My assessment of Chongqing was about spot on in terms of the time required. We did a free walking tour of the city with the hostel staff which was interesting enough apart from the 15kms that it involved (remembering that Chongqing is build on a mountain so there were many hills and stairs). The museum was free and was all about the relocation of the towns, relics, artefacts etc when the dams etc were made. We had the Hotpot that evening which was definitely an experience however not as traumatic on the chilli front as advertised.
The cruise was put together by Jill’s favourite travel agent Wonder Wang. In all honesty this was the blokes name. She took the first call and had it followed up by e-mail confirmations. Need less to say I had numerous comments and each time he rang or e-mailed these comments and commentary grew. The cruise started off well enough with a 9pm departure and an overnight trundle down the river to Fengdu the site of the ghost city. This was the most obscene, tourism, money making venture ever put on the planet. The original Buddhist and Taoist temples were smashed during the cultural revolution during the 1960’s with just 3 bridges and a partial temple left. So…they fully rebuilt…what they thought…should have been there (whether it belonged or not).
As such there was a series of 20-30 year old buildings, with full gift shops incorporated into their design (something that is always present in temples). Another had a kitchen with a bakery built into it, this room immediately followed a story by the tour guide of offerings of crackers to the gods for prosperity, longevity and some other thing. These crackers were then (surprisingly) for sale in the bakery. As it was the ghost city…in 1999 they added a bunch of statues to depict the theme. Grotesque looking things that did not mean anything other than it was an artist’s impression of blah. In addition the names of the landmarks include: ghost torturing pass, last glance home tower, no way out bridge and the river of blood.
The actual story and mythology of the journey to the underworld incorporated with the ruins was very interesting and would have been enough. The purely commercial rebuild was obscene. We were there in off season so there was about 25% of the people that would be there in peak times. Despite this we were like cattle being shunted from one tourist pen (temple) to the next. It was only a 3 hour trip but it could not end soon enough for either of us. A further example was the construction of 2 new exhibits that will be opened in the future. One was a recreation of a pagoda and the other was a 5 storey, Besser block head of a Taoist statue that had been painted yellow. These were partially constructed and were perched up a hill and will no doubt be vital photo opportunities for future generations.
The cruise continued and we sailed through the three gorges which were pure and unadulterated and magnificent. The first was the Qutang gorge which is a spectacular 8km stretch…about 2 hours later the Wu gorge appeared along with the Goddess Peak. Atop this peak was a temple thing that Jill delighted in prattling on about how she would never get me to walk the stairs to reach this. Needless to say that the zoom on our phone cameras could not even capture this thing it was so high up ( you could barely make out the staircase). After lunch we did a Sampan sail around one of the Yangtze River tributaries (Shennong Stream). While on a warm, dry day this might have been great but on a cold, wet and windy day we were seeking the hot shower upon our return.
That night we passed through the series of 5 locks to lower us the required 175 meters. An impressive piece of engineering no matter how many times you watch it. When this is combined with the electricity generating turbines the dam really is an impressive piece of kit supplying about 4% of China’s energy needs. Such projects are vital as solar is not an option, as we have seen the sun 3 times in the last 4 weeks. From here we entered the last of the gorges the Xiling gorge a 76km stretch which once again was lovely.
Our three gorges experience was done on a 5 star boat and was terrible. It was a tour group mentality, made for the aged, at the pace of the weakest link, it was entirely formulaic, there were 15 minute photo opportunities before being shuffled off to the next, and the whole experience was generally miserable. The food was a western interpretation of Asian and an Asian interpretation of Western in a buffet format, that did not work on any front.
This was a bit of a warts and all post. The natural elements were spectacular and were fully worth it, the technological aspects of the dam and locks were also great. The bolt on tourist stops were atrocious both in their composition and execution. Jill has long waxed lyrical of my intolerance for such things, however every time I searched for her during an organised excursion she was hiding in the corner playing candy crush on her phone in an attempt to boycott the herd mentality. Overall we cruised the Yangtze River for over 600kms and saw some incredible natural beauty.