I had been to this section of the Great Wall just over a decade ago. Back then there was just a dirt road leading to the entrance. No ticket booth – we simply walked up the steep steps that, about a ¼ mile later, connected to the main wall. We stayed at a “hotel” near the bottom of the wall. The bed was a wood plank with a thin mattress, a sheet and no pillow. The cleanliness was so suspect that I slept, fully clothed. I woke to find a scorpion on the wall just inches from my head. The faucets yielded brown water; the toilet and the shower were one.
Returning was a shock. The dirt road was now well paved. An elaborate, and somewhat frightening, tram had been constructed to conduct travelers to the wall. A dozen or so vendors, a fraction of what you’d find at Badaling, lined the walkway. The previous “hotel” had been modernized and actually looked inviting (though we didn’t have time to go inside to confirm it wasn’t just a facade upgrade). Most shocking of all, the modern, clean toilet building with automatic glass doors, a few western style toilets in addition to the tradition squat toilets and sinks with actual soap and towels! I cannot begin to convey how different these facilities were from what we were offered on the last trip.
This section of the wall, despite the improvements, is not yet on the western tourist radar. We were able to walk the wall without seeing any other visitors. Local women latched themselves to us from the moment we stepped out of the car. We did our best to ignore them. We assumed that we had evaded them when we took the tram but to our amazement, they began to climb the mountain via a dirt path that at points was very steep. They arrived at the top before we did! We reconciled ourselves to their company and allowed them to walk with us and help us navigate the wall. The access road from the tram to the Wall is dirt path! I would have doubted that we were going the right way were it not for the women encouraging us on. We came to appreciate their knowledge and their presence. They were uneducated local women whose fathers and husbands had worked to repair the wall. The women taught themselves English so they could interact with tourists. I can’t imagine doing the reverse. I tried to pick up some Chinese phrases with no success at all.
The wall is challenging. There are portions of very steep, uneven steps. Even where the repairs have been finished and the steps are even and smooth, the walk is tiresome. We were thankful for the sections where we felt the strong, cooling breeze that blew across the wall. When we rounded one tower we were thrilled to find we were in the exact place on the wall where, back in 2002, two of us in this current group had been photographed. We took a new photo with this group, trying our best to match the angle. Unfortunately I didn’t think to put the original photo on my iPhone.
Hot and sweaty, we were relieved to collapse back into the air-conditioned comfort of our car but not before purchasing books and crafts from our local companions. We would have happily paid them just for their services but we settled for buying their merchandise at an elevated price – assuming it included the cost of their time.
If you visit China it is best to embrace the locals who will glom on to you – there’s no shaking them!
Images from the top:
The paved road to the Great Wall
The hotel at the base of the Great Wall
The Tram to the Great Wall
Shot of the local woman walking up the hill (in flat soled shoes that were like slippers) taken from the Tram
From the Great Wall looking down on the dirt path we took from the Tram to reach the Wall
The Great Wall – 4 shots
On to Shanghai!