21 Oct The Great Wall of China
Being a person who has always had a love and fascination of history and events past and definitely a sentimentalist, for me trekking the Great Wall of China had always been a lifelong dream, so when Dannielle and I discussed over our next fundraising idea as soon as she said ” Mum, why don’t we walk the Great Wall of China? there are trekking trips you can do with a private guide that you can walk the off track tourist areas which would be amazing! and it’s somewhere you have always wanted to go and of course one of the Great Wonders of the World, just like our James to us.”
That was it, “perfect let’s get it sorted” I said. It was supposed to be a girls only trip as the guys had not long done their fundraising event for the foundation climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but there was no stopping Tony when I told him what we was going planning to do. (I can’t blame him this was going to be a lifetime experience for the memory box).
Dannielle arranged our trip with Action challenge UK who offer the type of trip we wanted to do off track trekking with a private guide so that we could see more of the wall other than just the tourist areas. You had to be minimum a medium fitness level for this as there are areas that will be very challenging, so we all did our post trek training at the gym before hand of course to get the legs ready!.
We began our trip in October, unknowingly one of the best times of year to trek the Great Wall of China, the days are still sunny and bright with blue clear skies but not to hot and Fall is beautiful as the trees are just starting to change from greens to reds.
Our team leader from Action Challenge was Beth who met up with us at the airport in Beijing on 19th October 2013. In our group was Tony, Dannielle, Debbie, David and myself. We waited for all the others who was joining the trip for their own personal reasons and then set off for our hotel in Changping. We had an afternoon sightseeing the local area and then everyone met up for dinner and a briefing and to greet each other, then it was off to bed for an early start.
DAY 1. JUYONG AND BADALING
Everyone was really excited at breakfast and it was a first time experience for everyone on the trip we learnt.
We collected our pack up lunches and headed for our coach. Our journey starts at the un-restored section of the Badaling wall, this was to avoid all the busy crowds of tourists. This ection of wall is the first section opened to tourists in 1957 after reconstruction. The Badaling Great Wall shows how the Great Wall would have looked originally. This part of the wall is high up in the Guan Valley. Some 1,015m above sea level and the views we are told be amazing from so high up. We were not disappointed, from the high points of the wall the views of the endless misty mountains was breathtaking and you could see the wall just ongoing for miles and miles, the challenge ahead of us seemed impossible. After we had had our lunch we caught a transfer to the Juyong section of the wall, this was constructed in the 5th century and rebuilt many years later by the Ming Dynasty. It is said to be one of the most strategically important parts of the wall because of its link with Beijing. For the first day on the Wall it proved to be a tough warm-up for what was to come as most of the Wall was very steep in places with shallow endless ongoing steps up up higher and higher, but an amazing day still.
DAY 2. MUTIANYU AND THE 1000 STEPS
Another early start and our transfer to Mutianyu takes us through some stunning rural countryside. Our guide Beth runs through a few points for our day ahead and tells us Mutianyu was one of the first sections of the Great Wall to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and which is why we will see that this part of our trek is so well preserved.
As we all got off the coach I saw that the first part of where we would be starting there was a local market with stalls selling lots of different things for tourists, before we started our trek we all had 15 minutes to wander around the stalls to buy any souvenirs. We had a laugh on one stall that was selling all different styles of local hats from military, public, farmers and land workers. Tony bought himself a hat to wear on the trek he said he would fit in with the locals with it on and might sell it on the wall to a tourist for a bit of profit, we bought a few small gifts to take home and went and had a cold drink before we walked over to our start.
Endless steps are what we have in front of us, I looked up and couldn’t see an end “Wow” I thought the 1000 steps, this is going to be tough as I started up. About a third way up I looked round at Dannielle walking up behind me her face smiling. “Can you believe this? My legs are aching already from the last few days I don’t know if I’ll manage a 1000 steps! Good job they have these post and rails going up” I said.
