Up the DaNing River
Dragon Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge, and the Emerald Gorge
I chose to stay aboard the Victoria Queen on Oct. 20, mostly to rest and write. Hannah Kalkstein contributed this account of the group’s excursion on the Daning River, including a photo by Eugenia Becker. Thanks to both of them for completing this account.
At Wushan, we boarded a rather beaten, smaller day touring boat and headed up the DaNing River, passing beautiful island farms destined to be flooded over by the final rise of the water.Not too long ago, this island wasn’t an island. Now 55 meters deep, before the dam construction the river was knee-deep whitewater and boats would be hauled by trackers along a towpath now well under water.
Along the sheer cliffs and steep mountains, we saw birds, monkeys, bamboo growing out of sheer rock; and one—or perhaps two—hanging coffins way up high in the cave-crevasses of the gorge. How did the ancient Ba people ever get there in the first place?
An hour and a half up river, we docked, disembarked at a large-scale tourist transfer point, and took seats on little 20-person sampans to go deeper up the gorge. We passed carefully staged “folk stations” on the way—one man perched in a hut up the bank was wailing on a horn; a young girl standing on a rock was singing; a quartet with a small child frolicking behind them also sang; and a lone coast guard officer stood out on a point, watching the traffic go by. On the return, our pilot offered photo ops with dress-ups in his palm-leaf rain poncho and hat, and he also sang for us, as did those of all the many other touring boats, haunting melodies echoing in the gorge.
Transferring back to the bigger boat, we ran another gauntlet of vendors— “Postcard, postcard, two for dollar”—an astonishingly well-established group, considering how recently this stretch of river became navigable.
Driving by radar and rote, Captain Ping let me take the helm for a minute, gave her tea from his thermos, and tried to sell her an ancient small bowl he’d dug up somewhere. The company minder frowned on the presence of passengers on the bridge—especially later, when I went to offer a pack of Camels and caught him out playing poker with the captain and mate.
Even in the fog, this narrow passageway was outstanding in its haunting beauty and the water—bottle-green—bore no resemblance to the murky, muddy coffee tones of the Yangzi.