It’s probably on the bucket list of everyone who has ever dreamed of visiting China. After all, it’s listed in the World Cultural Heritage Directory by UNESCO and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. So, of course, the Great Wall was on our bucket list, too. We wanted to see it, climb it, photograph it, and experience “The Wall” just like everyone else.
The tour guide on our Viking River Cruise didn’t even need to build it up for our travel group as we rode the bus to our destination. Excitement mounted on its own as we caught glimpses of towers and portions of the wall on our one-hour drive out of Beijing to Badaling, one of the restored — and most visited — sections of the Great Wall. But he did give us some background along the way.
The Great Wall stretches approximately 5500 miles and almost six meters (20 feet) wide to accommodate five horses galloping abreast. Originally built to withstand attacks from Mongolian marauders, the Great Wall consists of snaking walkways made of layers of rammed earth, stone, and brick interrupted by strategically placed watchtowers. The actual building of the wall spanned nearly 2,000 years from the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC) to the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).
Since Badaling is known as the most visited section, we knew there would be others stepping, hiking, sweating, and arduously pushing onward right alongside of us.
Most groups gathered in the plaza area surrounded by stalls and shops to take a group photo before the climb. We did, too. And then we were off.
My personal goal was to make it to the third watchtower in our allotted time so as to have the best shot possible of the area around me. And I did. (No small task, I might add, considering the 95+ degree weather, steep steps, and undulating pathways.)
The Chinese have made this section at Badaling a bit more tourist-friendly with the addition of hand rails and mounted lights that (I suppose but can’t confirm) make the wall even more outstanding at twilight.
Bert and I climbed, paused to catch our breath, took pictures, and watched the people who came in droves. Some as families. Some as couples or singles. And several even wanted to have their picture taken with us!!
The watchtowers provided much-needed shade to those of us unaccustomed to this activity in the full afternoon sun, so it was with much relief that we stood (cramped, but who cared?) for a few minutes before carefully climbing another few steps only to pause again. (“Pace yourself,” we kept saying!)
With breathtaking views of the countryside, we marveled at the expanse of the wall as well as the construction — brick by brick, piece by piece with an estimated toll of possibly a million who lost their lives during the construction. It’s the enormity of this project and the link to the past that lures us all to see the Great Wall. And for some of the people (according to our guide), a climb up the wall is akin to a religious pilgrimage of sorts. I believe that — based on the smiles and the pointing and the hallelujahs heard and seen!
So, what’s so great about the Great Wall? As astronaut Neil Armstrong remarked, the Great Wall is one of the few construction projects you can see from space — a testament to its size, unique purpose, and the people who gave their all to build, defend, and restore it. It’s great all right. And we hope you get to experience it, too.
If you’ve been to the Great Wall, post your impressions in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
And if you want to see the people we saw, come back for our next post: What’s so great about the Great Wall (Part II)? Thanks for reading!
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For more information:
Viking River Cruise: Imperial Jewels of China: http://www.vikingrivercruises.com/rivercruises/china-yangtze-beijing-shanghai-2013/itinerary.aspx
“Great Wall of China” by TravelChinaGuide: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/