Sunday, May 01, 2005

April 27, 28, 29, 30 - 2005

Our first day on the Yangtze River took us downstream from Chongqing. We departed at 9:00 a.m. and started moving through the brown muddy river. I was thrilled to be sailing down the main artery of China. The river that gave the country its identity, food, history.

At lunch I met my table mates. A lovely retired couple from Scotland, Jim and Allison, married Egyptian doctors from Washington D.C. and a woman and her 22 year old son from Brooklyn who were in China on a school based trip.

After sailing past rolling hills and small mountains for a few hours I began to see the first of what would be countless terraced mountainside farms.
Set at impossibly steep angles the farms seemed to be ready to roll down at any moment. The farms were accessible only for the water as the houses, fields and animals were all on steep, lush ploys with sheer rock cliffs behind them.

FENG DU: The City of Ghosts

At 3:30 we made our first shore excursion. We disembarked for our visit to Feng Du (fung do) the Ghost city. Tradition has it that Beijing is the capital of the terrestrial world and Feng Du is the capital of the underworld. Set high upon a mountain above the river, Feng Du is a series of temples, statues and buildings where the ghost and spirits of the underworld live. All is presided over by the statue of the King of the Underworld in the well preserved Ming Dynasty era Temple.

As we climbed the steps and cross the bridges stone statues of the devils who would torture the unjust lined the leafy paths. In Chinese mythology the underworld is a place where you go for a while if you were bad and there you are tortured before drinking a tea that makes you forget it all before being reborn.

But there was another Ghost City to be seen.

On the banks of the river at the foot of the mountain sits the modern city of Feng Du. Rather what used to be the city of Feng Du. The city is abandoned now. Its gutted buildings stand like the remains of Hiroshima.
No one walks it streets. There is no music, no food, no work, and no life.


Over the next few years as the Three Gorges Dam project is completed the Yangtze will rise another 40 meters here. The additional 120 feet of water will bury Feng Du in a watery grave.

Approximately 1.13 million people and hundreds of towns and small cities have either had to abandon partly or fully their original places on the shore.

The 90,000 displaced people have moved across the river to a thoroughly modern city or to other areas of China, being fully compensated for all they owned.

But still, right below the Ghost City of the Underworld there still sits the empty city and here it seems the ghosts are more real, easier to see and until the water rises an echo of an older China.

April 28, 2005

Today we began our journey through the Three Gorges. As we entered the first it was like traveling back in time several times over. Primordial beauty.
The deep emerald green water was flanked on both sides by high granite peaks, lush green mountains, caves and large crevasses.

Halfway through the day we took a smaller boat up the Shannong, a tributary river. This unspoiled stretch of river is called the little three gorges and was just gorgeous. The water was greener and high in the cliffs were the hanging coffins. Coffin placed in caves 2,000 years ago in what seemed to be completely inaccessible sheer rock faces.

I saw a number of egrets, some mountain goats and some golden-haired monkeys.

We were taken ashore and put on traditional Chinese pea-pod boats. Going upstream we were dragged by shore borne trackers who pulled us through the shallow downstream currents.

All the time we were serenaded with folk songs by the captain and the rowers.

That evening we passed through the ship locks of the Three Gorges Dam (the largest infrastructure project in the world).

On April 29 we passed through the final gorge and disembarked at Yichang.

From there I took a bus through rural Hubei province. For nearly 300 miles it was an unending line of farms. Water buffaloes pulled plows, fruit trees, mud and thatched roof homes were everywhere. It made the aforementioned discomfort of the bus worth every minute.

I spent the night in Wuhan and flew back into Guangzhou today.

Tomorrow I take the train to Hong Kong for my final 3 ½ days.

A mix of anticipation and sorrow has been with me all day.