The Great Wall of China
Having spent two wonderful days exploring the grand city of Beijing, the next expedition on my “G Adventures” tour of China led me to probably the most well-known historical landmark in Asian culture. The third day of my elusive adventure was spent exploring one the original seven wonders of the world; the Great Wall of China.
Our day started particularly early. We left behind the consistent rush of Beijing via private shuttle buses, to the outskirts of the city and to more rural views, in comparison to the snaking streets of the urban jungle in our rear-view mirror. It was a rather lengthy drive, and with jet lag still dormant, I understandably drifted off a fair few times. However, we eventually arrived at the gates to the park, situated at the base of one of the entrance tracks to the top of the Great Wall. After passing a few checkpoints, well-guarded by a host of Chinese soldiers, the bus was parked at the bottom of the hill, linking us to the entrance gate of the Great Wall itself.
After a quick visit to the loo, in which I discovered the joys of Eastern toilets (a hole in the ground and a horizontal pole to hold on to while you, well, you know), we were all checking in with the front office to receive our tickets and begin our walk on the monstrous wall above us.
If you ever visit the Great Wall of China in the future, there are actually a couple of ways for you to reach the top.
You can pay the extra 15 yuan to get the chair lift to the top, saving you time and energy, or you can test yourself and walk up the relentless staircase to begin your Great Wall exploration.
I, along with a handful of my travel buddies, decided to save myself some money and walk up to the wall, while the rest of the group decided to ride the chair lift. Ten minutes in, we started to regret our decision. With the scorching sun beating down on us and the thick humid air filling our lungs, the staircase to the top of the wall seemed never ending! Luckily, there were conveniently placed vendor tents at points along the path, filled with refreshing drinks and snacks, usually accompanied by a snoozing Chinese man slumped in his shaded chair.
Eventually, drenched in sweat and our legs shaking, we had reached the top of the wall. Caroline and Vonnie had been lagging behind on the devil staircase (you can’t blame them!), so while we waited for them to join us, we soaked in the stunning views surrounding us atop the wall.
It was jaw dropping. Honestly, the views from the wall were beautiful. From the vast mountain ranges, to Beijing city and its thick brown smog lingering in the distance, it felt like you could see the whole country from where we were standing. Finally, Caroline and Vonnie had joined us, and being particularly proud of the fact that we had all walked up the wall together, we decided we needed a quick snap of us all.
If you haven’t read my previous blog posts on my experiences in Beijing, you will have missed the fact that Chinese people both love seeing western tourists and love taking photos. So when we began posing for our photo, the Chinese man on the right hand side decided he wanted to be in our shot. We did not speak to him once or see him ever again, confirming that the Chinese are a very strange race of people.
After we had chuckled about our Chinese friend getting involved in our photo, we were ready to begin our walk to Turret 14 of the Great Wall. At this point, the rest of the group had caught up with us, allowing us all to begin the long walk together.
Time for a little history of this impressive, twisting architectural structure! The Great Wall of China, built mainly out of stone, brick, tamped earth and wood, is situated on the east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China. It was first built in 220–206 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, and has been re-built and maintained throughout the ages. The majority of the wall was built throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The Great Wall was built with the purpose of protecting the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe, who were always looking to expand their territory. The Wall is famously visible from space, and now measure an incredible 8,850 kilometres (5,500 miles)!
It’s safe to say that we did not walk the entirety of the wall on our visit. If we did I would most probably still be on the wall now, blogging to you from the inside of one of the many turrets dotted along the wall! No, today we were only exploring a small section of the wall, which was in total, around a 4-hour return to the car park. This section took us up to the 14th Turret, which was sat on the very summit of the mountain range we were currently on, therefore providing the best views available to us!
I spent the majority of my day walking with Caroline, Sherie and Vonnie, as we passed over the winding stone path ways and through the numerous turrets separating the sections of the wall.
The walk was a fantastic opportunity to get to know my tour members a little better, conversing about ourselves on the walk along the wall. We learnt all about each other, what our lives were like back at home, where we had travelled and where we were heading next. All the meanwhile, enjoying the delightful views around us. As we climbed higher, the landscapes seemed to become more and more striking to behold.
