Photo courtesy of Miranda Chang
Corona del Mar High School

Three Gorges Dam and Yangtze River cruise

When I travel, I have the opportunity to see nature’s beauty and wonder. I feel insignificant compared to what nature can create. However, I have been in awe of formidable man-made structures as well, including the Three Gorges Dam, the Egyptian Pyramids, and the Great Wall.

One natural wonder China is known for is the Yangtze River, which is the third longest river in the world at 3,915 miles. Every 10 years, the river floods massively, causing destruction, casualties, and economic damage. To prevent these problems, the government built the Three Gorges Dam in 1994. The dam is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, has broken over 100 world records, and took 17 years to construct.

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Yangtze River Cruise Map (courtesy of chinatourmap.com)

We took a four-night, five-day upstream cruise from Yichang to Chongqing, which is one day longer than the downstream cruise from Chogqing to Yichang, giving us more time to enjoy and photograph each attraction. The benefit of this cruise is that we can also enjoy the Three Gorges and scenic spots on the bank of the Yangtze River. The prices of the cruises are approximately the same, around $450. Since the cruise ship sails on a river, not the ocean, the cruise ship is small, holding only 400 people, and the ride is calm.

After arriving at the Xiling Gorge, we disembarked to visit the magnificent dam, which is 1.4-miles long and 607-feet high. Outside, we took escalators to the upper tourist area.

We started in the Gorges Exhibition hall, which showed the history of the dam’s construction history. On the Tanzi-Ling viewing platform, we had a bird’s eye view of the dam and the five-step ship locks. We also saw a variety of rocks displayed in the Tanzi-Ling Park. Then, we went to 185 Park Zone, which is the same height as and the closest place to the dam, we found an amazing panoramic view of the dam.

While we were there, we pondered the dam’s function and what it means to people who live around the river and dam.

The dam project’s purposes included: flood control, power generation, and navigation solutions. However, not only did the dam has caused over a million people to relocate, but it resulted in sediment deposition, fish and plant species extinction, and over a thousand archaeological sites to be submerged.

Although the pros and cons of the dam remain controversial, it is an engineering marvel and a significant achievement for the government.

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This concrete tetrahedron, called the Tetrahedron for River Close-off, is used to stop the river flow.
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800 million years old from the bottom of the Yangtze River
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Two-way, five-step ship lock

The dam consists of five chambers that ships pass through. After entering the first chamber, the water level rises and the ship is raised so it is level with the next chamber. This step is repeated four more times, and this process is the same for going downstream.

The total drop from the water level of the first chamber to the reservoir is approximately 370 feet. It used to take four hours to pass through the dam via the ship locks, but a new ship lift elevator next to the original system was completed in 2016. The new system can lift vessels up to 3,000 tons, and it only takes 40 minutes to cross the dam.

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The view from inside the chamber. Each lock is 114 feet wide and 918 feet long. The locks can accommodate two lanes of boats waiting to enter the next level.
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Xiling Gorge Scenic Resort: Village Scene

After we visited the dam and went back to the cruise, we saw the Xiling tribe homes. Their wooden homes can be seen on the sides of the mountain and look as if they are suspended.

When I saw these dwellings, I sensed tranquility in the atmosphere, which reflects the Xiling tribes’ lifestyle. This scenery evoked nothing but pleasant feelings.

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Shennong Stream

The Yangtze River has hundreds of tributaries flowing into it. Shennong Stream is one of the tributaries we visited. We had to switch to a smaller boat to fit in the tributary.

Before the dam was built, the stream was so turbulent that it roared like white water rapids. Local tribes used boat trackers, people that pull boats, to haul goods. However, after the dam’s completion, the water level rose and the stream calmed.

The Shennong Stream’s beautiful, green water is a contrast to the Yangtze’s murky, tan water. On the stream, whenever the boat was heading towards a mountain, I thought it was dead-end. However, as we neared, there was a small pathway that led to even more scenery.

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Cliff Coffin

We saw unique sites on the left and right of the tributary. One included a very tall cliff that is used as a burial site. Coffins are positioned on top of the cliff, but the mountains are so high that they prevent animals from eating the corpses and people from raiding the coffins.

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The color change on the rock, where the tan darkens to brown, represents the river’s highest level ever reached: 574 feet above sea level every winter.
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Wu Gorge

Famed for its deep valleys, the Wu Gorge is the most mesmerizing of the Three Gorges. Mists and clouds always surround it, making the scenery look like a Chinese landscape painting. The most notable characteristic is the 12 peaks, which line the bank on the sides.

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The Kui Gate of Qutang Gorge

The Qutang Gorge is the most majestic of the Three Gorges. Find a ten Yuan bill, and compare it to the above picture. The Qutang Gorge is on the back of the ten Yuan bills.

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Baidi City

While we headed to another destination, we engaged in one of the onboard cruise activities, listening to people recite hundreds of poems, immersing ourselves in the most enjoyable poems. The reason that this cruise activity occurred is that we were going to Baidi City, which is called City of Poems. Many notable Chinese poets, such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, and Su Shi, wrote poems in Baidi City, giving birth to the nickname.

The city is also called White Emperor City because of a well-known story. Liu Bei, emperor of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms era, lost the war and became ill before he died. He entrusted his son to Zhuge Liang, the prime minister, to guide him to manage the country. If his son could not manage well, then Liang would take over.

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Shibaozhai Pagoda (Photo by Michael Gwyther-Jones)

The Shibaozhai Pagoda is 12 stories high and unique. It was built without nails. Many people worshipped gods at the Shibaozhai Pagoda in ancient times.

Since the dam causes the water level to rise, many historical sites were submerged, including the Shibaozhai Pagoda. Only the top of the island is visible; like an iceberg, the majority is underwater. Embankments surround the sides to protect the site. Other cultural sites that disappeared under the reservoir were rebuilt at higher elevations or will become underwater museums in the future for tourists.

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Fengdu Ghost City

The last destination we visited is the Fengdu Ghost City. After death, the soul goes here and is judged by the King of Hell. If the soul has committed bad deeds, it will go to hell.

The Yangtze River is surrounded by many landmarks worth visiting. Although the scenery changed slightly after the dam’s construction, each site, especially the dam, still proudly boasts its intricate architecture and timeless natural beauty. They all capture a piece of man-made and natural history from thousands of years ago.

For more pictures, please watch the video below:

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