Most tourists wanting to see the Great Wall of China visit Badaling, the part of the wall which is located not far from Beijing. If you want to just look at the wall and take your photo with it behind you, Badaling will be the right decision. However, note that about 30,000 visitors go through this section of the wall daily. Sure enough, a couple of thousand of them will be on your photo along with you.
This is a big problem for us because we always want not only to see, but to feel any ancient construction. So we started to seek unreconstructed parts of the Great Wall. For us, two of them were appropriate: Jiankou Great Wall and Jinshanling Great Wall.
Jiankou is the dream of every brave explorer with a camera, but this explorer must be in very good physical shape because some parts of the wall will demand from you the capability to pull yourself up. Officially, this part of the Great Wall is closed for visiting, so all the responsibility is on you.
The length of the Jiankou Great Wall is 20 km, and this is a real obstacle course with several collapsed sections. Since my wife Irina is only learning to pull herself up, we were forced to choose the Jinshanling Great Wall. This part is the most distant and unreconstructed. The Ming dynasty started to build it, and since those times, its 67 watchtowers guard Beijing from the northeast.
The emperor, Cynn Scī Huang, saw color dreams. One night he dreamed that he flew to the moon and looked at Earth from there. His empire seemed too tiny to him, and his heart sank. In the morning, he decided to erect the wall around his lands to defend them from enemies.
The Great Wall of China is a coeval of the Egyptian pyramids. It is almost 5,000 years old, and it is the biggest defensive construction in the world, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the sands of the Gobi Desert.
Early in the morning, together with five Europeans and our Chinese guide Tao, we left Beijing for the Jinshanling Great Wall. But we didnt get far. Our minivan stopped near an jade factory. I must admit, there were many unreal, beautiful works of art there, but we were interested in the Great Wall, not in an jade sailboat or horse of my height.
As a result, when we arrived at the wall, there was an enormous line for the tickets. However, our guide, Tao, disappeared and after five minutes returned with tickets. The Jinshanling Great Wall has not been reconstructed in about 300 years, and we thought it would be a real adventure. Unfortunately, Tao gave us only three hours for exploring (later, we knew why), then a dinner and the long way back to Beijing.
There are few places in the world where you can appreciate the breathtaking grandeur of an architectural structure. The wall twists bizarrely on the crests of the hills and climbs up almost vertically in some places. Numerous plaques persistently warn of the danger of collapse, but the landscapes are stunning. The length of the Jinshanling Great Wall is almost 11 kilometers; it is impossible to conquer this distance in three hours. We could only enjoy the views and did not forget to glance at the clock.
We are on the top of the wall, tired, but pleased, sitting on a stone. Suddenly, I note that Irina turned pale and stopped talking. Yes, I understand it was a long and hard way up. But the reason was different—a snake within a meter from her. In the blink of an eye, I pulled out my Templar one-and-a-half-meter sword—which I bought in Spanish Toledo and have carried with me ever since—and with one blow chopped the snake in two parts, and along… Oh, sorry, seems like I got carried away. Actually, the snake just hissed and crawled behind a stone. Be careful there.
Three hours passed in a moment, and at the appointed time, our whole company gathered near the minivan. During lunch, we learned an unpleasant detail. It turns out that we were in such a hurry just because we must visit a silk factory and a tea factory on the way back. In that moment, I wanted to pull out my Templar sword again and kill Tao where he stood.
After all the factories, Tao pleased us with a “gift from the company”—a foot massage. Having immersed our tired feet in the vats with a warm infusion of some herbs, we listened to one more lecture about the benefits of cleansing the body with the help of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The apotheosis of the program was the appearance of a Tibetan doctor with his students. He diagnosed the state of health of the people by feeling their pulse.
For us, it was not the first time, so we dutifully listened to the diagnosis and politely refused to buy the healing herbs and ointments. The doctor did not believe us and once again outlined all the power and effectiveness of his elixirs. We refused again. Glancing at us like we were complete idiots, he went to treat a couple of young Finnish guys.
Take-home message: If you want to visit and explore in China precisely what you want to visit and explore, hire an individual guide. Yes, it is more expensive, but aren’t your comfort and time worth it?
The Great Wall of China is worth visiting, if you will follow some guidelines which allow you not to spoil the impression of this beautiful construction.
1. I don’t advise you to use local buses on the way to the wall. Deliberately or accidentally, conductors will help you to leave a bus on a stop from which it is impossible to reach the wall on foot. You will be forced to take a taxi for a price as high as if you would have driven from Beijing. A wise choice is a tourist bus to the Badaling Great Wall or Mutianyu Great Wall.
2. Your shoes should have non-slip soles. Shoes with ankle support would be ideal. A jacket will not be superfluous, because a strong wind is not uncommon in the mountains.
3. The reconstructed sections of the Great Wall have all the conveniences, but if you are going to conquer the remote sections of the wall, at least take water with you. Protein bars can be a very convenient meal replacement.
4. On the wall, don’t take risks for unique pictures. You can fall from a height of three to five storeys on the rocky slope.
5. Beware of snakes.
6. Haggle, and you will always drop the price at least by half, and everyone will be satisfied.
7. Check the calendar and try not to come to China during national holidays, otherwise there will be unimaginable crowds of local tourists.