Cruise gives preview of Yangtze after the dam

Senior editor David Cogswell cruised the Yangtze and the Three Gorges to get a firsthand glimpse of what effect the planned Three Gorges Dam will have on tourism in the region. His report follows:

t's human nature. People tend to value what they fear they will lose. That explains, in part, the success of Victoria Cruises, which started in 1994 with one ship for cruising the Yangtze River.

Today it has 11, a growth that can be attributed to the belief that time is running out to see the Yangtze and the Three Gorges before a controversial dam project changes the scenery forever.

I traveled to China with Pacific Delight Tours and took Victoria's four-night river cruise to see the Yangtze and the Three Gorges for myself and try to ascertain what would be lost and what would be left for tourists in the future.

The controversy surrounding the project notwithstanding, as a tourist attraction the Yangtze and the Three Gorges will be no less spectacular with the completion of the dam. And the change will bring new attractions: a 400-mile lake and the Three Gorges dam itself.

Sampan boats on the Daning River are still piloted with bamboo poles as in ancient times, but now also are outfitted with motors. I cruised on the Victoria III from Chongqing, where most Yangtze cruises begin, to Wuhan, a distance of about 800 miles. Some itineraries go all the way to the coast, where the Yangtze empties into the China Sea at Shanghai.

In Chongqing's Three Gorges Museum, a mural the length of a football field shows how the damming of the river and the resultant rise in the water level will affect the towns and villages along the banks.

More than 1 million people will be relocated, and two cities, 140 towns and 1,351 villages will be submerged.

On our first day of cruising, we arrived at Fengdu. I knew from the mural that Fengdu will be completely under water come June.

The buildings were already abandoned and a brand new city had been built across the river. Known for centuries as "the city of ghosts," Fengdu today is truly a ghost town.

On the second day, we passed through the first of the Three Gorges, Qutang Gorge, at five miles in length the shortest of the three. The passage took about 20 minutes.

The morning was foggy and drizzly. Clouds clung to the mountain peaks. Rocky gorges towered above us on either side of the narrow passage.

At Wushan, we disembarked for an excursion up the Daning River, a tributary of the Yangtze, to what are called the Lesser Gorges. Our motorized sampan boat was guided by two men with bamboo poles, as in ancient times.

On the small river, between towering cliffs, we passed under the often-photographed arch of the Dragon Gate Bridge.

Before heading down to where the Daning River meets the Yangtze and where we would meet our cruise ship, we stopped on a rocky shore and ate our boxed lunches as rhesus monkeys played among the cliffs. At midafternoon, we passed into Wu Gorge, the second of the Three Gorges.

The third day of cruising brought two highlights. We entered Xiling Gorge, the final, longest and, many say, the most spectacular of the three.

The massive cliffs were illuminated by the sun, with pockets of mist hugging their peaks. The riverbanks flourished green with vegetation, and craggy peaks jutted into the sky.

We came to the Three Gorges Dam project at Sandouping in the evening and spent time atop an observation area and touring the site.

After cruising three days we still were only half the distance to Wuhan, our destination.

A major industrial city, Wuhan will benefit from the dam. Major floods in 1931 and 1954 killed hundreds of thousands of people and held the city underwater for months.

Pacific Delight rolls out budget plans

NEW YORK -- Pacific Delight Tours introduced a series of budget packages for China and Southeast Asia, including seven SuperValue Yangtze River packages priced from $1,660 to $3,060 per person, double, with transpacific air included.

The programs, which are commissionable at 10%, are 10 to 17 nights in length, including three to five nights on the Yangtze.

Popular attractions on the China tour include Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs in the Beijing area; the Shanghai Museum, Jade Buddha Temple and a performance at the Children's Palace in Shanghai; the terracotta warriors in Xian; and the Stillwell Museum in Chongqing.

More information is available on the Web at www.pacificdelighttours.com. Reservations can be made by calling (800) 221-7179.

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