Wednesday, 2 September 2009
The Great Wall of China at Juyongguan
The Great Wall is almost mythic - everyone has heard of it, it is on the tourist "must see" list but as with so much in China, the reality doesn’t sit entirely alongside your preconceptions.
As I explained, we hired a guide and a driver, and having heard how crowded The Wall can get we asked him to take us to a quieter section. He checked we didn’t mind walking and took us to Juyongguan, a part of the wall close to Beijing and Badaling (the Oxford Street in rush-hour version) but - as it has no cable car - much quieter. There are two semi-circles to walk there, the northern is the less steep and more frequented and the southern, well, lets just say that he took us up the bit that most people come down and there were very few - maybe a dozen or so - that we passed on the way. Of course, when we came down the other way we realised that most people just don't make it up. I did manage to take some great photos.....
The things that strike you most forcibly about this section of the wall is first, how big it is, nothing you read or imagine prepares you for this socking great thing built by hand. But second, how steep it is. Imagine one of those stiff Lake District climbs - you know the sort, the ones that hide the next stage of the climb from you until you get around that bend, the ones where you think "we must be somewhere near the top now" only to discover that you aren't even half way. Now, make it steeper. And higher. Now, build a stone wall about 5 meters wide and about 6m high all the way up it. In places, the pitch is so steep that the steps are about 60cm high and 20cm deep. Oh yes, now carry on building that wall for 5,000 miles. Hadrian's Wall is quite something to see, but this is just something else.
The day was quite hazy, but that lent a mystic quality to the view. Sure, it would have been nice to see for miles but then we wouldn't have known what we were looking at, so misty was good too. No matter also that the wall had obviously been extensively renovated over the years - this is China after all - that place still owns time in a way that few other places can. Just to stand there was a privilege.
Looking, walking and standing on the Great Wall of China you can only wonder at the mind and the attitude that conceived it all those thousands of years ago. This, more than anything else, shows China as the land of the possible.
As I said, my photos are no more, but fortunately I was carrying my bike GPS and recorded the walk, which is where this Google Earth Picture comes from. If you want to load the walk in Google Earth yourself, here is the link.