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China's Yangtze river: A dangerous attraction for tourists

The world's third longest river, the Yangtze, is China's most popular tourism attraction, despite it's tendency to flood.

world Updated: Jun 03, 2015 11:20 IST

The site of the recently capsized cruise ship with hundreds of passengers is one of the longest and most famous rivers in the entire world.

The Yangtze has dramatic cliffs, peaks and waterfalls that are often featured in Chinese paintings, but its importance goes beyond that to its role as a major transportation artery that fueled the growth of some of the county's biggest cities.

Long river

The Chinese name for the Yangtze translates as "long river," and, at 6,300 kilometers (4,000 miles), it is China's longest and the world's third, behind the Nile and the Amazon. It flows west to east from glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, to the financial hub of Shanghai, and out into the East China Sea.

It sometimes floods during the summer monsoon season and parts of it are heavily polluted from the industrial and agricultural plots that have sprung up around the river.

Long history

For centuries, the Yangtze was the key route for transporting goods in China, but parts of its waters were dangerous for junks to navigate because of rocks and fluctuating water levels.

Nowadays, it is still a busy river that contributes to the economy of the cities and villages within its reaches, including five of China's largest cities, such as the former capital of Nanjing.

Tourist Mecca

The Yangtze is also a top tourist attraction in China, and boats offer mostly four- or five-day trips to and from the metropolis of Chongqing. Slow-sailing cruise boats offer spectacular views and short stops at historical and cultural sites, such as the world-famous Three Gorges Dam and the more mysterious Fengdu Ghost Town, which got its reputation from local folklore. Tourists can also walk within an ancient city called Jingzhou with city walls and battlefields that are described in the Chinese literary classic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

Further west on the upper reaches of the Yangtze is the scenic canyon Tiger Leaping Gorge, about 240 miles (385 kilometers) from the Tibetan border, which ranks among the deepest gorges in the world. It is named for a tiger that is said to have escaped humans by leaping across the fierce waters where the canyon narrows.

Three Gorges Dam

The river's most famous attraction abroad is the world's largest hydropower project, the Three Gorges Dam, built to control flooding along a stretch of the river in Hubei Province. The cruise ship that capsized Monday night had not yet reached the dam from its starting point in Nanjing.

The dam started operating in 2003 after nine years of construction. The project has courted controversy because of geological and ecological concerns and the hundreds of thousands of people that were relocated to make way for it; authorities, however, say it was the best way to end centuries of flooding along the river.

China's worst floods in recent history were in 1998, when 4,150 people died, mostly along the Yangtze.