Chongqing is the usual embarkation point for the journey downstream. The new municipality, established in 1997, is the main industrial centre of southwest China. It served as the country’s capital during the Sino-Japanese War, when the city’s notorious foggy weather saved it from Japanese bombers. Chongqing’s history dates to the fourth century BCE, then known as Yuzhou. Its modern name Chongqing means ‘Double Celebration’, adopted by a Song dynasty prince-cum-emperor from Yuzhou.

Built at the confluence of the Yangzi and Jialing rivers, it was a settlement of strategic importance, serving as the capital of the ancient state of Ba during the fourth century BCE. Little is known about the men of Ba, except that they buried their dead in wooden coffins which were then placed on cliff ledges or in caves high above the river.

Set on a promontory on the north bank of the Yangzi, the city has outgrown its original site and spilled over to the adjacent banks of both the Yangzi and Jialing. Cable cars and bridges connect the newer districts of Chongqing with the older cliffside city centre. Most visitors are taken to Eling Park at dusk to view the city’s attractive, steep lamplit streets sweeping down to the dark waters below. First thing in the morning, visit the Chaotianmen docks to see the harbour and all the river craft as passengers disembark from their upstream cruises. Previously everyone negotiated long flights of slippery, slimy steps up to the city. Thousands of porters known as the bang bang jun (help army), with their bamboo poles and ropes, would carry luggage and cargo up the staircases. Although the rise in water level behind the Three Gorges Dam has reduced the flight of steps to a minimum, the bang bang jun are still there to assist passengers with their luggage when they board or disembark cruise ships.

The following riverside towns are in the same order as they appear going downstream from Chongqing. While historical background is given, bear in mind that most of these towns have been partially or completely submerged by the new dam. Entire new towns constructed nearby lie above the final water level.