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DANING RlVER EXCURSION

THE THREE LITTLE GORGES


   To take a day trip up the crystal-clear Daning River through its magnificent Three Little Gorges (Xiao Sanxia)----whose total length is only 33 kilometres (20 miles)-is to experience theYangtze River excitement and awe of bygone days of river travel in China.

   The excursion is undertaken in air-conditioned boats, whose strong experienced boatmen pole with all their might when the river is too shallow for the engine to be used, heaving their bodies forward as they thrust long iron-tipped bamboo poles into the riverbed, and following through until they are almost lying on their backs in their struggle against the current. Some of the local boats encountered are not motorized and the boatmen must tow the boats-- laden with local merchandise and coal-upriver, using a long bamboo rope and tracking in harness, along the water's edge or along cut pathways in the rock face. Negotiating a rapid may take several exhausting attempts before the boat is finally hauled over. Unfortunately, while the splendour of the scenery will remain, by 2003, the waters having risen about 50 metres (164 feet), the boatmen's poles will no longer touch bottom, the trackers’ paths will have disappeared, and this description will be a souvenir of times gone by.

  About 40 minutes from the mouth of the river, at its confluence with the Yangtze, the entrance to the first of the gorges is reached. This is the Dragon Gate Gorge(Longmen Xia), three kilometres (l.8 miles) long. On the cliff face to the right is thel98l flood mark, over 40 metres (l30 feet) above river level. The mouth of the gorges like a massive gateway through which the river rushes like a green dragon, hence its name. The Yangtze Rivergateway appears to shut once one has passed through. On the east side is Dragon Gate Spring (Longmen Quan) and above it Lingzhi Peak, topped by the Nine-Dragon Pillar. On this peak, it is said, grow strange plants and the fungus of longevity (lingzhi), guarded by nine dragons. On the western bank, two rows of l5-centimetre (2--inch) square holes, continuing the entire length of the small gorges and numbering over 6,000 are all that remain of an astonishing plank walkway, which was first constructed in the Han period and recorded in the Annals of Wushan County in 246 BC. Wooden stakes inserted into these hand-hewn holes supported planks and large bamboo pipes, which stretched for l00 kilometres (62 miles) along the river. This pipeline conveyed brine, while the planks provided an access for maintenance. In the l7th century the pathway, used by the peasant leader Li Zicheng in his uprising against the Ming dynasty, was destroyed by the imperial army.

   After leaving the gorge the boat passes the Nest of Silver Rapid (yinwo Tan). In the past, rich merchants trading in the hinterland often came to grief here, perhaps there are caches of silver under the bubbling surface still! In l958 work began on clearing major obstacles from the river. The Daning then meanders through terraced hillsides before entering the ten-kilometre (six-mile) Misty Gorge (Bawu Xia), with its dramatic scenery of rocks, peaks and caves, including Fairy Maiden Cave, Fairy Throwing a Silk Ball, and Guanyin Seated on a Lotus Platform. A long, layered formation, like a scaly dragon, can be seen on the eastern cliff. Suspended upon the precipice is a relic of the ancient inhabitants of eastern Sichuan 2,000 years ago, an 'iron' coffin (which is actually made of wood that has turned black with age). This gorge is accordingly also known as Iron Coffin Gorge.

   The village of Twin Dragons or Shuanglong (popu1ation 300), above Bawu Gorge, is the halfway point. Lunch can be provided at the reception centre, which also has some rooms for overnight accommodation.

   Emerald Green Gorge (Dicui Xta), 20 kilometres (l2.5 miles) long, is inhabited by wild ducks andYangtze River covered with 1uxuriant bamboo groves from which rises a deafening cacophony of bird--song. There are also many types of monkey still to be seen if you are lucky. Once their shrill cries resounded throughout the Yangtze gorges, but today they can be heard only in Dicui Gorge. River stones of an extraordinary variety and colour can be gathered.
At the end of this gorge the tourist boat turns around and rushes downstream, arriving at Wushan in half the time it took to get here, aided by the skilful use of the long yulo, which is weighted by a stone to steady the boat. Groups may hire a boat for this trip at the mouth of the Daning River. Cheap local ferries also do this trip but it takes much longer and requires an overnight stop at Dachang (a town with fine farmhouse architecture and the remains of a Qing--dynasty city gate).

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