不到長城非好漢 (Bù dào chángchéng fēi hǎohàn)
“Who never climbed the Great Wall cannot be deemed a man”– Mao Zedong
The Great Wall of China became our first cultural excursion since landing at Beijing Capital International Airport. At an unassuming stand on the day of registration at Peking University, we stumbled across students selling tickets for a Great Wall excursion and a trip to IKEA. We wisely chose the former and happily handed over our 10 yuan (~£1).
Consequently, at 8:30am on a cloudy Saturday morning we made our way from home to Zhongguanyuan Global Village, where most of the PKU on-campus accommodation is located. The smart university buses were waiting to take us on a 2-hour trip to the Mutianyu part of the Wall. I was slightly apprehensive, as I’d heard about the various tourist attractions in this area (such as the cable car and toboggan) and was worried that it would detract from the beauty and historical significance of the Wall. However, as the bus took us further away from the hustle and bustle of Beijing, and closer to the lush, green mountains, my preconceptions subsided. The cable car was fairly well camouflaged, as was the toboggan, and we actually elected to take the cable car so we could make the most of our 2 and a half hours on the Wall.
The Wall started life in the 7th century BC, and was further constructed between 220-206 BC under the infamous first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. The majority of the existing Wall is from the Ming Dynasty (14th century onwards) when it was refortified, and it is easy to sense its historical and strategic relevance in keeping unwanted visitors out of the Chinese Empire. Peering over the Wall, we were greeted by a sharp drop, followed by seemingly endless picturesque but unwelcoming mountains and crevasses. Whilst it was a warm day, it was slightly cloudy which ended up masking the view of the ‘base camp’ and created an ethereal atmosphere. As the four of us walked, we considered the conditions a soldier based here would have encountered during a harsh Beijing winter – the watchtowers did not look especially inviting or warm.
Thankfully, we did not have this problem as the September sun blasted down upon us. At some points, the Wall was so steep that we had to climb up, but we were rewarded by a majestic view of Mutianyu’s landscape and most prized architecture. We saw some very keen people running along it, and wondered if they were training for the Great Wall Marathon in May (www.great-wall-marathon.com). The part of me that thought Tough Guy was a good idea is quite tempted by a half marathon, but the ‘self-preservation’ part of me thinks the 8.5km/5.5mile Fun Run would be more sensible. We’ll see if the Beijing pollution gets to my brain as well as my lungs!
The four of us had a wonderful few hours at Mutianyu, and are provisionally making plans to visit a “ramshackle” stretch of the Wall in Chenjiapu on a weekend. I will let you know how it compares!