CHINA  |  The Three Gorges, China Travel Guide
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Sightseeing in The Three Gorges

The Gorges

The Three Gorges (Qutang, Wu and Xiling) lie between Fengjie and Yichang, and offer a stunning ride through towering peaks steeped in history and legend. All three gorges were formerly treacherous to navigate, particularly Xiling and Qutang, and the latter was famously described by Song poet Su Dongpo as “a thousand oceans in one cup.” These days the gorges are far tamer and by 2009 the whole run should be smooth sailing. Passing through the gorges, you’ll see bold markers denoting the water level when the lake reaches its full height. Of the three gorges, Qutang, at only five miles long, is the shortest, while Wu(Witch Gorge) stretches for some 30 miles and Xiling is longer still at 50 miles. Although they have lost some of their depth, the gorges remain impressive and all three have craggy, lofty peaks which have been given poetic sounding names to describe their shape. Guides will keenly tell you these names as you pass by and if you’re lucky you might actually be able to see the resemblance – Goddess Peak in Wu Gorge and Monk Hung Upside Down in Qutang Gorge are both recognizable. High up on the side of Qutang Gorge, you can also just pick out a series of four hanging coffins dating from the Ba period.

Fengdu Ghost Temple

A hundred miles east of Chongqing, Fengdu city has been completely covered by the rising waters of the dam, and its residents have been relocated to the other side of the river, but the ghostly temple itself remains intact. The 15-minute climb up gives a little chance to stretch your legs but, if the boat has put you in a stupor, there’s a cable car. At the top you’ll be greeted by a grizzly collection of brightly colored statues that allegedly only allow the virtuous to pass – look out for the baby-munching green demon and his blue pal who’s chewing on a leg!

The temple itself is dedicated to the King of the Dead, and guides will eagerly tell you a legion of macabre tales associated with the site, encouraging you to participate in an Indiana Jones-style set of tests, such as crossing a bridge in only three steps and running up a staircase without taking a breath! On the way out you should make sure not to miss the display of fiendish judges of hell, keenly meting out appropriate punishments to wrongdoers – a glutton is being boiled alive in a cauldron of oil and a nagging woman is having her tongue removed! 


Fifty miles on from Fengdu, the 12-storey tower and temple at Shibaozhai is one of the most impressive structures along the cruise and although the town at its foot is now submerged, a coffer dam is being built to hold off the lake’s waters. The pagoda-style tower and temple were built during the Qing dynasty and the rocky outcrop to which they cling was once joined to the north bank of the river, but has now become an island.

Baidicheng (White Emperor City)

The whole of this stretch of the Yangzi is associated with the Three Kingdoms Period, which is recounted in the 14th-century novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but nowhere as much so as Baidicheng. White Emperor City was established by the Shu King, Gong Sun, after he saw a white mist rising from a local well, whence he also proclaimed himself the White King. The Shu protagonist, Liu Bei, retreated here after his closest ally was killed by his own troops and Liu died here in 265 AD. There’s a tablet commemorating his death in the temple, and there used to be another temple dedicated to his ally, Zhang Fei, although this has now been moved, brick-by-brick, to Yunyang, to save it from the rising waters. Poets were also inspired by the region and Tang master Li Bai “left Baidi amidst colorful clouds.”

Last updated December 27, 2007
Posted in   China  |  The Three Gorges
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