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Home Travel in Sichuan The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River
The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River

The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River(长江三峡), a world-renowned tourist attraction, start at Baidicheng(白帝城) in Fengjie (奉节) in the west and end at Nanjinguan(南津关) pass in Yichang(宜昌) to the east, passing through Badong(巴东), Zigui(秭归) and Yichang in Hubei. The total length of the forges extends 193 kilometers. Except Daning River(大宁河) and the Xiangxi(香溪), the gorges themselves are 93 kilometers long. The first gorge of the three from west to east, known as Qutang Gorge(瞿塘峡), is 7 kilometers, Wu Gorge(巫峡), the second one, runs west to east for 44 kilometers; Xiling Gorge(西陵峡), the last of the three, covers a distance of 42 kilometers.

The steep mountains, the dangerous rugged shoals and the turbulent waters are characteristic of the gorges. The perpendicular cliff and grotesque peaks with clouds wrapping them in a blanket of mist create one of nature’s most majestic sights.

The area of the gorges was also the cradle of culture of the ancient Chu State(楚国). It has a long history with a galaxy of talents. Here were born two famous characters in Chinese history; Quyuan(屈原) (c.340-c.278 BC), a great patriotic poet and statesman of the third century BC and Wang Zhaojun(王昭君) in the Western Han(汉) Dynasty, who did her bit for the promotion of the national unity. A host of great historic poets, such as Li Bai(李白) (701-762), Du Fu(杜甫) (712-770), Bai Juyi(白居易) (772-846), Lu You(陆游) (1125-1210) and Sushi(苏轼) (1037-1101) greatly admired the beautiful and charming landscape and wrote down quite a number of emotional poems.

The gorges themselves are a long poem, a mysterious natural galley. Qutang Gorge is famous for its magnificent precipices, which form a colossal, nearly perfect gate over the river. Wu Gorge, with soaring fascinating mountain peaks rising from the riverbanks, is severe and secluded, and presents a panorama of lovely scenery. Xiling Gorge is noted for its numerous hidden rocks and perilous shoals. The picturesque scenery along the river, which never fails to appeal to visitors, will surely make them admire the mysterious creative power of nature.


Qutang Gorge(瞿塘峡)

Originating on the Qingzang Highland(青藏高原), the 6,300-kilometer-long Yangtze River, the longest river in China, sweeps east. When the river reaches eastern Sichuan(四川), it cuts through the Wu Mountain. There the river course suddenly narrows and the waters become turbulent. Craggy mountains rise on either side, creating the Three Gorges—reputed as one of China’s greatest natural wonders. The first gorge is named Qutang Gorge, which extends from Baidicheng in the west to the town of Daixi(黛溪) in the east. With precipices towering over the two banks only 100 meters apart, the mighty Yangtze River waters are suddenly constricted in front of Kui Gate(夔门), the gorge entrance. Waves billow, currents whirl and the river roars angrily. Sailing through the 7-kilometer-long Qutang Gorge, the tourist occasionally sees narrow paths carved on the riverside cliffs. In ancient times these were the only roads for troop movements, mercantile transport and boat towing. The boat haulers, prostrating themselves almost to the ground, would plod on and on while singing sad “work songs” to synchronize their movements. If any of them dropped from illness or exhaustion, the boat owner, however kind-hearted he might be, couldn’t steer to the shore to pick him up. He had to be left to his fate on the towpath. It is the shortest, but the most magnificent of the Three Gorge. It is also known as the most fearsome waterway.

Qutang Gorge is also famous for many great interests. Such as the ancient Fengjie Town, Bazhen Picture(八阵图), Yufu Pagoda(鱼腹塔), Fengxiang Gorge(风箱峡), etc.

  • Travel tip: Zhangfei Temple 20yuan/person; Fengdu 70yuan/person; Fengdu Cableway 20yuan/person

Wu Gorge(巫峡)

Wu Gorge stretches across Chongqing Municipality and Hubei, from the Daning River Estuary in Sichuan to the Guandukou in Badong County of Hubei in the east.

Flanked by craggy peaks and grotesque rock, it forms a meandering scenic gallery, totaling 44 kilometers in distance. Sometimes there seems no way ahead, suddenly an unimpeded path is in front while the water winds along mountain ridges. The beautiful scenery on both banks is too capricious to take them all in.

On a cruise down the Wu Gorge, the tourist’s mind is on twelve peaks. Six of the 12 sentinel peaks line the north bank: Shengquan(圣泉), jixian(集仙), Songluan(松峦), Shennv(神女), Zhaoyun(朝云), Denglong(登龙). Of the other six peaks on the south bank, three are visible: Juhe(聚鹤), Cuiping(翠屏), Feifeng(飞凤). The other three of Jingtan(净坛), Qiyun(起云) and Shangsheng(上升) are hidden behind the peaks on the right of Qingshi Stream(青石), a tributary of Yangtze River. All the peaks are given their names by their different shapes. Varying from seasons and weathers, their pretty scenery is the everlasting appeal to tourists.

The Daning River, a 300-kilometer-long tributary joins the Yangtze River at the mouth of the Wu Gorge. It is full of shoals and whirling pools. With precipitous scenery there is just like a landscape painting, and in many ways like those of the Yangtze Gorges, hence the name “the Three Little Gorges”.

Xiling Gorge(西陵峡)

Xiling Gorge begins at Xiangxi in the west and ends at Nanjinguan Pass in the east. It is known for its numerous hidden rocks, dangerous shoals and turbulent rapids. Xiling Gorge consists of four small gorges and several dangerous shoals: the Gorge of Sword and Book on the Art of War(兵书宝剑峡), the Gorge of the Cow’s Liver and Horse’s Lung(牛肝马肺峡), Kongling Gorge(崆岭峡), and the Gorge of Shadow Play(灯影峡); The Blue Shoal, the Discharge Shoal, the Kongling Shoal and the Yaocha Shoal. Since the Gezhou(葛州) Dam Project was completed, the turbulent has been smoothed down while the scenery along the gorges remains intact.

It is said that the Gorge of the Sword and Book on the Art of War was the place where Zhuge Liang(诸葛亮) [the Three Kingdoms period(三国)] Prime Minister of Shu State of the Three Kingdoms period, had stored his grain and a book on the art of war. The Gorge of the Cow Liver and the Horse’s Lung is on the north bank of the Yangtze River. On the cliff there are four or five yellow stone slabs shaped like cow’s livers. Above them visitors can see half of a rock there in the form of a horse’s lung. The Kongling Gorge used to be full of hidden rocks, which looks like a person leading a cow. This small section is called the Cow Gorge with the person colored black and the cow colored yellow. The Shadow Play Gorge is situated on the south bank of the Yangtze River. The four rocks jutting up into the sky resemble four characters in the Chinese mythological novel “Pilgrimage to the West”(西游记). When viewed from a distance, Monkey, Pigsty, Sandy and the Buddhist Monk silhouetted against the setting sun are really in a natural shadow play, hence the name.

Crashing through narrow Nanjinguan Pass, the eastern gorge exit, the river suddenly widens to approximately 2,000 meters and a vast plain comes into view. Passengers will flock to the sides of the boat to see Gezhou Dam, the first dam built on the Yangtze River. The project, completed in 1981, was China’s largest hydropower installation. Tourists will admire the mammoth structure and watch the steamer enter the ship lock, lowering it scores of meters and then sailing on.


  • Travel tip: You can get to Chongqing/ Wuhan/ Yichang by train or air, and then change to a travel ship to travel through the Yangtze River.