sábado, 25 de agosto de 2012

The Great Wall of China


Which is the monument you have heard about China since you were a kid? The Great Wall of China, for sure. Pictured from movies to cartoons, like Mulan from Disney, this Chinese icon more than 21,000 km long it's one of the humankind greatest achievements.

It started to be built in 7 BC for border control reasons among the former independent states during ancient China. Qin dynasty in order to unify the country ordered the destruction of the ancient walls and its substitution with just one that would unify and protect the country from Northern invaders. The walls then became The Great Wall during the Ming dynasty, which marked Chinese civilization peak in history in 14th century. The walls were reinforced and extended to procted China from the Manchu. However, the end of the Ming was marked by an attack that overcame the wall and seized Beijing. Since then its relevance has decreased and today is just a historical and cultural memory.

Map with many walls and
its respective dynasties and dates

An "astronautical" myth

Um mito popular muito famoso é de que a muralha pudesse ser vista a olho nu do espaço. Não é verdade. É necessário se ter uma visão cerca de 7x mais potente do que a de um humano normal e ainda contar com grande sorte meteorológica para ser possível distinguir as cores. A NASA já rechaçou por diversas vezes que isso não é possível e muito menos a partir da Lua.

A popular myth is that the wall can be seen at nude eye from the space. It's not truth. One would have to have an eye 7x more powerful than a regular human and even so hope to the weather help to be able to distinguish the colors. NASA already refused this idea many times and even less possible from the moon.

Which part of the wall you'd like to go?

An advantage to the tourists is that the most famous and impressive parts of the Great Wall are near Beijing. That allows you to spend a whole day out of the city, accessible through public transportation - only recommended to Chinese speakers - or hiring a tour. Anyway, only after you have decided is that you gonna go through the details and find out that the Great Wall is divided in many parts, in general, all acessible but still too many, and you have to find someone to take you there.

Map w/ zoom
of the most famous parts
As the map shows, near Beijing there are 14 different locations where you could pay your visit to the Great Wall. The shortlist would be: 3) Simatai (closed for maintenance); 4) Jinshanling (the one I've been to); 5) Gubeikou; 8) Mutianyu; 9) Jiankou; 14) Badaling. Bad news: the most "fixed" one is the closest to Beijing, it's Badaling, and, besides that, the crowdest one. Especially in summer it may be very difficult to have a "private moment" there which may (or may not) affect your whole experience if you care about that. Good news: all the other mentioned places, even though more expensive and farther, may have a few (or none) people around while you're visiting, even during high season. I'd also try to check the weather forecast so you can have the day as you wish. If you want blue skies, with blue skies, if you want with snow, check for snow, and so on...


Map of Jianshanling
Well, as I have told you, I chose Jinshanling. It's one of the farthest corners, around 3h from Beijing, so probably one of the most expensive options. The tour cost me 330 RMB including return transportation, entrance tickets and lunch. It's also one of the steepest and mountainous parts and with a large extension without maintenance. Thereofre, if you're not reasonably fit, don't go. Or, if you have a grandmother, mother, aunt, grandpa, etc., who are not reasonably fit, it may not be the best option. There's a cable car to reach the wall, but after that you're on your own.

Great Wall seen from below
To look at the Great Wall for the first time is like to have a kids' dream. Your whole life you heard and saw pictures about that place and, finally, you're there face to face with one of the greatest monuments of humankind. From below we already coulde see the mountain peaks pointed by towers and walls.

Since the beginning we knew that the tour in the place itself would be short. Just 3-4h (yes, that's not too much). When we arrived there our guide started some typical "terrorism" in order to convince us to climb up to the wall through the cable car since we could spend to much time ascending and then not having enough time to explore the wall or to catch the bus on time. I was suspicious about that but I didn't come from the other side of the world, for just 1 day, to spend most of my time walking through the bushes. The wall was the major attraction and thus I paid the 40 RMB of the cable car. I advise to take water and food from the city. Prices at the base of the wall are double, and at the wall itself, triple.

Renovated part of Jinshanling
In China there's a different concept about preserving monuments or historical items. In general, instead of keeping the strict original aspect, the renovation option is chosen. Therefore a significant amount of Chinese monuments are in a "better" condition then you'd expect for its age. The Great Wall is not an exception and step by step is undergoing renovations. Remains to be seens if some original parts are going to be left in the original condition or if all its extension will be renovated.

Going on, as soon as you get off the cable car, some steps when you reached the wall. This is Jinshanling part which went through renovations so it's easily walkable. The towers are well kept and you can even go upstairs safely. 

I went through in a baking temperature of almost 40oC with just some cookies and 2 bottles of water in my bag. A Chinese old lady who spoke very bad English soon started to follow me everywhere in order to become my "forced" guide.

Jinshanling and the beginning
 of the original part seen by the tower
Soon the nice and tidy path has been raplaced by a broken and in bad condition one, roofless and even destroyed towers. The chance is not abrupt and goes in a smoothly way. However, when you notice, you're finally there, in the original part of the wall.

One of Jianshaling's steepest
parts seen from below
The same part seen from above
By then I had already been through more than 1 hour walking. The steep part is really steep, like you were going upstairs, sometimes climbing it, rather than just walking by a wall. Besides that many of the steps are in very poor condition, which makes difficult to walk. However, I wouldn't classify it as dangerous, actually not to those reasonably fit. Anyway, you have to prepare yourself for a very hot day in case of clear weather during the summer season.

Original path in Jinshanling
Walls "within"
the wall
Another interesting thing to see in Jinshanling are the walls "within" the wall part. These are all parts placed at a certain distance to each other in order to make invaders life more difficult if they already got inside. Naturally, this strategy is used in the steep parts in order to give defensive advantage.

One of my last views from Jinshanling
Jianshanling's end gives start to one of the steepest and most dangerous, however beautiful, parts of the Great Wall, the Simatai part. Unfortunately, besides being closed to turists it's something really dangerous. I saw some pictures in which there's almost no path at all and the wall edges are the only way to go. One slip and you may fall to the cliff. Anyway, here goes one picture, which is not mine, but can give you an idea how it is, maybe in some years from now...

Simatai part picture
After finishing the tour I decided to get back to our meeting point by walking instead of taking the cable car. We had a great lunch in a nearby restaurant and then we took the road back to Beijing.

The Great Wall as I had previously said it's something really impressive. How humankind was capable to build such big structure that lasted for thousands of years. It's certainly a unforgettable experience for anyone!

Next post will be about some findings around Datong!

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