Written by the Warrior
The Great Wall is arguably China’s greatest cultural icon.
It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987 as a place of Outstanding Universal Value.
According to UNESCO, “The Great Wall was built on a continuous basis, from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD on the northern border of the country… by successive Chinese Empires… the total length of all the sections of the Wall reaches more than 20,000 kilometers… The Great Wall begins in the east at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province and ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the west… It is the world’s largest military defence structure… Its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural significance.”
The purpose of the Wall was to protect China from the fierce warriors of the northern tribes, such as the Huns, the Mongols, the Manchus, etc… Here is a clip from Disney’s movie Mulan, illustrating the Wall’s military function. (Watch from 46sec in).
Today, the Wall is one of the world’s largest open air museums, with some sections meticulously rebuilt, some sections well preserved and some sections weathering away into history.
There is a Chinese proverb that says “you are not a true hero, until you climbs the Great Wall.”
While you can visit the Wall and thus become a true hero at many locations in China, perhaps the easiest way to visit the Wall is on a day trip from Beijing.
The most famous and most restored section of the Wall is at “Badaling”.
It is 70km north east of Beijing and can be reached via city/tour bus #1 from Qianmen (city centre).
Entry fees range from 35RMB during low season to 40RMB during high season (about $7 to $8 CAD per person).
I have been to Badaling twice and recall that it is choked full of tourist in the summer, but on a recent trip to China in the winter, I found it to be quiet and very enjoyable.
Since the Wall was built as a military defence structure, and it was built along contours of mountains – some sections of the Wall can be so steep that it has up to 80 percent grade. It can also be very slippery when wet and there are a lot of very uneven stone steps.
Having said that, it is also an incredible experience and totally breathtaking, especially if you are out of shape.
The most classic, beautiful and genuine section of the Wall that I have experienced is at “HuangHua”, situated 60km north of Beijing. It is not easy to get here and we ended up having to hire a car.
This is also not an official tourist destination, so we only had to pay 2RMB (or $0.40CAD) to cross a farmer’s apple orchard.
This section of the Wall dates back to the 1300’s and have not been restored – making a climb here a real journey back in time, as all the stonework here are the originals from the Ming dynasty. The terrain here is absolutely just as steep as Badaling, but since the protection barriers have weathered away, a climb here is not for the faint of heart, especially after a rain/snow fall.
Still, this was my most favorite experience of the Great Wall, here in the crisp mountain air, away from the crowds, walking atop the same stones that soldiers from 700 years ago walked upon.
Sometimes, places are famous and crowded for a reason. This Wall, built by hand, by millions of people, over thousands of years, by successive dynasties, for protection and defence, creating history and culture along the way, is truly Great.
I don’t know if climbing the Great Wall makes one a true hero (it certainly gets one in better shape), it really is an incredible experience that everyone should have, at least once in their life time, because it truly is Great.
It’s even wise…