The Great Wall of China
Warning – long story, don’t start reading if you are in a hurry 🙂
Even though the Chinese like to believe the Great Wall can be seen with the naked eye from the moon, this is not actually true. It is however the longest thing (6300km!) made by humans and even though it is not all connected, the various Great Wall sections are very imposing.
Jon had already been to the Great Wall at Badaling, the restored section close to Beijing where most tourists go for a stroll along the wall. And even though we would go there as well (it is one of China’s most famous sites after all), we also decided to try and find some sections of the wall that are not completely restored and would have fewer tourists.
Approaching Beijing from the west, we literally drove through some of the most ancient sections of the wall near Datong. We found a village built inside an old garrison, the old rammed earth walls still standing and decided that would be an interesting place to camp and explore. And although infested with mozzies (mosquitos or muggen for you non-ozzies) it was one of our better campsites in China.
We climbed the old walls, strolled through the village and ventured further north to find sections of the old wall still standing too. We could even see the remains of the old moat (gracht) and the tunnels inside the walls. To think we were looking at and walking on nearly 2000 year old walls!
The section of Great Wall at Badaling was, as expected, seriously busy with tourists from all over the world, including lots of Chinese. We enjoyed our walk on the wall, beautifully restored (rebuild?) and very impressive. We were there on quite a clear day and could see the wall snake along the ridges of the distant hills for miles. Simply stunning.
We didn’t enjoy the number of sun bears kept in tiny concrete pits, with no water, no greenery, no shade. Just a concrete jungle with twisted bits of metal as ‘playground’. Most of them broken off and totally rusted. They had 5 pits with 8 adult sun bears each and one with younger cubs. So sad! Tourists can buy a bit of food and chuck it down into the pit, that’s how they make their money with these poor bears. I can’t believe Unesco would approve, it is a world heritage site after all (another one of our list).
Our favourite section of Great Wall was at Jinshanling. We wanted to camp on the wall, preferably in one of the towers and wanted to go to the section at Simutai to do this. When we got there though, it was closed for restoration. We knew the eastern side of Simutai was closed, but didn’t realise they had closed off the entire road to get there. We thought we could walk the western section…
A quick change of plans was needed and after looking at the maps, we decided to continue our drive to Jinshanling. This section is connected with the section of Simutai and we were hoping it would be similar and offer an option to camp overnight.
We packed our overnight packs, trying to keep them as small as possible as you’re not allowed to spend the night on the wall and we didn’t want to make it too obvious what we were doing. They are paranoid about bushfires at all attractions, so we decided not to take our stove but have sandwiches for dinner instead.
It must have been pretty obvious what we were planning to do, but for the first time in China they didn’t stop us. Just after lunch we started our hike, again using our own energy instead of the cable car to get us to the top. A cute dog followed us up, waiting impatiently after flying up each set of steps.
Jinshanling is partly restored, but only to the point that it is safe to walk on. Many areas are very weathered, whole sections missing the side barriers or the top layer and some parts have collapsed and you need to walk next to the wall to get on again a bit further. Very interesting as it shows how it is built.
Some watchtowers are in pristine condition, others you could barely make out there used to be a tower once. We loved it and so was our new friend Pupster, the cute dog still walking with us.
The weather wasn’t great with low clouds obscuring our view, but we could still make out the wall in the distance, although faint. We spent a few hours on top of one of the towers. Enjoying the views, writing postcards, snoozing and playing with Pupster who wasn’t leaving.
A few hours before darkness we continued our hike until we found the perfect watchtower for our camp. The ceiling had long ago disappeared, but it still had all its walls and windows. We had dinner with Pupster (who wasn’t interested at all in what we offered him) and watched the lightning of a storm in the distance.
Soon that storm was no longer in the distance and we decided to quickly pitch our tent and jump in. The tent had different ideas. In the gale force wind now blowing, rain hammering down and the lightning all around us we struggled pitching the bloody thing. After a few attempts trying to get the poles through the right bit of fabric we gave up and decided to leg it to the previous tower which we knew still had a roof.
Pupster had found some shelter in a corner of the tower, but when we left and called him he came out and joined us! What a great dog.
It must have been a comical sight, 2 people, a tent with poles sticking out (now we couldn’t get the damn poles out!) and a dog, scrambling down the extremely steep slope of one tower and up to the next. Halfway was a particularly exposed section where Jon decided it was a great place to analyse the situation for Health and Safety procedures with the lightning now striking every couple of seconds all around us. Just keep moving!!
We made it, a little wetter but happy to have a roof over our heads and a dry area to put our mats and sleeping bags down. We were about to climb into them when Jon spotted the sun setting. The sky had cleared a bit in the west and whilst there was still lightning all around us and it was raining a bit, we had the most stunning sunset of China all to ourselves. And Pupster of course who was also bunking down in the dry tower.
We munched some chocolate and cracked open the little bottle of Amaretto and watched the sun go down over the Great Wall of China. Beautiful.
The next morning we got up early, packing everything away before having breakfast in the sun in the next tower which we had left in a hurry only a few hours earlier. I found my sock there that I must have dropped in our haste to get out of there.
We continued our hike all the way into the Simutai section until we were turned around by a guard in one of the towers as the next section was closed. We had to leave Pupster behind at some point as he couldn’t climb down a steep ladder. We heard him bark and cry for a little and when we came back and called him it took him quite a while to get back to us. He must have tried to find a way around the ladder as he was seriously panting and very thirsty.
Pupster stayed with us all the way back on the wall and even joined us when we went past our starting point to explore the other side of the wall. We passed some people now and again, but he didn’t even give them a second look. Always waiting for us to catch up and get a cuddle. It broke my heart to leave him behind when we got back to the car, especially when he chased us a long way down the road.
We had asked about him and were told he lives in the nearby village and joins some tourists every day and walks the wall with them. I guess he didn’t realise he picked a couple who weren’t coming back the same day! A family seemed very happy he was back and gave us a big meaty dumpling we could give him, he gently ate it out of my hand.
It was a great walk on the Great Wall of China, with beautiful scenery and a gorgeous little dog that made it even more special!