Hiking the Great Wall – what’s so great about it!

Chandan China, Popular Posts 2 Comments

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 - the movie
A still from the movie just to stir up your emotions 🙂 courtesy – thegreatwallmovie.com
The Great Wall of China is no doubt one of the top engineering masterpieces humanity has created till date. There’re probably as many myths about this wall as facts. For starters, the Great Wall is the world’s longest wall, is true, and it can be seen from space unaided is false. Also, it’s not a continuous line as most people might think. It’s a combination of several sections. As normal humans, we are very constrained to finite time lines. So when we dived into the history of this masterpiece we’d to actually stretch our brain to believe that it is a result of the cumulative work of about 20 dynasties over a time span of “I don’t want to count how many” years. Somewhere deep down I still believe the Great Wall and the Pyramids were created by Aliens with their super powers 😉

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.

Hiking the Great Wall - view along the way
Glimpses of the Great Wall while driving from Beijing to Badaling

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.
Hiking the Great Wall - Cable car at Badaling Section
Cable car @ Badaling section
Hiking the Great Wall - Cable car ride at Badaling Section
The cable car ride. Pardon the misty appearance 🙂
The cable car ride was about 15-20 minutes long if I remember correct. It started quietly and ended up in a sea of tourists. Literally, all we could see were colored jackets and caps. It was about -5degC outside and the number of tourists on the wall was mind boggling. Hola Amigo! This really is a famous section of the wall. I think the fact that it was a weekend added to our misery of a jam packed wall. So we slowly crept our way out of the crowd and started our mini-hike to the highest watch tower. As we started to walk away from the cable car station, we felt as if the human density around us reduced a bit. Our freezing brains quickly calculated the fact that, more we climb faster the better the chances of summiting with less crowd at our tail. So we made the spilt-second decision to hike at one go and rest only at the top. The strategy worked albeit not praiseworthy. The steps are very steep so a lot of people get tired walking up. Their decision to rest for a while is your chance at redemption 🙂 .
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.
Hiking the Great Wall - an empty spot
Yayyy!!we got an empty spot 😉 we had only one cap to share and the boss took it
The Badaling section gives you a spectacular view of the Great Wall, snaking its way across the hills for miles. We stood there gazing at the amazing view, awestruck until our ears started stinging because of the freezing wind. My fingers were almost frozen while taking pictures. Missed my gloves (shoddy planning). After absorbing in as much as we could in the limited time we had, we made our way back looking for the red flag sticking up high.
Hiking the Great Wall - view of the Great Wall of China
A view of the Great Wall of China from the highest watch tower in Badaling section

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.

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