2017 Yangtze River Cruise and Ferry Starting from 79 USD p.p.!


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Unique cruise in China on the Yangtze River

FOR generations the mighty Tujia trackers have hauled ships, junks and now tourists up the Yangtze. They are strong and athletic, with muscles sculpted through years of hard labour. In the past, the Tujia boatmen would strip naked to pull ships and junks while running along narrow towpaths hacked into cliffs. Before the invention of engines, the only way ships could cross shallow sections of the Yangtze River was by being towed by hundreds of men. It was dangerous work for the men, where one misstep could send them plunging into swirling currents. River ride These days, life is a lot less perilous for the Tujia trackers. The Three Gorges Dam project has attracted loads of tourists keen to cruise the Yangtze. And the men who once provided the muscle to pull the ships now earn a living hauling tourists along its shallow tributaries. Related Coverage Afloat The Australian, 4 Nov 2009 Great cruising escapes The Australian, 30 Oct 2009 Rocks of ages The Australian, 30 Oct 2009 A deep feel for country The Australian, 16 Oct 2009 World's 'most expensive' dog The Australian, 20 Sep 2009 The Yangtze winds its way 6300km across China from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the East China Sea but most of the cruising occurs between Chongqing and Yichang. My cruise on the Princess Jeannie takes me to the misty ghost town of Fengdu, a complex of temples in the cliffs of the Mingshan Mountain, and to the Three Gorges Dam site at Yichang. I learn that this was the biggest infrastructure project attempted in China since the Great Wall and the largest hydroelectric dam in the world (more than five times the size of the Hoover Dam in the US). We sail past historic landmarks that have been swallowed by the rising river, such as the ancient plank roads, a rock formation known as Hanging Monk Rock and a Song Dynasty wall with 900 political inscriptions. The scenery in the Three Gorges is a highlight. In the Wu Gorge, deep valleys and misty mountains are scenes from classical paintings. At Badong, we board a ferry for the Shennong River, a tributary of the Yangtze. Cliffs overgrown with lush green foliage hide caverns filled with bats. High above the river are wooden boxes wedged into holes in the cliffs. These are coffins of the Ba elders, who lived in these mountains for thousands of years, and from whom the boatmen are descended. At the jetty, the boatmen fidget by a row of long timber skiffs. These skiffs, also known as peapod boats, are handmade vessels built by master craftsmen through skills passed on from generation to generation. The boats are robust enough to hold up against surging river torrents. Onboard a skiff The men wear coloured shorts, sports shirts and homemade straw sandals to protect the soles of their feet. They help us aboard, about a dozen passengers to each peapod boat. We sit three astride, wearing bright orange regulation life jackets. Then there's a bellow from one of the boatmen and the others reply with a cacophony of identical calls. We're off and away, an armada of floating tourists in search of adventure along a shallow tributary of the Yangtze. We glide past soaring cliffs carpeted with lush green trees that reach majestically for the sky. The boats slice across the river's glassy surface making ripples that turn the reflections of the forest in the river into works of art. The captain of my boat, Wang Min Hu, steers with a long bamboo pole. Wang is lean and wiry; his skin is leathery and burned. Twenty years ago, Wang (who is over 60) would have worked naked. But today, he strips to his underpants. "The rough fabrics used to chafe my skin. And wet clothes caused dangerous chills," Wang says. He steers the boat towards the bank and three men leap on to a rocky ledge. They scramble along the towpath with coarse bamboo ropes knotted around their waists and slung around their shoulders. The other ends of their ropes are fastened to a pole at the front of our boat. They run until the ropes take up the slack, pulling us through the shallows. Hauling tourists is a cinch compared with the junks these men once towed. But it's still a tough way to earn a living. Boatmen earn 50 yuan ($9) a trip, plus a share of the tips. The younger generation is gradually losing interest. But among Wang's generation, peapod boat captains are highly respected and the position is fiercely contested among the men. At the end of our journey, Wang breaks into a haunting melody. By Western standards, the boatmen are poor but watching them sing, paddle and pull, you could conclude that true happiness comes from enjoying a simple way of life.

URL:http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/unique-cruise-on-the-yangtze-rover/story-e6frfq80-1225869672127