Cruising the Yangtzee


Yesterday we completed our five day cruise on the on China’s mighty Yangtzee River aboard the Century Diamond. Our trip, with 264 other passengers, began near the city of Wuhan and ended at this country’s largest city Shonshing with over 33 million inhabitants. Yes that’s right a city that has the population of Canada.

The Yangtzee River twist and turns 8000km between Tibet and Shanghai, is China’s largest River and has nearly 100 million people living on its shores. Our tour focused on an area known as the Three Gorges.

The Yangtzee Three Gorges Tour is a balance of natural beauty and man-made marvels.  The natural beauty of the Gorges is spectacular. Towering cliffs rise from the water’s edge toward the China sky. Mountains that tower hundreds of feet high feature abundant greenery with plenty of exposed gray rock for contrast. Mountain side  farmhouses  with orange groves and linier gardens extend high on the on the hillsides are common and seen regularly.  Some animal life can be seen on the shores. We were fortunate to see monkeys and goats from our private balconies. I have to admit I was not expecting discover this level of natural beauty on this trip. It is definitely one of many highlights for me thus far.

The other feature of the cruise was once again witnessing the technological prowess and determination of the Chinese people. The Chinese completed the Three Gorges Hydro Electric Dam in 2010 almost 20 years after is was started.

This massive dam, perhaps the biggest in the world, raised the water on  upstream side by 110 metres. This meant that 1.3 million who lived upstream of the dam were permanently displaced because of the resulting flooding.  New homes built at higher elevations allowed many to continue life on the river like generations before them. Other opted to be relocated to nearby cities or other parts of the country.

This dam, with more than thirty turbines, will provide China with  three percent of their electricity needs. As unimpressive as that sounds we need to remember that three percent in China means that 39 million people will benefit from the power produced by this world class facility. In relative terms, this dam could provide all of Canada’s electricity needs which is truly remarkable.

But as impressive as the dam is, the adjacent lock system that has been carved out of the mountain is also a modern day marvel. Shipping of manufactured goods and natural resources is a vital transportation link all along the Yangtzee. Boat traffic is heavy in both directions. We estimated that one ship we passed was carrying about 1700 new automobiles. The growing cruise ship business is becoming and important economic engine with hundreds of cruise ships carrying thousands of Chinese and International Tourist weekly.

The five step twined locks (one set for upstream traffic and one set for downstream traffic) is designed to lift ships over 30 metric tons 110 meters. Each step raises the ships 22 meters in about about 45 minutes. The entire lift is completed in three hours and forty five minutes. 100 ships in both directions can be moved through the locks each day. Passenger vessels get priority which means that some cargo ships can wait up 36 hours before getting passage through the locks.  I have been through locks in Canada. The shear size and capacity of each lock here impressive. The it is the height of each lift that is exceptional. Truly a modern technological marvel.

For smaller ships less than 30 tons, they have built a lift lock to raise these boats the full 110 meters in about 30 minutes. It is the largest lift lock of this type in the world. There is no charge to pass through the locks for any ship.

The quality of service and accommodation on the Century Diamond is excellent. Staff and crew on the ship were gracious and efficient. All provided exceptional service. Excursions were well timed, varied and interesting.

But the icing on this River adventure is the sights and sounds experienced along the way. Technical marvels and mountain vistas were  impressive and pleasing to the eye respectively.  Night views from the water of tall buildings and bridges with their choreographed multi-coloured light shows had us smiling with child like delight.

The sounds of ships motoring by and distant fog horns provided our nautical background music for our journey. Hearing the young mother, who was our River guide for the day, proudly sing century old folks songs about love and family was endearing and enchanting. Finally the sound of the children laughing and at play, in the small river side communities we visited, is a reminder that regardless of borders, language or culture, there are joyful sounds that make us all the same.

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