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Rafting along the Pengshui Ayi River is that rare thing in China, a tourist attraction that delivers on the hype.

Arriving a little weary from the excesses of the night before, and wilting from the summer heat and humidity that enshrouds Chongqing like the cape of some malevolent ghoul, our group approached the park desperately in need of a dip in some refreshing river water. Handed a lifejacket and a six-foot bamboo pole, we jumped into our inflatable dinghies and set off towards a manmade rapid, whirling the pole through the water in Olympic kayaker-style.

It soon emerged that relatively light rainfall had rendered the current anemic, and there were few rapids worthy of the name, but we didn’t care and were happy to drift along basking in patches of sunlight. The spectacular gorge scenery, which served to keep the full glare of the sun off our backs through most of the day, clear waters and fresh upland air more than compensated for the lack of thrills.

Serious rafters should time their visit to coincide with the spring and early winter rains, when Pengshui welcomes Chinese and international visitors to try their hand at singlehandedly navigating the whirling torrents.

We only managed to traverse the first section of river, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the white water becomes a more serious challenge in the second half, and in any case the split ensures there is something for everyone. Turning back at the halfway point, which offers camping, accommodation and various things to buy, we enjoyed the solitude of a riverside walk back to the park entrance towards the setting sun.

One word of warning – a fearsome ascent awaits at the park exit and, banking on the weariness of the returning rafters, the authorities have invested in a 30-storey elevator, which you will be expected to subsidize to the tune of 35 yuan (US$5.70) a ride.

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