Published: August 9th 2011July 12th 2011 Editor’s Note
The Great Wall at Mutianyu
We had seen the Wall at Dandong but this is the "real" wall near Beijing. One of three main sections tourists visit, this is supposedly the least commercial
We are now back in Canada and up to our ears in emptying the storage locker here, unpacking the crate we shipped home from China, dealing with the renovations to our home and thinking about what to take to Williams Lake for next year. But that is a story for another day. There are still Chinese trips to address! Beijing weekend
The schedule showed us leaving for home at the beginning of July so we decided to squeeze in one more weekend trip before the year-end frenzy at school. We hadn't stopped in Beijing since our Christmas trip in 2009. We arranged for a driver in Beijing who was recommended to us and he was great.
We had seen the Great Wall at Dandong a couple of times but "everyone" said we had to see the real thing near Beijing. There are three "main" locations to visit and we chose Mutianyu, a little further away but less commercial, or so they say. The Wall is quite a hike from downtown Beijing or at least from the Forbidden City where the Peking Youth Hostel is located. We left at 6:30 in the morning, a very
It really does snake for miles over the tops of mountains. And the haziness in the pictures is pretty much the way it looks in person.
good decision as we got there before the tour buses.
The Wall tends to snake back and forth along the ridges of the mountains so to get to the wall itself can be quite a climb. We figured we could walk up but our driver gave us a bit of a look that implied we would be crazy to do it. Sure, you CAN, he suggested but why waste 45 minutes walking up a trail when what you really want to see is at the top. The gondola ride is not too exciting but it is fast. After the return journey we had to admit he was right. We did have a lot of walking ahead of us that day.
The views were tremendous but the pictures don't do them justice due to the fog/smog/mist. We hiked quite a way along the wall even bypassing a sign that said No Admittance. Not too sure why that was there but lots of people ignored it. One thing we found amusing was the number of vendors already up there selling water, postcards and even beer! They aren't allowed to haul their supplies up the wall; they have to come up
There is a certain sameness in the sections but the miles and miles of this sameness is fascinating in itself.
the many paths through the trees. One even brought a load on a donkey.
We enjoyed being early; lots of people we met were on their way up as we were going down. We thought we had seen a lot until we passed a group where one fellow had a gigantic bottle of wine. It must have been at least 5 litres. It turned out he was a wine maker from Chile and his group included a photographer. They were doing some promotional pictures up there!
We found out about the crowds when we got back to where we had started. We had to wait about 5 minutes to get down the stairway off the wall. There was only one-way traffic on the stairs and the tour groups had arrived. To recover we stopped for a cappuccino! The Summer Palaces
Back in the car and off to the Old Summer Palace. It is really the ruins of the place as it was pretty well destroyed in the Second Opium War by the Anglo-French invasion force. We didn't spend as much time there as we should have as we did still have quite an agenda planned for
Guardhouses appear regularly along the route. It was a very warm day when we were there. It is hard to imagine what these would have been like in the middle of winter. No central heating.
Saturday. At one point we took what we thought would be a short cut back to the gate and found ourselves at the foundation of one of the buildings that had been razed. It was awesome to stand there and think about what had been there before the war. At one point I stepped from one section to another over what might have been a walkway between two buildings. I obviously wasn't paying enough attention as I didn't make it all the way across and fell into the gap. As I fell forward, I did a face plant on the floor on the other side which was now about waist high. I was lucky all I got was a bloody nose and a split lip. I was a bit concerned I might lose a front tooth or two. More embarrassing than anything in the long run.
The next stop was the New Summer Palace which was built up after the invasion force left. We returned here on our last trip before leaving China and will write about it later.
When we finally got back to the hostel, we relaxed and enjoyed a cold beer in the common area.
Getting the goods to market
The vendors don't seem to be allowed to move their stuff along the wall itself. There are many paths up to the wall from the valley floor and some use donkeys to get the boxes of water, pop, beer and trinkets to the sales site.
But what to do about supper? The sign on the board said there was no supper available that night in the hostel. Grandma's Kitchen where we had Christmas dinner in 2009 was just down the street but we decided on a real "western" fix: Element Fresh, another favourite from 2009 and our Shanghai trips. So what do we do after all our walking? Well, how about taking a 45 minute walk. After all, we go past the Forbidden City (it's all lit up for evening viewing) and all the way down at the other end of Tiananmen Square, a great walk. No problem except the restaurant had closed out. We walked the length of the pedestrian mall but didn't find anything that we fancied. All the restaurants are off the main street and we were tired. We ended up at McDonald's! And we had to walk all the way back. Sigh. It was good to get home. Sure we could have hailed a cab but with our track record of hailing cabs in Beijing, it was easier to walk. The Eastern Qing Tombs
Sunday saw another early start for the three hour drive to the Eastern Qing Tombs.
We wondered how much of the wall was "natural" and how much was restored. These stairs gave us a clue.
Our driver suggested we go to the Western tombs as they are closer. Our friend Thomas (Christmas Man from previous blogs) had said to go to the Eastern tombs and he had never steered us wrong before. It turned out our driver had never been to the Eastern tombs which was the main reason he didn’t want to go there. Dianne prevailed. He asked if he could bring a friend as she has never seen the Eastern tombs either. No problem.
His friend brought a selection of yogurts, water, fruit and beer to enjoy on the trip there and back. We got there eventually with only a couple of mistakes. The area occupied by these tombs is incredible. There are five Qing emperors buried there along with assorted empresses, consorts and concubines. To get from one emperor’s tomb to the next you really need a car. If you went to the tombs by bus, you could hire motorcycle taxis to take you from tomb to tomb. The whole complex is over forty square kilometers.
The approach to the main tomb was three kilometres along a straight road after you went in the main gate. The route was lined
In the guardhouse
Dianne takes a break on a makeshift bed we encountered in one of the towers. We suspect the fence in the background was added later.
with gigantic stone figures. It is amazing that so much of the facility is still in one piece considering the turbulent history of China towards the end of the Qing dynasty and the rest of the 20th century.
We had visited tombs in Shenyang and thought the grounds were pretty impressive but the main tomb itself looked like a big dirt pile. What I hadn’t realized was there was an elaborate chamber built into the ground under the dirt pile. At these tombs a couple of the underground chambers were open to allow us to marvel at the funeral rites of these people.
Luckily, the airport was more or less on the same side of Beijing as the Qing tombs so the driver was able to drop us at the airport on the way back to Beijing. The driver wasn’t cheap but worth the money as we covered a lot of ground in a short time. We couldn’t have done it using public transportation. The end of the trips?
Not Quite. Our last weekend trip was over. No more fun and games until the end of school. But we still had Xi’an (terra cotta warriors) and
One of the features of the wall was that it allowed for the rapid movement of troops to where ever they were needed. It's hard to imagine climbing these stairs in the heat of summer carrying a bunch of weapons. It was bad enough with a daypack full of snacks.
a return to Beijing to look forward to. Not to mention the fun of returning to Canada to visit family and friends.
There are more photos below