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The Yangtze – or Chang Jiang – is the longest river in Asia, the third longest in the world at 3915 miles (6300km). Its source is in the glaciers of Tibet at an altitude of around 5000m (1600ft) whence it travels eastward across China to empty into the East China Sea. The river passes through a wide diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. There are spectacular gorges – the Yangtze Gorges and the magnificent Three Gorges. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world built both for irrigation and to protect against flooding – though its opponents disagree with this view. There are thousands of lakes, the largest of which is Dongting on the border of Hunan and Hubei provinces. Lake Poyang, the biggest freshwater lake in the country merges into the Yangtze at Jiangxi. There are parts of its length that are UNESCO world heritage sites of spectacular beauty and others that are great industrial areas. It is a vital commercial waterway and has been for millennia. It reaches the East China Sea at Shanghai.

The Yangtze is navigable by ocean-going vessels from the East China Sea for a thousand miles to Hankow. The most popular area for cruise ships, however, is the breathtaking region of the Three Gorges where river boats and traditional longboats are often used, tiny against the mountainous cliffs. There are more than 350 species of fish in the Yangtze such as the yellow head catfish, copper fish and eel. This is the only place to find the Chinese alligator though with just 200 thought to be left in the wild, it is a critically endangered species. The Yangtze River Dolphin is also in danger of extinction as is the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle. On land, it is possible to see the Red-and-White Flying Squirrel, Golden Monkeys, Golden Eagles, Siberian Cranes, gazelles, antelopes, wolf, snow leopard and, of course the Giant Panda.