Part III: Walking the Wall.
We arrived on top of the Great Wall of China at Jiankou, after two and a half hours of hard climbing up, to see one of the most impressive, spectacular man-made phenomenons I’d ever seen.
I’d been to Machu Picchu, the ancient ruins of Rome and Ephesus in Turkey, and spent six months living in Paris. All were amazing. Yet for some reason, the sheer magnitude and length of the wall just blew me away. It snaked up and down and around the ridge of the mountains for as far as the eye could see for almost 4,000 miles in total, from east to west, across the Middle Kingdom. How the ancient Chinese indentured servants built this massive wall of rock and stone was a mystery to me. At first sight, it took my breath away.
After paying a few yuan to climb the last steps of a make-shift ladder, we finally stepped on the 2,000-year-old Wall. I took so many pictures it was impossible for me to edit them. So, I decided to put them all in the post. The good and the bad. Unfortunately the smog had not lifted and covered the Wall like a suffocating blanket. I wanted to cry at the “what ifs,” but I didn’t let myself go there for today was not the time to dwell on the poor visibility of the Wall—it was the time to cherish and marvel at one of mankind’s greatest creations.
After my first steps walking along the wall, I understood why it is called the “Great” Wall of China. It did not disappoint and proved my convictions that no matter how I felt about the rest of the trip, this one moment in time would make it all worth the journey.
Here are my photos, the good and the bad, as I entered and walked along the Wall.
Come take a walk with me!
The end of the trail. Here is the last tower at Jiankou. You cannot go further in this direction past the tower as the trail is dangerous. (I am sure some adventurous souls do so, despite the absence of the Wall and a trail!)
The wall in the fog, headed towards Mutianyu, a fully restored and easily accessible part of the Wall.
Thirdeyemom (a.k.a “me”) gets accosted by the Chinese paparazzi! These hikers nearly fell over when they saw me, an almost-40-year-old-American-blue-eyed-blond! I couldn’t pass the hiking group and had to get my picture taken with at least 10 people! It was hysterical! I realized that I would never ever want to be famous. What a drag!
I am laughing so much in this picture! As someone who is used to always “fitting” in, it felt strange to stand out in a crowd and capture so much attention.
This is inside one of many towers. The bottom level is where the military slept and the top level is where they kept lookout. It was cramped accommodations, as they had 20-30 men in each chamber. Luckily, the men would stay here for only a few months at a time and then return to the village for a month off while another group took over watch. This went on for many years.
My dad hiking the precarious unrestored section of the Wall.
Our guide, Jackie, crossing over a bridge. The photo doesn’t do it justice. The Wall is relatively steep and high. The right side was for the invading Mongolians and the left side for the Chinese Empire.
Jackie told us that one person died per meter of wall built.
The servants or slaves had to carry one of these large stones up hand by hand, the same route we came. Jackie told us that the first part of the Wall as built in only nine years time by over three million Chinese. It is an astounding 5,000 km long.
This cut-out was where the early Chinese militants would throw things at their prey. As time went by, they used guns to kill their enemies.
There are parts of the unrestored section that you have to get off the Wall and follow a trail. This picture was taken to show you the size of the stones that were carried on the servants backs to build the Wall, as well as the sheer size and height of the Wall. This goes for almost 4,000 miles!
The Jiantou section of the Wall has never been restored and dates back 600 years to the Ming Dynasty.
The Chinese had a rather intuitive system of alerts. They took advantage of the mountains and valleys that carried the sound. Thus, they used a call system to warn the army against a Mongolian invasion. During the daytime, they used smoke. At night, they used fire. During bad weather, they used sound. Per our guide extraordinaire, Jackie, here was the call system:
One stream of smoke meant 100 troops. Two streams of smoke meant 500 troops. Three meant 1000. Four meant 5,000. And, 5 meant 10,000+ troops or a massive invasion!
After walking across the unrestored section for a couple of hours, we finally entered the restored section of the Wall at Mutianyu. Mutianyu is a popular route for tourists as it has a gondola that whisks you up to the Wall. Clinton came here during his presidency, which the Chinese like to boast.
Once on the Wall here, though, it is no walk in the park. It is still quite steep and at times, dangerously steep on the vertical stairwells leading up and down from the towers. Yet, the path is easier as you don’t have to maneuver through shrubs and misplaced stones.
This section of the Wall is the restored area called Mutianyu. It is really too bad that the sun didn’t come up as I am certain the fall colors and the grandeur and scope of the Wall would have been sensational. Per Jackie, the Great Wall of China passes through nine provinces! If only I could see that far!
As we entered Mutianyu, along with the restored wall came more people. Obviously it is much easier to get here than at Jiantou! The crowds still dull in comparison to Badaling. Thank goodness I didn’t go there!
If only my pictures turned out and it was clear! You can vaguely see the lines of the Wall stretching up around the ridges of the mountains.
Along with the tourists, came the Chinese brides who took the gondola up dressed in white for their pre-wedding photos.
We Americans are superstitious and generally don’t get our photos until after the wedding. Normally it is considered bad luck to see the bride before you are married. I know this tradition is changing, but I was pretty adamant on this tradition.
After five and a half long hours and aching knees along the Great Wall of China, it was time to be like a tourist and take the lazy way down. We rode the gondola and it was great!
As we left Mutianyu, we were swarmed by eager Chinese vendors trying to sell us a t-shirt or trinket for less than a dollar. It was three or four blocks of tourist hell. And this was Mutianyu! I can only imagine what the big touristy Badaling must be like! No wonder they call it the Badaling Blues!
We arrived in the car park at Mutianyu, thrilled to see our driver awaiting our weary feet. We were tired, dirty and hungry yet elated to have walked the Great Wall of China. It was the highlight of the trip and a day that I’ll never forget.
Days like these are why I travel—to marvel and be amazed at our big, brilliant world!
Read about Nicole’s other adventures here:
Editor: Brianna Bemel