A long, slow, lazy sail along the great riverine artery of central China. Tickets can be bought at Chongqing, although it makes sense to book through travel agents before you arrive. Different tour boats follow different itineraries and timings, although all follow the Yangtze on its course downstream. Allow 3 days.
Begin at Chongqing.
Chongqing was the wartime capital of China’s Kuomintang (Nationalist) government and suffered heavily from Japanese aerial bombardment. Boats leave from the Chaotianmen Dock passenger terminal at the peninsula’s tip. The riverbank scene gives way slowly from urban to industrial to suburban, and finally to rural, with a hilltop pagoda seen outlined against the city skyline. The first downstream stop should be at Fengdu.
2. Fengdu Ghost City
Ghost Mountain is the popular name for Pingdushan Mountain, which is dotted with temples and pavilions. These recall the legend of two men whose names, when joined together, became mistaken for that of the King of Hell, and this reputation clung to the mountain down the centuries. Further on, a pagoda can be seen atop Shibaozhai rock on Jade Seal Hill. In addition to the rugged scenery along the banks, the river traffic ranging from tiny wooden junks to seagoing vessels, provides attraction enough. Fishing provides a livelihood for many inhabitants along the river. The boat should stop at Wanxian, where harbourside stalls serve meals.
3. Yunyang Zhang Fei Temple
Lit by multicoloured lamps, at night the temple’s narrow stairways, gloomy natural galleries, and legendary statues form a magical setting overlooking the river. Market stalls line the steep approach route, and thronging crowds may make the unbalustraded stairways hazardous.
The boat should stop at Fengjie.
4. Fengjie and Baidicheng ‘White King’ Town
Ancient capital of Kui during the Warring States period, Fengjie is a pleasant enough town that displays little sign of its history now. Further on is Baidicheng, capital of the Western Han Dynasty’s ‘White King’. The boat now enters Qutang Gorge, first of the famous Three Gorges of the Yangtze.
5. Qutang Gorge
Varying between 100-150m wide, the gorge funnels river, wind, and tour boat into a pell-mell rush between overhanging hills. This is the most dramatic gorge with a 50m seasonal variation in the river’s depth at this point. The boat may stop at Wushan, where passengers transfer to smaller craft for a side-trip along the Daning River.
6. Daning River
The ‘lesser gorges’ of the Daning River are more spectacular than their bigger Yangtze cousins, as the water runs faster and the smaller boats come closer to the rocks and rapids. There are also some leisurely walks through riverside villages. The Yangtze tour boat continues through Wuxia and Xiling Gorges.
7. Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge
The drama factor reduces through these gorges, but the scenery is still memorable. At the end is the site of the great Yangtze Dam Project, which will eventually drown the gorges and a vast extent of land.
The Yangtze is a sluggish creature by this time. Some tour boats end their journey here, allowing passengers to connect by rail at Changsha for the south. Yueyang is notable for its Tang-dynasty Yueyang Pavilion and the vast Dongting Lake.
Most boats finish their trip here, although some continue as far as Shanghai. Wuhan is a big, industrial city notable for its Buddhist Guiyuan Temple, the 1,100-m long bridge over the Yangtze, and the Hubei Provincial Museum.