One of the highlights of my whirlwind trip to China was being able to fulfil bucket list destination of hiking the Great Wall of China! I can imagine this trip has been written about by many and I myself have dreamily stared at other people’s images of the Great Wall in different seasons – lush and green in the summer and beautifully clad in white in winter.
I don’t recall seeing pictures of the Wall in Autumn though and found it very beautiful and unique, seeing parts bathed in different shades of red, orange and yellow. I must admit I still think it would have been nicer to see the rich green foliage and I found some part sparse and desert like, but the cool breeze and mild temperature , combined with the lack of people, made the long uphill trek much more pleasant than it would have been in the summer! Learning about the history of how this wall was built makes it very suitable for linking up with Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale
I was advised to stay away from Badaling part of the wall, which is highly over populated teeming with hawkers and shops all over the place. I stayed at the Peking Youth Hostel (highly recommend!) and they arranged the tour for us – Jinshanling to Simatai – which was recommended as the top Great Wall Tour for hiking and stunning panoramic views. The tour costs 280 Yuan (£28) which covered transport there (3 hours there and back) plus the tour guide on the 3 hour hike. It is the furthest away from Beijing and has the least amount of tourists.
The route from Jinshanling to Simatai is about 10.5 kilometers, with 43 watchtowers (18 watchtowers on Jinshanling, 17 watchtowers on the west section of Simatai and 8 watchtowers on the east. We did about 6km of it and passed through 22 towers before heading down to Simatai where our Tour Bus picked us up from. It is possible to do this on your own for about 100 Yuan less, but due to the short time period I was there in Beijing, it was convenient to do it with an organized tour.
I had seen the same tours advertised from the UK for $65! I would totally recommend not booking anything from beforehand. Most hotel organize it for you from Beijing, even though they might offer tours for crowded parts which is easy to get to. Hostels and hosts through Airbnb rentals and couchsurfing, would arrange the nicer tours – ones where you are on parts of the ‘wild wall’
Our tour guide picked us up from the hostel at 830am. We were advised to bring our own packed lunch and water. They did give us more water on the bus and there was option to buy snacks at different parts of the wall, standard price of 5 Yuan for most snacks. I forgot our tour guides name, but she spoke good English and gave a history of the Wall on the Bus ride there. I must say her speech was quite dry and I learned more from reading about it on my Lonely Planet! On the other hand, I was warned that many tour guides try to take you to see silk factories and shops before you get on the wall but we didn’t have any of that. The one thing she said that was interesting was how the troops at the gate would send warning signals when hey saw enemies approaching –Frontier beacon fires would be burned with dried wolf dung to warn of the approach of an invading enemy. The wolf roamed the remote steppe and forests north of China, and in these sparsely inhabited areas the wolf has few natural enemies, except man. Hard to imagine there were that many wolves here!
Beacon towers are the most important component of the defensive project on the Great Wall. They are built continually to pass military messages. The history of the beacon tower construction is earlier than the building of the Great Wall.In peaceful days, the beacon tower of Great Wall was the place where soldiers kept watch and animal dung and fire wood were saved. Soldiers raised sheep and cattle to eat and took their dung to burn, sometimes wolf dung was also used, and this is the reason why the beacon tower smoke is called “Langyan” (Wolves’ smoke)
Parts of the wall we walked through was 600 years old, some had been renovated and touched up 30 years ago. You could tell the old parts from the new, both on the paved path and in the towers themselves. But what I really liked was how natural they kept it. What I find most annoying when visiting 1000 year old castles in England and Scotland is how they have handrails everywhere ! You are walking inside the castle, in awe of so much history, but have to hold metal railing going up even one storey! Here it was nice that there was none of that. It was far more authentic and you could imagine the rich historical heritage as you walked through.
There were really steep parts, as you can see from the pictures. Our legs ached for days afterwards! Exhausted but happy at the final stretch of the wall! At the 22nd tower, we took the path left going down to Simatai. There were parts here that you could hike through the woods rather than on the wall itself. The paths ran parallel to the wall and would link up further down(or up).
Near the end of the hike, we had to walk through lovely shaded woods and that’s where the autumn colours were most prominent!
We went back to Beijing, slept most of the 3 hours back! I went walking that night through South Gong and Drum Lane (Nanluogo Xiang_ Look forward to writing about all the interesting alleyways, rich in vibrant colours and character, we experienced that night.
Looking back at my 9 days in China, hiking the great wall still remains one of my favourite, so happy I got this opportunity to fulfil this bucketlist destination 🙂