Having walked all the way to the 13th turret on the gradual climb up the wall, we came to our final challenge; a very steep staircase leading us to the 14th and final section of the wall. Of course, the wall carried on for thousands of miles after this, but for us, this was the furthest we could go. Caroline had decided the views were good enough from the bottom of the staircase and agreed to wait for Sherie, Vonnie and I as we decided to tackle the almost vertical stairway to the summit. I was sweating buckets by this point, and I almost had to crawl up the wall on my hands and knees due to utter exhaustion. Nevertheless, we made it to the top and boy was it worth it. The views were incredible from the final turret, providing me with ample opportunities to take plenty of photos.
We were soon joined at the top by other members of our group, including Dan and Charlotte, and Kate and David. This gave me the chance to take a few shots of my fellow travellers. The two edits below are some of my favorite shots from the day.
Having taken plenty of photos and enjoyed the views for quite some time, it was time for us to begin the walk back down to the shuttle-bus car park. Needless to say, I wished teleport technology was available instead of walking the length of the wall again! The walk back was a lot easier though, as most of the path was downhill. It was now mid afternoon and the tourists had certainly begun to flood in. At the beginning of our day, the wall was virtually empty, in exception of the few travellers passing by throughout our walk. By the time we were ready to walk back, the wall was filled with hundreds of Chinese and western tourists a-like, all passing us in the opposite direction, heading for the 14th turret and those amazing views.
Having reached our original starting point on the wall and the top of stairway down to the car park, we continued walking further, so that we could take the Luge ride down to the bottom. As you can imagine, we had done enough walking for the day, so decided it would be a fun option instead of walking down the dreaded staircase again.
The whole group had caught up with us at this point, so we all waited in the queue together to ride the Luge down to the bottom of the hill. It was really fun! The Chinese operators were taking their jobs very seriously, insisting on “no cameras!” while you were sat in your little cart, and pleading for you to go slower. People were not paying attention to them however, as a young girl crashed into the rear of an older gentleman’s luge, to which he turned around and shouted, “You need to slow down miss!”.
I certainly didn’t pay any attention to these rules, as I filmed myself on my Go Pro the whole journey down.
We safely made it to the bottom of the hill in our Luges and began our walk back to the car park. All I can say is, thank God for the man that decided to build a Subway at the base of the wall! We all sat down and tucked in to some well-deserved lunch. It was probably the best sandwich I have ever eaten, mainly due to the insane hunger that was sitting in my stomach. Can you imagine how hungry you would be after walking along a section of the Great Wall of China? Finally, with food in our bellies, we were back in our shuttle bus and on the way back to the bustle of Beijing.
That night, we were due to take an overnight train to Xian, the next stop on our journey through China. This, was quite the experience.
Dropped off at the train station in Beijing, we carried our backpacks through the centre of the station, where Richard our tour guide provided us with allocated bed numbers and tickets for the night train.
The train carriages were separated into sections, each containing six beds, in two columns of three. This meant I was sharing my section with 5 other members of my tour group for the night. It was certainly an odd experience sleeping on a train, but I had a great time getting to know Kate and David, as we all knocked back a few beers and tucked in to our various snacks bought in the train station. The whole group chatted for a few hours, playing different card games and swapping stories, until it was time for us to go to bed. At 9pm, the lights all turned off in the carriages and the attendants patrolled the corridors to ensure everyone was in bed. There are certainly some strict rules in Chinese culture.
Laying on my not so spacious bed, I spent some time reflecting on my day spent exploring the Great Wall of China. It was certainly an incredible experience, and a box ticked on my bucket list for sure. Not only that, I had taken some amazing pictures throughout the day as well, leading the to edit below, which was most definitely the shot of the day!
The next stop on my exciting adventure through China, was one of my favorite cities that I have ever visited; Xian. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what my next destination would have in store for me. I was now 3 days into my travels and was loving every second of it. Simply put, I was loving life and I knew that my journey had only just begun.