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The River Tour


The Legend Of The Three Gorges


By Audrey Ronning Topping

The legend surrounding the creation of the Three Gorges provides a creative visual drama that can only be matched by the gorges themselves. Ancients relate that back in the mists of time when our planet was still quaking from the shock of its violent birth and the gods were maneuvering for power over the celestial kingdom, the great Emperor Yu-wang seized control of the rivers. After meditating on top of Tu-san Mountain for centuries and divining up the patterns on a tortoise shell, he mandated that the River to Heaven run eastwards, through the mountains to the sea. But the obstinate spirits of the mountains refused to budge. The Emperor appealed to the Wizard Wu-tze and she agreed to help. Then with a mighty blow from her nostrils she blasted a colossal canyon half way through the reluctant mountains. The effort exhausted her and she retired to a cave where she lives to this very day. The Emperor Yu himself hacked out the rest of the gorges with a cosmic ax and unleashed the roaring torrents that now coil and hiss like dragons through the heartland of China. Thus began the legend of the Three Great Gorges, and when one sails through the fantastic palisades, it seems entirely plausible.


Wanxian water mark
Wanxian water mark

Next is Wanxian, located halfway between Chongqing and Yichang. Wanxian functioned as a critical port for trade and is commonly referred to as the Gateway to East Sichuan. Of the cities most affected by resettlement, Wanxian ranks number one with over 800,000 people scheduled to move.

Zhang Fei Temple
Zhang Fei Temple

Forty miles below Wanxian is the town of Yunyang (Clouded Sun). Opposite, on the southern banks of the Yangtze, sits the temple of Zhang Fei. This memorial temple is dedicated to the Three Kingdoms (220-265 A.D.) hero General Zhang Fei, who was said to have been murdered here when his soldiers mutinied during battle. Zhang Fei is famous for his service as a general for his adopted brother, Liu Bei, ruler of the Shu-Han state during the Three Kingdoms period. Surrounded by gardens, this multiroom temple was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1227 A.D.) and was restored by Emperor Tongzhi in the late 19th century.

Continuing downstream, the valley begins to narrow as the first of the Three Great Gorges comes into view. At five miles long, Qutang Gorge (Wind Box Gorge) is the shortest and most dramatic. The gorge's widest point is a mere 500 feet. Its Mesozoic limestone peaks rise over 4000 feet high. The vertical cliffs are adorned with ancient stairs and paths that fuel the tales of great generals and civil wars.

Qutang (Wind Box) Gorge
Qutang (Wind Box) Gorge

Beyond Qutang Gorge is the quaint ancient town of Wushan. Wushan lies on the north bank of river high above the Yangtze. Established during the Shang Dynasty (1600- 027 B.C.) the town is flanked with stone walls. In 2009, Wushan will be completely submerged.

Wushan
Wushan

Most boats stop at Wushan to arrange for excursions up the Danning River through the Three Little Gorges. In the damp mists of early morning, handcrafted sampans depart for their journey.

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Danning River entrance
Danning River entrance




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