Shennong Stream is a special shore excursion for you while on your Yangtze River Cruise. You will disembark from your ship, and switch to a smaller ferry boat, which will sail about 20 minutes and carry you to the Shennong Stream landing. Then, each group will don life jackets and switch again to several traditional sampans (small wooden boats that hold approximately 12 passengers and 6 boatmen). Local people call them "peapod boats" because of their appearance.
The sampan crew consists of the captain, who steers the boat, and three or four boat trackers, who sit on the bow. The boat trackers are Tujia ethnic minority group. It is their job to assist the boat over the shallow spots along the river. They get out of the sampan and drag it over the shallow area by pulling on ropes. There will be several times when they work hard to get you over the shallow parts.
You will also have a local Tujia minority guide with you, who will explain everything. During the tour, the guide will introduce interesting local ethnic traditions such as their crying marriage ceremony. If you would like, the guide will also sing some traditional folk songs or sweet love songs for you. The combination of no engine noise, narrow gorges, beautiful scenery, and the traditional songs will give you memories that will last a lifetime.
Pristine Nature and Picturesque Scenery
Shennong Stream is a narrow tributary of the Yangtze River. It is 60 kilometers long and has a swift current for most of its length. The purpose of the excursion is to get a firsthand view of its pristine nature and picturesque scenery.
One of the first features of the Yangtze River that any visitor notices is its dark brown color. It definitely appears to be a dirty river. The Yangtze's brown color is, in fact, its life-giving force. The color comes from the silt that is being carried downstream from the mountains and valleys it passes through. When you take a sampan along the Shennong Stream, you will be surprised by the contrast in color. Its beautiful emerald green water flowing swiftly through deep gorges, are much different from the Yangtze's dark brown that you will have become accustomed to.
The Shennong Stream tour is exhilarating and fun. The scenery along this tributary of the Yangtze is spectacular. All along the river's shores are signs of ancient Chinese civilization. There is much to look at: steep ridges and peaks, huge caves, thick vegetation, wildflowers, plank roads built along cliffs and the ancient hanging coffins which date back approximately 2,000 years. Ancient local inhabitants buried their dead in hanging coffins in little recesses in the sides of the cliffs. How they got the coffins to these remote areas baffles scholars to this day. Due to their high elevation, many of the coffins cannot be seen with the naked eye. Now you can get a better view than ever before, because the Three Gorges Dam has been completed and the water level of the stream is now higher.
Along the stream, your local guide will point to the markers indicating the height that the stream has flooded in the past. Everything below these markers has been below water at some point.
You will not only the sheer vertical cliffs and jagged peaks but also will observe some of the spectacular wildlife that lives in the area. It is a real treat to see macaque monkeys, and tropical birds flying overhead.
One way people along the Yangtze River have made their living for centuries, is by boat tracking. Even today with diesel engines, boat trackers are the only way for a boat to travel on the river. Originally boat trackers worked all over the Yangtze River, but now they are primarily located on the Shennong Stream.
When one of the small river boats gets stuck on a sandbar, it is time for the trackers to jump into action. Only a few feet above the ancient waterline a thin ledge runs for several miles. It is barely 60cm wide it was cut by hand from the solid rock walls. The trackers climb onto this ledge and, by using ropes connected to the boats, tow the boats off the sandbar. Then they jump back into the boats and the boat is now free to travel on until it gets stuck again. It is backbreaking work that has remained unchanged for centuries.
This is impressive but you may feel a bit guilty. These boat trackers, who keep the old tradition alive, are local farmers who do this to earn some extra money and supplement their income. In the summertime, because of the heat and to keep their clothes dry, the boat trackers used to do this naked. Now they wear shorts, shirts and also woven rope sandals to prevent slipping on the smooth rocks. The long ropes are made of braided bamboo strips, which are soaked in water making them very strong.
Sometimes they sing in unison as they pull. The singing, which, of course, you will not be able to understand, is not beautiful but loud. It contrasts sharply with the quiet stillness of the gorges. Maybe they are singing just to alleviate their tiredness. After traveling quite some distance up the Shennong Stream, and passing through many beautiful gorges, the boat trackers will run the sampan aground on the rocky shore. There you will leave the sampan to stretch your legs, explore the beach in search of some beautiful weather-worn rocks. There are many in all shapes, sizes and beautiful colors. You will then return to the cruise line which is waiting for you and set sail for your next destination.