My friend, L, arranged a car and driver to take us to the GREAT WALL – not to the touristy rebuilt sections but to the original authentic Great Wall, unrestored, fewer tourists, 120 km NE of Beijing, called Simatai.
We were anxious to see the countryside in China, and the trip there was utterly astonishing! Not so much for the lush green valleys, the approaching Yanshan Mountains, the fruit stands dotting the edge of the winding mountain highway with bags of apples, pears, and exotic fruits or vegetables selling for a mere 15 yuan (C$3), but for the riveting experience of driving down curving mountain highways, the style of which is somewhat unconventional by North American standards.
Let me explain. While a highway or a city street may have two lanes, drivers will literally invent a third lane out of nowhere by straddling the centre line and passing in the middle between two cars going opposite directions.
That’s bad enough on a straight bit of highway, but it’s when your driver pulls out and is passing on a curve only to be faced with a bus or transport truck approaching head-on toward you, two car lengths away, that you become wide-eyed and white-knuckled along with a gasp of horror!
The three vehicles close in on each other while your driver calmly sits on the middle line charging forward nonchalantly as the two other vehicles edge slightly to the outside edges of the road, and the three vehicles slice by each other with barely a knife-edge between them! Keep in mind that one side is a sheer cliff miles down with barely a guard rail.
You stop holding your breath, hardly believing what you just witnessed. As this scene is replayed over and over on the journey, you either admire the deftness and skill of the driver, or for your own sanity, you close your eyes and refuse to watch.
On that wild ride through the Yanshan mountains, I was absolutely certain that we were going to die.
But if you close your eyes the entire trip through the mountains, I promise that it will be barely traumatic. Call Local Guide Lei (Tel. 67349509), 400-500 Yuan from Beijing inclusive Taxi.
The wall was incredible.
You can do the 10 km hike from Jinshanling to Simatai, but we took the gondola/cableway that cut off 5-6 km, and then a small train that took us up a further steep section, for each of which you must buy a ticket. It still took hours and hours, but it was worth it when we got to the top.
After the train, the steep climb by foot takes a long slow hour, with many sitting-on-a-ledge stops. The rough dirt path is strewn thick with rocks, big and small, and winds slowly up the mountain between large boulders.
Hanging precariously onto the Yanshan Mountain, the Great Wall at Simatai is known for its steepness (70 degrees), ingenuity and uniqueness.
We hiked at our own pace, and some places were sheer rock straight up, steep and so strenuous at times that we had to sit on a rock and rest until we stopped panting and our legs stopped aching.
It would not be suitable for children, or for adults with knee, ankle, heart or hip problems. But don’t be scared, it can be done by most people of any age, it’s just not easy.
Wear good walking shoes, take water, snacks and toilet paper.
Above all (literally), when you get to the top and see that stone wall curving and twisting for miles and miles and miles, knowing it was all built by hand, and looking down one side of the mountains to Mongolia on one side of the wall, and China on the other, you will not be disappointed!
We walked for miles, climbing up to and on top of the Great Wall that zigzags across the tops of the mountains for over 6000 miles across China.
You might think once you get up the mountain to the wall, your work is over, but no, there are still crumbling stone pathways up and down the tops of the mountains as you walk along the wall itself, and disintegrating stone stairs up to towers.
We stopped, we took photos, we rested, we looked down the immense length of the great wall winding literally across the tips of the mountains, and we explored inside towers and forts. We peered out stone windows and porticoes in the forts.
We looked one direction to Mongolia and saw cows grazing in a field; we looked the other direction to China and mountains, amazed that you could see two totally different countries at the same time.
The Great Wall is a tremendous piece of architecture: building began 2400 years ago in 1570 during the Ming Dynasty; it is 6400 km long; 5-7 metres wide; 6 -17 metres high with towers, little forts and short side sections.
Imagine the construction site with thousands of people working, and dying, there.
It is also the only human feature you can see from space.
The Great Wall is one of the historical Wonders of the World, and to walk on this wide ancient wall, hand-built of now crumbling stone, was a privilege.
Halfway down the mountainside of the Great Wall, two Chinese women, seeing me struggle down the mountainside, came down and helped. They followed us, helping from time to time, all the way to the bottom. How lovely, I thought at the moment.
But beware of those two charming Chinese women who will smile sweetly and offer a helping hand, especially to other women – western, of course. After vigilantly attending at your elbow for the vigorous walk up or careful walk down, they will hit you up for 300 yuan (C$50) each to buy several souvenir picture books of the Great Wall.
My suggestion would be to offer them half or less for their help, and leave it at that, unless of course, you want the books. They use guilt well and I succumbed (I am embarrassed to admit), but now I am very pleased that I have a beautiful photo book of The Great Wall of China.
More recently, you can now choose to take another 30 mins to walk down the hill to Simatai Village for your transport back or opt for a 5 minute Flying Fox ride down. I recommend you try the Flying Fox! What a great fun way to end a good 6 hour hike.
I really like the Chinese saying, ”Bu Dao Chang Cheng Fei Hao Han”, suggesting that…
“One is not a hero unless he has climbed the Great Wall.”
The winding highway…
Imagine passing on a corner like this and facing a semi-truck rounding the corner….
We repeated this scene many times on the way to the Great Wall. One of the vehicles below will squeeze though the middle between the other two. Close your eyes…
Then the gondola for 6-7 miles…
Then a little train a further mile or two up the mountain…
Then a rough steep climb for several hours…
Higher and higher and higher….
The Great Wall.
Peering through windows and porticos…
Chinese girl sitting in a quiet corner of a tower house…
View to Mongolia on the East side of the Great Wall…
View to China to the West side of the Great Wall…
We started to climb up this part…
But soon gave up… and started back.
Map of the Great Wall of China
So like the old Chinese saying goes…
“One is not a hero unless he has climbed the Great Wall.”
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