Been away on the road for a week - all the way from the sirens and stabbings of Sarf Lahndan to sunny North Yorkshire, so travel’s on my mind right now.
2011 has been designated Great Yellow River Tourism Year by the Chinese government and, browsing the latest travel industry news, the trip everyone’s doing right now is the pilgrimage to Xiaolangdi Scenic Area in Henan province.
The Yellow River has until recently been an underused resource for tourism in China, mainly because it flows through some very poor and inaccessible countryside, and also because it’s not itself navigable to shipping. Sitting atop a strip of silt tens of metres higher than the surrounding countryside, deposited over the millennia, the river has breached its levees and changed course dozen of times, flooding the plains and drowning millions. The Yellow River dam at Xiaolangdi was built in the 1990s to try to put an end to the bother of having a river that keeps changing its mind about how to reach the Pacific. The Scenic Area includes not just the vast dam but a host of mountain gorges (lesser-known but very attractive versions of the more famous but now-flooded Yangtze Gorges), and it has some truly very impressive scenery.
Each June, the 296 sq km Xiaolangdi reservoir gets flushed through to scour out the silt, and the enterprising locals now hold a wildly popular Watching the Waterfall Festival from June 22nd to July 10th. The river cascades through the open sluices of the 500m-wide dam, and the level of the reservoir drops by 30 metres, which is really quite a lot when you think about it, to reveal the old scenery of the now-flooded valleys. For any communists remaining in China, commemorative civil-war scenic spots such as “The Chen Xie Army Group Crosses the Yangtze” have been marked out, and for everybody else there’s a food festival of locally caught fish, an exhibition of weird-shaped stones from the river (“Ooh! This one looks like a willy!”), and a photography competition.
Local government has been quick to cash in on the festival by organising the kind of massed-rank, all-singing-all-dancing opening ceremony that would make Kim Jung-il jealous. Bow-tied choirs sing Yellow River Elegy, the most famous and patriotic of songs, and other popular hits like The Yellow River Boatman. They don’t do Christie’s 1970 Number One hit Yellow River, which is a shame, but apparently it’s about a different Yellow River.
Anybody thinking of going needs to be at the Kowloon Hotel in Luoyang for 8am. Tickets are 78 kuai, and for that you get the bus ride to the dam and entrance to the ceremony. It comes highly recommended to anyone with a love of close-harmony singing and hydroelectric power generation.