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Wu Xia (Witches Gorge)

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  Below Wushan the river approaches the entrance to the 40-kilometre (25--mile) long Wu Yangtze RiverGorge, the middle Yangtze gorge which straddles Sichuan and Hubei Provinces. So sheer are the cliffs that it is said the sun rarely penetrates. The boat passes, on the south side, the Golden Helmet and Silver Armour Gorge0inkuang Yinjia Xia) shaped, it is said, like an ancient warrior's silver coat of arms crowned by a round golden helmet. Ahead are the l2 peaks of Wu Gorge, famed frothier dark and somber grace. Poets have attempted to evoke both their bleakness and beauty:
  Autumn Thought
   Jade dews deeply wilt and wound the maple woods;
   On Witch Mountain, in Witch Gorge, the air is somber, desolate.
   Billowy waves from the river roar and rush towards the sky
   Over the frontier pass, wind and clouds sink to the darkening earth.
   These clustered chrysanthemums, twice blooming, evoke the tears of yesteryear,
   A lonely boat, as ever, is mooted to the heart that yearns for home.
   To cut winter clothes, women everywhere ply their scissors and foot-rulers
   Below the White Emperor's tall city is heard the urgent pounding of the evening wash.
Six peaks line the north side:
  Climbing Dragon Peak (DengIong Feng)
  Sage Spring Peak (Shengquan Feng)
  Facing Clouds Peak (Chaoyun Feng)
  Goddess Peak (Shennu Feng)
  Fir Tree Cone Peak (Songluan Feng)
  Congregated immortals Peak (jixian Feng)
  Three peaks flank the south side:
  Assembled Cranes Peak 0uhe Feng)
  Misty Screen Peak (Cuiping Feng)
  Flying Phoenix Peak (Feifeng Feng)
 Three more peaks may be glimpsed behind these:
  Clean Altar Peak 0ingtan Feng)
  Rising Cloud Peak (Qiyun Feng)
  Mounting Aloft Peak (Shangsheng Feng)
  
  More often than not these green-clad peaks are hidden by swirls of cloud and mist, and are difficult to distinguish, though each has its own characters and posture.

  The most famous is the Shennu Feng (Goddess Peak)--also referred to as observing the Clouds Peak--which resembles the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a piIIar. She is Yangtze riverbelieved to be the embodiment of Yao Ji, the 23rd daughter of the Queen Mother of the West. Yao Ji, at the age of 18, was sent to oversee the JadePoo1 of the Western Heaven, accompanied by l l fairy handmaidens. But she found life there lonely and cold, and took to rambling among the mountains and rivers of the mortal world. Wushan became her favourite place, and there she established small palace. Once, returning from a visit to the Eastern Sea on her floating cloud, she came upon l2 dragons playing havoc with the river and the mountains, and causing flooding and hardship in their wake. She summoned Da Yu the Great from his work on the Yellow River and, alighting from her cloud, presented him with heavenly supernatural book. This endowed him with powers to call upon the wind, rain, thunder and lightning to move the earth, thus enabling his sacred ox to s1ashopen the gorges (which is why all oxen have bent horns), and permit the waters todr3in into the Eastern Sea. Yao Ji resolved to stay here with her 11 maidens to protect the boats from the dangerous rapids, the peasants' crops from damage, the woodcutters from wild animals, and to grow the fungus of longevity for the sick. Eventually these 12 maidens became the 12 sentinel peaks of Wu Gorge. There are, of course,many variations to this story.

  As the river twists and turns, a mountain comes into view, appearing as if it wil1block the way.  This is Congregated Immrtals Peak, on whose grey-white rock face can just be made out a carved inscription, known as the Kongming Pai, which legend attributed to the great third-century politician and strategist Zhuge Liang (see page42). However, it seems that the inscription was in fact carved during the Ming Dynasty by the local people to show their eternal respect and regard for this hero.
  Five kilometres (three miles) below Kongming Pai on the south bank is the small trading town of Peishi, which marks the provincial border between Sichuan and Hubei; Whitewashed villages cling to the mountain terraces which produce grain crops and fruits--apples, persimmons, peaches, apricots and Chinese chestnuts.
  Just above the north-bank town of Guandukou--marking the end of WuGorge----was the site of the Flint Rapid (Huoyan Shi), which was very violent at high water, with limestone rocks jutting into the river like huge stone gates beckoning helpless craft. These, along with all the dangerous rocks in the shipping channel, were blown up in the 1950s. Besides rapids, other dangers to navigators includedwhirlpools, quicksand and currents which varied from hour to hour.