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The Great Wall : 'We'll huff and we'll puff and we'll blow that wall down!'

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My first glimpse of the 'Secret Wall'

Okay time for the big one.  And time to get away from this city!  It’s still the weekend and Stevie needs to escape the Beijing masses.  Maybe he’ll be safer behind, or from atop the defences of a wall.  Wanli Changcheng.  ‘The Long Wall of 10,000’.  The Great Wall of China!

Yes, of all destinations in China I guess this is Number One on most peoples ‘Must Do’ list and I am glad to beat a retreat to it today.  Consequent to its popularity dithering and indecision about which stretch of it to choose to visit preoccupies a good 70% of traveller discourse when staying in Beijing.  Hey, there’s a lot of it.  In the region of 5,500 miles (8,850kms) worth in various states of repair or concealment are now known to date, stretching from the Eastern shoreline of China as far as the Gobi desert.

Heading up to the Great Wall.
  It’s an impressive little garden wall.

Traumatised and fatigued by the Beijing crowds yesterday my will to think outside the box on logistics has been annihilated for the time being so I am happy to hand over my body and 220RMB ($32, this actually is a reasonable price, includes lunch) to the gang at Leo Hostel to go along on their ‘Secret Wall’ day trip.  Yes, there are a good number of stretches of the wall accessible to tourists within varying distances (an hour, maybe two or three) from Beijing of which the most famous are Badaling and Simatai.  Most of those trumpeted for the purposes of tourism and photography and so best served by travel agents and logistical connections are heavily reconstructed sections of the wall and veritably swarm with tourists at all times.

Broken ramparts.
  Especially the weekends.  (I am told that Simatai is nowhere near as bad as Badaling).

So a small mini-van of about 10 of us set off from Leo to the so-called ‘Secret Wall’.  So secret, I’m sorry I have no clue and no means of imparting its location to you.  And the staff at Leo might shoot me if I did! :) Stopping in a small village on the way an ancient but bubbly old boy dressed in his traditional blue ‘Mao Cap’ and jacket hops aboard.  Our guide to The Great Wall of China.  In the only bit of successful dialogue that will pass between our group and this chipper little chap all day ( “Ni jiao shenme mingzi?” ) I am able to ascertain for us his name as Zin Xian.  Our first humorous interaction with him as we ascend a small winding path into beautiful green vegetation swamped hill scenery is his attempts to motion to us “toilet stop” pointing to a large boulder for the purposes of saving one and all’s blushes.

Blue 'Mao Cap' & jacket : our antiquated guide Zin Xiao
  His hands wafting around his crotch, hopping from foot to foot.  “What?  Huh?  Whassup with ‘im?  Dunno… aren't these Chinese odd...oh wait… aah, right… we getcha now.  Pee break!”.

I absolutely love my two or three hours strolling along this section of the Great Wall.  It perfect acquiesces to all of our hopes of stupendous pragmatic architectural grandeur and romantic visions of brick and mortar wreathing over the hill top ridge line as faaaaar as the eyes can see… whilst having it as a totally private experience.  No sh*t.  No word of a lie.  No envy-inciting exaggeration.  It’s a weekend day.  We’re on the Great Wall of China but in all of our 2-3 hours strolling along it we will see the grand total of 4 other human beings outside of our small group.

Stevie and The Wall 1
  Trekking Mommy, Daddy and daughter and - rather bizarrely - the solitary man that attends possibly the most unfrequented and unexpected souvenir stand in all of China, tucked away in one of the rampart watchtowers.  It is so so wonderful to have such an unadulterated experience.  Made only the richer by both the contrast to life back in Beijing and the bemoaning groans of others later on back at Leo Hostel who’d opted for Badaling or its kind and had to be rendered one tiny scale of the torturous snake of humanity that wheezes its way along its near artificial length every day.  We had driven past this site and seen the crowds from below on our way out this morning.  "Phewf!".  A lucky escape.

This is the wall as History and Time and their attendant ravages and neglects; the beautiful forms of Nature’s erosions and embraces intends.

The Wall Gang trek onwards and upwards, battered by extreme winds all the way!
  I think I’m right in saying this is a wholly unreconstructed section of the wall, and boy does that show at times with its rugged broken down, masonry strewn, loose-under-foot progress.  As a proviso to that last statement it must of course be noted that through it’s 2,000 plus year history The Wall has undergone many redevelopments, reconstructions and aggrandisements (and later declines) through the many periods and dynasties of China’s war-ridden history.  Even the original plan effected under the auspices of China’s controversial ‘First Emperor’ Qin Shi Huang was itself a connecting together of established walls of the individual kingdoms of China’s ‘Warring States Period’.  Grand wall architecture as unification rather than separation for a change perhaps?  Defence its main purpose although over the centuries it singularly failed to achieve this aim on any number of occasions.

