Saturday, 21 February 2009

Heading for the Great Wall

Thankfully, the freezing weather had reverted to being merely crisp and the sky was still as clear as could be. This was, without doubt, a perfect day to visit the Great Wall. We would be heading for the wall in the afternoon but first up was a visit to the Ming Tombs. The museum part of the tombs was pretty standard fare and I soon wandered off to look around the grounds.

Behind the museum building was the main tomb. This was much more impressive and surprisingly high. I stopped to look at the assorted junk on sale. Picking up a piece of fake jade the seller told me it was cold and so had to be real. I replied to him that the temperature was just above freezing so of course the fake jade was going to be cold. he laughed and waved me away.

I walked up the steps of the tomb to be greeted with a stunning view of the nearby mountains. Rolling hills and blue sky’s gave the first hint of what we were going to experience when we reached the Great Wall later in the day. Our last stop before reaching the wall was the Avenue of Statues. Its name pretty much tells you what to expect. It’s an incredibly long avenue with amazing statues running along both sides and wonderfully coloured trees hanging over. It was remarkably empty when we arrived and I ran off to get some pictures before our group started walking down it and got in the way.

The expertly carved statues range from Chinese warriors to various types of animals such as horses, elephants and Chinese lions. At the end of the avenue is a giant turtle with a lions head. Rubbing the creatures head is said to bring good luck. Walking down the avenue was a real highlight as the trees and statues combined to created a wonderfully picturesque place.

Now it was time to go to the wall. It’s hard to put into words just how incredibly breathtaking the Great Wall of China is. You really can’t have any idea about the scale of the thing until the see it for yourself.

We arrived at the Badaling section of it and proceeded to take the more difficult of the two paths. Aside from a friendly Chinese couple we were the only people on the difficult section of the wall. I stopped and looked back towards the other section and noticed the hundreds of people all crawling along it. Into the distance it went like a great dragon.

Standing on the Great Wall with my girlfriend and not seeing another soul was one of the best and most unexpected experiences I have had. I just never imagined a section of the wall could be so empty. After having enough of the steep climb up the difficult section of the wall we retraced our steps and headed up the part filled with tourists. It took longer to move along due to the mass of people but was no less impressive.

After reaching the eighth watch tower we decided to head back as the sun was going down and time was beginning to run short. As the light dropped so did the temperature and the wall was cast into shadow. We made it to the coach and watched as the sun set behind the wall. It seemed a poignant end to our Chinese adventure.

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