Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beijing: The Great Wall at Simitai

Chairman Mao famously said that he who visits Beijing without seeing the Great Wall is not really a man. So our worries about that are over. (phew!)

We skipped the madness at Badaling- from what I've read, its the most touristy and tschotsky filled. Instead, we opted to take a private car to Simitai. This section of the wall is better preserved, more unique and easier to get to thanks to a cable car. Its also an hour further away from Beijing than Badaling which is why there are usually fewer tourists there.

We had an absolutely magnificent day for it. A trip to the wall can be exceedingly hot, and the sky is often smoggy. But it had rained quite heavily the day before so the skies were clear and a brisk wind kept us cool.

As we rode up in the rickety old cable cars we enjoyed the quiet sounds of the wind blowing across the mountains and the trickle of a distant stream. The car stopped a few hundred feet from the top, leaving us to hike. It was surprisingly steep and the irregular steps and sharp switchbacks forced us to take our time. A team of tour guides/souvenir sellers traveled with us amicably fanning us and making conversation.

Once we reached the top, we gasped at the astonishing view. Although in pictures (ours included) the wall appears to stretch on forever, it is actually badly damaged in many places and only five sections of the wall are open to tourists. The Simitai Wall varies in width, narrowing at one point to just one foot! Uninterested in plummeting to our death, we just took in the watchtowers and gave the wide screen function on our Canon a good workout.

It was breathtaking. I am so lucky to have such wonderful travel companions and such amazing adventures.

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