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The Wall

Beijing Travel Blog

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The wall snakes off into the distance - shot near Jinshanlang.

Doesn't matter if you're a package tour oldster or an off the beaten track hipster, there's only one sight that is compulsory if you're in the region of Beijing: The Great Wall of China. As it happens, due to out of date info on bus services to Simatai, I became a package tour proto-grandad. Not an issue: I had one of the best days of my trip so far - worth every Yuan.


With a group of seven, a good number for tramping along the wall, we headed off from the hostel at just after 6am by mini bus to Jinshanling. This would be the starting point for a four hour walk along the wall to Simatai - no guide necessary.

Me y el wallo gigantico.
As luck would have it, the weather was gorgeous, with bright sunshine and blue skies the order of the day. The group was a fortuitous mix of folks that were easy to chat to and good fun - it makes the whole experience so much more rewarding when you have nice people around you.


You can see as many glossy photos or gratuitous HDTV camera pans as you want, but nothing matches the widescreen vistas you are gifted as you actually stand atop the wall. It flows off sinuously into the distance, like the great crenelated grandaddy of all anacondas, undulating over the green hills and off to the misty horizon. Watchtowers rise at intervals like clenched fists, some crumbling with age, others restored to their original condition.


As we hiked up and down the sometimes steep stone stairs, I lagged behind the group for a little while.

Our seven walkers. (L-R Top Row first) German couple - the woman was called Doris , Brazilian girl, Jenny (Wales), Me, Maurice (HK) Chris (England).
I stood there, trying to imagine what the Chinese soldiers must have thought when they were stationed up here on freezing days, gazing off into the distance and wondering where the Mongolians were right now. It must have been a harsh and lonely existence, spending your life on the wall as sentry to a nation.


When we finally got to Simatai, a random tourist spread the word that Barrack Obama had been elected President in the US. If it ever gets to be one of those “where were you?” kind of moments, I guess I'll win hands down. The male half of a middle-aged German couple in the group then insisted, despite our arguments that it was too much money, on buying us all a drink. It was a gentlemanly thing to do after knowing us for only half a day and I for one was a little touched by his generosity (must be getting soft in my old age!).

A particularly steep bit of the wall.


As we headed back to the hostel, through the polluted sprawl of early evening Beijing, I had time to digest what we had just been fortunate enough to see. I got to thinking that the Wall is one of those places where you're sure you must be on a loser by weight of expectation alone. Surely I'm going to be sorely disappointed, you think, this place is so world-renowned that it has to be overhyped.


I'm pleased to report that it is nothing of the sort. Let me make this absolutely crystal, as much of this blog is dedicated to the twin gods of sarcasm and irony, what follows is straight as an arrow: The Great Wall is one of the most boggling and beautiful things I've ever seen. On this trip of mine it will sit, like a craggy punctuation mark, alongside Machu Picchu and KL's Petronas Towers (by night) as a man-made sight that has stirred my cynical heart, a bit of nourishment for the soul.


Whatever the rights and wrongs of constructing these places they are proof that, as a race, we are capable of creating majesty and beauty on an enormous scale. And you know what? I'm happy to live in a world where such wonders are possible.


jhob says:
It is a bit special isn't it? Glad you took my advice and saw that section, I've heard other bits can be hideously busy and overly-restored. To me, the Simitai - Jinshanling section is just as the great wall should be.

Cheers for the wedding telegram too - Rightee read it out at the end of his speech.
Posted on: Dec 02, 2008
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The wall snakes off into the dista…
The wall snakes off into the dist…
Me y el wallo gigantico.
Me y el wallo gigantico.
Our seven walkers. (L-R Top Row fi…
Our seven walkers. (L-R Top Row f…
A particularly steep bit of the wa…
A particularly steep bit of the w…
It may look like Im pulling a smu…
It may look like I'm pulling a sm…
A German/Brazilian watchtower hois…
A German/Brazilian watchtower hoi…
River vslley at Simatai.
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photo by: Deats