River Journeys

Asia
Gorp.com
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It's no accident that civilization first arose along the banks of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile. Great rivers nourished Mesopotamia, Egypt, and countless other great cultures—watering crops, supplying fish, encouraging trade, and creating defensive barriers. Rivers also are the source of life for much of the planet's animal life. Accordingly, some river journeys offer a kind of cultural time travel, inviting your mind's eye to imagine how people lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. The Rhine, with its medieval castles, and the Nile, with its Pharaonic monuments, both provide a kind of watery time warp. Other rivers allow you to experience parts of the earth as they existed when people still lived in caves. The Congo and Amazon, with their huge swaths of virgin wilderness, both fall into this category. What follows is a list of our picks for a world-class river voyage. - Jxrgen Wouters

The Yangtze: China
The Yangtze is in the midst of a reverse face-lift. An enormous dam is scheduled to rob the river of its most spectacular scenery by 2009. Known alternately among the Chinese as Ch'ang Chiang ("Long River"), Ta Chiang ("Great River") or just Chiang ("The River"), the Yangtze is the third-longest and deepest river (more than 500 feet) on earth. Cradle of Chinese civilization, the banks of this ancient imperial waterway are strewn with archeological and geological treasures. The Yangtze trickles to life among the glacial meltwaters on the slopes of the T'ang-ku-la Mountains high in the Tibetan plateau, and halfway on its journey to the Yellow Sea, passes through its most storied stretch: the incomparable Three Gorges. Huge pointed slabs of limestone 1,000 to 2,000 feet high line the 125-mile-long gorge, shooting straight up from the river like dragon's teeth. The Tolkien-like scenery inspired China's greatest painters and poets for thousands of years, but by 2009, the controversial Three Gorges Dam will forever diminish this magical landscape, raising the water level by several hundred feet. Although 400 miles of the Yangtze upstream of the dam will be turned into a Singapore-size reservoir, the lower section will still offer sightseeers the chance to cruise the Grand Canal. This 1,000-mile-long canal (the longest and oldest on earth) was begun in the fourth century B.C., and still carries the bounty of the fertile Yangtze Valley to China's northern cities.

The Ganges: India
The Ganges is holy water. This sprawling, languid river meanders through the heart of Hindustan, the cradle of Indian civilization. For thousands of years, Hindus have ceremonially bathed in its sacred waters. The Ganges begins life 10,000 feet up among the snowmelt of the southern Himalayas. One of its headwaters, the Bhagirathi, flows from an ice cave at the base of a Himalayan glacier known as Gangotri—itself a destination for Hindu pilgrims. The Ganges leaves the Himalayas at picturesque Rishikesh (where the Beatles wrote much of the "White Album" in 1968), and begins its slow, steady 1,560-mile journey across the flat Gangetic plan to the Bay of Bengal. Rivers have long been hallowed by virtually every religion on earth, but a trip down the Ganges truly is a religious experience. Along the river sit many holy cities such as Benares, the site of an annual bathing festival where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims immerse themselves in the Ganges. Crematory temples also line the banks of the Ganges for Hindus to scatter the ashes of their dead upon the river, in the belief that the souls of the deceased will go straight to heaven.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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