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Magical mystery tour

The Little Three Gorges.

The Little Three Gorges. 

Statues at Fengdu's Mingshan Mountain.

Statues at Fengdu's Mingshan Mountain. 

Three Gorges revived

Tourism numbers to the Three Gorges have fallen in recent years, with new facilities hoping to add life to the area.

"From this year, we are planning to invest about 3 billion yuan ($441 million) to develop tourism districts along the Three Gorges, to create in-depth tourist products for travelers, such as luxury cruises, the ancient plank road along the cliff of the Little Three Gorges and the ancient towns," said Xu Jian, from Chongqing Traffic and Tourism Investment Group.

After the construction of the dam, the widening of the Three Gorges has allowed larger ships to pass, changing the way the area can be viewed.

"In the past, travelers were attracted by the adventurous journey on the river, now it is quite peaceful and safe, more romantic and leisurely."

Xu said his favorite spot is Fengdu, with its mix of folk culture, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism."

"We have put more effort in developing facilities nearby, like five star hotels, with the hope of attracting more visitors to stay longer during their journey, to experience the area, not only come for sightseeing," he said.

Xu added that the Little Three Gorges is also a great place to visit, with facilities also boosted to allow travelers to enjoy the area's mountains, deep valleys and interesting rock formations.

"It is very safe traveling in this area and the autumn view is gorgeous." he said. "We are currently investing 2 billion yuan ($294 million) to develop about 10 super-luxurious river cruise liner."

With the first ship scheduled for a May 2011 delivery, Xu said the ships will be like ocean cruise liners, with helicopters and golf courses on deck.

The Three Gorges is considered as one of the most beautiful scenic spots in China. After holding up against the worst flood in a decade in July and the first major flood-control test by the Three Gorges Dam, the area has recovered its peace and tranquility. Touring down the Yangtze River is the most ideal way to enjoy all that the region has to offer.

Starting from Fengjie in Chongqing in the west and ending in Yichang, Hubei Province in the east, the Three Gorges stretches 193 kilometers with magnificent natural beauty.

Consisting of three gorges: the grand Qutang Gorge, the elegant Wuxia Gorge and the steep Xiling Gorge, the area also incorporates Fengdu, a city famous for its ghost culture, Baidicheng, a city known for ancient stories and the picturesque Little Three Gorges. Without a doubt, the best way to enjoy the majesty of the area is to take a ship along the river. There are many different options to choose from, with cruises starting at both Chongqing and Yichang.-

Setting sail from the dock of Fuling in Chongqing, I chose a four-day/ three-night option to explore the famous route. It was a very comfortable experience and without the seasickness that I had expected. Each private room has windows that present consistently beautiful views. As the ship slowly made its way down the river I found it easy to fall asleep with the light echoes of lapping river water against the side of the boat both soothing and calming.

The second day of my journey saw a stop at Fengdu for the afternoon to discover the mysterious city of ghosts. The area is known as an ancient place where all souls go to rest. Mingshan Mountain, the Ghost World, Gate of the Land of the Dead and the Memorial Arch of the City of the Ghost combine together to create an incredibly eerie atmosphere. All of the figures I had read about in ghostly stories of my childhood came to life and I felt them lurking at every corner. Mingshan Mountain was covered in a damp mist, adding to the atmosphere and its pavilions, temples, statues and inscriptions made me think that maybe there is a real world after death.

The second evening saw all passengers come together for a grand captain's dinner, the 200 onboard had the opportunity to exchange stories of the day, met the captain himself, get to know one another and chat well into the late evening hours.

Waking in my small cabin, that was equipped with its own micro-sized bathroom, desk and storage area, the magnificent views streaming in through my round porthole window paved the way for a picturesque day ahead. Traveling through the impressive Qutang and Wuxia gorges, I could not help but be awestruck by the stunning scenery that just kept on unfolding in front of me.

Heading towards the Three Gorges Dam, the water level became higher and the river, much wider. The mountains appeared lower and closer, the spectacular surrounding cliffs bear ominously down on our relatively small ship. Feeling my place in nature, the cliffs towered beyond the sky and all around me fell silent.

Fairy Peak is one of the most well-known and mysterious parts of Wuxia and it lived up to its reputation of being enshrouded in fantasy. Several legendary stories and poems have been written about a mythical fairy who looks over all who pass and as I was slowly cruising by in the early afternoon, an enchanting mist engulfed the peak. I was captivated by my surrounds that took me deep into my imagination and I swear that I saw the mystical lady of the peak smiling and looking down over our boat.

The last part of my journey was passing through gate to the Three Gorges Dam. After three days of nature's true magnificence, the massive man-made structure was indeed grand, but not as impressive as what had preceded.

Tourism to the area is being boosted, with new ships, facilities and hotels under construction. A highway is also being built to help tourists access the area. In my view, the true beauty lies in the river. To get a real taste of the Three Gorges, take a cruise down the Yangtze River, a real escape from everyday life.

There are currently about 50 cruises designed for foreign travelers and about 80 designed for Chinese travelers that make the journey along the river. Local guides recommend opting for those designed for foreigners as the amenities and facilities are generally better and there are more opportunities to enjoy scenic stops along the way. These cruises range from 1,500 yuan - 2,000 yuan ($220-$300) a person, depending on what class you sail.