Entering Xiling Gorge
After passing through Gezhou Dam we entered the first of the Three Gorges, Xiling Gorge. Leaving Yichang the high cliffs closed in around us. Again the day was quite hazy so the photos don't always do the setting justice but it was incredible to pass through this area. As placid as the river is behind the dam, its difficult to imagine what this area was like prior to the construction of Gezhou Dam and of course upstream the Three Gorges Dam. Reading some of the guide books talk about fast flowing rivers, whirlpools, and dangerous rapids would have made transport extremely difficult. Now barge traffic passes through the area continuously. Ferries transport people and cars across the wide river and more roads and bridges are being constructed.
The cliffs make you wonder what this area was like before the dams raised the reservoir level dramatically.
Say what you will the Chinese have effectively tamed the Yangtze for better or worse.
We passed a few small towns and villages along the river, could see some small monasteries high on the cliffside as we proceeded upstream. It was nice to slow down for a bit and just watch the area slowly idle by. But it was only a few short hours journey before we docked just downstream of the behemoth, Three Gorges Dam.
Three Gorges Dam
We approached the dam and docked on the south side of the river. Several buses were waiting to take the few groups over for the Dam Tour. We passed through a small town that was literally constructed for the workers on the project, crossed the river, and then first had to pass through a ticketing area.
Scale model of the Three Gorges Dam
Then it was off to see this massive and controversial project up close. And an impressive sight it is. Stretching nearly 1.5 miles (about 2.4 km) across the Yangtze, the water in the reservoir behind the dam can be raised as much as 185m above the previous river level. Twenty-six (26) turbines supply large amounts of power to the region and another 6 more are under construction. Flood mitigation on the lower Yangtze has saved countless lives, livestock, and crops. And the river has been opened up as a major transportation artery. But at the same time entire cities upstream were covered by the rising water levels, forcing populations to be resettled. And the river ecosystem has been radically altered. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the negative impacts, but as someone with an engineering background seeing the site was a fascinating experience.
Wide view of the upstream side of the dam.
There were two stops that we made to view the dam. First on the upstream side we could see the upstream side of the dam and the reservoir behind. Back on the bus we drove a short distance to a visitor center with a view of the downstream side of the dam and an observation point where one could view the ship channel (the locks and the ship lift still under construction) and a wide scale view of the entire project. I however was somewhat disappointed that there was no opportunity to visit the facilities themselves and see the large turbines in operation. I guess the fear of espionage or sabotage precludes that type of activity in todays day and age.
After maybe 2 hours exploring the various locations it was time to head back to the boat.
Close-up view of the generator buildings on the downstream side of the dam.
Between the new crowd on the boat and the throngs of people at the dam, this was my first opportunity to really notice the crowds of Chinese tourists that were out and about (Yangshuo had its fair share but there was a larger percentage of Western tourists in that area). This would become even more prevalent at other spots in the coming 2 weeks or so. Back on the boat it was quickly to the dining room for dinner and then time for the boat to head through the ship channel and up to the locks.
Passing through the Three Gorges Locks
After dinner we headed out to the deck to view the passage through the locks. Like Gezhou it was a long slow process to even get started. We waited as dark settled in before we finally approached a spot in the first lock.
Playing with some long exposure shots.
In fact a few people went inside to partake of some Mahjong battles while others of us sat outside and chatted. Finally entered the first lock with 5 (I think) other ships to begin our passage. It took about 30 minutes or so for the water to enter the lock and permit us to reach the next level. Then time for the boats to reposition and start the process all over again. All told the time to get through all 5 locks was supposed to be about 4-4.5 hours. After watching us move to the second lock, decided it was time to head for the bar/dining room for some drinks. Had a few drinks, although trying to get a decent one was difficult since I couldn't communicate with the bartender and the selection of beverages that were printed in both English and Mandarin on the menu, didn't necessarily jive with the selection of alcohol that was in stock. Watched some karaoke taking place - and boy do the Chinese take their karaoke seriously, no matter how good or horrible they might be. After enjoying the evening finally decided to call it an evening and head to my cabin and some sleep.