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Journey to Yangtze River & The Three Gorges of China
written by Kelvin Khor

Yangtze River is the longest river in China & third in the world. It begins at Qinghai plateau at southwest, flows through nine provinces and into Yellow Sea after Shanghai at east, covers total distance of 6300km & almost 1/5 of China land area. It flows through some major industrialized cities and makes it the most important river in China. However, Yangtze River also floods every year causing lose of lives & millions of dollars. Therefore, the government decided to build dams to control the water; and Gezhouba & Three Gorges dams are born (the latter is still under construction).

Unfortunately, a lot of famous historical sides, cities & villages will be summered under the muddy river, which expect to raise 170m upon completion of both dams. And an ancient pathway along the river used hundred years ago is also not spared. That why my friend & I decided to track & experience a glimpse of this pathway that will disappear next year. And admire the fascinating The Three Gorges. Of course, hopefully, bring back some memorable photos.

Due to the danger of the path & long hike, I have to limit my weight of backpack. That's meant no tripod. I limit my gear to D60, Tamron SP 24-135mm, Canon 50mm (never used), monopod (used as hiking stick & clearing bushes instead), 2 batteries & charger.

Day 1 (9/14/02) Shenzhen City to Yichang City

Flight from Shenzhen to Yichang took about 2 hours. After checked in Three Gorges Hotel (yes, that's the name), we immediately headed toward Gezhouba dam, which situated within city limit. It was about 5pm, overcast sky, less than ideal for photography. The dam was huge. It contained 2 channels that lower or raise boats to either sides of the dam. Once the gates closed, the locals used them as a bridge to cross the river.



It was dinner again, we just had to check out the local hawker food center. Typical food was hot & spicy, with duck tongue, duck legs, duck neck (just about every part & organs), frog, crawfish, catfish & etc (you get an idea).

Day 2 (9/15/02) Yichang City To Qingze Village

Our destination today was Qingze village with population of less than 100 people. To reach the place, we took 2 hours of speedboat up the river to Padong town, then changed to a smaller boat to Peize village that took another 4 hours.

Morning weather was overcast & foggy with temperature about 22oC. Good for hiking but bad for photographing. Speedboat to Padong town left at 7:40am. Not long after Yichang, we passed through one of the biggest dam in the world under construction; The Three Gorges Dam It was humongous. I snapped couple of shots as we passing beside it.



The first of The Three Gorges was 78Km long Xiling Gorge. Both sides of river were mountains. I felt like going between a chain of mountains. It was hopeless shooting from the speedboat in this overcast sky.



We got off along with some other passengers at Padong's port before 10am. The port was basically a big house boat made of metal that chained to gorge. Passengers had to climb up a very steep stone stairs to reach the top (I figured it was at least 100m tall. And we complain when mall's escalator broke down).

We waited for almost 2 hours & no one could tell us when the boat to Peize would arrive (typical here). Finally we managed to stop a passing boat (like you wave to a bus) that willing to take us to Peize for RMB100 (USD1 ~ RMB8). This boat served as a primary transportation to local villages live along the river because there was no road around. Fare was cheap & it stopped almost everywhere (even without a port).

And here began the 4 hours slow boat ride. We met six more backpackers like us (four young guys and a couple) on the boat, and turned out we all heading to same destination. So we teamed up. The sky was partly sunny by that time. The ride took us into Wu Gorge, which I managed to snap some more photos. Wu Gorge was 45Km long.

The boat finally reached Peize village at about 4pm. Right in front of us was an abandon, torn down village. A new village was built higher up the gorge. Without wasting a second, eight of us immediately started our first hike to Qingze that expected to take 3 hours. Five minutes passing the village, we entered the ancient pathway. The pathway was nothing but a one to two feet wide path built with square rocks laid along the gorge many years ago. As villages no longer using it, thick bushes, trees and some plants full of one cm long spikes grown wild from the side. As we walked along this tiny and full of pits path, we practically had to push ourselves through the bushes while looking out for pits (by end of the day, I have no less than 30 cuts on my hands, neck & legs). To make thing worst, to our right was cliff that at most points, were more than 150m high from Yangtze River down below. One wrong step you could say hello to St. Peter in no time. Taking picture was next to impossible.

