Climbing the Great Wall of China
I have not met many people who have had the opportunity to climb the Great Wall of China twice. So, I consider it no small privilege that I could. After all, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I got the opportunity to attempt this feat when I was in Beijing on an official trip.
The Great Wall of China, known as the Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li in Mandarin, was built between the third century BC and the 17th century AD along the northern border of the country, from Shanhaiguan in the Hebei province in the east to Jiayuguan in the Gansu province in the west. The estimated length of the Wall is 21,196 km (13,171 mi). Several rulers from different dynasties governing different parts of China, constructed varied sections of the Wall to fortify their empires against foreign invaders. This ultimately came to be known as the Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall is like a long winding stone trail snaking through the mountains. Two sections of the wall, nearest to Beijing, were open to the public: Badaling and Mutianyu. Located half an hour from Beijing city, the Badaling Great Wall is the most frequented and the time I went there, it was crowded owing to the tourist season, I presumed. It was certainly a stretch, ascending that steep incline with people pushing and shoving you. Yeah, it was that busy! I had taken a conducted tour which also included stopping at a tea house for some indigenous green tea.
Across the wall, watch towers and small fortresses are built, which were used by the army in olden times. Now, they serve as rest areas for the wearied. The highest point is 1,015 metres (3,330 ft) above sea level. If you happen to stop to catch your breath, you will find plenty of street food vendors, perched on railings, ready to quench your appetite. Many hotels and restaurants are also nestled in the foothills.
Our tour guide mentioned that whoever reached the top of the section would be honored as a ‘hero’ as it was a struggle to get there. Unfortunately, I did not make it since I gave up in the middle. The fleeting thought of using the newly-constructed cable car that takes you directly up the hill, did cross my mind. But it seemed like cowardice. I had already vowed to myself that I will complete the climb someday!
Climbing the Mutianyu Great Wall was more comfortable as the slope was easier to walk on. This was again an arranged tour with a guide. With just another visitor in addition to me, we had quite an interesting personal experience.
A private cab picked us up, took us around and dropped us back at our homes. This part of the Wall, being further away from Beijing, there were also not many tourists around. Mutianyu is perceived as the most beautiful part, with scenic landscapes spread across the countryside. It looked more natural than the Badaling Great Wall which seemed like a commercial tourist hotspot. It is also older than Badaling. The wall at this point is made of granite and is 7–8.5 metres high and 4–5 metres wide. Had a fun time walking around at Mutianyu.