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August 29, 2011

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A wave of enthusiasm

WATER is practically everywhere on this planet. It can be beautiful and tranquil at times, but it can also be powerful and destructive. Water also provides some amazing sights.

One such phenomenal sight is the annual tidal bore, the biggest in the world, in the Qiantang River, Zhejiang Province.

Only a couple of hours from Shanghai, tourists can see the tidal bore from September 10 to 14 this year. The best day is expected to be September 12, which is the same day as the Mid-Autumn Festival. The tidal bore usually occurs around the festival, but rarely on the exact same day.

A tidal bore occurs when the leading edge of a tide forms a wave or waves that travel up a river or narrow bay as it moves against the direction of the river or the bay's current.

Tidal bores occur in relatively few places around the world. The Qiantang River tidal bore can feature a wave up to 9 meters high, though usually it's only 1.5m to 4.6m, traveling up to 40 kilometers per hour.

Tidal bores are dangerous and the local government has already issued a warning stating that this year's tidal bore is expected to be the biggest since 2003. In years past, some over-enthusiastic tourists have gone into the water and have been drowned or injured. Tidal bores, which some say look like a 1,000 galloping horses in a line, can also cause problems for vessels in Hangzhou Bay and the Qiantang River, the longest river in Zhejiang at 688 kilometers.

The annual event usually attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, with some coming from other countries to witness the power and beauty of nature.

Wang Min, a 26-year-old Shanghai native who works as marketing manager for a local fabric company, says he will probably go this year because it is expected to be the biggest tidal bore in the past eight years.

"I think I will go to Qiantang River this year," he says. "I still remember the first time I saw the giant wave coming toward me. I was only 11 years old and I was totally in awe."

The tidal bore is not just something to see, it's also something to hear. The bore generates a sound similar to thunder that can be heard from far away due to the low frequency.

The moon's gravitational pull is at its maximum on the eighteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar as the sun, moon and earth are almost in a straight line. This also effects the tidal bore as does the trumpet-like shape of the Qiantang River's mouth.

As the tide rises, the water is pushed higher as it is funneled into the narrow river channel. The swiftly moving wave or waves eventually crash ashore, making for a spectacular sight.

There are three main spots famous for watching the tidal bore - Daquekou, Yanguan and Laoyancang, all in Zhejiang's Haining City.

Daquekou, 55km from Hangzhou Bay, is the best spot to see the "crossing tide."

Due to the accumulation of sediment in the river, a sand bank has formed in the middle of the river. When the wave reaches the sand bank it splits into two. The two waves then become one again after passing the sand bank. It then crashes ashore, splashing water all around.

Tourists usually gather on Qiantang Bridge to watch the crossing tide. They often become overwhelmed by excitement and start shouting as the wave approaches.

After catching the crossing tide, locals recommend tourists drive to Yanguan to witness the "one-line tide."

Usually people hear the rumbling noise at first even though the river still appears calm. As the rumbling gets louder, the one-line tide appears.

This wave, normally at a height of 1 to 2 meters, moves quickly.

Alternatively, tourists may choose to go to Laoyancang (literally meaning "old salt storehouse"), where there is a 660-meter-long dam, to see "turn around tide."

When the wave reaches Laoyancang, it crashes into the dam, with water shooting up into the air. People say this often resembles a snowy mountain scene.

According to records, people began watching the tidal bore back in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) although it became more celebrated during the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song dynasties (960-1279 AD).

Locals say there are many legends about the origins of the tidal bore. The most famous is about a giant who came to live along the Qiantang River. He loved collecting stones and salt.

One day while he was taking a nap, the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea visited the river, accidentally knocking over the giant's stones and piles of salt. When the giant awoke, he was very angry that his salt and stones were gone. He drank some water and found it salty and blamed the Dragon King for stealing his salt.

He started thrashing an iron pole into the Eastern Sea until the Dragon King appeared. The Dragon King explained that it was an accident and that he intended no harm. He promised that next time he wanted to visit the Qiantang River he would send a tidal bore as a signal. The giant accepted the apology.

According to the legend, the Dragon King continues to visit the river each year and he has kept his promise about the tidal bore.

This is a good thing, as it really is magnificent.


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