Is there anything new to say about the Great Wall of China? You already know that many of the 400,000 – give or take the odd soldier and peasant, that died building the 22,000 kms long wall from the seventh century BC to 1878 are buried within the wall, and in 2007 a British couple walked its entire length in 167 days. Lesser mortals would struggle for hours to walk a few hundred yards on the wall, specially if its uphill, and steps of varying heights make the task even more Herculean.
We left Beijing at 7.30 in the morning. It was too early for breakfast, so I took fruit and buns from the hotel breakfast bar for the journey. Traffic out of Beijing was heavy and the 51 kms to the Juyongguan Pass took two hours.
The bus park is some distance from the ticket office and everybody first headed towards the wash rooms. “It’s a high-tech toilet” Nancy said. “The loo-rolls are dispensed electronically!” she marveled. We walked through the ticket gate where as usual, a grim faced official carefully counted the numbers in and out. We walked past curio shops, cafes and a market and took the steps up the 5 metres to the top of the Wall. A woman in a propaganda kiosk gave me a small Chinese flag and asked me to pose for a photograph.
We walked uphill, gasping for breath. The view however, was magnificent. At the first tower, we sat down and rested and drank water before crawling up towards the next. A man in a wheelchair was being pushed up the wall by two women. I wondered how he would negotiate the steps but didn’t wait to find out.
Easy Way Down
An easy, sloping path with very few steps runs through woods parallel to the Wall. I took it on the way down. It is shady and cool and has a rest area with tables and benches and a cafe that serves snacks, beer and soft drinks. I relaxed, drank Sprite and watched panting tourist laboring up the wall. Birds were signing but none was to be seen Taking this path up the mountain and walking down on the wall is a sensible and easy option, I thought and wondered why more were not doing it.
Pausing For Jade and Sweet & Sour
Jade is mined in the mountains near Juyongguan Pass and the state run Jade Factory sells expensive Jade bracelets (“They have beneficial medicinal properties” the sales woman said) to hapless tourists. They tell you how to recognize real from fake Jade and why everybody should have at least one Jade bracelet. Nancy showed me hers which she got from her grandmother. “I never take it off” she said. It’s
The factory has a swish restaurant to which most tourist groups are taken for lunch after the obligatory round in the jade showrooms. The food is ordinary, prices high and the bored and mannerless waitresses are irritating.
Outside, two men manned a kiosk with skewered meats. There were no customers – only flies. The two, as almost all Chinese, were totally immersed in their mobile phones and didn’t look up as we stood in front of the kiosk.
We got in the bus and headed back to Beijing.