MY GREAT WALL OF CHINA CHALLENGE
If you go to Beijing and don’t see the Great Wall, have you really been? Of course you have, but doesn’t stop many thousands of tourists’ everyday make the journey each day to the wall, like some sort of non-religious Mecca.
It was easy enough to organise a day tour through the hostel I was staying at. They had a few tours on a big board at the entrance and two to the Great Wall. I choose to go to Mutianyu, only for the reason is that it was more expensive (and hence better right?) and I had heard from other blogs it was a less visited section of the wall and had an older, unrestored section. It cost 280 Yuan or about $50 for the day, breakfast and lunch included. It is possible to make your own way out, and it is about a 2 hour bus ride, but an organised tour like I had booked made it all very easy.
They picked us up from the front door and herded us onto one of the two buses waiting. On the way out the tour guide gave us some information and history about the wall, although it was hard to understand and it only lasted for five minutes, but then it was time to look out the window and experience some of greater Beijing and the surrounding countryside. It was not that different to other cities I had been too, with industry on the fringes with big, often rusty, machinery. One thing that stands out is the residential complexes are in clusters. Often ten or more semi high rise buildings over 15 stories high, all identical, in shape and colour.
The car park for the Great Wall
It was an early start of 7.30, but we still hit Beijing traffic. As we got close the anticipation increased and I could see glimpses of the wall, high up in the mountain. At around 10 a.m. we reached the car park. The price for the day included breakfast, transportation, entry tickets and lunch. Mutianyu also offers a chairlift to the top of the mountain and a sled ride down for an extra 80 Yuan, that isn’t included in the tour price.
The chairlift was the easy way to get onto the wall
Most people took the easier option to maximise their time and energy for the wall. The chairlift took me to the 6th lookout post. There are 24 lookout towers on this stretch of the tower. The easier option is to head to the right and visit 6 towers from six to one, with an old section at the end. The more adventurous head left and visit the wall from tower six to tower 24, where again, at the end is the unrestored section of the wall. I didn’t come all the way to China to pat spiders, so I decide to head left. We are on our own at this point, the guide let us go and we are to meet him in four hours for lunch at the base, near the car park. So here I was, on my own on the Great Wall of China. I put in my headphones and set off.
A map of the Mutianyu section of the Wall
From on top the wall it gives you are great panoramic view of the mountain and valleys below, pity the smog was so strong, it impeded my view, and I was often unable to see the end of the wall clearly. It is a good idea to take a lot of water with you if you don’t want to pay super high prices. There are plenty of stalls along the way, but charge often four times the normal price. It was a very hot day and sweat was dripping past my sunglasses, stinging my eyes. The Great Wall is an impressive structure, made up of many bricks with stone blocks as pavers, made mostly from granite. Designed as a fort, there are breaks in the walls every few metres that allow archers to shoot down upon any advancing intruding armies. Something that impressed me with most of the ancient Chinese structures was their attention to water drainage. For structures to last thousands of years, this was pivotal to ensure water does not build up and the structures were designed to with this in mind. There were many channels carved into the ground, leading to a ‘spout’ to deliver the water away from the wall and onto the surrounding forest.
The trek I chose was 2.5 kilometres there and 2.5 kilometres back. It was easy enough to start with and I could see the next couple of towers ahead, the towers are about one hundred metres apart. Then I rounded a bend and – Pow! I am confronted with a long section of the wall off in the distance that looks very, very steep. It is still six or so towers away, but that is when I began thinking to myself that I might not make it to the end. From then on I decide to take it one more tower at a time. The blistering sun was streaming down on me, zapping my energy.
I finally made it to the base of the almost vertical section of stairs. I put my head down, take a swig of water and take off up the stairs. I make it about 20 stairs when I need to rest. I would not consider myself an unfit person. I don’t smoke and I’m not overweight, but I sure did struggle with that section of the wall. I could make it about 20 stairs at a time, and then I needed to stop and have a rest. At that stage it had become a personal challenge. I felt for the poor soldiers that were stationed on this section back in the day. I rise with a snail’s pace. Not only am I in my own personal physical challenge, but at this stage, it’s also a race against the clock to reach the end and to get back in time for lunch and the bus.
The steep incline that nearly got me to stop and turn around
My heart is beating hard, my head is throbbing and I talk to the vendor on top and buy a beer to quench my thirst, and maybe take away a bit of the pain. The vendor wanted $10 for a can of beer, which is normally less than a dollar. We agree that $4 is a reasonable price as she explains she needs to lug her wares to that spot on the wall every day. The beer did not even touch the sides. While I have made that tower, the incline is not over with yet, and I head off for round two. It is slightly easier than the first and I sort of zone out and just take one step at a time.
By this stage I was near the end that I so desperately wanted to reach. One of the drink vendors sticks a Chinese flag in my hand and takes a few photographs. I smile, just happy to be where I was. I had reached the end. The end section was very run down and half in ruins, with walls falling down and brick all over the place, with overgrown bushes. After a little time, I turn around and head back. It has taken me three hours to reach this point and I have one hour to get back, however it is going down for most of the way and I don’t have to stop for pictures.
The old section of The Wall
Even though I have picked up the pace, I still had time to marvel at the architecture of the place. Sections that were built during the Ming Dynasty of 1404. Mutianyu is about 70 kilometers from Beijing and a bit farther from other sections of the wall and I am told that is why there are less tourists. I was often walking along the wall in total solitude, and could hear only the wind whiz by. I had made it back to the original watchtower with ten minutes to spare. Now was the toboggan sled ride down a chrome track to the base. It only takes one person to go slow on the course however and my fast run down the mountain comes to an abrupt halt, it is only walking pace from then on.
Tobogganing down from the Wall
The lunch was spectacular and far outweighed my expectations. We are grouped next to a round table that held about ten people each, and this is a great time to get to know the other travellers on the tour, both from my hostel and nearby ones. We chat about the day and who went where. It is quite a mix of people, some from Brazil, some from UK and others from Korea. After our lunch, we board the bus and head back. There is much less talk on the way home as I contemplate the day. Others fall asleep or put in their headphones. While it was hard on the body and a test to my endurance, it is a must see while in China.
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