One of the largest projects ever attempted, The Three Gorges dam spanning the Yangtze river in Sandouping has been under construction since 1994, having been in various planning stages for 50 years before that.
When completed in 2009, the dam will produce over 3% of China’s electricity. That number may seem small, but given the size of the country, that small percentage is an enormous amount: 28 billion kilowatt hours annually from the one dam.
Few dams on this scale have ever been attempted, much less completed on time and under budget. But the Three Gorges is well on the way to being just that. This despite the typical corruption and controversy surrounding any project of the kind.
Tourists, fortunately, don’t have to take any interest in that. The dam and the surrounding area provides its own grand topics to focus on. The Three Gorges themselves extend upriver from the dam for nearly 200km toward Chong Qing.
Furthest from the dam, closest to Chong Qing, is the Qutang Gorge, only 8.3km long. But it offers a view from the river of dramatic 150m(500ft) high cliffs, topped by limestone peaks over 1,200m(4,000ft) above.
The Wu Gorge follows with its own sheer cliffs, surrounded by clouds that obscure their great heights. The mist covered surroundings will remind many of jungle movies, similar to the King Kong epic.
The gorge closest to the dam itself is the Xi Ling Gorge. Stretching over 68km, the verdant passageway looks more like a movie set itself than the astounding natural setting it is.
Some cruises up the river are offered in two stages. After the first leg on larger ships, visitors will disembark and board small sampans to explore some of the Yangtze’s tributaries. As the dam project proceeds, flooding more areas of the river to higher points, visitors can see more views than ever of the surrounding area.
Travelers will have an opportunity to stop in Fu Ling and ride a hydrofoil up the Wu River to visit the Lotus Cave limestone rock formations. Another stop is at the Stone Treasure Stockade, Shibaozhai, on the northern bank of the Yangtze. Completed in the late 18th century, the 12-story structure is sure to be a highlight of the trip.
On the final leg of the journey, there’s a stop near the construction site. A stellar opportunity to snap some photographs of this magnificent structure, guides give an account of the project in both Chinese and English.
Some treks are as short as a few hours, some last for days while traveling in air-conditioned cabins. Many offer side trips to visit the Ba Hanging coffin area (book soon before the rising waters bury them forever), and other fascinating sights.
But whichever you choose, don’t miss an opportunity to visit this gargantuan project along the world’s third largest river.