Chinese paintings. The Chinese consider it a sacred place. The mountain is not yellow, but we found that the Chinese give the yellow name to things of importance. Notice in the picture of us the padlocks hanging from the chains. These padlocks were placed by couples signifying their love for each other.
Other highlights of our cruise down the Yangtze: Wuhan-Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province, right next to Hunan, Mao’s home province. It is a city of about 4+ million people. It is where the Yangtze meets the Han River and it originally was three cities, each on its chunk, or side of the river…the three cities were Wuchang, Hankou.and Hanyang…hence the amalgamation Wuhan. The city was destroyed in 1944 by American bombers, as it was under Japanese control. It is notable, as it is the only city on both sides of the Yangtze. It is important as it is the biggest city in central China, and it was the place where demonstrations started in 1911, leading to the end of the empire (emperor) and dynasties. It is referred to as one of China’s “furnace” cities as it gets very hot in summer (July and August) and is over 100 degrees F. much of the time. Mao came here in 1966, at the age of 72 and swam across the Yangtze, no easy feat, as the Yangtze is over a mile across! Mao must have been very strong! This swim is repeated each year and now has over 10,000 swimmers taking part!
Nanjing-Nanjing is also important as it used to be the southern capital of the Empire. It is also big, 7.4 million people, another “furnace” city. It still has city walls left from the Ming Dynasty.
We visited the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sun, an important figure in Chinese history. He was the first president of the republic formed after the 1911 revolution. He has educated in the U.S. (Hawaii) was married to a Chinese girl also educated in the U.S. whose sister was married to Chiang Kaishek, the general and leader of China during WWII. Nanjing was occupied by Japan in 1937, and led to what was known as “the Rape of Nanjing.” where over 20,000 women were raped, and between 300,000 and 400,000 civilians were killed. The mausoleum is a special place and we visited on May 1, a national holiday, so the place was filled with patriotic Chinese. We visited the largest Confucian Temple in China in Nanjing. It was quite beautiful.
We continued on to Shanghai. We were delayed by fog on the Yangtze for about 6 hours before turning up the Huangpu River (which means “yellow bank river”), so we missed our train back to Suzhou. We had to take a local train, which was packed, standing room only…we did have a seat…and the bus home in Suzhou was totally full by the time we got off…which is what happens when you travel during a Chinese national holiday! The cruise down the Yangtze was a great cruise! We would recommend it to everyone!