I spent the summer of 2010 travelling around Asia. We didn’t have much planned when we left home: We had our roundtrip plane tickets from Canada, a few hotels nights booked in Hong Kong, and a two weeks rail pass for Japan that we could activate anytime we wanted. But regardless, we still had many ideas of what we wanted to do.
We had heard about cruising the Yangtze River (or Yangzi, or Chang Jiang). It is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest in the world, only topped by the Nile (longest) and the Amazon. It runs from the Tibetan Plateau, all the way to Shanghai. It is 6,300 kilometers long. The Yangtze has a vital role in China, as it serves as irrigation, transportation, sanitation, and much more. But as much as it was crucial in the development of China, it packed a deadly weapon: Floods.
During the wet season, which is May and June in the south, and July and August in the north, the amount of water received by the river system causes major floods. The water level rises to deadly levels. The 1954 flood, for example, is reported to have caused more than 30,000 casualties. The 1998 flood is said to have caused more than 3000 deaths, as well as leaving more than 15 millions people homeless.
Those floods were one of the reason why the Chinese decided to build the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest power station in terms of electricity it can produce. Of course, the fact that the dam can produce about 10 % of China’s electricity needs is an added bonus, but flood control downstream of the dam was an important factor. With the dam, the Chinese are now able to store water upstream during the wet season and let it out during the dry season, effectively preventing floods as well as irrigating the lands during the dry season.
But storing such large amounts of water upstream couldn’t be done without any consequences. Since the water level upstream needed to be raised, 1.3 million people needed to be displaced elsewhere before the dam could be built. Whole cities needed to be moved to higher grounds or further inland. New houses needed to be built. As of today, those old cities rest underwater like ghost towns.
So back to our journey on the Yangtze River. We decided to take a boat ride downstream, so we started our cruise in Chongqing (a municipality of “only” 32 million people!), and ended in Wuhan. We spent two nights aboard our ship, cruising down the river and enjoying the scenery. We also passed in the Three Gorges Dam locks. I think that some cruises stop before the dam, though it was an interesting experience to go through them.
One of the thing that I really enjoyed on that cruise was that most of the passengers were Chinese. At our table for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all were Chinese but four. And I learned so much from them! They taught us some things about the food, about the culture. It was really an interesting experience! Of course, all the food was chinese. There was no western meals there!
All in all, I would really recommend such a cruise. Be it for the scenery, for the food, or for the fact that you can see the valley that is on the 10 Yuan bill!
Have you been on the Yangtze? What segment of the River did you cruise on? Let me know in the comments!