The Great Wall of China

Well, it took me 2 years of living in the far East and 6 holidays, but I FINALLY made it down to China’s greatest treasure:  The Great Wall.  Getting around to writing about it, has been another thing entirely!!  But here it goes!!

When we told my coworkers and friends that we were planning a trip to Beijing for the national holiday, we were met with a collective “WHAT?!?!?!?!?” accompanied with a look of confusion and general fear.  Anyone who lives in China knows that the October holiday is probably the WORST time of the year to travel.  Last year, we went to Xiamen, and we were blown away by the crowds!  This year, we chose an even bigger tourist attraction and knowing that fact, most of my colleagues at SFLS figured they’d never see me again.

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This is what we went to Xiamen to see last National Day…
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But THIS was our reality. If you missed that post, you can read it here

With careful planning and a little luck, our trip went off without a hitch.  In a lot of ways we were far less stressed in the busy Chinese capital than we had been on the small island of Xiamen.  With some thoughtful planning, I scheduled our trip to begin 3 days after the actual holiday had begun.  Because we started late, we got cheaper flights and dealt with a less crowded airport.  Win!!!

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This was a train station in ZhengZhou (a city much less famous that Beijing) on National Day this year. Yeah…..we decided to avoid this!
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BaDaLing Great Wall during National Week. I am SO happy with the way I planned this trip!

I also booked tours on some of the more remote areas of the wall.  Both sections that we saw were about 3 hours away from Beijing, so there were far fewer tourists around.  And although my primary intentions were to stay away from the hoards of tourists, I am very glad we went to the more remote sections because areas like Badaling have been so ‘redone’ that it can hardly be considered an ancient wall anymore.  After learning more about this Great Wonder, and after seeing pictures of Badaling during the holiday, I felt very glad that I planned the trip I did.

Hebei Province
Hebei Province actually surrounds Beijing. Beijing is both a city and a province so it took over 2 and a half hours to get OUT of Beijing. Gubeikou Wall is just on the boarder of the two provinces.

Some History on the Great Wall of China

In the past, when I thought of the Great Wall of China, I thought of very few thing.  I thought about how long it took to build (a long time?), why it was built (to keep out the Mongolians?) and I considered how effective a wall could really be (can’t you just climb over a wall?).  But this trip definitely enlightened me in regards to the making of this grand structure, so I thought it would be good for me to pass along some of that information to you too.

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I always kinda figured that if the nasty, stupid Orks from Lord of the Rings could get into Helm’s Deep, surely the Mongolians would have thought of using ladders to get over the Great Wall…

On our way to our first Great Wall stop, our guide, Oliver, gave us the low down on Great Wall History.  Although China has 4000 years worth of written history, the country has changed a lot over the millennia.  The territory that now makes up China was once many separate city-states that all defended their own lands and had their own rules and customs.  Each of these city states was under the same threat though (usually the Mongolians…) and they all came up with similar ways to deal with this threat: they built walls,

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The green lines were the original ‘walls’ that were built as early as the 7th century BCE. They were far apart and not in any way connected. I suppose back then though would have been referred to as “Series of Small Walls (with a similar purpose)” rather than “The Great Wall of China”

Eventually, China was conquered by the strongest Emperor in the area, and at the beginning of the Qin dynasty, all of the walls separating the different areas of this new empire were torn down, and the ones that ran along the northern part of the empire were connected.  This is when the “Series of Small Walls” began to turn into a “Great Wall”.

But construction didn’t end there.  All through the Han, Jin and Ming Dynasties, construction continued.  Parts of the wall were torn down and rebuilt and some parts were fortified to make them higher and more difficult to break through.  In total, the Great Wall of China has been under construction for nearly 3000 years!!

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That is one OLD wall!! I didn’t take this picture…I wish I had. I just stumbled upon it and had to share!

We also learned how the wall was built.  All the stones that were used to make this wall were brought from the bottom of the mountain and carried up on people’s backs.  The reconstruction efforts have been easier, as the government has tried as much as possible to use the original stones to fortify the wall.

