Yangtze River Cruises
For travelers in Sichuan, China, taking one of the Yangtze River cruises is one of the most spectacular sightseeing experiences in the country. Not only do Yangtze cruises allow you to get a close-up view of the mighty Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, and the amazing natural scenery along the river, they also take you past the breathtaking engineering feat of the Three Gorges Dam.
Most Yangtze River cruises will travel between the cities of Chongqing and Yichang. Several types of cruise ships are available, and it is recommended that Western tourists opt for the luxury cruises that include English-speaking guides; there are many tour companies in the country, such as China Odyssey Tours, that can help arrange these cruises. Chinese tourist boats are available for lower prices, but the style of interpretation and the standards of accommodation may not be what you are accustomed to. The Yangtze cruises take several days, stopping at various attractions and famous sights along the way.
One of the most famous towns along the banks of the Yangtze River is Feng Du, or the Ghost Town. In Feng Du, the term ghost town refers not only to a town that is mostly abandoned (the flooding of the Yangtze after the construction of the Three Gorges Dam forced many residents to leave), but is also literally a place where ghosts go to reach the afterlife. Several temples depict the journey of the ghosts through three tests: Nothing to be Done Bridge, Ghost-Torturing Pass, and Last Glance at Home Tower. Nearby, the labyrinthine Snow Jade Cave with thousands of white stalactites is one of the most popular attractions in the area.
Another cultural attraction on many Yangtze River cruises is the pagoda and temple of Shibaozhai, a hill on the banks of the Yangtze. A 12-story tower rises from the base of the hill and tourists can climb to the top to admire the temple, which is an impressive structure built without the use of nails. Although Shibaozhai used to be part of a village, much of the village is now underwater due to the rising water level of the Yangtze, and a large dike has been built to protect the bottom of the tower from being flooded.
On any of the Yangtze cruises, you will be able to take in the stunning scenery of the Three Gorges, which include Wu Gorge, Qutang Gorge, and Xiling Gorge. Wu Gorge offers spectacular vistas to travelers along the Yangtze, with majestic mountains, cliffs and rock formations, as well as dramatic valleys. Twelve Peaks line the banks of the Wu Gorge, with Goddess Peak being one of its tallest summits. The sight of the mountains in the swirling mist and fog is an almost mystical experience. Qutang Gorge is the narrowest gorge, and the furthest upstream. The tall vertical cliffs on either side of the narrow river are some of the most dramatic sights on your journey. Xiling Gorge is the longest gorge, and has some truly spectacular scenery as your boat winds up the mighty Yangtze, with karst mountains and caves, springs and streams.
Between Wu Gorge and Xiling Gorge you may want to take a side excursion, included on many cruises, up the Shennong Stream, a beautiful tributary that takes you through its own set of gorges, bamboo forests, and other scenery. You will be taken on traditional sampans, or open boats, which are paddled by local villagers.
Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam itself is located at the mouth of the Xiling Gorge, and your cruise will stop there for a couple of hours to allow you to walk to the viewing platform of the world's largest dam. Although construction of the Three Gorges Dam has been fraught with controversy (it has caused the relocation of thousands of people and has flooded many historical sites), it is still an astonishing sight, and a stunning example of how humans have, to an extent, subdued the mighty Yangtze River.