Three Gorges

Where They Built The Three Gorges Dam In China

The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River in China, is one of the most magical places in the orient, and a magnet for tourists from all over the world.

The Yangtze has cut its way through sheer mountains which often have their peaks shrouded in mists and clouds. Every peak has a name and a tale attached to it. These tales usually involve Gods, Dragons and Princesses.

The Three Gorges are actually three separate areas through which the river flows. These areas cover about 200 kilometres of the river`s length. That includes the sections between each of the gorges. The Three Gorges themselves add up to a total distance of about 120 kilometres.

Going from west to east the gorges are called Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge and Xiling Gorge. Within these separate sections are areas which have their own names. For example, Qutang Gorge has a part that is called Bellows Gorge and in Xiling Gorge there is a part called Shadow Play Gorge.

The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and vitally important to the economy of China. Generations of Chinese have used the waters of the river for every purpose you could imagine.

However, one of the historic problems associated with this huge river is the fact that it is prone to flooding.

Countless thousands of poor Chinese living close to the river have lost their lives. The last major flood was in 1998. The notorious 1954 floods in China were responsible for the death of 30,000 people, while those of 1935 killed an estimated 142,000.

It is to control this flooding - and for other reasons as well - that the massive Three Gorges dam in China has been built

Qutang Gorge

It is roughly halfway along its 4000 mile length that the mighty Yangtze river reaches the first of the three gorges. This is Qutang Gorge. Only eight kilometres long it is considered to be the most spectacular of the 3 gorges.
At its widest point it is only 150 metres. On either side of the river the mountains rise steeply. In some places reaching a height of 1200 metres (4000 feet)

The western entrance to Qutang Gorge is known as The Kuimen Gate. On the south side of this entrance there is a cliff called The Chalk Wall.
Over the years nearly a thousand Chinese characters have been carved into the cliff face. Some are as large as six feet wide and the oldest dates back a thousand years.

Close to the Chalk Wall and also on the south side of the river a series of rectangular holes have been cut into the rock.
They are a metre deep and a metre apart. They do not go all the way to the top of the cliff and their purpose is not really known.
However, like most places in the Three Gorges there is a legend attached to them.
Known as the Meng Liang Stairway they were supposedly cut by a mythical Chinese soldier in an attempt to rescue the bones of his general who had died at the top of the cliff.

There are many such stories like this associated with features in the gorges.

On the northern shore of Qutang Gorge, at a place known as Bellows Gorge, you will find the famous "Hanging Coffins" of the ancient Ba people.

The Ba were a race of people who had a civilisation that started thousands of years ago but has now died out. The last member of this ancient race was thought to have died four hundred years ago.
The Ba did not bury their dead, but instead placed them in wooden coffins high on the sides of cliffs. Some are supported on wooden stakes set into the cliff face while others have been placed on ledges or in small caves. One coffin is known to date back 2,500 years.

The narrow entrance to Qutang Gorge was the ideal place to deny entry to enemy boats trying to sail downstream. Chains were stretched across the river at this point even when there were no enemies to worry about. The authorities retained the chains for many years as a way of stopping boats to extract tolls from them. Hundreds of years ago two six foot high iron pillars were placed in the river to support these chains. They used to be visible at low water.

However, since the building of the Three Gorges dam and the subsequent terrific rise in the water levels, these pillars have disappeared from sight forever. Unfortunately so has the wonderful Chalk Wall and The Meng Liang Stairway. Nowadays travellers are only told about these wonders and are not able to see them.

In the past boats travelling downstream with the current could always do so under their own power. However, before the coming of engines the boats going upstream had to use oars. This often proved impossible when the current was powerful or when there was a very strong headwind.

Then the only way boats could travel upstream was by being towed. Gangs of men, sometimes hundreds if the boat was particularly large, would be harnessed with ropes attached to the boat and they would haul it against the current. These gangs of men were known as "trackers."