We walked fast despite the danger. We had to get to Qingze before dark. The only motivation came from shouting to passing vessels far below to get their attention (kind of showing off). Eventually, exhaustion set in and we took a first rest at about 6pm. This allowed me to snap couple of photos.



Sun was disappearing behind the mountain. It was totally dark by 7pm & still no sign of settlement within our sight. Since no one planned to hike at night (unless you're crazy enough), only half of us brought torchlight. With no other choice, we proceeded with even greater care of every single step we made. No one spoke a word other than "watch out for pit". However, exhaustion caused lost of focus. My friend stepped on a pit & fall. Luckily, he managed to grab on the edge of cliff and we pulled him up quickly. He told me the next day at that moment, he thought he would die & felt sorry for his parents & girl friend. We laugh.

By 8pm, we saw Qingze village. Everyone was so happy & released, the four hours of hike from hell was over. It was another 170m up the stair to the village (darn!). We stayed with the farmers for a small fee (RMB25) including dinner & breakfast.

Day 3 (9/16/02) Qingze Village To Wushan Town

The air was cooling early in the morning, clean & unpolluted. We separated with another team and went our own way. Our next stop was Wushan City, which took another 2 hours of boat up the river. This city was a transition point to the famous Lesser Three Gorges. I saw big vessels carry thousand of tourists parked near a port. City limit below 170m was abandon as any other villages & cities. From a distance, I could clearly see a new city was being constructed on top of the old one.



We had a quick simple lunch at a nearby open restaurant (the last one remained in this abandon old town) while big trucks & buses passed by less than 7m away, blown up cloud of thick dust from the dry mud road. I had the dustiest lunch in my life. Unfortunately, we later found out boat to our next destination, Dachang was no longer available until next morning. So, we checked in the best hotel in town (still cheap), Wushan International Hotel up in the hill in new town. Construction was everywhere. There was practically a new building being build or under renovation within 50m range. This was the dustiest city I ever been to.
At night after 10pm, a girl called and asked if we need any "special service". A minute after we declined & hung up the phone, next room's phone rang and after a while, the next. Apparently, she called every room looking for business (we encountered same thing for next two nights at different hotel).

Day 4 (9/17/02) Wushan Town To The Lesser Three Gorges

The Lesser Three Gorges referred to Longmen Gorge, Bawu Gorge & Dicul Gorge located along Daning River, a tributary of Yangtze River with 50Km in length. Unlike Yangtze, its water was clean, clear and green in color. Most gorges grown vertically from the water and peaks were in odd shapes. The only way to visit this place was by boat, designated for tourist where they charged RMB75 as entrance fee. Because the river was much narrow and the gorges were mostly more than 100m (my guess), 24mm on D60 was pretty much useless to capture a decent scenery, not mentioning sitting in a crowded boat.

There were two mysteries unexplainable until today along this river. First were the suspending coffins high up in the gorge. No one could explain how these dated more than thousand years old coffins were placed up there. My longest zoom was 135mm, way too short to capture the coffins. The second mystery was the square holes located at different stretch along this 50Km river. The holes were about 4X4 inches, one foot deep and total of three thousands over. They were lined up in two rows (top & bottom) with a fix distance between two holes. It was believed they were used to support bridges, but we could only guest why & how they were built.

After reaching a smaller tributary, called Madu River, we shifted to another 15 feet long wooden boat that could carry 10 persons. Something special about our next journey up river by this boat was neither by motor nor by rolling, it was by pulling & pushing (the river was no more than 2 feet deep). Three men worked in synchronization; one push from behind, one used a rope pulling from riverbank and third navigated the boat. Their equipment was four long bamboo & a rope. They shifted & changed position, also sang at the same time according to river depth & contour, working in perfect synchronization. They did this for almost 2 hours & rested only 5 minutes in between. Most of them were already in their late 40s. I impressed by their endurance & pure energy. Their parent & grand parent did this job for living in real river, risking life. Today, they still continued their ancestors way of life, but did it just to entertain tourist at non-life threatening river.




