Pictographs of the Jinsha

Posted by Kristen McDonald on Mon, 03/15/2010 - 15:58

LijiangLijiangThe town of Lijiang, one of the most popular domestic tourism destinations in China, is also the staging grounds for the country’s premier whitewater rafting trip - the Great Bend of the Jinsha River. I write today from Lijiang, on the eve of departing for my first project in China, helping to coordinate a 10 day rafting trip on this section of the Jinsha. Known as China’s “Grand Canyon,” it is a stretch about 100 km long and featuring deep gorges, idyllic villages, and two major hydropower dam sites.

The video “A River’s Last Breath” by Epicocity introduces this section of river.

The coolers are stuffed with meat and vegetables, our company is assembled and debriefed, and the truck is packed for the four hour drive to Daju, our put in.

China Rivers Project’s newest advisor is a Chinese journalist whose stories have exposed the impacts of the country’s new megadams. He recently told me that the most important thing I can do to help rivers in China is to get Chinese people out on the river. So, it feels good to be running these rafting trips, knowing that the rivers speak for themselves and send a powerful message. I am proud of the partnership I have developed with Travis Winn, the co-owner of Last Descents River Expeditions (a rafting company registered in China) and the co-leader of China Rivers Project, and I know that our trips are having a huge impact.

But I have a PhD. I worked as a river guide before I even graduated from high school. Is guiding raft trips really the best use of my time and talents, and the best use of China Rivers Project’s resources?

Today, as I ran around Lijiang doing last minute errands like arranging for ice to be made at the local popsicle distributor, I decided that fortunately, my answer to this question is yes. Every trip we do on the Great Bend, we feel deeper into the fabric of what makes this canyon a remarkable part of China’s heritage, and bring this heritage into to light. Just a few days ago I discovered an incredible research paper by a group of Australian and Chinese archeologists detailing some of the pictographs of the Jinsha River (Tacon et al, 2009, Cambridge Archaeological Journal). On the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, the paths to pictographs that line the river are well worn by tourists. I am determined that with a little luck, we’ll become some of the first casual observers of rock art that has been shown to be remarkable for its attention to nature

The treasure hunt is on!