Sunday, October 23, 2011

Conquering the Great Wall of China

Here’s a site that needs no introduction. Stretching for over 5500 miles, the Great Wall of China is one of the most iconic sights in the world and a visit to this part of China would not be complete without seeing at least a part of the wall. The building of the wall began over 2000 years ago and has underwent many changes over the years. For all its changes, the countless lives that were sacrificed in its creation it never really served its intended purpose. Invaders were able to pay off defenders or simply went around. The wall did have some unintended benefits however. Serving as sort of an elevated highway it allowed goods to pass through some of the toughest terrain with ease and also allowed messages to travel quickly from one tower to the next. 
Within a couple of hours of Beijing, parts of the wall have been restored to varying degrees. We decided to go with the trip to the wall that the hostel provided. In the end the price is fairly close to taking public transport and it takes out the hassle and wasted time of getting from one bus station to the next. While there are several options on offer, we recommend taking the slightly more adventurous 10k hike from Simatai to Jinshanling. But be sure you are up for it and fit enough. Not that I would pass for a fitness poster child anytime soon, but walking a lot everyday does have its advantages.
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If you begin at Simatai, most people will take the chairlift and we recommend it also unless you are super fit and able to out pace people on most hikes. Only a couple of people opted to walk up the mountain to start and we had to wait for them in the end. Walking 10k on the wall gives you a sense of just how big this thing really is. Thinking the amount of work that went into hauling stones up the sides of mountains to construct all these watchtowers and how difficult it must have been. Which brings us to another note on walking the wall – don’t expect a stroll in the park. As you can tell in the pictures, the wall was built atop a mountain ridge so it goes up and down with the terrain. Another challenge is the fact that despite being on the ‘restored’ section, there are lots of missing blocks and watching your step all the way is a must. 
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All this talk about how difficult the hike was is not meant to scare you away. We were given so many warnings about how hard it was that we ended up thinking it wasn’t too bad. So consider yourself warned – it’s a hard hike, but not the worst and if you come prepared you shouldn’t have any problems completing it. So enjoy the hike and when you finish the 10k just think there are another 5,490 more miles to go, most of which are in worse shape than this part!
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