The Secret Great Wall of China
Who would come to China without visiting the Great Wall? Not us! We had to visit one of the most iconic places on earth, allegedly visible from space. I cannot imagine it is though. It’s long and thin like a snake caressing the mountains over the top of China.
We were initially going to catch a bus to either Mutianyu or Badaling which we read were touristy, less authentic but more accessible with cable cars and handrails. However, luckily for us, we’d sent the journey details to our train buddies Floriaan and Sonia. They followed the instructions to Badaling, all good so far, and then sent us a photo – oh dear. It turned out to be 2 hours of walking in a crowd, almost not being able to decide your own speed because you just had to follow the flow. We are so grateful that they shared their experience with us.
Our hostel organised a “Secret Wall” tour which included transport and lunch. It claimed that we would hardly see any other visitors and we would be on the wall that had been untouched since its completion 2,000 years ago. It cost ¥300 each, rather more than if we’d caught a bus to the touristy place, so we hoped it was worth it.
We set off in a minibus with about 14 others for a two-hour journey and finally reached our destination, called the Ancient Badaling. I was somewhat concerned that it had Badaling in the title, but our guide Stephen assured us that it was entirely different than the popular, over-visited place. The look of the carpark confirmed this with just a few cars and no coaches.
Our guide informed us that back over 2,000 years ago, the Chinese peasants had two choices – either build the wall or fight the Mongolians. Both options usually ended up in death, with approx 3 million people dying while making the 21,000 km of the wall. Legend has it that bones of the workers who perished were used as a building material -I hope we don’t see any.
He then told us a couple of stories about the wall. We wished he hadn’t, it was cold standing still, and we wanted to get on with our ascent. The best of the two stories was about a young lady whose husband had not returned from the wall. She came to find him, climbing the mountains and asking anyone she met. Desperate, she clung to the wall crying. Her tears rolled down the stone and caused the wall to crumble, exposing the body of her husband. The tale didn’t have a happy ending, as she flung herself over the wall distraught and died.
Our so-called guide wasn’t coming on the walk; he’d done plenty of that in the past. We said farewell, and we were off Step 1…Step 2….Step 3…we had three hours of walking to do and the aim was to reach the seventh watchtower. I had my knee taped up and gingerly climbed the et of stairs to reach the first tower. Success! It was tough, and some of the steps were steep, but in my mind, I imagined the poor men who cut and dragged the stones to build this monstrosity.
Step 1473…Step 1474….Step 1475…The views were wonderfully eerie with a mist rolling over the mountains. We could see more of the wall across the valley, climbing steeply into the distance. There were still a few trees with golden leaves hugging the rocks; I can envisage that two weeks earlier, the scene would have been even more spectacular.
Step 2837…Step 2838….Step 2839…The claim was correct; we hardly saw any other visitors. Most of the group strode ahead leaving Tim and I with Samual, a gardener from Montpelier with his two delightful teenage children Diago and Janet slowing plodding up the rear.
Steps, steps and more steps, some parts were sheer slopes, which must be hazardous when wet or icy. And what goes up, must come down. I’m not sure which was more challenging, the ascents or the descents.
Step 4178…Step 4179….Step 4180…We reached another watchtower with more tremendous views: just us, a large raven and wilderness. We took a well-earned break and marvelled at the sheer ambition of this mammoth monument, yet at what cost? The walls were well designed for their purpose, with turrets to protect the soldiers and for them to fire arrows in the gaps, and decorative drainage holes to keep the paths dry as much as possible. However, the irony is that the wall did not stop China’s enemies. The invaders often managed to find gaps in the wall, and it was through those that Genghis Khan and his army rode in to take Beijing in 1215.
Step 5946…Step 5947….Step 5948…We had climbed for 90 minutes, and I could see the next watchtower in the distance. That was my aim, and then I was going to turn back. The French family had the same idea. Thirty minutes on the dot we had achieved our goal, not seven towers, but five. We were satisfied though. Tim is far fitter and able than me, so I suggested that he carried on to the seventh, while I turned back with our new French friends. Au revoir, we shouted and started our slow and careful return.
Step 7118…Step 7119….Step 7120…I had a lovely chat with Diago and Janet in my pigeon French and their pigeon English. It’s incredible how much we can communicate with little language. Both have finished education and are unsure of what they want to do next. Diago was helping his Papa with gardening, but it’s not for him, Janet loves the magic of the outdoors especially in forests. I hope they follow their hearts and dreams.
Meanwhile, Tim caught up with the rest of the group and they all stood around the seventh watchtower, enjoying drinking in the view, having some snacks and water. After photos were taken they made their way back.
Step 9355…Step 9356….Step 9357…Samuel nearly slipped, I had already had a near fall. The path was not easy, with undulating rocks, crumbling sections and slippery declines. Sometimes we had to hold onto the wall to steady ourselves.
We were making good time and reckoned that we would be back at the agreed time of 1 pm. As none of the others had passed us, we were feeling quite chuffed with ourselves.
Step 12662…Step 12663….Step 12664…As we turned the corner, to my astonishment, Tim and the rest of the group was sitting there smiling at us. How did they get back? Apparently the path split at one point, and they took the shorter route.
Step 12….damn, I’ve forgotten where I was up to…