This was the day I was dreaming about, the real highlight of a visit to China, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountainous terrain for as far as the eye could see. This was what my trip was all about; a feeling of elation consumed me. It was the first time I had felt that in a very long time. It had taken us 4 hours to get here by coach, an early start from the heart of Beijing. When we had arrived I had been the first out of the coach and upon being pointed in the right direction I led the pack, climbing the huge staircase that zigzagged across the mountain, up to the summit. I had never been physically fit, at school I had been cruelly nicknamed ‘27’ after testing on the ‘flab test’… I am not sure that when you read this you will know what a flab test is! I am not sure of its real name, probably something like Body Mass Index reading. Anyhow, they pull up your top and use a scissor like measuring device to measure how much fat you have on your stomach. I measured 27 at the age of 13, 27 what? I have no idea, to put it in perspective I was chubby! I think you can be chubby at 13, when you reach 25 it really just is a bit overweight. Although my loving mother still tried to convince me that it’s just puppy fat! Anyhow I had taken this into account before visiting, and joined a local gym in Chiswick, London, using my lunch times to gain some fitness just for this climb. That’s dedication for you… This was my time, and although it felt like a never-ending climb, I wouldn’t stop… This was my time.
Upon reaching the summit, there it was, the ancient wall stretched for as far as the eye could see east to west or vice versa, and in front of me was the bare terrain. It’s a sight I cannot adequately put into words, it’s literally breath-taking. The Wall zigzagged up mountainous peaks and into down into valleys, broken up every now and again with turrets. This was incredible, a completely unique site. I stood there spellbound for a few seconds, until a gust of wind broke me from my daydream and the sound of my friend finishing the climb behind me.
The walk ahead of us was suggested to be around 4 hours, and I couldn’t wait… we had an eclectic group of travelers with us but nothing was going to take away from this moment. I still couldn’t believe that we were standing on the Great Wall of China, a man-made structure that had stood for over 2,000 years. Although modified and rebuilt numerous times, it still had that mysterious, ancient feel to it. We soon found out that the where we were standing was a collection of bricks, stone, wood, earth and any other material the Chinese could find at the time of its construction. We were also told the morbid truth that the wall was the site of countless deaths, from the battles through to its construction. Our guide even informed us that if the workers who built the wall died while building they were literally encased within its structure. A cold chill went down my back when thinking that thousands if not more were buried here.
I found myself falling back on the walk, letting my imagination run wild – imagining being there when the Huns breached the defenses, laid siege to the guard towers. Arrows whizzing overhead and the stone wall repelling the fires that were no doubly started. The dramatic scenery made it easy to get lost in the moment. The Towers reminded me of Tolkien’s stories, with every detail matching things I had read in my youth, I doubt that he had ever stepped where I was standing now. Every now and again Paul (my traveling companion) nudged me or something would break me from my trance, I just couldn’t believe I was here. Before me was one of the most spectacular scenes of my life. It wasn’t only dramatic, it was intoxicating… Was this what the rest of my trip around the world beheld?
It was only luck that struck me from my daydream, as I noticed that no further than a step in front of me was a chasm where the wall had fallen victim to the elements and crumbled away into the mountain. One more step and I would’ve been rolling down the mountain. The only safe path was over a rickety walkway, by walkway I mean a few slabs of wood that strained under the weight of everyone crossing them. I risked one step onto this walkway and jumped the rest, happy to feel the walls stone base below my feet again.
I would honestly do the sight of the Great Wall of China an injustice if I wrote any more words to try to describe it. So will try to move on, as we walked we had men trying to sell us postcards or carry our bags for a few small coins. Our guide had previously warned us not to say ‘maybe’ or ‘later’ when addressing these sellers, as they would follow you for days just to obtain just a pound coin, and it didn’t surprise me. These were the salt of the earth, I questioned if any of them actually had seen the city, or if they and their family lived on the wall or the mountains, just trying to earn enough to stay alive. When we first set off, at the base of the never-ending staircase our guide said that anyone who didn’t want to carry their bag could give it to one of the locals, and for less than a few pounds they would carry it for you, all the way along the 20km hike ahead of us. It made me feel very humble to among such driven people. They were kind, polite and used whatever limited English skills they had to get by. Funny when you think about what a couple of pounds would buy in the West, and what it meant to people compared with here. It wasn’t a sense of sorrow I felt for these people, but more envy. It dawned on me how materialistic I was; although I didn’t need the newest computer, clothes, or next big fashion article, I could have them if I wanted them. I felt around in my pocket to feel my iPod – I was privileged.
A few times along the walk we had to stop to avoid hazards such as the crumbling wall had, however there was a single section that was so unsafe to walk upon, we had to cross a rope bridge instead. Reminding me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom we all crossed in safety, but it was very rickety. Upon crossing, we were given the awful news that our walk had come to an end. My heart slightly sank, as I knew that the next stage climbed a huge mountain, and looked like a great challenge and a spectacular sight to miss. I think I could’ve camped up there and continued walking it the next day. However taking the adrenaline I had running through me away, and my new-found urge to be adventurous, I am not sure how I would fare on the wall at night.
The walk we had completed was not for the faint of heart, with lengthy uphill climbs, sharp descents, huge crevices, crumbling steps and that’s without fully explaining how rickety that bridge was. Although I would recommend it to everyone, I wouldn’t like to have been afraid of heights that day. There was also the other point that I had neglected to describe, that we were in the middle of nowhere, hours away from any hospital, and honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to visit a Chinese hospital. With that thought Brett turned to us and said “so you can either walk down, or zipline?”. I couldn’t believe that people would contemplate zip lining in the middle of China…
This day had been a truly unique experience and I didn’t need a zip line to add to it, I could hear my mother’s voice echoing in my head… “be careful it’s not England”
The Great Wall of China was and continues to be one of my fondest Wandering Memories, it’s truly indescribable, but I hope my blog has done it some justice… All that is left to say is GO, GO Now its simply incredible, and good luck to my parents who are visiting in November.