"Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in that land?". The mirror always replies: "My Queen, you are the fairest in that land." The Queen is always pleased with that, because the magic mirror never lies.
23.12.2012 - 07.01.2013
Beijing, December 28th 2012
Long time ago, as I thought hutong existed only in Beijing, I thought there was only one great wall in China. If there are many, then it's not great, right? And then I learned about the Silk Road. Oh, in Jiayuguan there's also a wall that also looks great. And this wall, extends to become Xuanbi Overhanging Wall which is in quite a distant location to the former. My interest in the Silk Road developed.
During Tang Dynasty, the Silk Road extended itself from Chang'an to as far as Europe. Chang'an, according to Insight Guides: Silk Road, was the largest and most culturally diverse city in the world, attracting businessmen, traders, artisans, courtesans, mendicants, holy men from all over Asia and beyond. Hence, a city as such needed to be protected securely, by a wall. That city today is Xi'an.
"Fine!" I concluded to myself. "So there's one great wall in Xi'an, one in Jiayuguan, and one in Beijing. Why it is called 'great' is because it is larger in size than any building's wall."
By the end of my first Silk Road adventure, I had already visited 11 cities of China plus 2 border cities: Hekou and Tashkorgan. But, not Beijing, the capital city. Everyone goes to Beijing, you know. I should find out.
Badaling, Mutianyu, Simatai, Jinshanling, Gubeikou... So many?? Which one then is the greatest? That, has been a quest since the beginning of mankind. From Eve to Herod and from Snow White's stepmother to our leaders today. More than the cute seven dwarfs, I have always been impressed -- since my earliest year -- by the magic mirror Snow White's stepmother had.
"Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in that land?". The mirror always replies: "My Queen, you are the fairest in that land." The Queen is always pleased with that, because the magic mirror never lies. (Copy-pasted from Wikipedia.) This, my favorite part of Snow White, ever.
I booked a so called 'Full Day Tour' to Mutianyu Great Wall from Viator, operated by Hantang International Travel Service. It wasn't a private tour, but apparently due the low season, I was the only guest. Mutianyu lies 70 km Northeast from Central Beijing. Unsurprisingly, the snow here was thicker than in Summer Palace yesterday.
There are two routes to get up to the wall. The left root is by cable car (four-rider gondola) and the right root is by cableway (two-rider chairlift) or tobaggan. My tour fee didn't include transportation on either any of the routes. I chose the route on the right but I don't remember exactly the reason. It seems it was because Jason, my tour guide, said that the path on the ride side is less steep. Whatsoever, Jason later on didn't appear to me a true man. That's another story. The fare for a return cableway ride was 80 yuan.
I got on the cableway with Jason. He actually pursued me to take a tobaggan, and through his description I got the picture that a tobaggan is like the one I had rode in Dalat, Vietnam. It's fun. But, you cannot take pictures while riding on one.
You see that track on the right? That's the tobaggan's track.
Here's a close up of the track. I didn't meet any tobaggan rolling on the track. Maybe everyone still carries his sanity. I can imagine after rolling in full speed in this freezing-literally air, I won't be able to smile, because my cheeks have stiffen.
"Actually riding a tobaggan is fun. You should try," said headstrong Jason another time as we were ascending on the cableway.
"I told you, I have rode on one in Vietnam. I do know it's fun. But I want to take pictures. In Vietnam, I stopped to take a picture, and then there was a loud whistle."
"Oh yes, you may not stop in the middle."
Once again, it had been a weather hard to identify. Overcast? But the sun was shining bright and in full shape. You can download a good map of the site from here. Jason lead me to the wall and took a couple of my pictures. Then he left. I was completely on my own. He told me to meet him at the restaurant near the parking lot by 11:30.
Quoting from Wikipedia:
First built in the mid-6th century during the Northern Qi, Mutianyu Great Wall is older than the Badaling section of the Great Wall. In the Ming dynasty, under the supervision of General Xu Da, construction of the present wall began on the foundation of the wall of Northern Qi. In 1404, a pass was built in the wall. In 1569, the Mutianyu Great Wall was rebuilt and till today most parts of it are well preserved. The Mutianyu Great Wall has the largest construction scale and best quality among all sections of Great Wall.
