The Three Gorges are popular fixtures on Yangtze River cruise itineraries for a number of reasons and the region they are located in extends around 120 miles. Well over half of this region comprises the famous limestone gorges themselves, which are one of China’s most awesome natural wonders. On your Yangtze River cruise, as well as having the chance to drink in the stunning scenery, you may also have the option to join an excursion to a distinctly different attraction to be found along the gorges’ length, the incredible man-made wonder that is the Three Gorges Dam.
The gorges themselves comprise Xiling, which is 41 miles long, Wu which is 28 miles long and the much shorter but indeed, most beautiful of the three, Quatang. It’s Quatang which features the dramatic sheer cliffs which are one of the gorges’ most photographed highlights, along with the famous chalk wall. Wu Gorge meanwhile, is flanked by densely forested mountains which are certainly a distinct contrast and offer plenty of photographic opportunities. Owing to their considerable length, a journey through the gorges offers the chance to spot local wildlife and some itineraries will also involve a stop, whereby you leave your vessel and join a smaller boat on a journey through the Lesser Three Gorges, where you can find the famous hanging coffins of the ancient Ba people and a plank road which is carved into the very rock of the gorge.
Understandably, as the world’s biggest power station the Three Gorges Dam is the area’s other big tourist draw but of course it has a much more serious purpose, built to harness the power of the Yangtze river and thus contribute hugely to the region’s and indeed, China’s economy. The dam generates a staggering 22,500 megawatts of power and was also built to improve the river’s shipping capacity and reduce the risk of floods. Indeed, it’s this advantage of its construction that is one of the ones used to justify the impact that it has had on the environment and indigenous peoples. Though the dam undoubtedly had a huge impact on the gorges’ biodiversity, the advent of Hydro power meant a much more green approach to energy generation and if your cruise includes a visit to the dam, you can learn more about its operation and how it works.
A number of Yangtze itineraries also offer you the chance to explore the nearby Huangling Temple, the area’s largest historic building, located in the Xiling Gorge section. Dating back to 770BC it was built to commemorate Da Yu, a historic figure who was believed to control the Yangtze’s floods. We can only speculate as whether Yu foresaw what was to come in the region in which his temple now stands, but nevertheless, the temple boasts a magnificent exterior with some impressively ornate dragon carvings.
If you can, be sure to take a boat ride along the Lesser Three Gorges as a separate river cruise excursion. It’s the perfect way to find out more about the region’s indigenous history, not to mention a great opportunity to collect some memorable photographic souvenirs.