Stretching more than 6,000km and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China is indeed great.
The iconic fortification, built more than 2,000 years ago to protect China from invasion (rather unsuccessfully at times), is an incredible feat of engineering that is as impressive to look at as it is to climb.
Imagining those who toiled in the searing heat, without the equipment employed in modern construction, it is easy to see how so many sacrificed their lives for its creation – thus giving it its unfortunate and occasional nickname of the “Longest Cemetery in the world”.
Through our honcho, we hired a coach and a driver for the group and took the two-hour drive from Beijing, arriving at Mutianyu around 9.30am to avoid the afternoon heat. A number of public buses also operate from within the city and organised group tours are easy to find (but don’t pay more than 250RMB all in).
Several locations across China offer access to the wall, the most touristy is Badaling, then Juyonguan and Mutianyu are a little quieter. And, for those with a real passion for hiking there’s Simatai, Jinshaling, Jiankou and Huanghua.
After purchasing tickets we set off on the cable car which took us about 200 metres from the main entrance and gave an unbelievable aerial view of the winding wall. The mist had settled over the mountains providing a surreal sight. As we walked between Watchtowers, admiring the incredible vistas, it took a while to soak up the fact that we were actually walking along the Great Wall of China!
The Wall at Mutianyu, as with many other places, has been carefully and authentically restored to make it tourist friendly, but going beyond the “No admittance” sign we climbed among the remains of the original wall – somewhat dusty, dilapidated and a bit dangerous, but well worth a visit.
According to Mao Zedong, “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man.” Is it also said that anyone who climbs the wall is hailed a hero! Well, I’m not sure about that, but as we ventured up the steep inclines and sharp descents I did feel a real sense of history and occasion.
The mist lifted and gave way to warm, hazy sunshine，so we marked our new-found “hero” status with a beer and some banter with a Communist clad hawker from Mongolia – who insisted on us wearing hats and doing the Party salute.
After a pretty cool (but not exactly in-keeping) toboggan ride back down again, we hit a sea of souvenir stalls selling the obligatory “I’ve climbed the Great Wall” T-shirts and a plethora of gifts, gadgets and more Mao Zedong tat.
Finishing off with lunch – egg pancake and batter bits for a mere 10RMB (a quid) – we headed back to the bus, dying to find out how much we had all paid for our “bargains” and animated by another amazing adventure. A definite trip highlight.