Little by little, I drifted downhill through the backstreets of Wuhan towards the river. Turning a corner, I caught my first proper glimpse of the Yangtze River, which appeared as a broad expanse of ochre coloured water around half a mile wide.
The Yangtze is no ordinary river, it is part of the lifeblood of China; the word “Yangtze” literally means Long River, and at over 6,400 km long, it is the longest river is Asia.
The Yangtze drains almost a fifth of the land area of China and runs from the high Tibetan plateau down to Shanghai, where it spills out into the South China Sea.
Over the whole history of mankind in China, the Yangtze has provided water for drinking and cooking; supported the production of food; served as a means for disposal of waste; acted as a conduit for trade; and as a thoroughfare for the transportation of people. In times of war, the Yangtze has acted as a both barrier and as a highway along which armies could move men and material.
Early in the morning on the following day, I made my way back to the quayside to find the riverboat that would take me to Shanghai. Painted in green and white, the superstructure rose from the deck like a mint-flavoured layer cake. The vessel was bigger than I had expected and looked well-maintained.
The view from the river-facing side justified my decision to travel to Shanghai by boat. The Yangtze River appeared as a brooding sweep of liquid mud, churning in eddies and whirlpools. Above, the sun shone in a blue sky flecked with white clouds. The haze and smog of the previous day had been blown away, revealing the beauty of Wuhan and its Long River.
I was elated at the prospect of following this great waterway to the sea. Beneath my feet, I could feel the river tugging at the boat as if anxious for us to be on our way. On the quayside the mooring party released us from the quayside, and the boat leapt out into the main flow of the river with a shiver of delight.