Built mainly with granite, the wall is 7–8.5 meters high and the top is 4–5 meters wide. Compared with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses unique characteristics in its construction.
Both the outer and inner parapets are crenelated with merlons, so that shots could be fired at the enemy on both sides - a feature very rare on other parts of the Great Wall.
From Wikipedia again:
Watchtowers are densely placed along this section of the Great Wall - 22 watchtowers on this 2,250-metre-long stretch.
A close up of one of the watchtowers from outside.
According to both Jason and my previous tour guide in Beijing downtown, Mutianyu is less steep compared to Badaling. Then what is steep?? These steps are rolling down from my feet nearly vertically! I'm not trying to make any outstanding composition. It is so!
Thinking that most tourists (not travelers) in general would prefer the most comfy way, I asked Jason, "Why does everyone go Badaling?"
Jason explained that in 1972, President Richard Nixon visited Badaling and since then Badaling became famous, everyone wanted to go to Badaling. Did they know why President Nixon chose Badaling over the many other also-great walls in Beijing? I doubt the general tourist today know that President Nixon visited Badaling. Most likely they go because it is in the tour package. And then they will return home proud, "I have been to the Great Wall."
Some have said that I'm insane for my winter journeys. Actually, I'm wondering of not who is the greatest but of who is the one insane. Going to a place merely because everyone goes or not going because no one does, without understanding for what reason? Ah yeah, yeah, human nature has it that if you don't do what everyone does or do what nobody does, you are considered insane.
Yeah... it is insane. Hahaha.
Although steep, most of the path had steps, but many had not. Like this one. It seemed easy at first. It should be. But definitely not on an icy one. When I was descending, I nearly slid all the way down without being able to stop. The weight from my camera backpack pushed my legs on the icy path like a roller skater. When I was ascending, the weight from my camera backpack made it twice harder to grab a step on the thin ice, because gravity was pulling my legs downwards.
Do you see that? There are no steps on the highest part and on the middle lower part. But don't forget, Badaling is steeper. Aha!
At another point there were steps, but the steps were like a ladder, almost 90 degrees against ground level. A Central-Asia-looking tourist was managing her best getting up. "It looks like you are not climbing, but crawling," I said to her.
"Yes, yes... I am crawling."
I'm always fond of taking pictures of stranger kids in full winter clothes like this. It gives me the sense of a carefree life, of nothing to worry, of how exciting life is.
"This section of Great Wall is surrounded by woodland and streams. The forest-coverage rate is over 90 percent," says Wikipedia.
Try to picture this in mind: The wall presents different aspects of beauty in the four seasons. Flowers bloom all over the mountains in spring. Grasses dress the hillside green in summer. Trees are laden with sweet fruits in autumn, and especially in October, leaves are turning red or yellow, touching the mountain tops with gold. In winter, the wall is covered by snow, making it seem more magnificent. The pine trees around the wall are well-known. There are more than 20 pines over 300 years old and about 200 pines over 100 year old. Besides, spring water at the foot of the wall tastes pure and fragrant, much appreciated by visitors. Quoted from Travel China Guide.
For some more English reference on Mutianyu Great Wall, you can find here. But the Chinese website for Mutianyu Great wall is here. It has an English version, but the English translation is a bit awkward.
I got back at the restaurant about 12:00 PM, half an hour late. Jason didn't look please. The time duration information on Viator's website at that time stated "9 hours". Furthermore, it says "Full Day Tour". Neither was I pleased being rushed.
Jason explained that he is assigned by his office for a tour of 6 hours. If I'm not satisfied with that, I was pleased to complain to Viator. I did, and Viator returned some of my money. The time information on the website is now revised to "6-7 hours". But it's still called a "Full Day Tour". How long is 'a day'? Maybe Viator people goes to bed very early.