Today as I sat down to write a post I was looking for peace. Repair work at home has made the last two days full of crash, bang and vroom… and amongst this din of noises I couldn’t help but reminisce the peaceful time I had recently spent in China driving along the Yangtze (in the Yunnan region) and witnessing some of its many moves and moods.
Though we drove along a very small section of this mighty long river, I was amazed by some of the legends and stories that the locals shared about Yangtze’s importance in Chinese history and culture. From the earliest times in human history, rivers like the Yangtze have played an essential role in development of regions and civilizations – wars have been fought over it, boundaries set, cities created, trading started bringing prosperity etc etc. Chinese believe that Yangtze river is the “Mother River” and that life actually originated from it. It is also the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world (after the Amazon in South America and the Nile in Africa). So, in its own way, the Yangtze has written and shaped the Chinese history and the country and along the journey (that spans several centuries across South of China), generated numerous legends and unique topographies.
While writing about the different things I did during my China trip, I wanted to dedicate one post to highlight this important piece of Chinese history and culture. Hence sharing the legends surrounding it and my own tryst with its first bend.
Legend around the origination of the Yangtze – According to the local stories, in ancient times a terrible drought hit planet Earth and the local gods requested the heavens for help. The heavens then sent a green dragon and a yellow dragon to help the people. The two dragons found out that two demons – Wang and Liang had sent small monsters to set fires everywhere while also casting spells on people to make them painful, angry and wanting to hurt one another. The dragons then disguised as two monks and started treating people with some medicines and magic spells (to banish anger and any remaining pain). Three months later, many people recovered and resumed their normal lives. When Wang and Liang heard about their spell being broken, they sent a troop of 50,000 monsters to fight the green and yellow dragons. After 7 days and 7 nights, when the troop of monsters were nearly defeated, Wang and Liang made two columns of bewitched people and monsters and started fires to destroy the dragons. To stop these demons, the green and yellow dragons transformed into two cold rivers and flowed toward the “fire dragons”. Three days later, fires were put out and all the monsters were finished but the green and yellow dragons were injured and gradually became part of the earth transforming into the Yangtze River and the Yellow River.
The name Yangtze – The Chinese name for Yangtze is Chang Jiang (literally meaning “The Long River”), and this name is also found in many modern English maps. The name Yangzi (translated as Yangtze) was originally used by the local folks to refer to the lower reaches of this long river. But because this was the name the missionaries and traders first heard, it has been used in English for the entire river. Its other known names are the Jinsha river (‘Golden Sands River’) and the Golden Waterway.
Journeys of the Yangtze – The Yangtze is quite a traveler in its own way. It’s the longest river in Asia and originates in Tibet and then travels 6397 kms across different provinces, landscapes, villages, scenery to reach the East China Sea. Along the way it has numerous stories and many mysteries to its credit such as the hanging coffins, the ancient pathways, the ghost city of Fengdu and many more. Quite a journey, isn’t it? It actually originates from the southwest of the main peak of the Tibetan plateau mountain called Geladangdong Snow Mountain. The glaciers feed the Yangtze River and it then flows through the Tibet prefecture, Sichuan Province, Yunnan Province, Hubei Province, Hunan Province, Jiangxi Province, Anhui Province, Jiangsu Province and Shanghai City, and finally flows into the East China Sea at Chongming isle (in the Shanghai City).
The main stream of Yangtze River has many branches and interestingly this river never freezes (despite the subzero temperatures that China has). It’s journey can also be divided into 3 parts –
- Upstream: We drove through this part and along the famous tiger leaping gorge. This is a canyon on the Yangtze River and the terrain here forms the famous Three Gorges (Qutang gorge, Wu gorge, Xiling Gorge).
- Midstream: This section has the widening waters, slow-moving river and winding river from Yichang City to the Middle-lower Yangtze River.
- Downstream: This section flows through Yangzijin and Yangzi country.
The Yangtze River has more than 700 hundred tributaries, each an important aspect of the Chinese economy. It has also seen the origin of many cities and many more than any other river in the world.
Our trip to the first bend of the Yangtze – In Lijiang our B&B hosts recommended a day trip to see the first bend of the Yangtze and the Tiger Leaping Gorge (amongst the various other things that are a must do in the vicinity). With the language limitations, we didn’t understand much of what they said apart from the fact that it’s a beautiful landscape. Not being ones to miss a chance to capture some amazing panoramas we decided to fill in the parts missed in translation for ourselves.
Now the Yangtze flows down from the Tibet Plateau and enters in the Yunnan province from Batang. Here it joins two other rivers, Lancang River (Lantsang) and Nu River (the Angry River) thereby forming the Three Parallel Rivers landscape. The first bend of the Yangtze, is a spot where the Yangtze that is otherwise running in a south-north direction, suddenly reverses and starts flowing in north-south direction. With this reversal in flow, there has been a change in shape of the nearby mountain ranges(Hailou Mountains) and this has resulted in the formation of a mammoth “V” shape at this particular spot.
And there is a legend associated with this First Bend too. According to the local stories the Nu River, Lancang River and Jinsha River (local name of the Yangtze in this part) are sisters. They once travelled to this point and then they had a disagreement on the direction in which they should proceed further. The two stubborn elder sisters (Nu River and Lancang River) went south while the Jinsha River decided to find her own light and love in the east, so they departed at Shigu Village and the persistent little girl of Jinsha River transformed into the First Bend of the Yangtze.
After a quick drive from Lijiang we arrived at the viewing point near Shigu village to see this magnificient sight from a large 4 -5 storied viewing platform (that has specifically been created for this purpose). But though the views were gorgeous, we couldn’t see the actual bend. It was then that we understood that to actually see the bend you have to be on the other side and at a significant height. However we enjoyed the beautiful views of the Yangtze from this viewing platform itself and then proceeded to see the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Tips for the Trip –
- There are options for trekking and rafting in the nearby areas and you can book tours via local travel agents. Since we had limited time, we didn’t try them.
- There is a small market at each level of the viewing platform and they sell some amazing spices, local dry fruits, souvenirs and fresh fruits. So apart from the actual views, you can also shop for some local souvenirs or have a light meal.