We finally reach the monstrous Three Gorges Dam in the late afternoon and are bussed to the viewing area. From here we ride a series of long steep outdoors escalators to the top of a hill which commands an excellent view down onto the five step lock systems. They are massive. Later this evening our ship will begin the long process of passing through. Our view across the dam is so obscured by the haze that we can really only guess what it looks like. An enormous very solid cement structure disappears indistinctly into the mist. Presumably it is much more substantial than it appears in this weak light.
Our eventual progression up through the lock begins after dark. There is some excitement during the first lock’s opening, our passage into it, the closing, the rising, the opening at the top….all to be repeated with appropriate grinding and screeching of metal on metal five times over. Needless to say, I’m sure not one passenger follows the entire procedure as it continues for several hours. The following morning finds us sailing into sunshine and ever more scenic gorge. We are now in the second gorge, which is called Wu Gorge. The river has narrowed again and is much more interesting due to its bends and the steep cliffs rising vertically from its jade green depths.
We stop at a dock – as dilapidated as all the others where we disembark onto a rusty barge tied up to the bank of the river. We board small sampans, each with a bright yellow awning and holding about 18 of us. We head up into a much narrower steep-sided tributary known (in translation) as Goddess Stream. The scenery is stunning and the sun is now making a serious effort at burning through the smog. Our guide tells us about her life as a relocated mountain person. She describes the government relocation of the millions of people affected by the rising waters of the Yangtze. She does so with little commentary, simply stating facts as she knows them. Move or drown. If your house was 40 square metres your new one will be 80 square metres. You had a farm, now you do not, but you have a new TV and new furniture. Your farm was on land surrounded with fields and trees. Your new house is in a city (referred to as a village), in a multi floor walk up apartment. If you are too infirm to walk up all those stairs too bad. The dam has reduced flooding, improved navigation, provided a source of cleaner power. A few million displaced people, thousands of ancient treasures under water etc is seen as an acceptable and reasonable price to pay.
Certainly this is not something about which this foreigner should make comment. The fact is, we are now sailing on the world’s longest reservoir and it is very beautiful.
This brings me to wonder if the reason for the awful docking facilities is because the water has been rising for the past few years and perhaps it is a really bad idea to build permanent infrastructure in an area with an as yet unknown high water level??
Once returned to our Viking Emerald we head off up river again into the third gorge. This is even more narrow and now that the sun is shining, it presents itself as being quite a glorious place. Qutang Gorge is also the shortest reach of the three so quite soon we are headed out the other side. The river widens, but the shore line remains hilly and picturesque. We pass several large and brand new cities, under more bridges and past pleasant rural landscapes.