The Great Wall

With Chinese New Year came snow!  Quite a lot of if actually as it snowed pretty much continuously from the Thursday afternoon we were there and all day Friday although very little lay in the city.  Whilst not ideal weather for sightseeing tourists like us, the snow was welcomed by the majority of our fellow Beijingers as in traditional Chinese belief, a timely snowfall signifies a fruitful year ahead.

The snow also coincided with our trip to The Great Wall.  At the top of our must-see list, my Dad had kindly arranged for us to go on a private trip with a local driver. Originally set to go to a very remote part of the wall, once we had been collected – the non-English speaking driver identifying himself by frantically waving a sign saying ‘Kristian’ out the window – we had a telephone chat with the guide who’d organised the tour and he advised us that the current weather conditions made it too dangerous to go to the original location.  Unrestored wall and ice do not make for a safe day trip and no one wants a broken arm in the middle of the Chinese countryside!  Instead we were advised to head to an area of the wall named ‘Mutianyu’, located around 70km Northeast of Beijing.  As one of the best preserved sections of the Wall today, it was originally built in the mid-6th century to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and imperial tombs.

Slightly anxious that the site’s extensive redevelopment including cable cars, toboggan runs and copious restaurants would mean that we were surrounded by hoardes of tourists, Joe and I were a little apprehensive on the journey.  However, we really needn’t have worried – once we’d travelled up in the cable car and negotiated the first stretch of wall, we had the place almost to ourselves for large chunks.

The snow and the accompanying fog meant that we didn’t get the sweeping views of the wall snaking over the mountain like you see in every guide book going but it made for a hugely atmospheric sight and one which was very beautiful.  Although a quick Google suggests that it’s perhaps not that rare, back in the warmth of our Beijing Hutong that evening I saw a Instagram post by National Geographic featuring the wall in the snow that day, accompanied by a very excited post by the Nat Geo photographer who stated that they’d got up at the crack of dawn to get to the wall before the tourists and photograph such a rare event as snow.  So that’s the version I am choosing to go with!  Either way, we both felt incredibly lucky to see it in such a stunning wintery setting. As we walked through the watchtowers it was impossible to imagine what it must have felt like hundreds of years a go, sitting up there in the freezing conditions looking out for any sign of the enemy.  Such wonderings inevitably led to us singing large chunks of the Mulan soundtrack as we meandered along!

In total we walked along a good 1.5km of the wall.  Incredibly steep at times it was a real work out and I was full of admiration for, as well as slightly incredulous at, the Chinese tourists who were negotiating it in high heels.  Even in my walking boots I was sliding about all over the place and resorted to side stepping down the slope whilst clinging onto the wall on several occasions! It was incredibly cold but being somewhere so incredible is an amazing way to distract yourselves from numb fingers and toes and we thawed out on our way back to Beijing on a sightseeing high!

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