The Yangtze is one of the world's great rivers. The longest in China, and the third longest in the world, its 6,300-kilometre course starts in the southern foothills of snow-covered Mount Gelandandong in the Tanggula Mountains on the borders of China and Tibet. The river tumbles down the mountains, gathering volume and speed as it flows through central China to the East China Sea. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the only route into the middle of the country.
The Yangtze has been China's lifeline for centuries, transporting people, products and everyday supplies. Today, there is an ever-present string of barges taking cement, coal and wood to the booming cities along its course. Weaving between them are small ferries that deliver passengers and produce to piers on the banks, where paths and stone steps lead up cliff faces to quarries, factories, villages and farms.
As the Yangtze leaves Sichuan, the river makes its way eastwards through the Wushan Mountains. This is where the spectacular Three Gorges are located, extending over 190 kilometres of the river. In some places the river plunges through gaps in the limestone rocks that are only 100 metres wide. Qutang, which is about 10 kilometres long, is the shortest gorge. After a stretch of quieter water, the river enters the 40-kilometre-long Wu Gorge, famous for its spectacular vertical cliff sides. Finally, the river zig-zags down the rapids of Xiling Gorge for 76 kilometres. This used to be the most critical part of the river journey before its most dangerous rocks were removed in the 1950s. …