What not a single one of my photos can illustrate to you the viewer is the absolutely phenomenal winds that attended our wall top stroll today!  I mean Big Bad Wolf winds of the most incredible force.  If windy at hill bottom, once up on the wall-draped ridgeline the gusting force battered us all and the frail looking but sturdy-as-iron frame of cap-clutching Zin Xiao all the way with gale-force gusto.  Grit and dust being hurtled through the air.  Desperate attempts to take much desired photos (the most sought after from one’s time in China perhaps?) without getting half the landscape stuck in your lens cavity.  I was quite literally blown over, off my feet, on several occasions.  Which is slightly scary given the rugged, rubble-strewn,  often protectionless stretches of high wall that we are staggering along today.

Zin Xiao takes a break, sitting low to avoid the winds.
  I'm laughing all the way though.  The wind howls and rips over the barracade, which when possible we duck down behind and along for protection, violent blasts of it bursting through small battlement windows wherever Nature finds them.  Muju (my little long-term travel companion) is greatly disappointed as it means he gets a very uninspired snap at this most iconic of sites as to clutch him before the camera for longer than a second or two and he will be ripped from my fingers by the winds.  Sorry Mooj!

But despite the occasionally terrifying physical conditions imparted by the gale, I f**king love it!  It adds such a fabulous sense of drama to the proceedings.  The Great Wall.  The Great Winds.  Battering what remains of its ancient conflict and nature battered form.

Stevie & The Wall 2
  It enlivens and vitalises my experience of this great monument to human fears and powers and sufferings (3 million Chinese labourers and political prisoners are believed to have given their lives to its various constructions throughout history).  This is a wall built to withstand man and his many ages and unconquerable Nature too.  It is defending us today.  Its great granite bricks hum with timeless power and resilience today.  A true ‘Song of Stone‘.*  The craggy weather beaten features of our (equally ancient?) guide Zin Xiao a perfect compliment to our adventure.

As we wend our way up, down and along the ‘Secret Wall’ I do not want it to end.  And as far as the eye can tell it doesn’t, snaking away in its iconic way long, long hills into the distance.

  Some sections of the wall here are totally overgrown.  Bush and shrub and tree bestrewn.  Barely a wall anymore.  Mother Nature having reclaimed or interpreted it into a zen-like oversized rock garden feature for the delight of her overseeing Gods.  I call to mind (as once before on these travels) Hayo Miyazaki’s beautiful animated feature ’Laputa : (Castle in the Sky)’.  The concluding scenes atop the eponymous floating island (of 'Gulliver’s Travels' provenance) where the heroes arrive to find the mythical confines of the once great and powerful floating city entirely reclaimed by the soft commingled beautifications of Nature and Time.  An engine of war transmuted to bliss.  A final moss-covered stone guardian greets them with butterflies, flowers and gentility.
(Great Wall of) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
  I expect to see one of these chaps come lurching along the wall at many moments of my walk along it.

We reluctantly dismount the wall, following Zin Xiao’s lead down the path in the end.  All good things must come to one of those.  Lunch together.  Good cheer.  The mini-van back to Beijing and Leo.  I strongly, strongly recommend the Leo Hostel ‘Secret Wall’ trip if you want a little mystery, a little privacy and unsullied photos of its bricks ‘n’ mortar majesty.  You can pop along pay and go with them as a non-staying guest.  For now I’m off to get me a big fat greasy plate of traditional ‘Peking Duck’.  A whole duck!  I've walked up quite an appetite in my tussle with the winds.

 “Yum yum and yum again!”.  Ducking gorgeous in fact! ;D

* Title of a very interesting Iain Banks novel.

mabby says:
Haha. Nice blog, I stayed at Leo too during my China trip last year and had a blast. Great staff. I got the Mutianyu package instead since im quite afraid of heights and the 'secret wall' apparently didnt have enough walls. :)
Posted on: Nov 01, 2009
sylviandavid says:
Thanks for the great adventure on the wall.... sounds so fun..... I could feel the wind! Sylvia
Posted on: Jun 03, 2009
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My first glimpse of the Secret Wa…
My first glimpse of the 'Secret W…
Heading up to the Great Wall.
Heading up to the Great Wall.
Broken ramparts.
Broken ramparts.
Blue Mao Cap & jacket : our anti…
Blue 'Mao Cap' & jacket : our ant…
Stevie and The Wall 1
Stevie and The Wall 1
The Wall Gang trek onwards and upw…
The Wall Gang trek onwards and up…
Zin Xiao takes a break, sitting lo…
Zin Xiao takes a break, sitting l…
Stevie & The Wall 2
Stevie & The Wall 2
(Great Wall of) Muju [www.mujuworl…
(Great Wall of) Muju [www.mujuwor…
It bends and bends...
It bends and bends...
Hill to hill it twists and wends...
Hill to hill it twists and wends...
Steep! and fooking windy!
Steep! and fooking windy!
Chinas best concealed souvenir st…
China's best concealed souvenir s…
The gentlemanly Zin Xiao helps the…
The gentlemanly Zin Xiao helps th…
Beautifully overgrown.
Beautifully overgrown.
Stevie & The Wall 3
Stevie & The Wall 3
The obligatory celebratory beers w…
The obligatory celebratory beers …
Restaurant Roof (abstract)
Restaurant Roof (abstract)
Beijing
photo by: Deats