Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Yangtze Cruise 13.04.10 - 16.04.10

The Yangtze is one of the longest rivers in China, originating in Tibet it flows into the China Sea on the east coast. We join our cruise boat, President 1, at Chonqing, the largest city in China (and the world), at 39 million, and finish up in Yichang, the nearest city to the Three Gorges Dam. On our cruise we cover over 600km and travel through three impressive gorges. These gorges would've been much more impressive before the area was flooded in 2003 as part of the Three Gorges Dam project. The water level upstream of the dam was increased by 120m, which meant that whole cities built on the banks of the river were flooded and a great portion of the cliff scenery was lost. Over one million people living on the banks of the Yangtze had to be relocated to higher levels, because their homes were lost. The dam is one of the largest in the world and the electricity produced in the 36 hydro electric plants generates 1,400 megawatts per day, 3% of China's power consumption and it can be distributed across 50% of the country. We are disappointed however to have missed the spectacular karst scenery which must've been amazing only a few years ago. The dam project was started 17 years ago and was designed as a method for flood control, power generation and a navigational aid. Prior to the dam all along the length of the Yangtze suffered severe floods but now the water level is regulated to stop this from happening again. The relocation program for the many displaced residents consists of rebuilding cities and towns and rehousing the population along with re-establishing infrastructure and amenities. This is a huge undertaking, but as we're beginning to realise, nothing is too big for the Chinese to conquer. There is continual building and development of the new cities all along the stretch of the river and we see many hundreds of new apartment blocks being constructed. We're informed that the compensation payments to individuals stood at 300 RMB per square metre (which is around £30) and they were entitled to a favourable rate on their newly built apartment but this stood at 500 RMB per square metre. In effect they would have to settle for a smaller home, but, in many cases, this new home would be of better construction with better living facilities for a better lifestyle. The government were obliged to provide new employment for those who had lost their jobs as a direct result of the flooding and they provided landowners with new plots free of charge higher up the valleys. The difficulties arise when people, especially of the older generation, find their new living arrangements too different from their old ways and attempt to return to as close to their original hometown as possible. To have such a big upheaval in their lives, can be quite a scary and unnatural experience. However the Chinese government seems to want to simply plough onwards and upwards, literally. There are so many new skyscrapers and apartment blocks I can't keep count. They have taken into account the cultural relics which were in the zone to be flooded and have rebuilt a temple, brick by brick in an area further up the hill and have constructed a high sided dam wall around an ancient pagoda to preserve it. A prehistoric rock, 200m long by 50m wide which has lain on the river bed with it's paleolithic engraved images visible above the water level for centuries has now had a glass dome constructed over it to preserve it as an underwater museum. You can take an underwater elevator down to the museum level. Only in China! On the site of the dam itself there is a natural island in the river which proved an ideal location as it could be used as a harnassing foundation between the bulk of the main dam and the ship locks, located on the other side of the island. From the excavation of the site for the dam foundations, archaeologists found bronze age bowls and tools, pottery and ceramics from all the dynasties.