The Great Wall of China stands as a testament of human endurance and perseverance. Few things in this world can compare to this awe-inspiring architectural feat. I knew I had to go and see it on my recent trip to Beijing.
Before we get into the details of the trip, there are facts that need to be known. These are quintessential, as they truly give you a new perspective on the structure we've only read about in books. As some of you may already know, the Great Wall stretches a total of 21,196 kilometres, measured with all of its branches [yes, branches] taken into account. To give you an idea of how big this is, the entire border of Bangladesh measures 4,246 kilometres from one end to the other.
Of course, the wall wasn't built in one go. Several dynasties built, re-built, and maintained different parts of the wall, with the Ming Dynasty being the one which actually made it out of stones and bricks rather than using rammed earth like its predecessors. Although the wall was made to secure Ming capitals from foreign invasion, the dynasty was unable to fully consolidate their rule and fell to the Manchu people who later on formed the Qing Dynasty in 1644 AD. The construction of The Great Wall is not as grandiose as the final product, with working conditions being abysmal as labourers was forced to toil until they succumbed to fatigue. They were so overworked they weren't even given time to bury their fallen comrades—they kept building and building. Even if it meant constructing over the bodies of their dead colleagues. Pretty morbid if you ask me, but it does show that this seemingly impossible task was not completed without sacrifice.
There are many parts of the Great Wall you can visit, but the most common are the sections at Badaling and Mu Tian Yu, both close to the capital Beijing. Badaling is the most-restored section and is in a much better condition than the wall at Mu Tian Yu. However, the insane crowds do not make the trip worthwhile, as you'll be struggling to find any unclaimed inch to take photos. This is why we opted to visit the section at Mu Tian Yu. It is less pristine in comparison to its Badaling counterpart, and exactly why it feels more authentic. Plus, the crowds are very light, so you can strike more than one pose and take family photos without any major hiccups.
From the Wangfujing district of Beijing, where we were staying, it takes around two hours to get to the cable car terminals at Mu Tian Yu. We paid for a tour package which included a bus pick-and-drop service, a tour around a jade factory, and finally a tour of The Great Wall; the total tour package costs RMB 280 (around USD 40).
We reached the steps of the wall at around midday after stopping by the jade factory for an hour. From there, it's a 20-25 minute walk up to the cable car terminal. This walk is a bit taxing as the steepness might prove to be a challenge for those who have problems with walking. Once we got to the terminal, however, we had two options to choose from: one option is to take the four-seater gondola up and then take the same gondola down after exploring the wall, which costs RMB 120. The other option is to take the gondola up but descend on a toboggan. I've heard this experience is unlike any other and since the section at Mu Tian Yu is the only one that has this on offer, I chose the package for RMB 200.
The ride up to the wall takes around 6-7 minutes, but it is definitely nerve-wracking as the height will trigger your acrophobia and the constant swinging of the gondola doesn't help either. Once you're at the top, however, it all fades away.
After a brief climb, we were treated to the magnificent view of the Great Wall. It truly is a sight to behold as sections of the wall twist and bend around the green hills and lust forests. The stonework is incredible, with the wall stretching as far as the eye can see. This section of the wall has merlons, which are basically slits used for firing down arrows upon enemy invaders. This feature is pretty rare in other parts of the wall, implying that Mu Tian Yu actually saw a lot of skirmishes during the height of the Ming Dynasty.
The wall is not easy to traverse though, as the steps are of varying heights and you have to climb up for a few minutes, only to descend again. I had to walk from Tower 14 to Tower 6 to get to the toboggan platform. I thought it would be a short journey but it turned out to be a 45-minute trek as deftly manoeuvred through the wall. To add insult to my knee injury, the toboggan service was closed due to rain. Sadly, I had to take the open cable car down, alone.
I thought the gondola was scary [thank you, acrophobia] but it was nothing compared to the cable car trip downhill. At least the gondola was an enclosed box, this was just a bench with a handle grip. The cold wind didn't do me any favours. Fortunately, I was wearing a lot of warm clothes. That is one thing you should definitely keep in mind if you plan on visiting the wall.
After a fearsome 10 minutes, I was finally back on the ground, having seen one of the greatest architectural feats in human history. It was truly something to experience after having read about it so much. If I get the chance to visit Beijing again, I'm definitely going back to the wall for that toboggan ride.
Shahrukh Ikhtear is a Management Trainee at Grameenphone and former sub-editor of SHOUT. Send him business stuff or good music at fb.com/sr.ikhtear