Extending my stay in Beijing.
In my yesterday post I didn’t say it but I’ve decided to change my plan. Originally I should have stayed in Beijing only three days, definitely not enough. I became fully aware of it during my second day and so I’ve agreed with my hotel to keep the room for at least one night. Right after I went to book an excursion to the Great Wall. I was very lucky because the travel agency, part of the Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel, is just a short walk from my hotel. Usually I don’t like the group tours but this time, after some check on internet I’ve understood that it could be a good idea in order to avoid most accessible and therefore busy areas of Great Wall. According to hostel’s internet site, there will be one or two groups including ours. They also guarantee no visit to local shops are part of the program and this is good. But most important information listed in their page is that “very likely” we will see wild lives such as snails, butterflies, lizards, millipedes. So amazing… 🙂 I didn’t know I was going to attend a safari! 😀
The Great Wall.
Before telling you about the excursion, let’s start debunking a myth. Great Wall of China is not visible from the space. This is an old hoax. Has anyone of you ever seen a photo from the space with the wall? No? Me neither. Nevertheless this is really one of the greatest human artifact ever made and as well one of the biggest. From Dandong (east) to Lop Lake (west) the defensive line measures 8.850 km. of which 6.259 made of actual walls. The Great Wall was built starting from 7th century BC in order to protect China from the invasion of the nomadic people of the Eurasian steppe. By the way, as far as I’ve saw, Mongolians are still very proud of being the reason for “the wall”. What we can see nowadays has been mainly built during Ming dynasty (between XIV and XVII century). On many sections the remains are still in good conditions so it is possible to hike from one tower to the other one. This is what hopefully I’m going to do today.
Reaching the site.
The section of the Great Wall we are going to visit is quite far from the town that’s why the appointment is scheduled for 7:30 AM in front of the hostel and bus should leave at 8:00. Unfortunately not all passengers were aware of the fact that there’s no food available on site and so we have to wait while they’re buying something to avoid starving during the hike. Getting out of the centre is quite easy and fast, however we don’t really leave the town for many kilometres yet. Beijing is huge. I heard from our guide whose name is Bubble (!) that our destination is still in the administrative area of the capital but I didn’t expect to keep seeing buildings for so long. After almost one hour the landscape starts to change. I see green hills but still spotted by modern infrastructure such as big bridges. During the route we stop in a rest area with a lot of small restaurants serving street food. I regret having bought my lunch yesterday at the supermarket. What I see and smell looks much more appetising than the french cheese bread I have in my backpack. There are also shops with tons of souvenirs, mainly Panda plushes. After the break there is still one more hour of trip but finally we reach the village of Jiankou where our walk on the Chinese walls will start and meanwhile I’m humming Philip Bailey’s “Walking on the Chinese Walls” imagining Phil Collins following on drums.
As a first step of the visit, we spend some time in a small Buddhist temple located just next to the wall. It is very similar to other I’ve seen in the past days. It is nice but I can’t say I’m very impressed. I’m too focus on the Great Wall and luckily stop at the temple lasts only 15 minutes. I then realise that there will be a lot of up and down during the hike. For now we are going upward and this makes crumble the initial group. I’m in the leading part and so in front of me I start to have an unobstructed view of the winding walls. I can count at least six or seven towers on my route. The path is uneven and steps irregular so it is better to look down but it is hard to take my eyes off the landscape. The wall cross a lush vegetation. I’m wondering what will look like in one century. It will be completely mixed with the greenery as Ta Prohm in Angkor Wat? After each tower, of course the path goes downhill and then up again to next tower. On one of the taller and bigger there is the scheduled stop for eating. The organization provides us with some additional water while two local ladies inside the tower are selling soft drinks and some beer. I don’t want to waste so much time here so, I decide to keep going along the wall in the second part of the hike that is optional. In fact from this tower a secondary path leads to the bus somewhere down there between the trees. I’ve walked already for about one hour and half but I’m not tired. The climate is warm but not too hot or maybe I’m just too excited to feel it. This second part of the walk is slightly more difficult than the first one especially approaching one tower. There is even a sign reporting “Danger ahead” and suggesting a detour that almost anyone ignores. Some of the few of us still marching on thinks that it is impossible to cross but actually, once there, a way to climb up on the top can be found. In my opinion this is the best section of the walk, not only because there’s almost none around but especially because from this position the serpentine shape of the wall is clearly visible. A serie of perfect postcards of the Great Wall are depicted in front of my eyes. Finally I reach the last tower of the excursion. Someone arrived before me and someone else reaches us while we rest. We spend some time taking memory pictures from this privileged position and talking about China and then we walk back to reach the middle tower and from there the bus. I’ve tried to catch for you the feeling of the walk in the following short video.
On the way back.
After about three hours and half of walk on the amazing Great Wall I’m standing in the parking waiting that all passengers reach the bus reviewing mentally what I’ve seen. You can see in the two small pics the path and the altimetry of the hike. Now I feel a bit of tiredness but on the bus I’m not able to sleep. I talk for a while with an Italian girl that it was on our group but I’ve noticed it only at the end. Meanwhile Bubble, our funny guide is explaining us that there is a kind of contest among all the guides based on the amount of positive review they got on TripAdvisor to win a trip to Europe. Is this a kind suggestion for us to write a review? Of course yes but she was actually very nice and I learned a lot of things today about Beijing and China in general so I think I will follow the “suggestion”. By the way, this girl told me about some further thing to see in Beijing and therefore tonight I will ask to stay one more night in the hotel. There is still something I’ve to do in this town before starting to explore the rest of China but this is another story. For now I leave you with a small gallery of pics to add some more flavour to the article.