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The stamp on this brick indicates when this section of the wall was built. You can find markings like this all along the Great Wall

The most interesting thing that we learned was in regards to the plaster that they used to hold the bricks together and to seal the wall.  It turns out that the Chinese have more than just 1 use for rice!!!  Yup!  That white stuff between the bricks was a mixture of sticky rice and limestone!  And, best of all, the men who built China’s national treasure never starved…there was always food around to eat!

Gubeiku Great Wall

Our first stop was the old ruins at Gubeiku Great Wall.  It was in a remote area so there were no lifts to get us to the top, so it was a bit of a climb.  Still, the view was worth it.  We got to see several watch towers and we could see the wall lining the top of the mountain range for as far as our eyes would allow.  That’s when it dawned on me why the wall worked…The whole thing is situated on top of mountains.  Guards would see anyone coming up and stop them before they could get through.  Plus, it’d be a tad rough dragging a ladder up the mountain!!!

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The toilets left something to be desired
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The first watch tower we saw.  It’s been partially restored

 

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The inside of the watch tower. You can actually book camping trips here 🙂
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The second watch tower was much bigger and had recently (ish) been renovated
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The wall went on forever

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There were some rather worn out paths to cross
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It was so beautifully quiet and peaceful out there
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We had some gorgeous weather that day. I could have stayed out on that ledge forever….
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My view from that ledge…

The best thing our guide did was to give us free time to check out this area on our own.  We wandered and rested whenever we felt like it and I feel like i really got to see the wall at its best:  with clear skies and quiet landscapes.

Jinling Shan Wall

Too soon, we were on the road again, on the way to our second destination:  JinlingShan Wall.  We were able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and scenery along the way but soon realized that Jinling Shan is not as remote as Gubeiku was, but in return, the view was somehow even more incredible!

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These murals are found along the route to the top of the mountain. They depict the stages of the wall being built all the way from the beginning, when it was being used to protect the citizens of China
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To the end, where it’s used for tourism.

We actually saw this part of the wall 2 times…once at sunset and then again the following morning.  The sunset was an incredible time of day to visit and I can’t stress enough how little these pictures do the visit justice!

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I love the mountains in China
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We weren’t alone, but there were still relatively few tourists when compared to what we would have seen at Badaling
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The wall glowed orange as the sun went down

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The wall stretched as far as you could see

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With the sun nearly gone for the day

We spent the night at a small town at the base of the wall.  The accommodations weren’t the greatest we’ve seen, but they had real toilets (not just outhouses), so I wasn’t about to complain!

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Riding the lift up to the top 🙂
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The little town where we stayed

Being at a busier destination can have its perks too…Because of the higher tourist volume, there is a lift going up to the top of the mountain, which saves a climb several kilometers up the side of the mountain.   The weather was beautiful again and it felt great to be out of the city.  Plus, we started a bit early so we got ahead of the crowds.

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Our guide took this picture for us and then left us for some free time, which suited us perfectly!
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I felt lucky to get a picture with no one else in it. It’s a rare and beautiful thing in China

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A shot of the wall from one of the watch towers
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The view from one of the watch towers

After exploring the wall for a little longer, Dave and I head back down to meet our guide.  We admired the beautiful gardens and enjoyed the quiet along the path down the mountain. I know I’ll be going back to the Great Wall some day…there’s still so much of it to see!   Until then, I’ve got my pictures 🙂

It was a nice walk back 🙂

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I will be back soon!  We’ve been so busy settling into our new city that I’ve hardly been able to keep up with work, never mind blog!  But there are still so many things to tell!  I’ll be posting about the rest of our Beijing trip, our trip to Shanghai and our time in Hong Kong at some point in the near future!

Also, we made a video on Gubeiku.  The wind was too bad to be able to keep most of the audio, but I hope you enjoy the soundtrack I replaced it with!

Thanks for stopping by!

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