In the afternoon of our first day on the Yangtze cruise, we visited the Three Gorges Dam. It’s the largest hydroelectric power dam in the world, completed in 2012, and not without its detractors, including Scientific American and an organization called International Rivers. The major criticisms are social (1.4 million people displaced), geological (there have been landslides in the gorges and streams feeding the Yangtze and there is a risk of earthquakes throughout central China due to the weight of the lake behind the dam), and environmental (downstream droughts, species extinction, water shortages as far away as Shanghai, and water pollution due to what was left in the river before it was flooded.)
First we were ushered into a visitor centre where, among other things, there were some very useful scale models. The dam is at back left, the area which accommodates visitors is green and island-like in the middle, and what looks like two dashed lines to the right of the green island are the two ship locks.
In the middle of the green ‘island’ on the model are the visitors’ centre, bus parking, vendors, and a few memorials and statues.
When I stopped to take photos from one of the landings between escalators I was told by someone in uniform to move along. A travel article in the UK Telegraph in early February 2014 by Fionualla McHugh mentions a much heavier presence of military, but I didn’t notice it. In most other respects, her trip and its review parallel my own experience! I love this quote from her story:
“In China, you often find yourself juggling two opposing notions at the same time while continuing to function with surprising ease. F Scott Fitzgerald believed this was the definition of a first-rate intelligence; let’s just say an adaptable attitude helps when travelling in the Middle Kingdom.”
The site was very crowded, as I am sure it is every day, but this was the first day of China’s weeklong celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic, so the number of Chinese tourists was higher than usual.
If you have a dam and you want to move ships from below to above it, or vice versa, you need to have locks. The Three Gorges Dam had two huge locks and were in the process of building a ship’s elevator for smaller boats. Each lock is large enough to hold six huge cruise ships or perhaps 4-6 industrial barges. The first photo is of a lock in action, the second of the top end of the locks and the third of the entrance to the locks (looking downstream) which are far below road level. (I’ve been fascinated by locks since my only canal boat holiday in England in 1992!)
Towards the end of our time at the dam we were actually behind – as in upstream from – the dam itself. There is something deceptively peaceful about this photo, which is a favourite of mine.
Next post: The rural shore of the Yangtze