Down the Yangtze; A Great River, a Great Wall and an Army That Has Been Waiting for Battle for 2,000 Years. TIM WARE Takes a Slow Boat in China
Ware, Tim, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
The Yangtze. The very name conjures up images of the real China - one of the world's great rivers slithering its way almost 4,000 miles from the Tanggulashan mountains through gorges and past paddy fields to the sea.
Chinese sailors used to say that travelling up through the Yangtze gorges to Wanxian was ''harder than getting to heaven''.
For centuries they tried to storm this heaven in their junks, but many times their boats were gripped by the rapids and whirlpools in the gorges and smashed against the rocks.
Today there is an easier - and safer - way up the Yangtze. You board a cruise ship at Wuhan and make your way up the great river in complete safety.
We are on board a Regal China Cruises ship on a holiday organised by Saga, the provider of holidays and travel for people aged 50 and over. The old sailors would envy our modern comforts.
There is a sun deck for admiring the passing pageant, two dining rooms providing Chinese and western-styled food, well-furnished cabins and cocktail bars where you can sip cocktails and exchange reminiscences with fellow passengers.
The trip is full of superlatives. Along the way we stop to see the construction of the San Dou Ping dam, destined to be the world's largest. When it is completed it will create a reservoir 370 miles long and up to 575 feet deep, supplying electricity for millions of people. However, with the damming of the river, slowly but surely the amazing landscape of the Three Gorges of Xiling, Wu and Qutang will be altered forever, so now is the time to enjoy a memorable cruise on the Yangtze before it changes irreversibly.
As we float upstream, hemmed in by towering pinnacles of rock on either side, we are passed by junks, some towed by motor boats, laden with grain and animals.
Those travelling upstream without power have to fight every inch of the way, staying close to the bank to avoid the stronger currents in the middle of the river. These junks are towed by coolies walking along the tow path who, every so often, pull on ropes fastened to the mast and hull of the vessels.
We had begun our trip where most people get their first glimpse of China - in Beijing, which is so full of sightseeing that it is almost a holiday in itself.
In the youngest of the Imperial City you can take a stroll in Tiananmen Square, built after the success of Mao's revolution in 1949; and wander at leisure through the Forbidden City, where the emperors once ruled in total isolation. …