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Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The China Chronicles - The Great Wall of China
Because it stormed the night before, we were worried that our planned trip to the Great Wall might be a washout. It was precisely the opposite. Although it was grey and damp in the morning, by the time we boarded the bus and headed out, the rain had washed all the pollution out of the air, and a light breeze was blowing. Beijing looked like a Claritin commercial where the film is stripped away and all of a sudden there was color, and you could see into the distance.

The closest location of the Great Wall to Beijing, and also the most crowded, is Badaling. In fact, it's become such a tourist mecca that it rivals a theme park with hotels, restaurants, tourist traps and everything I didn't want to see. That was not the experience I had hoped for. Another popular spot is Mutianyu, about 70 km away.

But for unspoiled vistas, VERY few tourists, and superb location, you need to get the heck out of town, so we boarded a bus with about 20 others and headed 120 km northeast of Beijing to Jinshaling. This portion of the wall was built during the Ming Dynasty, and you can hike 10.5 km to the next section, known as Simatai. Simatai is widely considered the "best of the best" of the Great Wall because of its unique towers and location along the ridge of a very steep section.

The idea was to hike from Jinshaling to Simatai, and was described as "treacherous in spots, you will scramble on all fours, and not for the faint of heart". It was described as a very strenuous hike, so a few of us opted for an easier version where we took the cable car up to the mountain, hiked for a half dozen towers or so, and then came down and took the bus to Simatai and hiked either end of the Wall instead of the whole 10.5 km. It was a good idea based on the feedback from those strong enough to do the whole thing.

The cable car going up to Jinshaling:
Cable Car to Jinshaling

The Great Wall of China. There's a reason this is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It really takes your breath away to imagine 4,000+ miles of this construction, and the people it took to build it. Generations of people and hundreds of thousands of lives.

Jinshaling

A watch tower:

Tower

I don't know where this guy came from. He literally popped up over the wall. He was one of the "Wall Catchers". They're kind of like sherpas. Local villagers who make their living by attaching themselves to you and guiding you through the riskier bits of the hike. They also try to sell you T-shirts, postcards, bottled water, etc... They were actually helpful, and the one that attached herself to me was not too pushy.

Mongols invading China

Here's a view of where we walked from. Mongolia is to your right (plus another couple hundred miles or so), China is to your left. This was the Great Wall of China I had come to see. We were the only people on it for large parts of the day.

Looking back from where we came

Parts of this section are largely unrestored, so it does get a bit dicey in spots:

watch your step!

It does seem to go on forever...

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.....

Another Tower View

Simatai was also spectacular, and a little more commercial.

Simatai

We did see some things I wouldn't have expected to see however. Like this Mennonite girl coming off the cable car at Simatai.

Mennonites at the Great Wall

Or, in contrast to her, the Chinese models that were gathering for a "Vogue" fashion shoot as the base of the wall. This was the tallest Chinese person I saw the entire trip.

Fashion Model

Vogue

But I'll leave you with some of the more endearing Engrish we encountered that day:

Engrish2

I think they were trying to say "Only YOU can prevent forest fires". Needs work.

Engrish

Next up: Xi'an and the Terra Cotta Warriors.
posted by Broadsheet @ 4:24 PM  
2 Editorial Opinions:
  • At October 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Delurking to let you know that I am really enjoying the tales of your trip. Your photography and detailed descriptions are really absorbing and I have looked forward to every post. Thanks!

     
  • At February 12, 2008, Blogger Steve and Paula Runyan said…

    Came across your site during a search for something else. Just thought I would mention that the "Mennonite" Girl is actually an Old German Baptist Brethren Member :o)

     
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