We’ve sail all night, yet this morning the smog and scenery remains much the same. We slide by slower moving vessels heading up-stream and others pass us by on their passage out towards Shanghai. We continue to pass flat farmland, treed areas, a few skyscraper cities and under several more high suspension bridges. The river remains very wide and fast flowing. The landscape continues to be monotonous gray and somewhat indistinct. While the view beyond our windows is unexceptional, we are busy within the confines of our comfortable ship.
The past three days have been punctuated by several lectures and activities squeezed between delicious meals. So far we’ve had an interesting class on traditional Chinese medicine, a fascinating lecture on the history of Buddhism in China, an introduction to speaking Chinese (which provides ample opportunity for hilarity), a lesson on Majong (followed by the opportunity to play a few games), a history of tea and demonstration of a Chinese tea ceremony, plus informative talks about the Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dam. So despite being inactive in the physical sense, we’ve been kept very busy.
We are now entering the first stretch of the renowned scenic gorge scenery. Most of us are on deck to watch our ship proceed through the first lock. This was built as a test lock in the 1970s and is still a fair distance from the larger series of locks associated with the Three Gorges Dam. It is a tight squeeze with just a few inches to spare on either side of the boat! Once we’re into the lock the water level increases amazingly quickly and we’re soon sailing out the top side.
The temperature has dropped significantly and the cloud or pollution haze is thick and low so visibility remains quite poor. Regardless, the scenery is improved and limestone cliffs rise steeply on either side of this much narrower stretch of the river. Thick forests grow above the cliffs and reflect their deep green into the water below. There are still many other boats plying passage up and down. Most of them are very rusty and belch clouds of stinky diesel fumes into the air. There are a few small villages along the less steep areas of the shore and several private lodges and resorts are pointed out to us. Nothing is old or quaint. The villages are not unattractive, but they aren’t exceptionally photogenic either. Rows of quite homogeneous white three story buildings line a road that snakes above the river. These are some of the houses built by the government to relocate the people who’s homes were flooded by rising water above the dam.
This area is cited as being the most scenic reach of the Yangtze. Hmmm. So far I’m rather underwhelmed. It is interesting but not particularly scenic. To my mind the Li River is much more the quintessential picture-book Chinese River. I reserve judgment for now.
Off to bed. While we sleep, our voyage will continue so we’ll be lulled by the gentle throb of two big diesel engines and the whisper of the Yangtze flowing past our bow.