At 3,915 miles, the Yangtze is the world’s third-longest river, beginning in Tibet and flowing into the China Sea near Shanghai. Its Chinese name is Changjiang, or “Long River.”

After several decades of wishing, I finally traveled those miles in comfort and awe.

Although there is much consternation that the new Three Gorges Dam will destroy the scenic wonder of this area by raising the water level to 175 meters, much will remain.

Damming the river has been considered for centuries but actively planned since Sun Yat Sen proposed it in 1924. Now the dam itself is a major tourist attraction, which the Chinese government promotes.

Passengers now board cruise ships at Yijang, downriver from the dam, and the ships are lifted through the locks. A park and information kiosks are located below the dam, and another park is upstream, offering panoramic vistas of the river valley to the east.

My trip began this year in late March, when my daughter and I boarded the Victoria Queen. With some 80 passengers, we were ushered on by a cadre of young Chinese who practiced “Welcome aboard” to perfection. In short order, we gathered in the spacious dining saloon to meet the ship’s captain and crew, the cruise line’s executives, cruise director Ernie Kemm and Campbell Hur, the cultural guru.

Ernie is a New Yorker and remembers everyone’s name. Knowledgeable and charming, Campbell created an abundance of opportunities to experience China’s past, present and future.

A delicious lunch fueled us for Xiling Gorge, the first of the Three Gorges. Everyone came onto the deck, and a hush caught us all as we saw the escalating peaks rising above us. Mists softened the sunlight. Yet it was the human quiet that prevailed.

We passed and were passed by other water craft. The upstream hydrofoil is the fastest travel option, producing rooster tails and noise. Barges carrying the coal that is loaded from bunkers lining the river plodded in both directions. Chinese ferries gave us a chance to wave at each other. We didn’t see any sailing or motorized junks, but traditional sampams hugged the shore.

Wu Xia is the middle gorge and the one with the most legends. One surprise was the Goddess Peak, which has inspired artists and poets over the centuries. Looking up from the water some 900 meters, it seemed almost a blip on the ridge. Yet in the misty light there was a sense of amazement and pleasure that the distant pylon has not succumbed to the elements over the millennia.

Strong winds through the gorges created great conditions for kite flying from the upper deck. A kite master skillfully demonstrated how to take advantage of the air.

Another afternoon brought the resident painter and calligrapher Zheng Sui Meng on deck, where he captured the beauty in watercolors. At another time, the head chef, James Wang, swiftly created pot stickers. Other days featured talks by a pearl expert, a glass painter and the kite maker. And afternoon tea and other refreshments were available.

After the Three Gorges, the excursion up the Daning River into the so-called Lesser Three Gorges was a treat. We debarked from the cruise ship onto glass-ceilinged launches heading into Dragon Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge and Emerald Gorge. The water was clear and green, a change from the silty brown Yangtze. The landscapes were not unlike Chinese paintings — sheer walls, trees silhouetted on cliff tops, even scolding monkeys and water birds.

Evening entertainment onboard gave us a colorful exposure to China. Costumes and dances from many areas and eras were beautifully presented by crew members.

Leaving the Three Gorges area, the ship docked at Feng Du, or the Ghost City. Here we could look across the Yangtze and see where government apartment houses have replaced old communities torn down.

People in Feng Du have capitalized on tourist traffic. After paying admission to a theme park, a cable car took us up the very steep, forested hillside. Walking on upward, there were statues; animist, Taoist and Buddhist temples; and gift shops. The view from the summit was an impressive one of a pagoda, tree-covered hills and a vista of an unfinished building shaped like a huge head, abandoned because of bad feng shui, we were told.

I was impressed to see a three- or four-generation family at the summit, all having hiked up.

Back aboard ship, the final evening concluded with an elegant Chinese dinner. Nine appetizers included chicken, fish, spareribs, lotus root, spring rolls, Chinese vegetables and chicken in pastry shells. Those were followed by prawns, pork cutlets, duck, deep-fried green beans and fried rice. And lemon pie for dessert!

Our table of eight independent travelers had formed a pleasant relationship. Addresses were exchanged, pictures taken and “dzai jin” repeated. The possibility of “seeing again” might be remote, but we all have good memories. And lots of pictures.

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