Walking to the top of the Great Wall of China is quite challenging. And once you arrive at the top, you can continue to walk along the top of the wall for a long way through the mountains that it sits atop, if you have the energy to do it.
There are several places where the Great Wall is open to visitors. The most popular has throngs of visitors. I suggest that you visit one of the lesser areas, equally beautiful and challenging, but with fewer crowds. I visited at such a place, the Juyong Pass, and recommend it for its smaller crowds and beauty.
What makes the Great Wall challenging? Ascending it is done by climbing stairs. But the stairs aren’t like on a normal staircase. Each step is of varying height, some can be 18 inches high. Descending is even harder. And, although there are occasional rails, with the crowds of people, you may not have access to one — you may have been pushed toward the center of the very wide staircase. And if you fall, you fall hard — on the rock the steps are made of, carved out of the surrounding mountains.
As you ascend, there are cutout lookout platforms where you can stop to catch your breath and take pictures. And as you ascend, you will have to navigate around tourists sitting on the steps. The stairs up to the top of the Wall are about 10 feet wide. Remember, carrying a heavy camera with you adds weight to the climbing exercise and some danger that you will hit your camera as you climb.
In my opinion, there is no need to get all the way to the top. The view from halfway is the same. But for bragging rights, the top is the goal. At the base there are exhibits, ornate temples and massive “gates” to entertain the less adventuresome. Although signs say “photos prohibited” in some areas, most tourists ignored them. I saw people taking pictures, oblivious to the rules and risking jail.
The Great Wall is a good place to begin to come to grips with Chinese history, which spans centuries. The Great Wall was built roughly contemporaneously with Jesus’ life. Contact between the West and East was limited to a small number of merchants who began trade along what became known as the Silk Road. The Chinese today have augmented these early experiences as traders to become among the best merchants to the world.
Designated as a World Heritage Site, the Great Wall was started around 200 years B.C. by China’s Qin (pronounced “Shin”) Dynasty, China’s first emperor, as a fortification against attack from the north. Qin was the first person to unify China into a single nation. His rule was tyrannical. The construction project took the lives of many of the soldiers and prisoners who labored to build it. Their bodies are reputedly entombed in the Wall. The bricks that comprise the Wall were held together by a mortar made of sticky rice. Most of the ancient wall has eroded or crumpled over the years, leaving only sections intact.
The largest segments of the Wall were additions to it made by the Ming Dynasty beginning in the 14th century. In Chinese fiction, the Wall is “10,000 miles” long. With modern technology we can measure the Wall to be about 3,100 miles. Because of Qin’s tyrannical rule, subsequent emperors who added to the Wall referred to it simply as a fortification or the ramparts. Only in English and French is it called the Great Wall; other languages refer to it as the Chinese Wall.
Tourist shops hawking all types of souvenirs and foods abound at ground level in the vicinity of the Wall and the adjacent bus parking lot. China has managed to exploit the tourist value of the site to raise capital to fund its operation and protect it from the onslaughts of tourists, some of whom might deface the Wall to enjoy it. Watchful cameras are always monitoring you in China.
Could Donald Trump or anyone else ever leave a wall legacy as great as this Wall? Impossible. And that’s what makes it such a wonder.