A lesser known part of the Great Wall of China

Travel Journal Overview: Much like traveling in India and the Taj, when in China you have to see the Great Wall. Throw in the Beijing state dance academy, and things were moving on quite well.

View of The Great Wall of China from a tower window (click to enlarge)
View of The Great Wall of China from a tower window (click to enlarge)

Visiting the Great Wall of China

Naturally enough the little visited section was full of tourists. Though is this was the little visited section I was glad we did not go to the popular section. There were two ways up to the top of the wall that rested on the top of a ridge on a steep looking hill. A cable car, or walk. Chris was gone like a shot in the cable car, though tempted Jo-hin joined me on the 30 minute walk to the top.

What does the great wall of china look like?

From a distance the Great Wall looked as it should; a fortified ancient wall that winded itself along a mountain ridge that went on into the distance. There were no claims on display citing it as a world heritage site, no real numbers and no one shoving propaganda down your throat. Thus, it was an enjoyable place.

Getting closer to the great wall of china

The walkway up to the top was surrounded by hillside forest, the odd vendor selling two Euro small bottles of water and a plaque dedicated to President Bill Clinton’s visit. The wall itself was obviously reconstructed in this tourist zone. Fresh looking light brown concrete filled in around large stone building blocks.

The ramparts were in excellent condition and to our right there was the hideous sight of a giant slide that offered people an alternative on the way down. The wall was far from unimpressive though. For as far as the eye could see this long chain of ramparts and towers snaked over the undulating mountains and hills of China’s landscape. Where ever direction the mountain ridge would take the wall would be riding on top. Through grass lands and icy barren looking mountain ridges the wall winded its way in impressive military style.

Take the road less traveled

There were two options. Left or right. Jo-hin wanted to follow a group of Asian tourists that headed off on the steep incline to the left, while I took the right and headed down a while. The stone had a slightly slippery feel to it as I descended small steps down to a tower. There were people around, but not so many as to prevent some lone photographs of the wall. The sky was blue but a little hazy. I continued on up a steep section, passing by some elderly foreigners as they struggled in the rising heat from the sun. The top tower gave an impressive few.

A lesser seen part of the great wall

Photographed many times over by tourists it was hard not to see why. From standing on top of the tower you were first confronted with the wide 16ft wall in front of you as it narrowed into the distance before following natures mountain ridge off to the west and into obscurity.

On the other side the wall passed over seemingly impassable high mountain cliffs and rocky outcrops that jutted several thousand feet into the passes. Walking further along the wall it soon came to an end. The Wall seemed to crumble away into a nothing ahead. Only a few trees that had taken root along its path blocked the view ahead, that along with a sign in big lettering warning people not to go further.

Off the beaten path on the great wall of China
Off the beaten path on the great wall of China

‘Stop. Danger Ahead. Go No Further.’

It was like a red flag to a bull. Within minutes I was passing by an obedient German tourist heading back and pushing my way past some tree branches. Up head there were a group of multinational looking tourists standing on a decrepit stone platform. Making my way up a make shift brick and stone walkway up to the platform I could see the appeal of it. From this old long since demolished watchtower platform was a 360 degree panorama of the whole area.

A crumbling great wall

While not offering anything new as far as the wall was concerned it was an area where people smiled at each other a little. An area where you shouldn’t be in obedient China. It’s crumbling stone base offered a passing danger that at any moment you might step in the wrong place and fall away with the decrepid structure. More importantly than all that was the fact that there were no massive throngs of tourists insight. No cable cars, no giant slides and no touts. To stand there and turn with the view of all china before you was impressive. A moment alone with history, both ancient and modern.

Modern day additions to the great wall

We waited at the bottom of the wall, surrounded by touts and expensive non impressive food stalls. The bus should have left thirty minutes ago, but we were all waiting for one remaining passenger. Chris. There was no doubt in my mind where he was. The giant chrome slide snaked its way down the hill in full glory of the tens of children screaming as they sat on cushions slid all the way to the bottom.

Back in Beijing it’s time to visit the insect market!

Re-enacting his giant slide we visited Beijing’s food market that night with Chris that night. Rows upon rows of all manner of insects were on display for consumption. Scorpions, black beetles,grasshoppers, Ants, snakes, and crustaceans lay motionless on toothpicks waiting for you to choose your type before being cooked up before you.

“Well we better try eh?” I said looking at Chris and then pointing at a beetle the size of a cigarette lighter.

“That is so gross,” he beamed. “We gotta try it.”
Jo-hin squished up her face. “You guys sick. It very bad here.”

“What you feel like Chris? Red Cockroach or Black Scorpion?”

“How about caterpillar?” replied Chris as he looked for the least offensive beast.

I paused as if in thought, “I head those things can be poisonous…”

Chris’ eyes widened.

“You come try here!” Said a voice behind one of the stalls

The man was dressed in a clean white jacket and his display of insects and seafood was quite impressive.

Not wanting to overstretch my own limitations I was somewhat glad when Chris opted for a small brown grasshopper on a stick. He played with it for a while, as if in the back of his mind he hoped we would forgive him for not eating it. Then with a hesitated grimace he bit into the hind quarters.

“Ewww, that so gross!” Squealed Jo-hin.

Chris stood there with one leg of the bit sized insect hanging on his lower lip. “It’s really not so good actually man. And, there’s something sticky coming out its ass.”

“Doesn’t look good from here either,” I replied with a laugh. “Who knows how long they’ve had these things sitting around. You better get a seat next to the toilet on your plane tomorrow.”

Spitting out the rest of the insects hindquarters Chris went silent for the first time since I have known him. I figured the prospect of not being able to surf the instant he hit Thailand was a contributing factor. Avoiding any repercussions I opted for a fully cooked squid. Seafood was never a safe option we are told when travelling, but compared to gooey grasshoppers, it was a safer option without backing out all together.

As a final act together before he flew out we took in a performance by the The Beijing Dance Academy. A spectacular almost circus display of acrobatics, pageantry and human contortion. Children from the age of five upwards somersaulted around the stage with all manner of rings and flaming ropes to fly through in a tale about an angry dragon. Girls balanced countless tiny glasses of water on a multitude of serving trays as they bent and twist their bodies into the most spine breaking positions you could imagine. It was a richly cultural side of Beijing that made one think of it’s incredibly diverse and stoic history.

Some related links on this website that  you might like: (including a lot more photographs from China)

Stories: Surviving the Riots in Tibet

Stories: Watching the Chinese Army Move into Lhasa

Resources: All about getting a Tibet Permit / Visa

Resources: How to Guide – Nepal to Tibet Overland

China Travel Guide

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