The Chinese character for city is the same as the one for wall - cheng. Several decades ago Beijing was surrounded by a high wall around the city with defined the boundaries against the countryside. Remnants of China’s city wall construction still exist today. One place in Beijing to see old style walled city construction is in the Forbidden City, which was once home to the emperor. The remnant courtyards, pavilions, and buildings arranged in a proportional grid. This type of walled construction was how administrative buildings and imperial buildings were kept separate from the rest of the city. Of course, then beyond all of these walls was the Great Wall, which protected the country from Mongolian invaders, which is where we are travelling today from Gubeiko to Jinshanliang; from a dilapidated part of the wall to a part of the wall restored to 1984.
I sit slumped in a bus seat, looking out the windows at the terrain flowing by. Charlotte, Jirka, and I are tired, our eyes drooping. Charlie, short for Charlotte, and I met one week ago. We both got Chinese government scholarships to study wild felids in China at Beijing Forestry University. She invited me on this trip with her Czech boyfriend Jirka. We are on a bus from Beijing to a small city with several hotels and restaurants, and in that passage there was a certain purification. Things are easier to see, there is no more smog. There is chance to final breathe. So we breathed. (Beijing is very polluted with air smog). We are finding a better way to live for the weekend. We stay in the Green Tree Inn, wandered around aimlessly until we ate some dumplings, and woke up the next morning there to a huge 15 preparation Chinese breakfast that only costs 10 yuan, and knowing we aren’t going to have another chance to eat like this again we eat enough.
We hop on another bus to Gubeiko, where our trek will begin. As we roll north, the city begins to disappear and the land became fertile with visible foliage, and it was as if we were driving back into the past. The villages became smaller and the settlements became more rural. Gubeiko was a small village, and we stop there to load up on water and supplies. Spicy tofu vacuum sealed in plastic, fake meat no doubt loaded with preservatives, eggs vacuum sealed with the shells broken, crackers and breads filled with grape or bean paste, small chestnut filled sweet deep fried and packaged, which is all that is available. The drinks all contain some kind of sugar or artificial sweetener, except for the water. We stock up and begin our journey.
We pass through the tiny village. Before us are the rolling hills and craggy outcroppings on top sits the Great Wall. In the far distance, the wall climbs a huge expanse of higher mountains which are like mirages in the distance. The slope we ascend grows steep, until we are on the flat old worn section. Perhaps this was the true and original fifteenth-century brick, and not a copy. Or were they reproductions, I wondered? This part of the wall was never reconstructed apparently. Some of the sections here are dilapidated, and the mud that surrounded the brick remains in thin sections which we walk across slowly. Here we see the journey ahead of us, with the rock towers fortifying the summits. A cheerful group is on the wall ahead of us, yelling at the top of their lungs from the towers above us. The woodland scrub is full of fruiting hawthorn trees, vigorous and studded with thick thorns. We see the Gubeiko town at the bottom, clustered around the foot of the wall.
We hike through the towers one by one; walking up stair after stair until the view changed slightly from the next tower on the wall. It's magestic and beautiful to see the wall go on for miles and miles ahead of us. We are surrounded by unspoilt wilderness and beauty.If you're going to do this hike be prepared for lots of stairs going upward. We hike for nearly 4 hours and come to a small town from which we will have to hike another hour and a half to a resting place. We are strained, fading, and becoming worn out. We’d hiked and scrambled all morning seeing lizards, scorpions, raptors, and insects. We get to a military area where the part of the wall is closed and we need to hike through a valley to rejoin the wall after the military area. It's wild, and there are a few wells and man made pools along the way.
Exhausted and hardly able to walk after 6 long hours hiking up the stairs of the Great Wall, finally we find a tower to sleep in and we eat our vacuum sealed tofu, twinkie like cakes. It is not quite completely dark, think blue moonlight threading down through the open canopy of the tower. It was through a kind of twilight that we looked down to the Great wall’s ridge ahead of us. A huge explosion woke us up instantly. The sound was a huge bomb going off. I thought I was in physical danger, inside of the tower of the Great Wall, I thought I was going to die for a second; my heart stopped from the sound as it jolted me awake. We slept next to a military area, and we suspect it was a bomb from inside of the mining area.
Nice touch. Thanks.
I lay there quietly and was silent for several minutes. The entrancing beauty vanished from the surroundings; for that split second the beauty had become pure nightmare. The sounds and shadows in that tower became suspect. I felt like someone was in the tower, although the sounds were softer than a man’s body, probably a rodent. I was beginning to suffer from slight hallucinations. I still thought it was a military person sneaking around so I move closer to the group. Another bomb goes off, luckily the last one for the night. At first, I was merely listening to my own breathing and counting the beats of my heart; but then I tried again to fall asleep and succeeded.
We wake up to two people entering the tower we are sleeping in to take photographs of the tower. This entered my mind very quickly, and was interrupted by my consciousness that the light was changing. They are being loud. I get out of bed to discover a beautiful, silent and peaceful view over the great wall. Trees jutting out of the hillside look like classical chinese paintings. A moment later, from the valley in which we now stood, we see the mist covered land spring itself like a moving hillside down and around the slopes of the wall ahead of us. The orage haze of the morning is reflecting off the bricks of the wall. We can see for miles from our vantage point.
We all fall back asleep for an hour or so, and upon waking then are approached by a woman who wants to us to by a Hebei ticket for this section of the wall. We oblige her and pay the 65 yuan she wants. It is advised to pay these people for tickets as they are required tolls. If you didn't buy a ticket at the beginning someone will eventually ask you to pay, and no they are not trying to scam you. It really is their job.
We begin walking towards Jinshanliang town, which will end our journey in nearly 2 hours of hiking. The closer we get to the end, there are visitors also walking on the staircases and climbing on the towers. Charlotte, tireless, sprints up the stairs. I cling to the stairs with my hands and labored up and up, keeping count of the number of towers until the end to ease the struggle of continuing until the end. I was afflicted with dizziness on parts of the wall which required balance. Soon I could only grope and crawl from stair to stair on all fours, that being said I am out of shape from my former desk job., and after a full day of 2 days of climbing stairwells I'm entirely exhausting my muscle strength.
The tower chambers were cool and brick, and this section of the wall had some development and reconstruction which happened in 1983-1987. To us it was a timeless realm. In the end, we walk down a short hike and eventually come to the bus station where we begin our 2 hour journey back to Beijing. On the way, we found a wild Marijuana plant, which is quite exciting for someone with a botany background, like me. I collected some seeds of this wild China stray, and wondered where it could have come from. Locals perhaps? or was it simply a native undiscovered and unrecognized? Either way, for me it's a great ending to a long weekend.
See photo collection below. Several panoramic shots and a few group shots.