Fiona MacCarthy

China Part 5 Yangtze river cruise

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From Chengdu to Chongqing

After a morning at leisure we took a bus to the local station and then a bullet train of about 2 hours and a max speed of 295km (photoed)  to what is one of the largest metropolitan areas in China with about 33 million.

Its size and growth is linked back to World War 2 when after Japanese invasion the government of the time withdrew inland moving factories and peoples.

Built on a series of many hills around the river Yangtze its space age style city of neck stretching buildings.

Yangtze River Cruise

Through the late afternoon rush hour we headed down to the river bank to join the River Goddess #1 (there are other RG too). Six of us, 3 Koreans and maybe 150 Chinese, we six were persuaded to upgrade to the 5th deck (highest possible on this vessel) which also gave us a reserved dining area in the front part of the boat looking forward at meal times. (one photo of view). Cost 390Y for trip.

We were to spend two full days and 3 nights before disembarking on the last morning at the 3 Gorges Dam

First oh my gosh was observing the night lights of Chongqing come on as we readied to sail at about 10 pm. It was like they all came out to say good bye. Reluctantly went to cabin eager to be awake for a new day upon the river.

The days

Sunrise saw us pass by new cities along a river that we later learnt was lower than normal to allow for the soon to come rains that it would take it back upwards by 20 metres. The sheer scale of this venture was dawning.

Our first stop (optional) after breakfast was at Fengdu for the Jade emperor palace. A series of temples ascending the steep hill to a stony smile-less face adorning the top.

The Captains welcome reception was scheduled for 4.30 and I arrived at 4.31 to find it starting with the Captain and his team on the stage being introduced. As a VIP I was given a glass of  Champers and escorted to my seat in the front. No one had told any of us and three of my group were there ahead of me just. So embarrassing on one level but an introductory lesson that timekeeping was important.

Later that evening and at another stop we were bused off too “War of the three kingdoms” at 290Y per passenger (about £34). Unlike our first show at Beijing this was well worth the money. Visually spectacular with a large cast played out with large changing stages and sets and moving seating (youd be “moved” even if you were not), this was a visual delight.

Our guide had briefed us as the programme notes English narrative is a bit convoluted. In summary it goes back to the foundation of China and tells the story of heroism and some love (similar to first show) it seems that love not a big theme. Sitting in the front row we enjoyed charging horses less than 6 feet away, great costumes, maidens descending form the sky (on pulleys etc), sets that included a clever series of trampolines to convey the action tempo of battle which would have been lost otherwise on such a big scene. And oh yes the stage flooded and cleared every so often to a depth of about 6 inches which mirrored the exceptional lighting. If this show “travelled” they would need a ship or a few 747s just for the sets.

I have not mentioned the early morning 6.45-7am “musical wake up call” because I was up before and those who were not might take a negative view of this trip. There were activities all day and it reflected a more structured part of the China experience as if to say why would you pay money for a trip and then lie in bed: it would be cheaper to stay behind … it would have been. A daily printed and shared programme of activities meant that no time was to be wasted.

On our 2nd full day there was an optional trip to Baidu which seemed low interest and Mary our English speaking guide provided by the Boat organised to teach us Mahjong. If you are a card player it might be fun but after 3 games of which I won the 2nd, I have officially retired. Lots of rules and perhaps a great time filler.

In the afternoon of the 2nd day we had an included trip into the lesser gorges using 2 different sized boats (the 2nd and smaller of the two was a sampan) to get access up the increasingly narrower gorges.

Intrigued by the hanging coffin or to be correct the edge of cliff / cave inserted coffin with no visible means of access. Had seen this practise in Sulawesi many years earlier and I love the idea of keeping certain of the deceased within sight.

On our last morning we disembarked and went to visit the 3 Gorges Dam (included). To a western mind it’s a long dam wall in concrete. To the Chinese it a great symbol of achievement that plays an important part in the modernisation of their country.

Dislocating millions and transforming the landscape its impact has been tremendous and reflective of the push of central government. Take for comparison the long debate over a 3rd runway at Heathrow in the UK. In China the individual subsumes to the nation. I appreciate the contrast and know what I myself prefer.

Food on the Boat

After Sichuan province it was perhaps a bit blander but still fresh and varied. A buffet with each of 3 meals per day. (no meal on 1st night but were told it could be arranged: we had brought our own).

Beers were part of the breakfast buffet (not tasted at that time but nice to see).

In addition to the accommodation upgrade there was a beer and wine package upgrade costing 200Y or £24 for the voyage of 3 nights and 2 days. With a beer costing 20Y (£2.50 approx) it depends on the individual but the wine at meals made it certainly worthwhile. In Chengdu I had found and bought a bottle of Chinese (grape) wine “Great Wall” cabernet for about £15 in a supermarket as it was not appearing on restaurant menus. With that price I understand. But wine was included with our meals. i enjoyed the Chinese wine and certainly we were inthe lower ranges of their quality it was in my view pleasant easy drinking wine.

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