#17 Teaching at Taizhou Teachers College-Walking The Great Wall

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July 6th 2006
Published: October 22nd 2006
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View to Simatai RidgeView to Simatai RidgeView to Simatai Ridge

Simatai is considered by many to be the most beautiful section of The Great Wall. This photo was taken at about the halfway mark (8th watchtower)
The Great Wall is the single greatest tourist attraction in China, and to my mind one of the greatest in the whole of the world. After spending the best part of two days in some of the less developed parts of The Wall, I can honestly say it’s one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done.

After hearing “horror” stories about the hordes of tourists and massive over- commercialization at Badaling, I decided to hike the section of wall between Simatai and Jinshanling. This is a popular choice for many backpackers as most of the cheaper accommodation houses and hostels in Beijing arrange day trips with a drop off in Jinshanling in the morning and pick up later in the day at Simatai, thus taking the worry out of arranging public transport. There is even a “tourist bus” (#12) that travels to Simatai on the weekend leaving Beijing between 6.30 and 8.00am. However, neither of these options appealed to me, as I thought it would be too rushed, and we wouldn’t be on the wall to start hiking until about 11am when the sun would be scorching. Not my idea of an enjoyable time at all!

Beyond the DoorBeyond the DoorBeyond the Door

Ming-style door into the private courtyard to my room in the Simatai International Youth Hostel
a suggestion on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, I finally decided to find my own way to Simatai and hike in reverse from Simatai to Jinshanling the next day. After getting a few tips from the wonderful staff at the Beijing Downtown Backpackers (thanks Apple & Co!), I headed off to the Dongzhimen Bus Station where I found a mini van that was heading for Simatai. In retrospect, it would probably have been better to go inside the station and buy a ticket for a bus, as I ended up sitting there for about 45minutes before we moved! Anyone who has travelled in this part of the world will realize that mini vans go only when they are full! Lesson learned!

It was an agonizingly slow drive out of the city, made worse by the fact that it was rush hour. It makes me shudder just to think of how people will make their way in, around and out of the city when the Olympics hit town in 2008!

After about 3 hours I was dropped off at the turn off to Simatai where a taxi van was waiting to take me the rest of the way. A
The BeginningThe BeginningThe Beginning

The approach to the start of the hike with Simatai Ridge in the background
bit of hard haggling (and a lot of gesticulating!), we finally settled on a “happy price” (translated - I still paid too much, but a fraction of what he originally asked!) and headed east along some winding country roads. It wasn’t long before stretches of The Wall could be seen in the distance, an awe-inspiring sight to say the least. With mounting excitement I eagerly awaited our arrival.

We finally arrived at the monstrous car park at the entrance to the Simatai Ticket Office. I was relieved to find that the youth hostel was conveniently located very close by. As with many youth hostels in China, there were “normal” hotel rooms available as well, the hostel rooms taking up just a small part of the total accommodation. My room was secluded off in a small courtyard, very private, and I was lucky in that I had the whole room to myself, as it was the quiet time before the students started their summer holidays. After a quick wander around to see the lie of the land, I decided to retreat to my cool room to wile away a couple of the hottest hours of the day away.

Staff QuartersStaff QuartersStaff Quarters

Some aspects of classical Chinese garden architectural design has been used to create a pleasant environment for the visitor to Simatai International Youth Hostel
3.30pm I headed up the eastern section of the Simatai Great Wall. It is well known as one of the “wilder” sections of the Great Wall within reasonable reach from Beijing. The section I hiked that afternoon was not what I would call “wild” (it appeared that most of this stretch has been recently restored and there was the inevitable cable car!), but it was spectacular all the same. It had what can only be described as an over-whelming physical presence. What I enjoyed most was that there were only a handful of people on the Wall the whole time I was there. A few of the watchtowers have been left “unrestored” to give visitors a feel for the past. There was also a small section of unrestored wall near the 12th watchtower to give a more “authentic” air to my hike. Unfortunately, this will be short-lived, as restorations were under way all the way to the 16th watchtower. I feel very fortunate to have experienced walking on some “wild” wall.

It was the most exhilarating feeling being up on The Wall, like being on “top of the world”. The view was breathtaking and it was so tranquil and serene. I’m not much of a history buff, but it was easy to imagine how the armies of old Ming Emperors could defend their empire from the marauding Mongols from the north.

