Xiling Xia Gorge

Close by stands a temple with the same name (Baidi Si), dating originally from the late 7th c. It is famous mainly for its 70 or more stelae (inscribed pillars) from the Sui period (581-618) and the statues in the main hall (Mingliang Dian) of Liu Bei,Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, who lived in the time ofthe Three Kingdoms (220-280). Shortly before his death Liu Bei, ruler of the state of Shu, named his chancellor Zhuge Liang as his successor. The temple was built as a memorial to this act of confidence and trust. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were famous generals who served with glory under Liu Bei.

Near the Fengxiang Xia the visitor should note the wooden coffins protruding from a rock. In ancient times the inhabitants of Sichuan used to safeguard the coffins of their deceased relatives by placing them in natural crevices or hollows in the rock or on massive wooden beams anchored in stone.

The Wu Xia Gorge is 40km/25 miles long in all; the western part belongs to the province of Sichuan, while the eastern section is in Hubei province. Because ofthe twelve mountain peaks along its bank – the highest being Fairy Mountain (912m/2994ft), dedicated to Yao Ji – and the superb panoramic views, this is regarded as the most beautiful of the three gorges.

At the western end of Witches’ Gorge, near Wushan, the Daninghe river joins the Changjiang. From here visitors can make excursions to the Three Little Gorges (Longmen, Bawu and Dicui), which total 50km/30 miles in length.

Ancient coffins can be seen from the river in Bawu Gorge; these are stored some 500m/1650ft up in caves in the steep cliffs along the east bank.

In Dicui Gorge, with its lush vegetation of bamboos and trees, there is an imposing waterfall. A “boat coffin”, an example of an old burial custom, is housed in a hollow in the steep mountain face.

On Fairy Mountain there stands a 7m/23ft high stone pillar in the shape of a woman, which is known as Fairy Peak. According to legend Yi, daughter of the Mother of Heaven Xi Wangmu, helped Da Yu, the ruler of the Chu kingdom, to prevent the river from flooding so frequently. Love blossomed between them, and Yi stayed one night with him in the Gaotang temple, of which now only a few ruins remain. At the northern foot of Fairy Mountain, on a flat rocky ledge known as the Shoushu Tai terrace, she is said to have given Da Yu instructions on how to tame the river.

Near Fairy Peak lie the Peak of Pines (Songluan Feng) and Peak of the Immortals (Jixian Feng). On a steep mountain face below the latter stands a stele inscribed in a beautiful calligraphic hand with the words “Chong Ya Die Zhang Wu Xia” (“Wu Gorge with rocky faces one above the other and mountains one behind the other”). Legend has it that this inscription was the work of Zhuge Liang (also known as Kong Ming), the strategist and chancellor of the state of Chu during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280).

Xiling Xia Gorge, 450km/280 miles east of Chongqing in Hubei province, is nearly 80km/50 miles long, making it the longest of the three gorges. It has some dangerous shallows, heavy rapids and numerous reefs. Its bank are strewn with countless rock formations with the strangest of names-these include the Gorge of Military Writings and The Sword (Bingshu Baiojian Xia), where can be seen a rock protruding from the ground like a sword (General Zhuge Liang is said to have hidden here a textbook he had written when he was unable to find a suitable successor), the Gorge of Ox Livers and Horses’ Tongues (Niuganmafei Xia) and the Gorge ofthe Yellow Cow (Huangniu Xia). At the bottom ofthe latter stands a temple with the same name, which dated originally from the Han period (206 b.c. to a.d. 220) and was rebuilt in 1618.

On the north bank, about 50km/30 miles east ofthe exit from the gorge, lies the little town of Xiangxi (Fragrant River), named after the river which flows by it. A legend has grown up around this picturesque name: more than 2000 years ago Wang Zhaojun lived here; she was a beautiful woman who washed her garments in the river and thus in the course of time gave the waters a lovely fragrance.

Xiling Xia Gorge Photo Gallery

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