china          
june  2007

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The Yangtze river to the yellow mountains
Day 7 through 13



Day 7 through 9 "Three Gorges Dam and the Yangtze River Adventure"
We arrived in Wuhan to find a huge bustling city, actually the train station was at a crossroads commonly called The Three Towns of Wuhan. The towns being, Wuhan, Wuchang and Hankou.  After winding our way up, down and around to exit the station, we were hopping a chartered bus to Yichang to tour the 'infamous' Three Gorges Dam and then off to cruise the Yangtze River on a Chinese cruise ship.
Our local tour guide for the time in Yichang would be Helen.  She was full of information and led us through the dam tour and then on to the cruise ship.  She was very positive about the building of the dam, of course, though did explain a few hardships the local villagers were struggling with.  Many Chinese have their family plots on their land.  Burials for many generations are in the same area.  When these villagers are relocated to areas that won't be flooded by the Yangtze as a result of the dam they are usually unable to move these ancestral tombs and this is very difficult for them.  There is a lot of controversy surrounding the building of the dam and the local Chinese we met were very positive.  In some cases only time will tell if the dam was worth the sacrifices. Unfortunately the day turned out cloudy and rainy so the visibility wasn't great at the dam.  Still you had to notice that China had set this area up for tourists.  Lots of art, lots of gardens, very manicured.  We had hoped that we would be able to enter some of the works of the Dam but that is not the case.  There is a room with some history and a big model of the dam and an elevated viewing platform where you can watch ships go through the locks.  
 

              

After our tour and a late lunch we headed down to the dock to board our Cruise Ship for our overnight cruise down the Yangtze River to Fengji.
Now, Chinese Cruise Ships are a bit different than a cruise on Royal Caribbean or even Celebrity for that matter.  There is no pool or fancy room and the 'dining room' isn't much and has a very limited menu.  But it was certainly adequate once they moved us from the room that had obviously been used as a vomit receptacle for the previous guests.  A small room without a lingering odor was forthcoming and all was well.
                           

The next morning after a Chinese breakfast of steamed bread, rice porridge, cabbage and peanuts, we were off to our day excursion; first a stop at a performance hall to watch a show and then a tributary ride in a shallow canoe that would be pulled by Chinese men on shore.  Originally (before the Dam was built) the tributaries along the River would have varying amounts of flow depending on the rain that year.  Some would get quite low and supply ships for the villages would have to be pulled along over the low areas by the locals.  This became a well known tourist excursion that is not so dramatic with the inflow the dam provides.  It was certainly all for show while we were there, the river in the middle was plenty deep enough to handle the boats.  But it was fun to hear the history and float along in the peaceful river enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way.  Just us and the 50 other canoes full of tourists.....
At least our local guide, Kitty, sang for us on the trip.

                 
Now the funny part is she asked us to sing back and we all sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and a canoe beside us full of Chinese tourists were busy videoing and taking pictures OF US.  They even applauded at the end of our song.  How Bizarre!!

The remainder of the day was relaxing, cruising along looking at bat caves, hanging coffins, farms and villages that were about to be overtaken by the water and the new cities that had retaining walls and bridges hoping to protect them from the floods.  You can find some pictures of all that and more by clicking on the photo tab at the top of the page.  We had lunch on the ship as a group, which was quite good and then drank beer up on the deck enjoying the scenery and watching for what ever Puma or another tour guide would point out.  Very relaxing and fun afternoon.  Later, around 7PM we arrived at Fengji and the 253 steps up from the harbor (Bill counted).

               

  We would stay at the hotel here, near the dock.  Apparently the actual town is an hour or so away.   The Hotel is very nice and we walked across the street to a small market for beer and snacks before turning in with a nice hot shower.
Tomorrow is one of those travel days; first we take a Hydrofoil back to Yichang, we would kill a couple hours here and then we board a plane and fly to Shanghai, then its a quick two hour bus ride to Hangshou, home of the beautiful 'West Lake' for a day.  Afterwards we'll be on our way to Huangshan or Yellow Mountains for some hiking.  Thankfully my cracked rib is doing well and as long as I have the Ibuprofen I'm looking forward to hiking.
During our lunch in Yichang we had a nice experience in the restaurant with the cute young waitress who wanted to speak English and was so sweet.  At one point she brought in a young man to help out and when we professed thanks to him for helping, he replied "No, thanks".  Apparently it is a common expression meaning "no thanks needed".  We didn't really understand and spent the lunch time teaching the waitress to say "You're Welcome".  She studied my phrasebook throughout the meal and stayed with us, pouring tea and responding "you're welcome" and giggling to every "thank you" she received.
  It was a small moment that was fun and will always be remembered.


Day 10 through 13 "From West Lake Meandering to Yellow Mountain Hiking"
In the morning we boarded a bus to the Lingyin Temple Complex in Hangshou.  It is one of the largest Temple complexes in China and is set in a huge park full of Buddha statues and Gardens.  It was founded in 326 AD by the Indian monk, HuiLi.  It became a center of worship for the Chan (Zen) Buddhist sect, and once served as home to more than three thousand monks.  During its turbulent history the temple has been destroyed and then restored no less than sixteen times.  The current structures dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  Though the main temple that can be seen today is a result of the restoration that was carried out in 1974 following the ten-year Chinese Cultural Revolution.
 
