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Full Circle

Day 63: The Yangtze River - Yichang to Wushan

Michael Palin - Full CircleMeanwhile the river narrows. Whirlpools, eddies and races force the Oriental Star into long, time-consuming zig-zags as it labours against the current. One of the arguments in favour of the Three Gorges Dam is that it will calm the flow of the water and make navigation easier. It will also, its supporters claim, help prevent the recurrent and murderous Yangtze floods and provide thousands of megawatts of cheap electricity. At 4.15 we make our first stop at Badong, on the southern bank. It is built on steep slopes with a commanding view of the river, and an impressive edifice that resembles the Potala palace in Lhasa dominates one end of town. The reality is less glamorous. The Potala Palace turns out to be a power station and the banks below it are coal tips. Any coal not used at the power station is sent slithering down the mountain in long open chutes, and flung out into waiting barges in a series of sooty ejaculations. Badong does not look healthy. Dust from uncovered coal tips has blown across the town and the apartment blocks that stride so confidently up the mountain are stained and grubby. Much higher up however are brand new apartments. Fresh, clean and gleaming. They, of course, will be above the flood.

Through the Wu-Xia, the Witches Gorge, 25 miles long and flanked by twelve towering peaks. Kites cruise the cliff-sides. The river has lost all tones of green and is now a fiercely flowing mud-brown. The captain watches it carefully. He is the personification of riverine experience - an elderly man with close-cropped grey hair, shrewd eyes and compact, formidably serious features that transform like a clown's mask whenever he smiles.

As the light begins to fade, the walls of the gorge grow taller and more dizzily vertical - looming stacks of rock, black at their base, peaks tinged orange by the setting sun.
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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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