Day 5 (9/18/02) Wushan Town To Fengjie Town

To get to Fengjie Town, we had to take a two hours boat up Yangtze River to Daxi village, hike for three hours to Baidizhen (City of White Emperor) and then took half hour bus (the only road transport we used in this trip).

That morning, we missed the boat to Daxi. The boat left 30 minutes earlier than we were told. Instead of wasting four hours waiting for next one, we hired a fisherman boat for RMB140 after some lengthy bargaining. Half way up river, our boat was stopped by River Patrol. Soon we realized it was illegal for fishing boat to carry passenger, And worst still, the fisherman did not have valid fishing license. The policemen confiscated his fishing net but offered to bring us to Daxi (we thought we're in good hand. Boy, were we wrong!). Later, a police approached and said they had to charge us RMB200! Being in unfamiliar place and in their territory, we played by their rule. We paid half of that after some negotiation.

We glad we got off the pirate ship. People said you got what you paid for, and next thing we found out that we were not dropped off at correct location. The ancient pathway was the only road around that able to lead us to Baidizhen, but it was no where to be found. We lost in middle of no where. In order to proceed, we forced ourselves climbing up a 100m high and 60-degree slope, hoping to find someone asking for direction. Free climber might found doing that was an easy task, but for us that spent 8 hours sitting in office daily and carried 12Kg load, that climb was too much & stupid. We did that & survive. But damn, where was the path? When we were about to give up, luck was back on our side, a woman carried a 2 years old appeared from no where and was kind enough to show us the ancient pathway.
We were in Bellows Gorge at this point. This was the shortest among the three gorges with only 8Km long, but the most spectacular. Perpendicular walls grown directly from the river. The sun was cooking us as we proceed. This path was not as dangerous as one before but careless could still get you killed. It was still one-foot wide path with a steep drop next to it.



Refused to walk further after reaching first rest area, we hired another boat to Fongxiangxia. Fongxiangxia was a famous tourist spot with big cave and suspending coffins high up in its cliff. From there we walked for an hour or so (feel like walking in a park after the previous experiences) to reach Baidizhen. From there, we jumped on a local bus to Fengjie town. The bus ride was terrible. Fengjie suffered same fate as Wushan, anything below 170m from water level was abandon. Did I say Wushan was dusty? Wait until you see Fengjie. But the new hotel we stayed was a bit nicer though. At this point, we had walked The Three Gorges via the ancient pathway, well, tiny part of it.

Day 6 (9/19/02) Fengjie Town To Chongqing City

It took another 8 hours speedboat's ride up Yangtze River to get to Chongqing, which was the biggest city around this region with population over 30 millions.

While waiting for our speedboat to Chongqing, a vessel pulled in the port to drop off some passengers. Some remaining passengers rushed to deck and buy food from a hawker stall on port. For those passengers that stayed in level 3 or 4, the hawker had a long bamboo stick with net at one end to bring up food they ordered. They put money inside the net after receiving their food. Cool!



Our whole day was wasted in the speedboat, but it was worth it. Chongqing gave us a homely feeling of big city.

Day 7 (9/20/02) Chongqing City Back To Shenzhen City

Nothing much happened today. We checked out an old village & The People's Great Hall (a landmark of Chongqing) before taking night flight back to Shenzhen. Home sweet home.



I have mix feeling about this trip. It is full of adventures to me with a lot of new experiences, mostly bad but some are good. Regardless of what, everything that has happened during this trip will remains in my memory for a long time. The most important thing, I have been to Yangtze River, The Three Gorges and walked the ancient pathway that will disappear forever. OK, been there done that.