A travel and photography blog by Loke Chee Meng
About the title shot :
In the autumn of 2009, I found Little Bugsie, of all places, on a toilet sink in the Days Landscape Hotel located at the foot of Changbaishan, Jilin, China. I invited Bugsie into the room. I gave it the 'red carpet' welcome and took the shot above with a Panasonic DMC-LX3.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

My Great Wall Adventure

Mutianyu Great Wall

Many people have visited the Great Wall of China these days.  Most would have gone to the touristy sections like the popular Badaling segment near Beijing where the Wall was built or rather rebuilt majestically. 

I first visited the Badaling segment of the Great Wall of China in 1995.  On 22 June 2012, I embarked on an 'epic' journey travesting the Great Wall (GW) from the eastern end to the Western end. I believe this is a path few Singaporeans have trodden.  Of course, I did not actually walk the 10,000 km all the way. 

The segments of the Great Wall I visited are Hushan, Shanhaiguan, Jiaoshan, Jiumenkou, Badaling, Mutianyu, Huanghuacheng, Jiankou, Han segment in Dunhuang, Jiayuguan, Yangguan and Hanging Great Wall.  There are some other interesting and historical segments which I hope to cover at some other time in future.

Starting from the east

It is frequently said that the Great Wall starts at Shanhaiguan in the east.  That is incorrect.  The Great Wall starts at the Chinese border with North Korea in the city of Dandong in Liaoning province.  Dandong is separated from North Korea by the Yalu River which at its narrowest is merely metres apart.  The Chinese calls the spot ‘Yi Bu Kua’ which means ‘over in one step’.  There, next to the Yalu River is a hill called ‘Hushan’ (Tiger Mountain).  The Great Wall there today is a reconstructed segment of about one km up the mountain. The photograph below was taken on the Yalu River in North Korean waters with the GW on Hushan in the background.  

The Yalu River with the Hushan GW in the background
The starting point of the GW in the east
From Dandong, I took a train to Shanhaiguan, the point where most people says the GW starts. One can understand why this misunderstanding.  This is the point where the GW enters the sea at what is called Lao Long Tou (Old Dragon Head).   Anyone at this location can see clearly that there is nothing beyond except the sea. Hence, the misunderstanding that the GW starts from here.

Lao Long Tou at Shanhaiguan
This is what used to be part of the GW at Shanhaiguan
The Great Wall across a river

Not too far from Shanhaiguan is the Jiumengkou (Nine Gates) GW where the wall crosses the Jiujiang River.  Well, what I saw was a very well built or rather re-built river-crossing GW but historically, that was the way too.  From Shanghaiguan, I then took a train to Beijing.

GW at Jiumengkou
'One isn't a hero until one reaches the Great Wall'

At the 8th Tower of the Great Wall at Badaling, there is a stone inscribed with the quote 'One isn't a hero until one reaches the Great Wall' attributed to Mao Tze Tung. (The inscription is of course in Chinese.)  Tourist guides always tell visitors that Mao said that when he climbed the Badaling Great Wall.  There is no official record of that.

The quote ‘One isn’t a hero until one reaches the Great Wall’ came from one of Mao’s poems which he wrote in Oct 1935 on the Long March.   The Red Army had reached the Great Wall at LiuPanshan in Ningxia Province. There, they fought a fierce battle with the enemy and won heroically.  

The Cinderella's Castle of China

There is no doubt that the GW at Badaling is impressively built or rebuilt rather.   It is so touristy and so fake that one feels that this might be Cinderella's Castle.  Climbing the Badaling GW is still an experience though.  But even that experience can be taken away by the cable car service that transport the visitor almost to the top.   The cable car system next to it is a spoiler,  totally incongruent with the grandiose of the monument. (See photo below.)

GW at Badaling
Other than Badaling, there are several other segments of the Great Wall near Beijing.  They are Jinshanling, Simatai, Gubeikou, Mutianyu, Huanghuacheng and Jiankou.  I visited the last three during this trip.

Is RMB10 worth it?

Getting to the Jiankou Great Wall is no walk in the park.  The Jiankou Great Wall is a stretch of unrestored wall standing atop the mountain ridges.   When my driver pointed to me the mountain ridges wherein the Jiankou Great Wall lies, I was not completely sure that he had brought me to the right place.  I could hardly see any walls on the mountain.  Nevertheless from that point onwards, I trekked for more than 2 hours up the mountain, eventually reaching the Jiankou Great Wall.  The trek up the mountain is no walk in the park especially at the upper reaches.  At some point, one literally has to go on all four for the climb.  My climb up was guided by 2 directions; a villager’s advise to keep to the left all the time.  However, I soon found the second and more reassuring way is to follow the rubbish trail.  

The view on top the Jiankou Great Wall was breathtaking. Before my eyes stood an edifice of human ingenuity, madness, sorrow and cruelty all rolled into one.   The Wall itself is completely unrestored and crumbling.  I was the only soul on top the historical marvel other than a local who collected RMB10 from me and had the audacity to ask me if it was worth it.   I did not trek any further on the Wall which was not without its perils as it was already getting late in the day.

Jiankou GW

Solid evidence - my backpack on the Jiankou GW
The Wild Great Wall

The Badaling GW is too fake.  I want to see what the Chinese called 'the wild Great Wall'.   I got my wish granted at the Mutianyu Great Wall.  However, to see that, you have to go beyond the 'No entry' sign as seen in the photo below.

Go beyond this to see the real GW
The real stuff at Mutianyu GW

The real stuff at Mutianyu GW
Huanghuacheng GW
The Mutianyu, Huanghuacheng and Jiankou Great Walls are all around the town called Huairou.  To get to Huairou, one can take bus service 916 at the Dongzhimen bus station in Beijing.  Take the express service and you will reach Huairou in under an hour.  When you reach Huairou, tell the driver to let you alight at the North Street bus stop.  There are drivers there offering to take you to the above for 60 RMB flat one-way (price as at 2012).  The travel time to Mutianyu and Jiankou is about 40 minutes and Huanghuacheng a bit longer.  Considering the distance, 60 RMB is not unreasonable.

From Beijing to Dunhuang

From Beijing, I leapfrogged to the western end of the GW by taking a flight to Dunhuang. There, I saw the vestiges of the Han (Dynasty) GW in the desert waiting for me for 2000 years.  After Dunhuang, I took a train back to the east along the Hexi corridor of the Silk Route stopping over at Jiayuguan before eventually getting back to Beijing.

The Han GW 
Ruins of the first tower of the Han GW 

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