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Full Circle

Day 63: The Yangtze River - Yichang to Wushan

Yangtze River Gorges, China 
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In the lock at Gezhou, where the Yangtze climbs 100 feet.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAfter three hours on the river we reach the village of Sandouping, site of the Three Gorges Dam. Despite considerable debate about whether or not there is money to build it (costs are currently estimated at twenty billion dollars), a graceful suspension bridge, about two-thirds of a mile long, has been built across the river to connect the two construction sites, cliffs have been stripped and blasted, spurs of rock blown away and the rubble used to create the foundations for what will be a 600-foot-high dam wall, one and a quarter miles long. Bridges have been thrown across subsidiary inlets and new roads have been dug into the mountainside to cope with the lorry traffic. Cement silos tower into the air, conveyor belts run down to barges, whole townships have been built on the banks to house the eighteen thousand workers. The current stage of this operation, which involves a temporary diversion of the course of the Yangtze, is gigantic enough.

Up river from the construction site we enter the most unspoilt pastoral landscape I've yet seen in China. A panorama of traditional cultivation patterns - terraced valleys winding back into the mountains, contours picked out by stone walls and winding paths. Hamlets of whitewashed stone cottages with wide-hipped roofs are tucked away amongst the trees, or dotted along sandy bays. Quite soon all this will have vanished beneath the waters of the reservoir. The occupants of those whitewashed farmhouses will be among the one and a half million who will be sent elsewhere, their homes and livelihoods sacrificed to the industrialization of the Yangtze Basin.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 63
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Yangtze River Gorges
  • Book page no: 90

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