Beijing: Day 2
We had booked a tour to take us to the Great Wall of China today. This was excellent luck because not only was it a good type of tour, i.e. all it provided was transport and food but it went to the section of the wall that we really wanted to visit. Most people go to Badaling to see the wall. It’s much closer to Beijing and has lots of shops and sellers around it. Apparently it’s heaving with tourists and tour groups and almost impossible to actually walk on the wall. We were going to Jinshaling which is a 3 hour drive from Beijing but is almost deserted because Chinese people can’t be bothered to make the effort to go that far. The tour was a 3 hour drive to the wall, breakfast on the bus, 3 hours on the wall (to wherever we want), then lunch and finally the 3 hour drive back to Beijing.
We were picked up at 6:20am by minivan. It took us down the road, then we stopped, turned around and pulled over. We drove a bit more back up the road and then picked up another couple. We were then dropped off at the end of the road where our hostel was. In 10 minutes we were back where we started. Actually we were closer, we’d had to cross the main road to get into the minivan, now it dropped us off on the same side of the road as the hostel. What a waste of time! We stood around for 5 minutes until the big bus came and picked us all up. And we were off…
The breakfast was a bacon (in China bacon is a mushy slice of pork) muffin and a coke from McDonald’s. I ate this then dozed for the rest of the journey.
It’s a 10 minute walk from the entrance gate to the wall itself. In the heat we climbed the steps as fast as possible and it was pretty tiring. This was nothing compared to what faced us on the wall! The wall is built along a ridge (obviously the best place to put a defensive wall) and it follows the contours of the ridge up and down for as far as the eye can see. These aren’t little contours, they were really steep slopes which the wall managed to follow. We knew we only had 1.5hrs each way so turned left (the wall to the right has been mostly reconstructed) and set off.
Every few hundred metres is a tower where soldiers were positioned. Nowadays the soldiers have been replaced by small stalls selling everything a tourist could need. Cold drinks, ice cream, postcards, fans, umbrellas, etc. They wait ready to pounce on the sweating tourist with called off ‘cold beer’ and ‘cold coke’. We did stop to buy some postcards and a coke at one point.
Walking on the wall was pretty tough. Constant undulations combined with sections in ruin. This part of the wall has not been renovated since the 1570s, so said the sign. Not the oldest part of the wall, far from it, but supposedly an original section. At the side of the wall were lush green trees making the wall even more spectacular with the brown contrasting against the green. As far into the distance as you could see the wall would bend and twist whilst following the terrain to ensure the barbarians could not venture into China. It failed and the Mongolians took over but it still is an impressive achievement. The wall itself is at least 15ft high and the watchtowers placed at regularly intervals could house many soldiers. We considered how tough the men would have to be to walk up and down the wall in the heat, especially on slopes that must be 45 degrees. The stone steps being irregular, one moment they are like fairy steps and the next they are the height of your knee. All of this meant we took a long time to only go a couple of miles but in that time we got some good shots of the wall and were able to wander along most sections alone.
The Great Wall is a testament to a once great Empire. In the UK we think Hadrian’s wall is an architectural masterpiece and it’s only 80 miles long. The wall in China stretches from the desert of Mongolia to the Yellow Sea and the border with North Korea. It climbs up to great heights and follows the contours of the landscape. It is indeed a feat of engineering and to walk on a part 500 years old was fantastic.
We walked back towards the start and took some shots with the ‘Whitby Lucky Duck’, before heading for a nice buffet in the restaurant by the entrance gate.
It was a hot and long day but along with the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall is one of the main attractions in China and near the top of the list when you think about China. This is among the epitome of Chinese historical sights and to walk on such an amazing and quiet section had been a real highlight.
Posted from Chengde, Hebei, China.