History of the Great Wall of China
It’s been said that the Great Wall of China is filled with the bodies of those who built it. Soldiers, common people and criminals were amongst those who perished under the weight of hard living and slavery. In fact, many old songs of China attest to this infamous (yet remarkably famous) slice of history which still extends across China separating Mongolia.
Construction of the wall began in the spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), and lasted until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The main purpose of building the Great Wall was to protect the Chinese people and the country itself from invaders. It originally started with smaller sections, beacon towers and passes which sprang up to protect Chinese states from each other. Also states in the northern part of China built sections of the wall to defend against nomadic tribes. Each time China conquered new territory, the wall would be extended until finally in the Ming Dynasty, General Qi Jiguang reinforced the sections from Shanhaiguan Pass to Juyongguan Pass, connected all the sections to create one unbroken wall, and commissioned watch towers to defend against invasions and train his army.
Hiking the Great Wall of China
I’ve seen the Great Wall of China in many different seasons and it’s amazing how the landscape that it snakes through changes during the year. During summer, the blazing heat turns the grass to straw, whereas early and late season the lush surrounds breathe new life into the area. Winter is perhaps my favourite when the ground and wall itself is covered under a layer of snow which makes hiking dangerous, but possible.
As with many famous sites, there is a wrong and a right way to enjoy the Great wall experience. No, that isn’t correct, there is a more enjoyable way or the easy option depending on your taste buds.
The areas of Badaling or Mutianyu sit about 40 minutes outside of Beijing and are popular with Chinese and visitors, mainly due to proximity to Beijing. They’re the closest to Beijing and have been restored to their modern-day former glory and in my opinion, stripped of all soul. Its common place to be greeted by a sea of crowds and any romanticism which one would hope to find is sadly absent. Visiting the Great Wall is a remarkable experience and should be treated as such, so my advice is to travel a little further afield for a day which aligns with your expectations.
Ten years ago when I lived in China as an adventure tour leader, we would battle against the traffic and drive three hours outside of Beijing to a less visited section of the wall named Jinshangling, and walk to the area of Simatai although it can also be done in reverse. If we took our time, stopped for photos and lunch, and enjoyed the walk as opposed to being militant about time keeping, we could stretch it to 5-6 hours. If you really want to get the blood pumping and tick it off the list, you could race through in about 2.5 – 3 hours.
Did you know that Simatai was ranked first in the list of the ‘World’s Top 25 Scenic Spots’ by the Times Newspaper in 2012?
The wall on this section is in a state of disrepair and its common place to find farmers on both the Chinese and Mongolian sides, stealing bricks to help build wells and houses in their villages. This is strictly illegal but given the remoteness of the area, there isn’t a lot that can be done about it.
When you’re hiking the Great Wall, there are loads of locals selling cold water (and cold beer) so you won’t go thirsty, but you’ll want to take your own just in case. Take a packed lunch because you’ll be hard pressed to find a more worthy place to fill your belly and enjoy the view. Finally, take your time and stop to talk to the locals and buy a postcard or drink from them; I must have hiked the wall about 15 times and I enjoyed each of them whether it was pouring with rain, or in the blistering sunshine.
Booking in advance
It’s worth booking in advance as due to the state of disrepair, there are now a limited number of people allowed on this section of the wall per day. You’ll need to make an online reservation a maximum of ten days prior to the day of your visit at www.wtown.com. From there, you’ll be guided to the shuttle bus to the Great Wall.
Happy travels folks.