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Three Gorges Dam

There are travel experiences in ones life that leave an impression in your memory and affect your view of life.  My first trip to China left such a stamp on me.  The Chinese culture as a whole is dramatically different from what we live everyday in many ways, and very evident is their commitment to improving their country.

For many years the lives of many Chinese have been affected by the overflowing shores of the rivers of China, homes have been destroyed and fields ruined impacting the livelihood of generations of farmers.  In an effort to mitigate these problems a huge dam was built and a dramatic impact was made on the lives of thousands.

The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River in the northern Hubei province of China.  It is the world's largest electricity-generating plant of any kind only exceeded by Itaipu Dam  in Brazil and Paraguay's electricity-generating plant.  A majority of the dam was completed in 2006, with final competion on October 30, 2008, when the 26th generator began commercial operation.  Each generator has a capacity of 700 MW.  Six additional generators in the underground power plant are not expected to become fully operational until 2011.

The project was created with the purpose of producing electricity, increasing the river's shipping capacity, and reducing the potential for incredible flooding downstream by providing flood storage space.
The Chinese state regards the project as a historic engineering, social and economic success, with state-of-the-art design large turbines, and a move toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  The creation of the dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced 1.3 million people, and has caused significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides. The dam has been a controversial topic both in China and abroad.
The dam is made of concrete and is 7,661 feet long, and 607 feet high. The project used 300,000 cubic yards of concrete, 463,000 tons of steel, enough to build 63 Eiffel Towers.  The main generators weigh approximately 6,000 tons each and are designed to produce more than 700 MW of power.
The dam increased the Yangtze's barge capacity sixfold.   Between 2004 to 2007 a total of 198 million tons of goods passed through ship locks. Compared to using trucking, barges have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by ten million tons and lowered costs 25%.

The most significant function of the dam is to control flooding, which is a major problem for the seasonal river flow of the Yangtze River. Millions of people live downstream of the dam, with many large, important cities situated adjacent to the river. Plenty of farm land and China's most important industrial area are built beside the river.

In 1954, the river flooded 74,518 square miles, killing 33,169 people and forcing 18,884,000 people to move. The flood covered Wuhan, a city of eight million people, for over three months, and the Jingguang Railway was out of service for more than 100 days.

In 1998, a flood in the same area caused billions of dollars in damage; 2,039 km of farm land were flooded. The flood affected more than 2.3 million people, killing 1,526.

In early August 2009, the largest flood in five years passed through the new dam site. The dam limited the water and the river flow was cut by as much as 15,000 cubic metres per second saving thousands of lives and cultural sites.
A cruise on the Yangtze River allows visitors to see and experience the mammoth dam site.  Extensive efforts have been made to document for visitors the creation of the damn both on film and in the museum which stands on the grounds of the dam. 

There are numerous companies that operate a Yangtze River cruise, from an economical experience to the deluxe.  I do not recommend selecting the least expensive river boat, as you will find the food rather unappealing and the beds extrodinarily hard.  However, there are numerous companies that provide a wonderful experience.  Most cruises are three to four days in duration if you wish to exclusively see the area around the dam, beginning in Chongqing and traveling to Yichang.  The river cruise provides ever changing scenery, shiny new cities and remnants of towns swallowed by the dam project.  Local farming and historical and cultural scenery will be found around every bend.

If you have never traveled to China before, in addition to the Yagtze River cruise I encourage you to visit the city of Beijing, home of the 2009 Summer Olympics.  Here you will walk through the incredible expanse of Tiananmen Square and continue on to the Forbidden City. 

From Beijing a day excursion to the Great Wall is a “must do”.  The Wall is approximately a 90 minute drive from town depending on where you enter.  The first construction of the Great Wall began in the 7th Century BC and it is 3,700 miles long.  The opportunity to walk along this historic land mark is a experience you will never forget.  For those wishing a hiking experience, there are trips which operate with a duration of 3 to 15 days.

In addtion to Beijing, a visit to Xian is very important.  It is here where you will view the Terracotta Warriors, 6,000 pottery figures first uncovered in 1974.  This archaeological site is a work in progress as the human and animal figures found in complete disrepare have been recreated.

Another “must do” is the exploration of Shanghai, one of the world’s most facinating cities.  A visit to the superb Shanghai Museum and peaceful Yu Garden will reveal the rich culture of China.  In contrast, the Art Deco steetscapes of the Bund presents the modern influence on this highly sophisticated city with fine restaurants, unbelievable shopping, and cross cultural experiences like few other in the world.

Often I find clients do not consider China as a vacation destination, but I can assure you it is amazing.  Ones view on many levels will be different after a visit to China.

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