We hit a pretty big landmark on our itinerary today. And I do mean big. Two and a half kilometres long, nearly 200 metres tall, and weighing in at over 800 million tons, landmarks don’t come much bigger. I give you; the Three Gorges Dam.
The Three Gorges Dam in numbers
This is the worlds largest power station. In terms of installed capacity, it’s almost three times that of it’s nearest rival (and by rival, I mean rival power station. Not only hydroelectric, but this monster dwarfs the output of any other power station of any type; nuclear, coal, whatever, anywhere in the world). It generates 22.5 Gigawatts of electricity. Maybe that number doesn’t mean much to you, but in real terms, that’s over three times the power consumption of a city like Los Angeles.
It’s also one of the largest engineering projects ever undertaken. Twenty years and over 80 billion dollars were required to completely span and seal the world’s third mightiest river. More than 400 towns and villages had to be abandoned, and 1.2 million people relocated to make room for the 600 kilometres reservoir that this behemoth holds back.
The Elusive Three Gorges Dam
In spite of all this, in spite of the fact that I’ve just spent five hours of my life traversing the gigantic system of locks to ascend the dam, and that before this, I spent a further two hours taking an organised tour of the dam itself, I remain, bafflingly yet steadfastly, not entirely convinced that the Three Gorges Dam actually exists.
It really ought to be unequivocal, didn’t it? I thought so. As we moored up for the afternoon before our real visit began, we were surprised to find that we still couldn’t see it. “Oh yes”, we were assured by our eternally chipper guide, “It’s about three kilometres upstream, just around the bend in the river. Don’t worry, we’ll be going there soon”.
Only three kilometres? My camera drone has a range of about 5km, I can fly there from here and get some video and pictures from the air, thought I.
No, we were told. Apparently there is an army base next to the dam, so drones and other aerial vehicles are not allowed there and might be liable to being shot down. Though, one of our fellow travellers did offer to go halves on the cost of a new drone if I managed to get good footage of the incoming surface to air missile. Nonetheless, I declined his tempting offer and agreed to stay grounded for the tour.
A “Tour of the Dam” . . .
Then the next surprise arrived. We discovered that the ‘tour of the dam’ does not actually involve going inside. The dam buildings, control stations and powerhouses are not open to the public, so there wouldn’t be any opportunity to actually see the workings of the machinery up close. Nor in fact, would we be allowed to stand or walk on top of the dam. That’s also not open to the public.
As it turns out, the Three Gorges Dam Tourism Centre is actually the place that you get to visit. It’s located on a hillside near the (possibly extant) dam, and features four sets of escalators to carry you to the top of the hill, where a large viewing platform has been constructed to afford tourists spectacular views of, erm, well, the lock gates. You can’t really see the dam from there.
Cue a significant number of frustrated camera-wielding tourists, including my wife. No matter, we were reassured that before we returned to the boat we’d be able to walk back down the hill to where there is a second viewing platform right next to the dam.
And there is. But to complete our sense of utter bewilderment, the viewing platform is located on the UPSTREAM side of the dam! Thereby granting our weary group of adventurers a view of a lake and the protruding few feet of concrete, which on photographs might as well be a bridge or a floating pontoon, and does nothing to capture the majesty of the spectacle that we’d all come here to see.
Funnily enough, on the bus journey back to the boat we did happen upon a stretch of road from which we could actually see the all-important downstream side of the dam, albeit from a distance of about two kilometres. Those of us with telephoto lenses to hand beseeched the bus driver to pull over for a moment to allow us to take the pictures we’d been hoping for all along. “Sorry” quoth he, as the view disappeared behind the treeline, “there’s no stopping allowed on this road”.
So ended our trip to the famous Three Gorges Dam.
Where is the Three Gorges Dam located?
The Three Gorges Dam is located near the city of Sandouping, Yilin in the Hubei province of China. It is on the Yangtze river and can easily be visited if you are on a cruise or just through a tour company in the area.
Three Gorges Dam
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**We would like to make it clear that we are not criticizing Viking for these problems any more than we would blame them for the weather. It’s just the curious way that the visitors centre and tourist area has been designed. It seems almost deliberately obtuse. It’s akin to the Louvre declaring that yes, you can visit the Mona Lisa, but we’ll only enable you to view it from the sides, the back, and from above, at a distance of exactly 77 metres. For their part, the Viking guides seemed equally baffled and frustrated by the layout, and did their utmost to make the best of a bad situation by being humorous and knowledgeable, as is their hallmark.