PART 6: Lhasa to Yangtze River, The Three Gorges
Monday: Lhasa to Chengdu to Chongqing and aboard Victoria Cruise Lines
It was a painfully early 4:15 AM wake up call. I was feeling poorly. Many in our group had fallen victim to a stomach bug. (Yak burger perhaps?!)
We boarded our frozen bus for the long dark ride to the airport. We are convinced there is no heating in Tibet, anywhere! We knew it would be chilly but we completely under estimated the lack of interior heat. Hot food would turn cold almost immediately from the cold air and cold plates. Most interior spaces would turn cold as soon as the sun set.
No heat in the hotel (although very heavy yak wool blankets helped), no heat in the restaurants, and no heat on the bus! I discovered a hole in the floorboard beneath my seat. I was certain I would be frostbitten.
We stumbled onto the plane with hopes of thicker air at a lower elevation and warmth to thaw our shivering bodies. Luckily I found an empty row of seats and I laid down strategically between two bathrooms just in case I got sick. By now I was feeling terrible and was dreading the long day of travel ahead of us.
We arrive at Chengdu. They served fish on the plane! I thought I was going to lose it. The polluted air hit me like a brick. I needed rest. I skipped lunch and slept as much as I could on the bus. It was a five hour ride to Chongqing.
Upon our arrival, John gave me some medication and I went directly to bed. Eleven hours later, I awoke hungry and feeling human again.
Tuesday: Victoria Cruise Line, Fengdu
NOTE: Please see Archives: Favorite Water Journeys, Part 1, posted December 17, 2015. Category: Travel for more information on Victoria Cruise Lines.
After breakfast, we boarded Victoria 1, a US/China joint venture (at the time), our home for the next three nights. We would be cruising down the river the next three days. Finally our daily pace would slow a bit and we could recover from the breakneck pace our tour seemed to demand.
We wondered if the Chinese government preferred travelers to be busy every minute of every day save they get into mischief or something more sinister.
This afternoon we stop at Fengdu, the ghost city. What a surprise to find 700,000 people living there. We take the rickety skyway to the top of the Temple of Hell.
We discovered the ghosts are underworld characters, 18 different types, followed by judges and gods who determine if you are worthy to continue to heaven. A Chinese limbo or purgatory if you will.
The punishments for offenses like cheating or stealing would be grotesque and horrific. Who do you suppose thought up not paying your taxes as a humanitarian crime? The visit was okay but with too much silly superstitions and kitch.
Dinner again, more food. We are growing tired of Chinese food. The lack of variety and fresh fruit and veggies is frustrating. There was evening entertainment of some sort. We pass. Time to recharge our energy for the next few days.
Wednesday, The Lesser Gorges and 2 larger gorges.
We are up early to catch a glimpse of the first gorge. The morning is thick with fog. We can barely make out the shoreline. Soon there is a dim outline of the steep walls of the gorge and vague peaks at the top. It is chilly with a biting wind. Before long, however, we are rewarded with stunning views through the mist and early dawn light.
Limestone cliffs tower above us, vegetation and peculiar formations cling to the near vertical walls. Suddenly we are through the first gorge and everyone on deck scurries below for coffee and breakfast.
Soon we disembark to explore the Lesser Gorges. We wonder why we can’t go by ship until we arrive at some docks and realize the Lesser Gorges are clustered around a rocky narrow river far too small for our ship.
We board smaller flat bottom boats with the roofs retracted and off we go. It looks like an army of little boats jockeying to get away from the rest of the boats. It is a comical caravan of tourists. Some tourists but mostly Chinese locals. Away we go up the shallow river for our four hour journey.
As we enter the first of the three Lesser Gorges, the fog lifts and the sun breaks through. What a welcomed sight, a break from the foggy blanket we have experienced in most of our Chinese journey. The green foliage is rich green and bright in the morning sun. Rice terraces and vegetable fields glisten. The late autumn air has turned some trees red, others yellow and still others have lost their leaves altogether. Some not at all.
The narrow gorges reveal their treasures more intimately than the larger gorges. Everything is close, the limestone formations, the odd shaped caves, the towering overhangs and the peaks more than 2000 feet straight up.
The gaps between the gorges are filled with farmland and small villages. The water runs clear and clean. Seemingly rare in China. There are fish and birds everywhere. Monkeys warm themselves in the morning sun.
The second gorge is more beautiful than the first. Once we reach the third gorge, we stop for lunch on a large pebble beach. We munch on a box lunch prepared on our ship while local peddlers try to distract us with their trinkets for sale.
After lunch, we continue up the river to the third gorge. It is nice but merely impressive. After a short look, time demands we reverse course and retrace our trail and return to the ship.
Going downstream goes fast and is comparatively quiet. The boatmen busy polling and measuring the waters depth going upstream are now manning the bow oar to steer the boat through the rapids. It turned out to be a wonderful excursion. We enjoyed ourselves completely.
After docking, it’s back on the bus and zigzagging our way through the narrow streets of Wushan, most of which will be submerged with the completion of the massive Three Gorges Dam. New cities are already being built above the new water line.
Back on the ship, we immediately find ourselves approaching the second of the larger gorges. What it lacks in intimacy it more than make up for in sheer beauty. It conjures up images of the Swiss lake region or the Norwegian fjords if it were not for the brown murky water.
Tonight’s dinner included a rare pasta dish. We ignore the other offerings and indulge in something other than Chinese fare. The food overall has been quite good. After dinner, we were lured to another folk music and dance. We left after three performances having enough of such cultural displays.
Thursday, Thanksgiving. The construction site of the Three Gorges Dam
We skipped the early morning viewing of another small gorge and relished the extra time in bed. Today we visited the massive construction site of the Three Gorges Dam. The purpose and controversy aside, the scope and scale is beyond expansive. It will, no doubt, alter the face of China. The achievement is the source of much national pride.
The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy the last hours of our river cruise. The gorge slowly yields to farmland, cities grow larger, industry hugging the banks. Water commerce increases, so does the pollution again.
Our farewell dinner was excellent tonight. Each dish unique and unlike any other meals on the trip. An excellent fish was followed by an equally excellent duck. Each dish matched with a sauce, one slightly sweet and sour, the other rich and savory.
The crew provided a round of light entertainment to finish the evening.
Friday, disembark in Wuhan and connecting flights back to the US.
It got cold and foggy overnight. The morning was at leisure and we enjoyed the extra free time to relax and leisurely pack. The final breakfast was especially good. This was the final sailing of the season and the crew was eager to “wrap up” their tour of duty. We arrive early in Wuhan, catch our transfer to the airport for our long journey, via Hong Kong, back to the US.
It was an amazing trip. It was life altering is many ways. Travels like this make the world smaller, more connected if only one person at a time.