Another Option Trekking of Great Wall

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Posted by Michat sinoael and Faye

If there is one image of China that was in my mind before I came to this country, it was that of the great wall¡­ pictures of which adorn the covers of 100 things you must see before you die (and other such books), not to mention the numerous documentaries and Wish You Were Here TV programs we¡¯ve all seen growing up. This wall has a lot to live up to!

 The wall has scattered remains running all the way from Liaoning Province (east of Beijing) to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. The main touristed part is called Badaling, this is where all the postcard perfect pictures are taken (they must be taken before it opens), this part of the wall is fully restored and the view of it meandering over the hilltops is said to be awe inspiring. This is also where you go if you want the Walt Disney style wall experience, guard rails, the Colonel watching over you (I’ve heard there’s a KFC here) and hordes and hordes (and hordes) of other people trying to appreciate it with you! I wish we could¡¯ve gone just to take the pictures we see on TV but you’ve got to be realistic!

Another popular option is the walk that we did¡­ We’d pre-booked our transport to the section of the wall we wanted to see at the hostel we were staying at and we were told to be down in reception at 7:30 in the morning. 110km northeast of Beijing there is a part of the wall that runs from Jinshanling all the way to Simatai and it’s possible to walk this route. Parts of the wall are only partially restored and some parts have collapsed and much is in a state of ruin, so although it’s only 10km, we were told it’d take about four hours to make it! The minibus took about four hours to fight its way out of Beijing traffic, dropped us off at 11.30 and told us it would pick us up at the other end at 3:30. We’d better get a move on then!

We walked up the road to where the walk starts, following the map on the back of our ticket. Upon first sight, the wall is as impressive as you imagine it to be¡­ It’s large exterior looming over you as you approach the stairway leading into it. We climbed the stairway onto the wall proper and couldn’t believe we were actually there, standing on the Great Wall of China. We were at the bottom of a valley so when we looked over the side we couldn’t really see a lot in either direction, we turned to the first set of steps that lead up to the top (aw no, not more steps) and started walking. When we got to the top the sight that greeted us was simply mind-blowing. Snaking off into the distance of the rugged hilly terrain was the wall we’d be walking over, it was simply breathtaking, everything I imagined and wanted it to be. We couldn’t wait to get going, the sun was shining, we could actually see blue sky (which with Beijing¡¯s smog problem is rare) and with huge smiles we set off.

Dotted along the wall are watch towers, which if they were complete with roof provided some shelter from the harsh midday sun. They were also home to locals selling water so were the perfect place to grab a break as and when we needed, and although we set off in a group with everyone else on the bus, as everyone walks at their own pace it wasn’t long before Faye and I were ambling along on our own. A lot of the time we were on our own for entire stretches of the walk without being able to see another soul in either direction, with this and no traffic noise and glorious sunshine this was turning out to be an amazing experience. The walk wasn’t that strenuous (especially after tackling Tai Shan) just very sweaty because of the heat so we could enjoy every sight that confronted us. We enjoyed every moment.

Towards the end of the hike (just before entering the Simatai section) there was a river that cuts through the wall, so we had to take a chain bridge crossing the river by the side. At the end of the bridge they had the cheek to ask for 5 Yuan for the privilege. The toll collector had a uniformed guard with him so there was no getting out of it, it just left a bitter taste in our mouths as our only other option was to wade/swim through the river, so it’s not as if we really had a choice. It’s not enough that we had to pay twice because we were seeing two parts of the wall. We grudgingly paid and made our way up the final steep ascent. When we were near the top I looked over at the bridge and saw a crowd gathering at the toll collector, obviously another group of disgruntled walkers. I quickly learned that nothing is free in this country, if the Chinese can charge for it, they will! I saw many of the crowd try and make a run for it only to be chased down by the guard and ordered back, at least they tried I suppose.

Faye and I strolled to the car park where the bus was waiting, we completed the walk in 4 hours and five minutes, and we grabbed something to eat and waited for the rest of our group to reach the end before heading back into Beijing. This day will be hard to beat as THE highlight of this trip. It was truly amazing and met all my expectations.