As the sun set, I marvelled at the accomplishments of the hundreds of thousands of labourers who toiled (and the thousands who lost their lives) to make this the greatest man-made structure ever built; at the engineers employed to conceive of such a structure of grand scale in the first place; and above all at the human desire to build something that could last forever.

An early start the next day meant I had The Wall to myself for most of the way, yet again. I even beat the drink vendors! I was pleased to find that it was largely “unrestored” for the first couple of hours. In addition to this, it was also a lot less steep than the Eastern section I had hiked the previous afternoon. Unfortunately the weather was not as conducive to photography as the day before , but it was still spectacular. It took about 4-5 hours to hike (with photo stops) all the way to Jinshanling, so by the
Cable CarCable CarCable Car

The inevitable cable car for those who cannot or do not wish to take the steep hike up the ridge.
time I completed the hike the sun was starting to take it’s toll.

After grabbing a cold drink, I negotiated a motorbike taxi ride to the town of Bakeshiying, 8km away, where the driver flagged down a bus heading back to Beijing. Such a wonderful two days, an experience that will stay with me forever!

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 26


Simitai EastSimitai East
Simitai East

Remnants of one of the first watchtowers rising up above the Simatai Reservoir.
Simitai East RestoredSimitai East Restored
Simitai East Restored

Many travel guides still have Simatai listed as "unrestored" and "rather dangerous" for hiking. As can be seen from this photo, that information is no longer valid.
Bringing SuppliesBringing Supplies
Bringing Supplies

Restorations are continuing at lightning pace. Here a worker carries bags of cement up the steep incline.
Stairway to HeavenStairway to Heaven
Stairway to Heaven

View beyond the 12th watchtower. This section is now out of bounds as renovations continue all the way up the steep, narrow ridge euphemistically called "the Stairway to Heaven". I was disappointed not to be able to make it to the 16th watchtower known as Wan Jing Lou (Watching City Tower) where reputedly there are magnificent views all the way to Beijing, 130km away.
Drink StopDrink Stop
Drink Stop

There are a number of small concessions selling cold drinks, ice creams and snacks placed in strategic locations. On hot days like this I imagine they do a roaring trade! Prices can be absorbitant, but remember all the goods (and the freezers) were hauled up by hand, or rather on someone's back. As always-bargain!

Some of the enterprising locals provide sleeping mats, or in this case a tented bed for rent for the ultimate experience- sleeping on The Wall. Not strictly legal, but when did that ever stop anyone!
Sunset at The WallSunset at The Wall
Sunset at The Wall

View toward the setting sun to the stretch of The Wall toward Jinshanling.
Sunset on Simatai RidgeSunset on Simatai Ridge
Sunset on Simatai Ridge

View back the way I hiked earlier

View toward Jinshanling illustrating the varying styles of watchtower architecture
New FriendNew Friend
New Friend

On the way back down, I met a couple who were just "shutting up shop" and returning to their home for supper. They invited me to stay, but I politely declined, explaining in a mix of my atrocious Chinese and gestures that I already had arranged my accommodation for the night. They were reluctant to have their photos taken, but were eager for me to capture their delightful "children"!
Puss On The WallPuss On The Wall
Puss On The Wall

This is my new friend's "sister"!
Simitai ReservoirSimitai Reservoir
Simitai Reservoir

Simatai Reservoir divides the eastern and western parts of this section of The Wall. The chain bridge in the foreground is the access point for the start of the hike towards Jinshanling.
West Through the ArchWest Through the Arch
West Through the Arch

Western section of Simatai Great Wall snakes off into the distance towards Jinshanling.

22nd October 2006

Great Wall
Wow Tread, the unrestored wall looks dicey to walk on..I have a chinese student arriving this week I'll be able to show him your Blogs..Thanks mate....Di
26th October 2006

Hi Sue ThaNK you for all the wonderful pictures. I would like to visit China after 2008. I think it will be too busy before. Going to London Jamaica Ecuador Peru and Bolivia leaving Cairns Dec. 2. Would love to see you when you next visit Oz. Maybe you will come to Cairns.

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