They had to have a footpath to follow to allow them to haul the boats through the Qutang Gorge. Originally this footpath was close to the water. This meant that when the Yangtze was in flood, the path would be under water and boats would be stranded for days until the levels fell.

This was the situation until 1889 when a path was hand hewn into the rock face of the cliffs on the northern side of the river. An incredible undertaking but it meant that boats could be hauled upstream whatever the conditions of the river. Once again the raised water level caused by the dam has now covered this amazing "trackers footpath."

Wu Gorge

The second of the gorges is Wu Gorge. (Witches Gorge) At the western end of the gorge a tributary of the Yangtze meets the river.
This is the Daning River

It is on the lower reaches of the Daning River that one of the highlights of a river cruise through the Three Gorges is to be found.

This is the "Lesser Three Gorges."
They are called Dragon-Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge and Emerald Gorge.
The journey up the Daning River through these gorges is a scenic wonder.

Wu Gorge is 45 kilometres long and before the dam was built it was a place of dangerous whirlpools and rapids.
It is divided into two sections. The first is called "Golden Helmet and Silver Armour Gorge" and the second is called "Iron Coffin Gorge."

On both sides of Wu Gorge lie the famous 12 Peaks. These are spectacular mountains that rise steeply out of the waters of the Yangtze on either side of the gorge. They all have romantic names, such as Climbing Dragon Peak, Rising Cloud Peak and Goddess Peak.

The journey downstream through Wu Gorge involves many twists and turns. At one point it seems as if the river comes to a dead end at a mountain with a pale grey rock face. This is Congregated Immortals Peak an inscription is carved on the grey rock face which is attributed to Zhuge Liang. He was a strategist and politician from the 3rd. Century. In fact it was carved many years later in his honour. The inscription is known as the Kongming Pai.

Before the Three Gorges dam was built, the journey through the gorges was arduous and very dangerous. Many crews would smoke opium to relieve the stress of the trip. Only about twenty percent of boats would complete the journey undamaged, five percent would be totally destroyed.

When accidents occured, rescuers were paid reward money for pulling people from the water. Oddly, they would be paid twice as much for recovering a dead body as they would for rescuing the living. This is because the superstitious Chinese thought that unless their bodies were recovered the spirits of the dead would stay in the water and on the sides of other boats to cause trouble!

The town of Guandukou on the north shore marks the end of Wu Gorge. This used to be the site of a notorious set of rapids called Flint Rapids where jagged limestone rocks jutted into the river. These rocks and other rapids were destroyed with explosives in the 1950`s.

Xiling Gorge

The last and longest of the Three Gorges is Xiling Gorge. It is 76 kilometres in length and is considered to have two sections. Each of these sections also has stretches that have their own names. For example, in the western section you will find Military Book and Precious Sword Gorge, Bull`s Liver and Horse`s Lung Gorge and Kongling Play Gorge. The eastern section has Shadow Play Gorge and Yellow Cat Gorge.

These gorges usually get their names from the way they appear to the people viewing them. For example, Military Book and Precious Sword Gorge got its name due to a layer of rock that looks like a stack of books and a vertical shaft below it looks like a sword.

Renowned as being extremely dangerous to travel through, Xiling Gorge had many rapids and shifting shoals. However, many poets and historic celebrities have visited the gorge and written poems about its beauty.

So dangerous was Xiling Gorge that in 1854 a rich local merchant raised the money to build three boats to patrol the river rescuing those in difficulty. Eventually there were lifeboats covering the Yangtze between Chongqing and Yichang. These remained in service until the 1940`s.

It is in Xiling Gorge that the immense 3 Gorges Dam has been built. The largest Chinese Dam ever constructed, it serves to control floods on the Yangtze River and also provides vast amounts of hydroelectricity.

Although shipping up and down the river has seen vast improvements in navigating what were difficult stretches, there are drawbacks to this amazing construction project. Foremost among them, of course, is the loss of some important historic sites.

Despite the dam, the Three Gorges of The Yangtze river will forever be a place of beauty and wonder.

It is still one of the greatest gorges to visit in the world



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