Hiking the Great Wall was a one-off experience that would remain etched in our memory forever. We did this two years back but never thought of writing about it. Last Friday, we went for a movie “The Great Wall” starring Matt Damon (one of our favorite) and lost ourselves to the stunning CGI (computer generated imagery). What an amazing movie, an eye candy, a visual extravaganza that will make you wonder at the limits of human imagination. We were spellbound especially on the scene showing the blue-clad all female Crane Troops, bunging off the Wall fearlessly to spear the monsters climbing up the wall. Memories came alive of our own hike at the great wall. Although we didn’t perform any stunts there 😉 . Super boosted with nostalgia, I felt, it’s high time I start writing about our hiking the Great Wall experience.
Hiking the Great Wall – Warning!
Before I begin to explain our hiking the Great Wall experience, let me first put a warning here – our Great Wall tour was an extension of my official trip. So we went the usual touristic way as we had little time to research. I googled for the best travel agencies out there and quickly booked one at the top of the list with an English speaking guide. “Insider tip: Google works intermittently in Beijing”. If you have a lot of time and really want to indulge yourself in this pinnacle of human ingenuity then there are probably better ways, with much less distraction from the tourist onslaught. You can refer to an article from Dev & Deb from Planet D, where they had the wall all to themselves. But if you are Pirates like us with just a day or two in hand then this might just be for you.
How to access the Great Wall from Beijing
You can access the Great Wall through several sections. Badaling is one of the most gorgeous sections of this wall and is thronged with tourist because of its easy accessibility. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Beijing. This section is equipped with cable cars and handrails to ease out the hiking process for tourist. Usually, if you are being herded by a tour company (as we were) you will be forced to use the cable cars because of time limitations. And so we did. But if you have enough time with you, I would recommend a hike on foot. Most people prefer the north section to hike up as this is where the highest watch tower is located. Also, the north section has the cable car so if your legs get worn out of hiking up you can descend comfortably in a cable car. Besides Badaling, the other popular sections are Mutianyu, Jiankou, Simatai, Jinshanling. Among these, Jiankou demands strong hikers and rest all can be pretty much managed by an average traveler.
Hiking the Great Wall – our experience
Our Great Wall tour started in Badaling. The drive from Beijing city to Badaling section of the Great Wall is very scenic. Traffic is slow inside Beijing city but once you are out of the city limits the drive becomes pretty smooth. As you wind down the hilly path, you will get fleeting glances of the Great wall amidst the mountain and cliffs. This game of hide and seek is enough to pump up the adrenaline inside you for the upcoming hike.
Badaling section has been restored for tourist and as a result has the maximum influx. As you alight at the drop off point, it is a common sight to see small flags mounted on antennae poles sticking above the crowd. First, we did not understand what these flags were for. Pretty soon we saw our own guide pull out a red flag, mount it on a pole and start waving it as high as he could reach. This flag was our north star if we get lost in the crowd. The guide would stick it up at regular interval and that was our DIY Chinese navigation 🙂 .
Since Badaling is a tourist hotspot, this place is infested with local hawkers and street shops trying to sell you souvenirs. So haggle at your own risk. We decided to skip that part as we had no time to waste and headed straight for the cable car.
Once at the top, we decided to sit down first and catch our breath, at the same time keeping an eye open for the oncoming crowd. Before the next tourist wave came crashing in, we took some quick pictures to freeze this amazing memory forever.
Do let us know your thoughts on planning a Great Wall hike. Ours might not be perfect if you want to explore the Great Wall in its entirety, but again if you are a Pirate like us, extending your official tour to satiate your wanderlust, this post might just help you out in hiking the Great Wall; the Pirates Way.