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 Victoria Cruise Line on the Yangtze

Fiji with Captain Cook Cruises
Victoria Cruise Line on the Yangtze

by Roger Allnutt

For many years a cruise on the Yangtze River has been a highlight of any tour of China.

The most popular section of the river has always been through the narrow gorges between Yichang and Chongqing which provided dramatic scenery, towering cliffs above the valley floor, small fishing villages and often difficult conditions for the captain at the helm.

The most popular section of the river has always been through the narrow gorges between Yichang and Chongqing which provided dramatic scenery, towering cliffs above the valley floor, small fishing villages and often difficult conditions for the captain at the helm.

In 1994 construction began on the controversial Three Gorges Dam project which, when completed in 2003, raised the river level about 110 metres. It submerged villages and historical and archaeological sites, resulted in the relocation of people to new villages and towns and is controversial for many environmental reasons.

The Three Gorges Dam has created a 600km long reservoir stretching back to Chongqing and changed the face of many aspects of the cruises that are immensely popular with tourists from all round the world.

I joined a 5 day/4 night cruise upstream from Yichang to Chongqing (a distance of 660km) on the Victoria Lianna, one of seven similar ships of the US-based Victoria Cruise Line. The ship holds a maximum of 214 passengers and my cruise had about 150 passengers on board, about two thirds Chinese and the rest from western countries including Australia. A number of other companies also offer cruises – some are longer and go on to Shanghai at the mouth of the Yangtze.

The cruise on Victoria Lianna was extremely well organised and had a friendly, efficient and professional crew many of whom spoke both Chinese and English. Cabins are spacious and well appointed, the food was good and included both Chinese and western offerings mainly served buffet style, viewing areas were good and the cruise offered both included and a couple of optional tours, all well run. Informative commentary along the way added to the interest.

Captain Cook Cruises cabin

On two evenings the crew, very multi-skilled, put on shows that showcased traditional Chinese costumes and customs from different regions and periods and also a cabaret. Tai chi and yoga classes were held, the ship’s doctor talked about traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture and there was also time just to relax and rest.

Sailing from Yichang the first attraction is the Three Gorges Dam, a massive construction 2335m long and 185m high. Most of the construction was fully operational by 2009 and there is further development in progress to build a water lift which will raise many of the craft about 80m which at present is accomplished by a series of four locks that raise the boats about 20m in each step.

The cruise included a tour of the dam with viewing platforms clearly showing the massive size of the project, the huge wall and the locks from different angles. It was then back to join the ship for its passage through the locks. It was fascinating to see the skill of the cruise captain and those of other craft as they manoeuvred into the tight space. Our craft and a heavily laden barge fit snuggly into each lock with only centimetres to spare on each side. Passage through the locks is very controlled and works smoothly and efficiently, the closing, filling with water (going upstream) and entry to next level taking about 45 minutes.

Once through the locks the ship moved into the gorges part of the cruise which is divided into three sections the 76km Xiling Gorge which is famous for being historically the most dangerous, the 45km Wu Gorge, the most beautiful and the 8km long Qutang Gorge the most magnificent. On my trip the summer weather was hot and muggy and mist hung along the river, very evocative but not so good for photographs.

Some evidence of historic ‘items’ can be seen along the river. The sites of old hanging coffins are visible although the contents have long ago been moved to museums and you can still see the pathways cut into the rock where crews of labourers used to pull craft by ropes up through the rapids that existed before the dam.

Each gorge has magnificent and dramatic scenery with towering cliffs leading up to steeply wooded mountain slopes. Many of the mountain faces have names like sleeping beauty or the goddess but you need to use your imagination at times. There are still many paths leading up the hills often to remote villages that still remain after the construction of the dam but nowadays there are new towns; many of the original inhabitants rely on tourism. In summer the trees were all green but in autumn many take on vivid autumn tones.

Captain Cook Cruises cabin

At Wushan passengers transferred to smaller craft for a tour along the much narrower Daling River, a tributary of the Yangtze, and this tour was exhilarating; you could almost touch the sheer cliff faces. At one point the Chinese have recently built a 3km long walkway hanging above 50m up on the cliff face; part of the floor of the pathway is glass so you can look down! It is a major new tourist attraction.

The final organised tour was at Fengdu to visit the ‘City of Ghosts’ the No. 1 tourist attraction in the upper reaches of the Yangtze. The Ghost City is a group of Buddhist and Taoist temples on top of Ming Mountain overlooking Fengdu, now submerged. Spirits of dead people came there and went through a bureaucracy of underworld officials who make decisions to reward pure spirits or subject the wicked to severe punishments according to their sins. Many of the punishments were gruesome and an ‘exhibition’ depicts them in detail. Until the 1960s many river craft anchored in midstream for fear of ghosts.

Two optional tours are offered to Baidecheng or White Emperor City, a temple complex on a hill overlooking the entrance to Qutang Gorge near the town of Fengjie which is known as the City of Poems because of the many poems inscribed on the numerous stone or wooden slabs scattered in the region. The entrance to the gorge is regarded as one of the most spectacular along the river and is featured on the back of the 10 yuan note.

The other tour takes in Shibaozhai, a wonderful red coloured 12 story pavilion located on a hill on the bank of the river. Built in 1819 (the top three floors were added in 1956) it is a gem of Chinese architecture. The cruise ended at Chongqing, a modern city with over 32 million people, the most populous city in China.

A cruise on the Yangtze is not to be missed.

(Roger Allnutt was a guest of Victoria Cruises and flew to China with China Southern Airlines.)


Victoria Cruises

For more information on Victoria Cruises check the website

Roger Allnutt
Roger Allnutt is a freelance travel writer based in Canberra, Australia, and a long-time member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. He travels widely around the world researching material for publication in newspapers and magazines in Australia, New Zealand, US, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Roger is happy to accept commissions and can provide material on many parts of the world. He can be reached at [email protected]

His other interests include food and wine, classical music and theatre and playing tennis.

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