Dannielle laughed at me, ” Mum, this isn’t the 1000 steps these lead up to the start of the wall for where we are going” Help! I thought to myself.
We started our trek of the 1000 steps which was going to take us up to Mutianyu and then to the first of 10 Towers, numbers 10 to 20 followed by the heavenly steps and then start the journey down, in all around 5 hours trekking today. The steps were going to be a great challenge and a good way to stretch a lot of our soar muscles. The steps were shallow but wide and although they were shallow they were quite difficult stepping up because of the big stance of them, it was difficult to get into any kind of stride on them, then they became narrow and steep as we went on. We all had to stop every now and then to take a breather, a great chance also to take in the beautiful views beyond the wall. Everyone was pretty quiet on climbing the steps including myself, saving our energies to get to the top. At the top the wall narrowed into a single climb, the last steps called The Stairway to Heaven. You had the choice to climb these or not, but of course as shattered as we all were the name alone said it all! (A chance meeting of all spiritual the very top of heavens stairway I thought to myself). The steps were incredibly big granite blocks on bricks and almost vertical so we all had to climb up them with our hands like climbing a ladder. At the top the views were breathtaking across the cloud cover topped mountains. We all stood in silence, I prayed a little prayer in mind. We all looked at each other and gave a little smile (Heaven). We then joined in with the others on the group about how tough it was to climb and we took some photos before we set off back down to carry on our trek across the wall to the 10 towers after lunch.
This part of the Great Wall was how I always imagined the Great Wall of China to be. It was like an ever on going perfect pathway heading towards plain belt extraordinary watch towers, some which we had a bit of a giggle in playing hide and seek around many of the pillars and archways.
Looking out through the merlons (the holes for the shots to be fired at the enemy) was to a wonderful sight, as somehow they seemed also to act as a frame to the most beautiful landscape of forest woodland and streams.
DAY 3. BLACK DRAGON POOL PARK
After breakfast today we go to visit the Black Dragon Pool Park. It’s a stunning nature reserve set in a deep valley with cliffs rising on either side of crystal pools. The starting point is a very narrow single person climb through huge cave like cliffs of stone with jade water flowing by. It’s quite a challenge for the start of our day again but the scenery is magical again, totally different to our last few days trekking. As we get to the top we cross a bridge that opens onto a wide open area of water pools with shallow wide gentle flowing waterfalls over large wide flat rock stones, then as we go further huge rock cliffs appear with cascading large waterfalls it’s an incredible sight to see. You feel a real sense of calm and peace yet a strong powerful presence from the cliffs. We are told the park was first built in 1737 and the main pool in the park covers an area of about 40,000 sq meters and is clean as Jade. The crystal pool has floating pretty milky blossom flowers in the water, the edges of the pool are surrounded by old chestnut trees and ancient monuments of the past scatter stand proudly in areas (The Longshen Temple, The Deyue Pavilion, the Suocui Bridge and the Hanyue Stage). We take a visit inside the Five – Phoenix Tower which was built in 1601 and moved here from Fuguo Temple. The Pavilion is 23 meters tall with 3 layers and shows 5 cornice. It is a great piece of architecture in the style of Tibet, Bai Minority and Han Nationality. As we go inside we see it is decorated with beautiful colorful paintings and carvings and we take the opportunity of a quick photo. The experience in the Black Pool Dragon Park was just Amazing! I really felt as though I was in a Magical romantic fairytale land of mythology.
The Black Dragon Pool legend tells that in ancient times, there were two dragons living in the valley when the family property was divided up, the kind Black Dragon left their magnificent home, the White Dragon Pool, to his little brother the White Dragon. He then went to the desolate Gulu Valley alone. The Black Dragon worked day and night to transform the wild Valley. The local mountain God wanted to help the Black Dragon, so gave him a colored ribbon and eighteen pearls. The Black Dragon cast the eighteen pearls into the Valley, and there and then they became pools of crystal water.
