Enjoying our Yangzi River Cruise: Fengdu Ghost City, learning about the river, massages, Shi Bao Zhai pagoda, and a Captain’s Welcome.
29 May 2016
I wake to see the sunrise, but what I saw when I open the curtains wasn’t at all what I expected to see: we are looking out at another city with lots of high rise buildings. There are other cruise boats around and the river is a hive of industry of different boats plying their trade, including fishermen. The Yangzi is one of the most polluted rivers in the world; we are only on a tributary at this stage but I don’t think I will be keen to eat anything caught in it.
Breakfast is served 7.00-8.30 but Jing warns us that it pays to be early as it is not replenished and other passengers will descend like vultures on the food. We will be stopped here until after the morning’s optional excursion which is to Fengdu Ghost City which is a large complex of shrines, temples and monasteries dedicated to the afterlife located on the Ming mountain. After the building of the Three Gorges Dam it became separated from Fengdu City on the other side of the river and is now a tourist attraction. None of us are going on this visit but it was described as a place where there are temples for worshipping ghosts and the dead. We can see rows of tombstones on the hillside and some pagoda roofs poking through the trees. In China cremation is the norm because there just isn’t the space to bury everybody, but in the rural village areas they have the land available so burial does occur.
We watch an excellent documentary on the Three Gorges Project which shows the amazing engineering that was required to build the dam but also shows us the history and why they built it to prevent huge loss of life during flooding every 10 years or so. To prevent flooding is the major reason for the dam; the second reason is to generate electricity which is a major environmental gain as well because it removes the need to burn coal (and the pollution that causes). But more than what was required to build the dam was what was required to move the 1.3 million people living in that region whose cities, towns and villages would be flooded under a hundred metres of water when the dam filled up. The area affected was huge (it stretches 660 miles back to Chengdu) and a main grain and vegetable growing region. People were given three choices: they could move the whole village up the mountainsides to be above the water level; they could move into brand new modern apartments in especially built cities; or they could move to another region.
Emily and I have booked massages after lunch: Emily tries the traditional acupressure massage and I try the meridian massage with oil. Both are very good and we feel like having an afternoon nap but Henry is running a seminar on the Yangzi River so we didn’t want to miss that. He told us lots of information about the river: geology, history, culture etc that I won’t try to share now but one thing I hadn’t realized earlier was that the Yellow River and the Yangzi River are joined by the Grand Canal – man-made and several hundred kilometres long – giving an inland waterway linking the Shanghai region with Beijing.
Then we have our afternoon excursion to the Shi BaoZhai Pagoda. The pagoda was built during the Ming dynasty, into the hillside. It is a wooden structure 56 metres high on 12 different levels. There is a wall now to protect it from the waters of the Yangzi after the three gorges project was completed. We walk up steep steps and then up the streets of the local BaoZhai village running the gauntlet of the masses of stalls whose keepers all say ‘hello’, ‘cheapest price’. Then we have to make our way across a suspension bridge that would have been challenging to walk across at the best of times but several cruise boats have stopped at once and all the groups are surging across at once, each with a guide with a microphone competing for the airwaves. It is hot, noisy and crowded and we sway and stagger across the bridge. And then it gets worse as we all try to climb up the hundreds of narrow wooden steps inside the pagoda. At the top it spreads out a bit more when we reach the temple but everyone is trying to see and photographs the same things, and to walk across the lucky bridge (in 3, 5, 7 or 9 steps). It is a relief to walk out the other side – Emily and I head straight back to the boat thinking that this is tourism at its worst (we did like the activity but wished they had staggered the groups).
Back to the boat for a quick shower and scrub up for dinner followed by the Captain’s Welcome Reception. Dinner is a buffet style – very nice but not relaxing because you had to grab what you wanted early on before the vultures descended. The Chinese passengers eat extremely quickly and leave again en masse. The welcome reception includes a glass of bubbles and nibbles. The captain and senior crew are dressed in their best dress-whites – gotta love a uniform! There are lots of speeches and bowing and clapping. The vultures descend on the snacks and depart en masse leaving us as the only ones in the bar to enjoy the cheap cocktails: gin tonic, cuba libre, or a grasshopper.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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