Day By Day

Sunday, June 28, 2009

China Diary -- Part 24 The Shennong Xi

There they are, folks, the nekkid men of Shennong Stream. This is not a contemporary photo, just one I pulled off the web.

These men are "trackers", representatives of one of China's many minorities, the Thuja people. The stream was originally a shallow, swift moving tributary of the Yangtze. Only extremely small boats (sampans) could navigate its length and in many places even these small crafts had to be physically dragged through the shallows. That was the function of the trackers who paddled the sampans and muscled them through the difficult parts of the stream. They worked completely naked until about twenty years ago when the Chinese tourist board forced them to start wearing clothes. The day we toured the area the trackers were not only wearing pants, but because it was raining, they covered themselves with ponchos. Here's what they look like today.

Originally the Shennong stream wandered its whole length through very deep and steep limestone cliffs, but since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam the water level at the mouth was raised 155 meters. So much for the scenic cliffs. The upper end of the stream, however, remains shallow and it is there that you can see the remnants of what was once one of the world's great scenic wonders. Here is the entrance to the Shannong. Imagine what it must have been like before the river rose.

Since the dam was constructed the volume of flow along parts of the stream is negligible and at some points the surface of the water is smooth as glass.

Our guide jokingly said that living here was like living in Shangri La. Except for the abysmal poverty of the inhabitants he wasn't too far off the mark.

Eventually the river became too shallow for our small boat and we had to transfer to sampans for the final stage of our trip.

A few of the boats decided to race upstream. Fortunately we didn't. The rowers have a hard enough time as it is.

At the end of the stream our rowers jumped out of the boat, grabbed towlines, climbed up to a towpath, and hauled the boats around to face downstream for the return journey. Somehow it wasn't as exotic an exercise as must have been before the Tourist Board meddled in local affairs.

As always, just click on a picture to enlarge it.