                                       

We v
isited the park, but concentrated on the inner temple with Puma providing a history of the Buddhist religion in China.  It was a drizzly day but the Temple was quite impressive.  It is still an active temple but is no longer home to many monks so "part time monks" are included in the massive prayers done in the halls.  A modern addition to the temple complex is The Hall of Five Hundred Arhats (spiritual practitioner).  This hall is laid out with a floor plan shaped like a Buddhist swastika and contains 500 larger than life bronze statues seated in varying positions with an assortment of accompaniments.  There is a statue of Guanyin (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) in the center.  The story Puma gave us is if you start at any door, go any direction and count the statues for each year of your life you will find your next life.  Man, mine was one ugly old guy.....at least he was old, I'm thinking long life sounds good. 
We spent the rest of the afternoon with free time wandering along West Lake with Bill's parents.  The rain cleared and it was a nice sunny afternoon.  We walked along the willow tree lined causeway called 'Melting Snow On Broken Bridge', checked out the boats for hire, the lotus flowers growing in the lake, meandered around the Chinese Garden, visited the Museum, saw distant pagodas and stopped in small parks all along the way.

                 

After dinner at a local restaurant we went back along the Lake to watch the Fountain Light Show that was set to music.  Click on the picture above and watch a bit of video of Fountains set to Chinese pop music.
The next morning it was a four or five hour bus ride to Mt. Huangshan.  We stopped in Huangshan City to get money changed and pick up some snacks for our hike through the Yellow Mountains tomorrow.  We would be staying at an old hotel that was at the base of the mountains and there would be no place to change money.  Our hike would take the majority of the day and whatever snacks we bought would become our lunch.  After our shopping expedition we ate lunch in the city before our bus headed off for over an hour up-hill to the hotel in the mountains.  The hotel is not really being maintained, as a brand new resort style complex is being built right next door.  This is a very popular tourist area and once the new complex is complete this one will probably be torn down.  So...the AC only kind of worked and the shower was basically cold water.  But it didn't really matter the air was cooler here in the mountains and the scenery was full of beautiful trees and granite mountains as far as you could see.

                         

  This is where we realized, though, we haven't seen many birds (only a few), no real wildlife and no bugs what so ever.  We have been down the Yangtze, through some outlying backpacker type towns and now we are in the woods in the mountains and still nothing.  In the whole time we were in the Yellow Mountains area we saw one sad squirrel and a few birds.  Only a few ants on the trail.  Something to think about.
Bill and I headed out for a walk as soon as we arrived.  We walked down to the nearby waterfall and then back uphill behind the hotel until it started getting dark and drizzly rain started to fall.  We were hoping for nice weather for the hike the next day but we had rain ponchos just in case.



The next morning we all met in front of the hotel and found out we would be taking a cable car to the top of the mountains and spend about six hours hiking through the National Park.  It was cloudy and we were warned it might be chilly and windy up at the top.  I wasn't exactly expecting this 'hike' to be on nice stone paths and lots and lots of stairs.  I had envisioned more of a packed dirt trail.  But it was all done in marked stone paths with markers and benches and resting places.  Every now and then you would get to the top of a set of steep steps and around a big stone outcropping and find a complete gift shop and restaurant....on top of a mountain.  We also encountered a lot of Chinese tourists, the men smartly dressed in slacks and loafers and the women in cute chiffon dresses and heels...for a hike.
My rib wasn't hurting and I was excited about doing the hike.  The scenery was a bit obstructed by the clouds in the morning but within a few hours the sky cleared and we found ourselves surrounded by, trees, mountains and incredible views.  And it didn't rain a drop.


                             

At the end of the days hiking Bill and I and Vivien and Colin decided we would hike down the mountain rather than take the cable car back down.  It took us two and a half hours of straight downhill steps and then back along the road to the hotel.  For several days afterwards we all whimpered about the pain in our calves and shuddered at the sight of any downhill steps.  But we were the only ones with the bragging rights to the downhill section.  We were quite proud of ourselves.

                     

The rest of the group went into the nearby village for dinner but the four of us were quite content to shower and have a bite to eat in the Hotel.  In the morning, after a walk up the hill and back, we headed down the mountain to Huangshan City for a free day before the overnight train to Shanghai.  On the way the bus stopped along side a picturesque hillside where a farmer was tending to his tea.  Pictures were taken and the bus then stopped at a village were everyone had a short visit and snapped more photos.  Once in Huangshan City, Bill and I, his parents, Jolyn and Puma decided to have lunch at a 'Hot Pot' restaurant.  The specialty was Fish-Head, oh boy.  A large pot with two compartments (one for spicy broth, one not so spicy) is in the center of the table with the flame below to keep it boiling.

                     HuangshanTheCityHotPotLunchFishHeadCooking1.jpg (189924 bytes)                     
click on the photo above
to see the
Fish Head

The food is then brought out raw and you drop it in the broth to cook.  It was good, though no one was going to fight Bill and Puma over the fish eyes so they enjoyed that delicacy all to themselves.  Bill and I then set out to locate the internet cafe.  Having no luck we finally asked for help using my trusty phrase book.  It appeared we kept missing it because it looked remarkable more like a motorcycle repair shop.  hmmmm This time we vowed to learn a few important Chinese characters to help up find our way around.  For the rest of the trip we had no problems finding the internet cafe.
     The character is the same character for 'net'.     If this is in the name we probably have the right place.  Another thing we noticed while walking around Huangshan City was the propensity to hang ones laundry and ones meat on the same patio.  We pondered these sights as we sat and had a beer in a sidewalk cafe along the 'Cultural Street'.  There is a cultural street in almost every city and generally translates to 'place to sell Chinese stuff to tourists'.  And tomorrow we would arrive in the biggest of all cultural streets....Shanghai.