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Day 76: Shigu to the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Michael Palin - HimalayaIn eastern Tibet and western Yunnan something quite dramatic happens to the Himalaya. They change direction. Crushed up against two unyielding plateaux, the world's mightiest mountain range meets its match and is turned inexorably southwards. The meltwaters of the Tibetan plateau, gratefully unleashed, pour south through a series of plunging, often impenetrable gorges, to spill into the Bay of Bengal or the South China Sea.

All except one.

At a small town called Shigu, some 100 miles into Yunnan, the Yangtze, like the Himalaya, changes direction, a quirk of geography that Simon Winchester, in his book The River at the Centre of the World, regards as being responsible for the very existence of what we know as China.

Having carved its way off the plateau and running hard alongside the Mekong, the Salween and the Irrawaddy, the Yangtze-Kiang, now called the Jinsha Jiang, River of Golden Sand, meets an obstruction. A thousand miles of tumbling water heading for Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin is, within a few hundred yards, spun round to the north and, though it twists and turns and tries to find its way south again, it is now effectively a Chinese river, heading east to create the enormous bowl of fertility and prosperity that is the heart and soul of the Middle Kingdom.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 76: Shigu to the Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Shigu
  • Book page no: 177

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