along the Great Wall

IMG_2960.jpgThis post was long overdue, always in the making and always left for “another time”. Well, what with the weekend around the office corner I finally found the time to write about one of the “must-do” visits in China: a visit to the Great Wall.

I finally organized this trip on the last day I stayed in Beijing, right before going by train to Shanghai. It was not the smartest thing, as right after I returned from the Great Wall I had to go to the train station. However, this is my usual lack of planning. In the evening before I made a reservation to one of the two available tours to the Great Wall (available at my hostel).

A short background info: the Great Wall is huge. It is so huge that most of it is inaccessible, in ruins, and generally a pain to get to. There are some sections of it (generally closer to Beijing) which were partly repaired and opened to the tourists. The problem is that the first sections – Badaling, Mutanyiu and others – are swamped by tour groups and vendors. Therefore, by Lonely Planet advice and also after talking with some people from the hostel, I decided on a longer trip to a further away part. It is called Jinshaling – Simatai (it is actually composed of 2 sections of the wall), and there was a 3 hours drive to it. This incidentally is also one of the more scenic parts of the wall – with more than 32 watchtowers and some pretty steep climbs.

IMG_2974.jpgFast-forward through the 6:30am leaving from hostel, a bus ride narrowly escaping the Beijing traffic jams, and we arrived at the Jinshaling section. The pretty long climb started, fortunately the temperatures were very forgiving. I cannot start to imagine the scorching heat in summer. While the climb along the wall is not very hard, it is long and arduous. The whole walk was 10km long, 32 watchtowers, and some sections very steep (think pretty high steps at 60′ ). While the walk was pretty OK, it was hard to escape from water sellers, guidebook and photo albums sellers and other nuisances. However, those were soon left behind and we had the wall to ourselves. I befriended some Americans on a business trip and some Spanish girls from Madrid so the company was pleasant.

Soon we met the largest danger of the Great Wall: tour groups. For us it consisted of some schoolkids which we quickly passed. From other reports I know that Badaling / Mutanyiu can become really crowded.

The walk along the Wall was amazing. The last part – Simatai section – is very wild and snakes along valleys and hills so steep that some parts had to be skipped with a metal squeaky bridge. The Wall was everything I hoped it to be and then some more: the crumbling watchtowers are really impressive and the fact that the Wall is built on so many hills make the adventure so much more impressive – and the Wall more photogenic 🙂

Quick bit of trivia: the Wall is not visible from space, possibly from a low orbit only. Because of the advanced state of crumbling even a modern highway is more visible. The fact that the Wall is visible from space no longer appear on materials, guidebooks or schoolbooks. This however does not diminish the fact that it is mind-boggling huge. And even though it was not very successful in keeping invaders out, only the Chinese could foresee the huge touristic benefits it would provide almost 2000 years later. (It was built between 5th century BC and 16th century AD).

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