Man Vs. Nature

By Stephen Ewashkiw | November 10, 2013

7,590 km so far.

Our ride from Fuling to Fengdu today took us right through the clouds. As we rode alongside the Yangtze, we could barely tell it was there, let alone make out the opposite shore, only 400 m away. The damp air made the road slick with a layer of red mud that had washed down from the hills. On the plus side, it was warm enough that I rode almost the entire day in a t-shirt and shorts.

In almost every small village we passed, there was a street celebration of some sort, with lots of people all gathered at a central restaurant, a few performers doing plays or sexy dances, and the remnants of lots of fireworks.

The views today were pretty spectacular, despite the “cloud” cover. Again, lots of terraced hillsides, all planted with an array of produce.

Motorway over farmland, near Fuling, Chongqing Province.

Motorway over farmland, near Fuling, Chongqing Province.

People who weren’t celebrating were sitting in front of their homes washing, peeling, and slicing yams. We even went past one home that has several rows of yam slices strung up to dry (not that there was any hope of that happening in this weather).

Can you guess what this is, obscured in its own waste?

Can you guess what this is, obscured in its own waste?

Outside Fengdu, a breathtakingly giant cement factory sits just on the edge of the Yangtze, and several container ships were all docked awaiting their load. The factory was clearly harvesting the raw materials from the hillside and churning out cement.

A humongoid factory built right across our road, near Fengdu.

A humongoid factory built right across our road, near Fengdu.

The size beggars belief and the air was noticeably thicker for several kilometres on either side of it. Waste water poured directly into the river. Yum.

Ghost Town

Fengdu is nicknamed The City Of Ghosts, and has been for more than 400 years. The north side of the river is home to many temples dedicated to the dead, and is said to be the gateway to hell. The stories also say it the home to Tianzi, the King of the Dead.

In modern times, we tend to not place much credence in stories such as these. However, the ancient people of Fengdu may have been prophets, knowing that their city was not to last.

In 2008, the Three Gorges Dam was completed and put into operation. This raised the level of water along the Yangtze by up to 175 metres, and submerged roughly 8,000 archeological sites, displaced approximately 2 million people, and flooded entire villages (the people, fortunately, were moved out first).

Look closely and you will see the ghost cruise ship of Fengdu.

Look closely and you will see the ghost cruise ship of Fengdu.

Fengdu was one of these towns, and we imagine the ghosts of the people who once lived in the drowned village must not be very happy.

They Takes A Village

So, the Fengdu we find ourselves in today is actually New Fengdu. The old one sits at the bottom of the river, just offshore.

For the most part, the government rebuilt the flooded towns just a bit further up the mountainside. In rural China, people do not own their land or their homes, so they never really had a choice. Some compensation was paid, but people who had lived in small village homes and farmed the land their whole lives were often moved into apartment blocks. If they wanted to farm, they had to go find some land on the outskirts of town that was usable.

Ferry dock in New Fengdu.

Ferry dock in New Fengdu.

I would love to go scuba diving in the river and find some of these lost villages. In reality, I don’t think this would be very successful, or healthy, as the river is murky and filled with industrial waste of the many factories that line its banks and untreated sewage from the villages.

To What End?

All this work was done to make transportation of goods easier along the river, to provide hydroelectric power, and to prevent flooding (though whether it does this is questionable, since there were major floods in 2010). The government says these benefits outweigh any cost. There is no doubt that China is in great need of power, and hydropower is less dirty than coal.

However, in countries like Norway, they are capturing the natural power of the water, tapping the great waterfalls that fall from mountains, or capturing the power of raging rivers.

Jane’s note: Norway, population 5 million, China, population 1.4 billion. Not really a fair comparison.

Building dams to recreate similar flow rates has dramatic knock-on effects, and takes incredible amounts of raw materials, all of which takes power to mine, refine, move, and install.

Despite the money, time, and effort that has gone into it, the dam will only be operational for 70 years, at best, before the river bed is filled with silt, making hydroelectric power generation impossible.

Was it worth it? It depends on who you ask I guess.

Soundtrack: Arcade Fire, The Suburbs | Bodies Of Water, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink | Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP2 | M.I.A., Matangi  

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  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie November 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Blown away by the continual smog. I want to hope that in the future, your photos will be used as a side by side comparison of clear blue skies after things get turned around, but… damn.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 16, 2013 at 5:37 am

      That would be nice Cassie. I think it will be some time before they manage to clear the air…

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