Only a few months earlier, I had barely heard of Chongqing. It is, however, an urbanization so huge that the Government of China has split it from its former province of Sichuan into it's own region, where some thirty- two million people live astride one of the greatest rivers in the world. Here we, like hordes of other tourists both foreign and Chinese, boarded a ship that was to take us downriver down the mist-enshrouded waters of the Yangtze and through the great natural wonder that is - or was - the Three Gorges.
A tourist trip along the Yangtze is not billed as a wildlife experience, and for good reason. The river, after centuries of human occupation - over 200,000,000 people live along its banks - is far from pristine, and in recent decades it has been degraded to such an extent that it seems less a river than a gigantic industrial ditch. A vast number of ships, from coal barges to cruise vessels, sail it every day, but the chief agent of change in the river's fortunes has been the recent completion of the Three Gorges Dam, a structure that has the dubious distinction if being the largest slab of concrete on the face of the earth.
The obituary turned out to be slightly premature - a baiji was spotted in the river in 2007 –but the surviving population is probably so tiny, and its habitat so degraded, that's final disappearance cannot be long in coming. The Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius), one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world, is probably gone too, and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) is down to a tiny relict. The fate of the Yangtze is a depressing tale. You can read about it here.
remote area that I did not see). This photograph, therefore, is a reminder of China's incredible natural heritage, including the oldest (in evolutionary terms) woody tree in the world.
The geological saga of the Gorges may not be over; a new report (publicized by Probe International, an organization long opposed to the dam) warns that the sheer weight of the waters behind the dam could unleash "tsunami-causing landslides and reservoir-induced earthquakes" some 3-5 years after they reach their maximum level of 175 metres (a level that was attained last fall).