THE YANGTZE KIANG CANYONS IN YUNNAN
Like Marco Polo, the young Thirteenth Century traveler, the men of the 40th Bomb Group saw much of the world at an early age. The average age of the group's personnel was about 26 as they made their globe-circling journey. In addition to seeing the wonder described in this story, these young men visited the Caribbean, South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East, India, Burma, Indo-China, the East Indies, and the Mariana Islands. They flew over, or sailed upon, all the oceans of the world with the exception of the Arctic.
Aircrews of the 40th Bomb Group flew combat missions from their home base at Chakulia, India, and flew cargo missions carrying fuel and bombs over the Hump (Himalayas) to their advanced base at Hsinching, China. One scenic wonder seen on the Hump route, were the awesome canyons of the Yangtze Kiang River near Likiang in the Yunnan Province. These great chasms make other canyons of the world look like shallow ditches. The river is 6,000 feet above sea level where it spills southward out of Tibet to plunge into a 120-mile gorge at the tiny village of Shiku. It twists through two 180 degree turns near Likiang. At one turn, it flows both north and south within 15 miles of each leg, separated by a mountain range with peaks of more than 19,000 feet high.
The other turn, just west of Yungning, hugs the base of an almost sheer cliff, and narrows to a width of less than 60 feet. Less than one mile from the river is a peak estimated to be 19,000 feet high, which makes the canyon at this point about 13,000 feet deep. United States' Grand Canyon is about 5,000 feet deep.
For a stretch of 120 miles, the swift velocity of the current, and the depth of the river, prevent the natives from crossing the river. A chain-supported, suspension bridge near the town of Tsilikiang, at the southern end of the canyon, is the only known bridge for a distance of nearly 3,000 miles. The great bridge at Nanking, near the river's mouth, was built by the Chinese Communists.
A few Jesuit priests described the Yangtze Kiang Canyons in sketchy terms in the 17th Century. Joseph F. Rock, an American, was sponsored by the National Geographic Society to explore this region in the 1920s. His article published in the August 1926 issue of the society's magazine, contains an excellent description and some crude maps of the canyons. Lord Tennyson said, "...saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be."
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *