I didn’t quite plan to go to the Great Wall of China.  It was like one of those things that you know you would love to do, but it seemed quite out of reach.  Then, opportunity struck when I was asked to attend a conference in Beijing – to promote a conference coming to Cape Town in 2018.

If you have read my article “Bucket List 1 – Experiencing the Beijing Vibe”, you would know that we struggled communicating with the Chinese delegates, and decided to take a day to go to visit the Great Wall of China.  (Major opportunity!!!)  This article is about my experience.

After speaking to the locals in Beijing and other South African delegates who had had the opportunity and time to visit the Great Wall of China (while we were hard at work on the exhibition stand), we realised that if we were to make the most of the opportunity, we would need to go away from Beijing to a more remote section of the wall.  The 3 sections that are close to Beijing are crowded with tourists and this makes taking photographs extremely difficult and totally spoils the atmosphere.  With my budding photography hobby, I was keen to pay more to have a better, more fulfilling photography experience. So when the rest of the group proposed that we hire a bus and drive 125km out of the city to Jinshanling, I was in! (no persuasion needed)

We woke up that morning, and it was the first day of our visit that was extremely hazy – the hazy pollution-filled sky that everyone talks about.  The temperature was predicted at 32 degrees Celsius, but the amount of haze was unbelievable.  This was extremely disappointing.  For photography, haze is difficult to work with because it changes the colour and sharpness of your images.  However, I was not going to let this opportunity slip by.  So off we went.

What makes this section of the wall interesting is that on the one side (if you turn right), the wall had been restored, but on the other side (if you turn left), the original wall stands in its sometimes dilapidated state.  We decided to walk the section of the wall that had not yet been restored.

I didn’t really have much of an expectation before arriving at the Great Wall of China.  I had read a bit about it.  It is vast – spanning the whole of the northern part of China at one point in time.  I didn’t quite expect it to take the shape of the mountain.  I almost expected the wall to be flat on top.  Boy was I in for a surprise!

The wall hugs the mountain’s rugged profile, with steep inclines and declines.  When the wall was built, it seems like they certainly didn’t think of the fact that some steps were so high that (for someone my height) they were almost waist level!  And only one brick wide, so you couldn’t fit your whole foot on the step to pull yourself up.  In spite of this, we persevered and climbed the equivalent of 27 floors (measured by our smart phones) before turning around.

The decision to drive two hours outside Beijing and pay the extra transport costs was definitely the right one, and the reward was spectacular.  We experienced the Great Wall of China with only a few other human beings.  You could close your eyes and feel the soul and the heartbeat of the wall and the mountains around, stretching as far as the eye could see.  Many souls were sacrificed to build that wall.  It took more than a millennium to build.  At that time, it probably seemed an impossible task, but the Chinese put their minds to it and persevered.  Their wall was eventually complete.  The person who dreamed up the concept did not get to see it completed.  But his (or her) legacy lives on today, hundreds of years after the idea was born.

After my experience at the Great Wall of China, I decided to read up more about its history to have a better understanding of how it came to be.  The Great Wall measures over 21,000 km (when you combine the measurements of all of its branches).  It took over 1,700 years to build – most of it was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).  It is a series of walls and trenches that was originally built to keep out the barbarians from neighbouring countries – and there are many legends of exactly who (or what) the wall was meant to keep out (or in?)!

The Great Wall of China was not an effective barrier against the enemy.  It is not a solid wall, but a series of sections, some of them built in parallel, with gaps and trenches in between.  However, it has come to symbolise the divide between China and the rest of the world.  It can certainly be classified as one of the most ambitious and most expensive construction projects ever.  (And possibly one of the longest lasting!)

Standing on the Great Wall of China was an awe-inspiring experience.  The history and character seeps through the walls and whispers across the mountains that stretch as far as the eye can see.  It goes to show, if you put your mind to something, no matter how ambitious and big the task may seem, you can accomplish it.  You just need to figure it out.

I have compiled a few pics of the Great Wall and hope that you enjoy them.  I will certainly never forget the experience.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit the wall, go for it.  Put in the extra cash to go further outside the city to connect with the soul of the wall.  It truly is an experience that is unforgettable and humbling.  Here’s to many more memorable experiences (the bug has bitten….).

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