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The Source to Yichang

  The melting glaciers and snowfields of the rugged Tanggula Mountains in Qinghai Province forms the headwaters of the Yangtze. It is only since 1976 that the river's true Source, the 6,62l--meter (2l, 700--foot) high Mount Geladandong, on the Qinghai. Tibet Plateau has been conclusively explored and surveyed.
Yangtze River
  The source of this greatest of China's rivers had long been a geographical Conundrum. The area is largely in permafrost, moraine-pitted and windswept, An inhospitable and discouraging environment for explorers. A treatise written in the Warring States period (480--221 BC) by geographer Yu Gong stated the source To be in the Mingshan Mountains of Sichuan Province. By the l6th century, explorers Had named Jinsha River in Qinghai as the head stream. In the first half of the l8th Century, an official Qing government expedition found its way to the Qinghai--Tibet Plateau; their reports were an impetus for further explorations. But it was only when The Changiiang Valley Planning Office sent forth a scientific investigative team in the Mid-1970s that the source was finally ascertained.

  As the snows melt in the short summer months, waters quietly trickle down to The foothills and flow through the marshes and lakes that form the plateau with its Freshly verdant grassland. Among the many rivulets in this region, the Tuotuo River Emerges as the main body of water, winding its way towards the Qinghai—Tibet Highway and eastwards, for a further 60 kilometers (37 miles), where it is joined by The Damqu River. At this point it becomes the broad upper reaches of the Tongtian River. This plateau abounds in wildlife Tibetan antelope, wild yaks and asses, lynxes And geese.

  The 8l3-kilometre (505-mile) Tongtian River, descending sharply, flows through The Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Region of Qinghai, where the flat lands are Cultivated for highland barley or 1inghe--the Tibetan staple diet--and hill slopes provide grazing for the yak, sheep and white--Lipped deer owned by Tibetan Herdsmen whose dwellings are black, yak-wool tents. Below the Yushu Region the River, navigable here only for short distances by skin coracle boats, becomes known As the Jinsha (Golden Sand) River and flows southwards, forming the border Between Tibet and Sichuan on a 2,308-kilometre (l, 434-mile) journey sweeping Down into Yunnan Province and looping back up into Sichuan. On this southward Sweep the Yangtze runs parallel to the upper reaches of the Mekong and Salween Rivers (both of which also rise in the high plateau of Tibet) and the eastern branch of the Crawdad. At Shigu (Stone Drum) in Yunnan, the river curves sharply north,Actually flowing parallel to it, separated by only 24 kilometers (l5 miles). Here The river is wide in summer, but in winter, when the water level is low, the currents form sandbars that become the breeding grounds for many varietie5 of waterbirds. Further on the river again plunges south and east and eventually flows northwards towards Chongqing.
  This southern region of the river is an area few Westerners have ever penetrated.In the second half of the Yangtze Riverl9th century, the British and French sought to establish back-door trade routes from their colonial possessions in Burma, Laos and Vietnam, through Yunnan and up to the navigable stretches of the Yangtze in Sichuan. Secret missions were sent into southwest China, as the British were anxious to study the feasibility of a railway link between Burma and Chongqing. It was these intrepid travellers (some of whom never lived to tell their tale) who recorded their encounters with the many tribal minority peoples inhabiting this area.Western missionaries were a second source of information on customs and attitudes.But the first Westerner to explore and photograph the area extensively was an American,Joseph F Rock, leader of the National Geographic Society 's Yunnan Province Expedition.His amazing black and white photographs, taken in the 1920s and developed by himself under the most difficult conditions, are, even today, outstanding.

  Among the sloping forests of pine and spruce arc alpine meadows of moss, blue gentians and white edelweiss bordered by hemlock and flowering rhododendron bushes. In the narrow valley floors live Tribes of the Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group-the Lisu, Naxi, Lolo (also known as the Yi), Nu, Lahu, Xifan and Jing peoples. They have inhabited western Sichuan and northeast Yunnan since earliest times, cultivating-barley, wheat, vegetables and indigo and keeping sheep or pigs. For the most part these people are Tibetan Buddhists, but some, like the Naxi, are animi5ts whose  priests, or tombas, practise exorcism in the pre-Buddhist tradition of the Bon sect of Tibet, others are simply shamanistic. They are brave hunters and warriors, who fought among themselves and against the Han Chinese for centuries. Until 1949, Buddhist kingdoms, such as the tiny kingdom of Mu1i, were ruled by reincarnated monk kings.
The Black Yi of Daliang 5han were Landowners who kept their fellow tribesmen,the White Yi, as slaves. This practice was proscribed in l956. The Yi--in their striking long thick black capes-were a constant headache to the Chinese adminis-tration, as they kidnapped officials and fomented rebellions. Their exploits were recorded as early as the first century BC by the great Chinese historian Sima Qian (c.l45--85 BC). Kublai Khan (12l5--94), in an attempt to bring Burma under hi5 sway,lost half his 500,000-man army to disease, exhaustion and tribal harassment in these mountains.

  Though the great gorges of the Yangtze near Yichang are the most famous, there are even more spectacu1ar gorges in the vicinity of Lijiang, where mountains rise more than 5,700 meters (l8, 700 feet) and canyons plunge 3,900 meters (l2,800 feet),through which the water flows deeply, turbulently and treacherously. Access in this region is still only by mountain pathways and cliff-hugging tracks. Single-rope bridges slung high above the water's surface are not uncommon, the rider is conveyed in a sling attached to a pulley which must be well greased with yak butter  to avoid any build-up of friction.

  The area is rich in mineral resources and timber. The l,085-kilometre (675--mile)
Chengdu--Kunming railway, which was constructed in the 1970s, has brought profound changes to this remote region.

  From about the 27 degrees north parallel, the Yangtze, flowing north--northeast for some 800 kilometers (500 miles) and forming the borders of Sichuan and Yunnan, finally reaches the Sichuan or Red Basin. After Yibin, the river, now called the Chanajiang, is joined by the Minjiang and Jialing Rivers from the north and the Wooing from the south. Thus originates the name of Sichuan Province--'Four Rivers'. The 500-metre (l,640-foot) high Sichuan Basin, with its mild winters and  long rainy season, has long been agriculturally rich; in the late Han dynasty, Chengdu (today's capital of Sichuan) was even bigger than the then capital of Luoyang. Sichuan has remained one of China's most important 'bread--baskets',producing cotton, hemp and silk as well as grain. On the large, flat Chengdu plain, the Minjiang was harnessed for irrigation as early as 250 BC by the Dujiangyan irrigation system, which has been the basis of the region's prosperity ever since.

  Near the confluence of the Dadu and Min Rivers is the great sacred Buddhist mountain of Emei, studded with ancient temples. Not far distant, at Leshan, the river actually laps the stone feet of one of the world's largest carved Buddhas. The 70-metre (230-foot) high Tang-dynasty (61ec907) statue took 90 years to complete. The huge city of Chongqing stands at the confluence of the Jialing and the Yangtze. Below this city the river continues its progress through Sichuan, and on  through the famous Yangtze Gorges into Hubei Province where, at Yichang, sharply checked by the Gezhou Ba (Dam), it enters the flat lands of its middle reaches.

The Source to Yichang

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