Today we visit the White Emperor City and continue our Yangzi River Cruise through the Three Gorges section through to the Three Gorges Dam.
30 May 2016
Some of us have signed up for an optional excursion to Baidicheng (the White Emperor City) and we receive an unexpected wake up call at 6.20 (I have the alarm set for 6.45) for a 7.00 breakfast.
Then we climb steep steps and elevators up to the walled town above us and then catch a bus along the road. The White Emperor City temple complex used to be on a peninsular but since the waters came up after the building of the dam it has been an island reached by a foot bridge. It has had a long history and was popular with poets especially over the years. In the town square is a series of five statues of poets dating back to 770. Li Bai is one of the most famous poets in China (he is shown raising a cup but it looks like he is taking a selfie) – all school children learn at least one of his poems (that are very descriptive). True to form there are over 300 stairs for us to climb to get up to the main gate and temple area. Outside the gate are some pieces of calligraphy of the same Li Bai poem written by Chairman Mao, the first prime minister and the prime minister in charge when the dam was built.
Inside the gate is a statue of a white dragon. As the legend goes, there was a general in charge of this area who had ideas above his station. He apparently saw the image of a dragon in mist rising from the river. A dragon is a sign of an emperor, so he decided that this must be a sign from above that he should become an emperor and declared himself so. We see some wonderful calligraphy engravings that are regularly used to do rubbings. One of the famous engravings is called the bamboo poem: it shows 3 pieces of bamboo where the leaves form characters and the characters can be read as a poem.
The White Emperor City is also famous for being a site where the entrance to the Qutang Gorge can be photographed. The entrance to this gorge is featured on the 10 yuan note.
Back on board we soon start to pass through the Qutang gorge and have got prime spots on the front of the top deck to watch the steep sides towering above us – it is spectacular. I’m reminded that the river level is now about 100m higher than before so the cliffs must have been very imposing previously.
This area is famous for its hanging coffins – we saw these in the museum at the White Emperor City – but they have mostly been rescued and removed to museums due to the building of the dam. The ancient peoples buried their dead in coffins and then hung them off the cliffs – higher is better as it gets them closer to the heavens. Sometimes they are re-buried in smaller coffins with more than one person, such as when a husband or wife dies later and is then buried with their spouse.
Lunch is served and then we head back upstairs to watch as we head through the Wu Gorge. There are massive jagged peaks all around and we search for the Goddess – a rock formation that looks like a woman standing on the hill tops. We can’t see it from where we are standing until the boat turns around to moor where we have an afternoon excursion – and there she is ahead of us. This time we transfer to little boats to go through the Little Three Gorges on a tributary – the area is called The Goddess Scenic Area. We are hosted by a local minority group who tell us about their customs as well as provide us with a demonstration of some singing and dancing at a halfway stop where we get out at a floating platform. Their costumes are beautifully embroidered silk trousers and tunics. Our guide sings some songs for us on the way back and her voice is just exquisite. We have the chance to buy some local tea and other products. We hear later that the older people from the village have moved together higher up the mountains since the building of the dam, but most of the younger people (including our guide) have relocated to a new town nearby.
We are told to be seated promptly at 6.30 for dinner as we have a banquet served to our tables. The food is a delicious selection of delicacies including some local fried prawns and chillis. There is a special on buy 2 beers, get 1 free – so Emily and I get to share a beer courtesy of Mike and Colleen. There is also a 50% special now on pearl jewellery in the onboard shop so Emily, Anu and I make a few purchases. We must then get promptly to the bar for the Crew’s Farewell Talent Show. There are some really talented staff who show us all sorts of different dances (ancient, minority group, and modern) and sing popular local songs.
That night we are due to reach the dam and travel through the series of 5 locks that get us down to the lower level. Some stay up, others go to bed and get a wake up call, I had a quick look (you couldn’t see much in the dark anyway and I have previously gone through locks so I wasn’t that enthusiastic to wait up the 3 hours or so it would take to go through) so I went to bed as we have another early start in the morning.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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