Beijing, China: The Great Wall

Part 2 of our recent China trip:

Our party of 5 Americans, Victor and Steph, Eric, David and I, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday Jan 11, for a 2-week visit to China. We are on our own, following our own itinerary, with Victor as our guide. Yesterday, January 12, we visited the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. We are only staying 3 nights in Beijing, so today, our last full day, come rain or shine, we are visiting the Great Wall.

The Great Wall is the longest man-made structure ever built – a system of many walls built over 2000 years, from the 5th century BC to the 17th century AD. (Check out this wiki-link site on the Great Wall.) Especially famous is the wall built in 220-206 BC by Qin She Huang, the first emperor of China, to defend against invading barbarians. Stones from the mountains were used over mountain ranges, rammed earth was used for construction in the plains. It has been estimated by some authors that hundreds of thousands, possibly up to a million, workers died building the Qin wall. Little of that wall remains today.

Over the dynasties the Great Wall was eroded, built, rebuilt and extended many times. The latest construction took place in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the length was then over 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles). This is the wall often referred to when we talk about the Great Wall.

The Wall in its entirety spans 13,000 miles across northern China, snaking over deserts, hills and plains.

To conclude this history lesson (ha!) click on this short, fun, Youtube video on the Great Wall. And no, you can’t see the Great Wall from the moon!

Despite impressive battlements, the wall ultimately proved ineffective; it was breached in the 13th century by the Mongols and then in the 17th century by the Manchu.

Much of the existing wall that was built during the Ming Dynasty has crumbled and is still unrestored, but the sections of the Great Wall around Beijing have been frequently renovated and are regularly visited by tourists today.

Here’s a photo showing you the path of the Great Wall.

There are several sites you can visit on the Great Wall that are within an 1-2 hour drive from Beijing. The Badaling Great Wall is the most visited and famous stretch of the Wall, the first section to be opened to the public in the People’s Republic of China. It’s the destination for tour buses and is typically swarming with tourists, about an easy hour-drive from Beijing. No! We want something more remote!

So, on Friday January 13, Victor lines up a driver for the day to take us to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, about 80 km or a 1 1/2 hour drive from Beijing. It happens to be raining today, unfortunately, but for us to see the Great Wall it’s now or never. The Mutianyu section is a bit more remote than Badaling, and we’ve heard, a lot less crowded. There is also a strenuous hike involved – it takes about an hour to hike up to the wall from the parking lot.

We have arrived now, and started our ascent to the wall:

Starting up!

The signs are written in Chinese and English!

Half way up there is a small concession stand. Probably does a fantastic business on a hot day…

The concession stand – not to be confused with Eric and his pink umbrella

You can also ride a cable car up, and/or take the toboggan down:

Take the toboggan down!

The wall looms above us now!

We’re on top of the wall now! Good news is, we practically have the whole Wall to ourselves. Bad news, too much fog to enjoy the magnificent views…

We peeked into this building – barracks, where you could see the humble bunking accommodations. The officer’s bed had an area underneath it where you could light a fire to keep the bed warm!

Barracks!

From the watchtowers, guards could survey the surrounding land.

Victor, Steph and David

This section of the Great Wall is connected with Juyongguan Pass in the west and Gubeikou Gateway in the east:

Built mainly with granite, the wall here is 7-8 meters high and the top is 4-5 meters wide. Some of the steps are a little skewed:

Heading back down now …

Down, and down, and down …

David, Steph, Eric, Victor

Walking toward the parking area now. The rain sure put a damper on the crowds!

Any hungry customers out there?

I snapped a couple of photos on the drive back to our hotel in Beijing.

Rush hour gridlock getting home

Well, there certainly was a lot in Beijing we didn’t see. The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, The National Museum of China, the Beijing Zoo, to name a few. So many restaurants and shopping, although we did eat dinner at a superb restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel, where we enjoyed a fine serving of Peking Duck:

The Da Dong Restaurant

There was also a huge underground shopping mall underneath our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing. Here, we just got off the elevator:

Underground mall underneath our hotel

We enjoyed dinner at a nice restaurant in the underground mall, as well, where Eric began to get a pretty good grip on eating with chopsticks:

Way to go, Eric

Time to call it a day. Get a good night’s sleep!

Tomorrow we travel 760 miles on the bullet train to Hangzhou!

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