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Rafting the Yangze from Daju to Baoshan

Last updated by shaykavich at 2011/10/28; Destinations:


The Last Bend of the Yangtze

It has been only 20 years since people, other than locals, first took rafts down the great bend of the Yangtze. What was once a harrowing journey down one of the great uncharted rivers has turned into an idyllic trip through one of the most beautiful canyons on Earth. After a short hike to the edge of the river, our group of 12 clients and 6 guides boarded 4 rafts and 5 kayaks to begin the last commercial trip down the bend. Within minutes of leaving Daju we found ourselves drifting in peaceful isolation down jade green waters through limestone canyons with 3000 meter vertical walls. With the sounds of Jon (New York) and Colin (Kunming) playing their guitars in this natural amphitheatre, nearly twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, all thoughts of the city soon vanished.

The trip from Daju to Baoshan takes five casual days of rafting through canyons formed as the result of the Indian sub continent crashing into Asia. On each day we usually ran 2 class 4 rapids. Spaced intermittently by hours floating listlessly, we wound with the current through bizarre, mountainous gorges unraveling remnants of the ancient sea floor. Because of the amount of silt carried by the Yangtze, one of the reasons for the dam construction, each night we slept on beaches of the finest sand.

The first night sleeping under the stars we were occasionally woken by the sound of dynamite blasts beyond the next ridge. This was a disturbing, and over the course of the trip, constant reminder that the process of development is never too far away. On this bend they were building a dam on a tributary of the Yangtze that would send power to Zhongdian. We spoke to an older gentleman who had given his land to the government for the dam site. Not aware that his land had value and he could have been compensated for donating it to the country, he was just happy that he could receive money for putting up the migrant workers that were working on its construction. Other locals were looking forward to the prospect of relocating after the water rises, as they did not like living in such an isolated area.

On the third morning we hiked up a goat path to the first rim of the canyon. Walking through abandoned terraced fields that seemed reminiscent of Central American cities of ages past, we stumbled on the beautiful town of Hua Yi. Tucked in the folds of a small valley backed by sheer cliffs, this town of pristine white and earthen buildings has actually prospered in isolation in ways the outside world could scarcely imagine.

We set off early our final morning, leaving behind a camp that bore the markings of Kublai Khan’s historic crossing of the Yangtze. The last day of the trip was a casual paddle down to the lovely stone city of Baoshan. Set in the middle of a valley of terraced green fields, the site of this picturesque village brought with it feelings of sadness. Disappointment that the trip was soon to be over, but more so that this great river would soon be stagnant; that with the completion of the dam next year, the journey in which we had just partaken could never again be replicated. 

I can question whether the destruction of one of the most beautiful places on Earth in the name of development is worth it. But, only time will tell. The memory of the Great Bend of the Yangtze, however, will remain etched in all the minds of those who had the good fortune to drift between its hallowed walls.