Yangtze River tours and China tours operator from China Holidays Ltd "Cruise along China's Golden Waterway with Victoria Cruises and Century Cruises, the best vessels on the Yangtze"

All cruises along the Yangtze River pass through the renowned Three Gorges and the impressive Three Gorges Dam
Yangtze River tours and China tours by China Holidays Ltd 

Yangtze River Tours

The Yangtze River

The longest river in Asia, the Yangtze rises at around 16,000ft on a Tibetan plateau and journeys 4,000 miles across China to empty into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is China's single most important natural asset for industry, transportation, irrigation and nowadays, hydroelectric power, and a third of China's population lives in its river basin - the frequent floods are therefore devastating to vast numbers of people, to cities, factories, farmland and therefore to the wider economy. In 1954 for example, the Yangtze burst its banks and flooded 75,000 square miles, displacing 19 million people and killing 33,000

The Three Gorges Dam

A plan to dam the Yangtze and thereby put an end to flooding, improve navigation along the notoriously dangerous stretches through the Three Gorges, and to produce hydroelectric power was mooted in 1919 by Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Chinese republic, but construction did not actually start until 1994. The dam itself is about a thousand miles from Shanghai, near Yichang, and is 7,761ft long, 594ft high, with a 370-mile long reservoir that encompasses the scenic Three Gorges. At the time of writing, May 2011, the 32rd and final turbine of the world's largest hydroelectric plant is ready for testing, and will shortly thereafter be completed. The dam will also have a ship-lift able to raise a 3,000 ton ship in 30-40 minutes, due by 2014. There are currently 2 ship locks measuring 918ft long by 114ft wide and 16ft deep, and it takes around 4 hours to go through the 5 levels.

Effects of the dam

Freight along the Yangtze has increased dramatically as the river is deeper, wider and therefore safer, and can take larger vessels further, reducing shipping costs and reducing environmental impact from coal burning. The risk of serious flooding has been reduced, according to estimates, from once every decade to once every century.

Since the water level rose by around 450ft within the 370-mile long reservoir in which the scenic Three Gorges are located, the landscape has undoubtedly changed - however, since the height of the mountains that line the banks is up to 4,300ft, the actual difference is not as noticeable as might be initially thought. There have been additional benefits to cruise passengers - some of the smaller tributaries of the Yangtze have now been opened up to navigation by larger cruise vessels, and other sights, such as the mountaintop temple at White Emperor City which used to involve an exhausting climb to reach, are now much easier to visit. Furthermore, travelling through the new locks and seeing the dam are actually new highlights of the cruise for many guests.

This ambitious engineering project has however been controversial from the start, with 1.3 million people being relocated, farming land, towns, villages and historical sites destroyed, and suspected dangers to the environment.

The Three Gorges

The Three Gorges are Qutang, Wuxia and Xiling, and each is composed of several lesser gorges often named after legends or folk tales of gods and heroes, or simply of the fancied resemblances of the mountains alongside to animals or household objects – Rhinoceros Viewing the Moon for example.

Qutang Gorge is 5 miles long, the shortest but also the most scenic section. At its narrowest points, sometimes no more than 165 feet wide, the perpendicular cliffs force the river to rush through, making it fast flowing and dangerous.

Wu (Witches') Gorge is 28 miles long, a seemingly endless number of cloud-draped canyons so high that the sun is hardly visible, giving the strange peaks a fairytale aspect -  legend has it that a goddess and her 11 handmaidens were transformed into the mountains and help sailors navigate the treacherous waters below.

Xiling Gorge is the longest, 45 miles of rapids and shoals that claimed thousands of lives throughout history, nowadays tamed by the dam.

The Lesser Three Gorges - Emerald, Misty and Dragon Gate - are found along the Danning River, a tributary of the Yangtze at the western end of Wu Gorge. They are reached on small boats, the better to enjoy the lush, green scenery with 'Cloud and Mist' tea flourishing on the steep cliffs, the chatter of monkeys and the fish swimming in the clear waters. Shennong Stream at the eastern end of Wu Gorge also has clear, tranquil waters reached on small sampans.




The Land of Nine Dragons

15 days tour - Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Yangtze Cruise, Shanghai, Suzhou and Beijing from £2195.

Panda, Palaces and Pagodas

22 days - Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai, Yangtze Cruise, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo and Beijing from £2895.

Ultimate China

19 days tour - Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, Yangtze River Cruise, Guilin, Yangshuo and Hong Kong from £3395.

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