The Three Gorges – Chongqing, Sichuan, China

The Yangtze River: A Natural Art Gallery

The Three Gorges – Qutang, Wu, and Xiling – rank with the panda bear and the Great Wall as China’s most globally recognized icons, showing up everywhere from classical poetry to modern postcards. For sheer scenic beauty, they can be topped by little else in China. So it made headlines when work began in 1995 on the world’s largest dam and hydro­electric project, a multibillion-dollar effort that resulted in the relocation of more than a million people.

When complete in 2010, it will greatly submerge the gorges’ vertical cliffs, rapids, and dozens of cultural sites and ancient temples, not to mention hundreds of villages and cities. Environmental and civil rights groups protested, but the Chinese gov­ernment wasn’t swayed, so the time for viewing the area is now.

Varying from some 1,000 feet to just 330 at their narrowest point, the Three Gorges is a special 126-mile stretch of the mighty, 4,000-mile-long Yangtze River, the third longest in the world (after the Amazon and Nile). At one point, most boats stop to shift passengers to smaller, more maneuverable, custom-built boats for a detour to the Three Little Gorges along the Daning River, even narrower and more dramatic, the highlight of most trips.

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