After our lunch by the waterfall we continued over the pass our trek of the Great Wall, this part was an off tourist area accessed only with a private local guide. It was very much in the wilderness with rough terrain as the wall on this section was almost all in ruins. It was nice to get back to land as tough as it was. There was a few scary moments for Tony not being to good at heights and we all had to cheer on encouragement in one very steep area with a sheer drop to the side which he froze on. He finally managed to get going with the help of our local guide and at the bottom we all had a laugh about it, including Tony. It was definitely a tough afternoon climbing over ruins, balancing along the wall with sheer drops, fighting our way through bramble and bushes but again an amazing day!
DAY 4. GUBEIKOU GREAT WALL
Today’s part of the Great Wall was built along a mountain range and retains its original bricks and stones from two dynasties. This was an important military pass that held protection to Beijing from northern Mongol areas, over 130 battles happened along here. This part of the wall is more dirt path with stones and bushes so it was much easier a trek but you did have to watch out as the surface was very uneven. We came across a few areas with steep steps but not many. There are many watch towers along this section with it having its strong military stance here and even today there is still a military installation in GUBEIKOU. We reached a point where our guide told us we had to climb down from the wall here as this part was a restricted Militarily Zone in use. As we walked our off trek area we walked through local farm land and meet a few locals still farming by hand. We stopped for a photo opportunity with them and they were quick to also take the opportunity of asking for payment for having a photo with them, there was no flies on this old lady, once she got some money she told Tony to go away and hit him with her stick! We explored the nearby local village and had ice creams and water from a store, Tony meet up with an old man who said he was 97 years and enjoyed a little banter with him. We carried on through the picturesque fields and took more photos of the scenery as we went then joined back on to the wall to finish the last of our days trek. GUBEIKOU is called the Winding Dragon part of the Wall and we saw it in all its original untouched glory.
DAY 5. JINSHANLING – The Last Day of the Challenge
This morning at breakfast it’s quite a somber mood, I think everyone is maybe thinking about our trip so far and how incredible the days have been. Today we set for Jinshanling connects from where we were trekking yesterday on the Gubeikou part of the Wall. Jinshanling also built on a mountain range named ‘Gold Mountain’ and also another very well preserved part of the Great Wall, built from 1358-1389, Ming Dynasty. Poems and writings can be found on this part of the wall from when General Qi Jiguang directed rebuilding (1528-1588). It was a tough trek here to as there was a lot of blocks missing in many areas so you had to be careful especially on the steps and parts of the pathway. Other parts were still perfect condition. There was areas of narrow giant steps and beautiful ruins of old towers that had just their archways standing and then perfect towers in all their original elegant glory. Arches and turrets looked out onto the beautiful mountain ranges and forestry. I asked our guide what the white mixture was that held the blocks and bricks of the wall together for so long was made of as it must be incredibly strong and he told us, the secret of the strength and longevity of the Great Wall was the workers mixed together a paste of sticky rice, flour and lime which bound the bricks and blocks so tightly that not even weeds could grow in many places. It was one of the greatest technical innovations of the time and helped many of the Ming Dynasty structures of Pagodas, Tombs and Walls weather earthquakes and other disasters. It was amazing I thought to myself and laughed, Rice!
It was a great time for us to visit in October being Fall, so high up here in these mountains the sky was so clear and the air crisp, you could see the trees across the hills starting to turn to reds, stunning! The Jinshanling section was a great ending to our trek, as the saying goes ” The Jinshanling Section is the most quintessential of the 10,000-Li Great Wall”.
Emotions ran high at our farewell evening dinner in Beijing the following day as we all talked about our journey and the reasons behind our trips, but there was also a lot of laughter to about the journey as we reminisced the past days. We each collected our momentoes presented to each of us for completing the challenge and most importantly we had the most incredible memory imprinted within us because of the loved ones that brought us to the Great Wall of China.
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