Welcome to the Great Wall of China. A thousand year old wall protecting China from invaders: tourists and barbarians alike
The next day was another new experience, woke up bright and early, brimming with absolute excitement. My first day in Beijing was already a worthwhile experience, but one cannot simply leave China without visiting another one of its famous landmarks, the Great Wall of China.
*for the purpose of safety, security, and confidentiality, I did not include any of my students’ faces in any of the pictures
Dizzying heights and astonishing sights
A trip to China or Beijing for that matter wouldn’t be complete without a stop to the famous and infamous Great Wall of China. Built over a thousand years ago by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, improved and expanded by a succession of dynasties and Mongolian invaders. The Great Wall spans the entire northern territory of China, protecting the thousand year old civilization and capital from being overrun. It has been said that the wall is the only man-made structure seen from space, and from the looks of it, it mostly like and probably is.
About a two hour hike up to the top (left or rightmost towers)
It was a really cold morning, dressed up with my beanie and scarf outfit
Going there, it took probably 1.5-2 hours of travel from Beijing, it was a scenic route that took us from the urbanized jungle of Beijing to the beautiful mountain ranges north of the capital. From afar the walls do not look as grand nor as great, but as we got closer, I was dumbfounded and astonished with the sheer immensity of the walls snaking around the mountain. Every few kilometers, there would be a watch tower, these towers would add to the magnificence of the Great Wall.
Being a kilometers long wall, there were many sections of it, most damaged by the ravages of time and war while others were preserved and protected. Our group arrived in the Badaling section, where many world leaders and tourists come to and have their grand experience in the wall. Like the Tiananmen gate from the previous day, we were once again greeted by a humongous watch tower and gate, this was the starting point of what was supposed to be a 2 hour trek to the topmost part of the wall.
My students ready to face the uphill battle
At this point, I would have to criticize and tell myself that what may seem small from a distance would actually stop me in my tracks and make me marvel at human ingenuity, innovation and engineering. The moment I reached the top of the wall and got a glimpse of the landscape, the terrain and the other parts of the wall, my excitement once again took over. I imagined myself a Chinese soldier patrolling the walls, a Chinese peasant leaving or entering China, and a Mongolian invader planning and fretting over how to bypass a behemoth structure.
Well I made it! To the second tower until we had to stop
Walking on the wall, the wind was chillingly cold (thank you for the thermals) but the kilometers long road was definitely enticing. I couldn’t help but take pictures of every imaginable angle of the structure, it was just so grande and overwhelming and maybe in some respects, overpowering. Along with my students, we made our way to the first tower and as we went along, I was rewarded with a better view of the wall.
Those who have vertigo are advised not to take this hike
On the way to the second tower, that was when fatigue, cold and a whole lot of other factors stopped me and my students from proceeding any further. The steps going up were uneven and at some point, the steepness of the structure just hindered us from going up. We stopped at the second tower to marvel at the view and gather our breath. The view was by far even more exciting, it seemed as though the wall was purposely hiding itself from the ground and its surprises lay hidden as visitors continuously climb up its steep steps.
Usually it would take around 2 hours to reach the top and from there, visitors are free to wander around and see more of the wall from different angles. However, by the second tower, many of my students were grasping for air and in retrospect, the first and last time that I would sweat in China. Here we continued with our usual pictorial and enjoyed the chillingly cold air. Going down was a different matter, the steepness of the wall was nauseating and unsettling, I felt that a misstep would end up with me crashing down.
A charming view of the beauty and magnificence of Chinese innovation, ingenuity and engineering
The entire experience was another unforgettable moment, the wall lacked any historical information to help visitors have a glimpse of its long history, the experience of walking on a thousand year old wall was more than enough. Backpackers and adventure hikers would surely enjoy the hike up and I am pretty sure, the effort would most definitely be rewarding.
A beautiful place, I will conquer Badaling one day!
Note: At that time I was unaware that there was a cable car ride. It is an optional part of the tour of the Great Wall.