Yale Environment 360 –
The Yangtze River courses from the Himalayan Plateau in Tibet down into southwestern China’s Yunnan province, carving a path through a breathtaking landscape where steep ridges are covered in Yunnan pine. Closer to the river and the road that runs beside it, aspen and birch leaves shimmer in the wind. Clumps of pink rhododendron form natural fences along the terraces of corn, tobacco, and other crops that thrive in the rich soil created by millennia of flooding.
But this once-wild region is increasingly being tamed, and these days it echoes as much with the sounds of heavy machinery as it does with the rush of the river itself. A concrete and steel buttress to support a high-speed rail line from nearby Lijiang to the 11,000-foot mountain grasslands of Shangri-La slices across the sheer mountain slopes that ring the valley. A thousand feet below, an interstate highway is being built into these forested bluffs to speed tourists to Shangri-la and beyond. Far below on the valley floor, tunnels are being dug through the belly of the mountain and trenches plowed for pipes to divert the river’s sediment-laden waters to Honghe County, just south of the water-needy capital of Kunming.