"All in all it was all just bricks in the wall" - for all Pink Floyd fans out there .
Our bus tour took us to Badaling, the section of the great wall that is most frequented by tourists. As we approached we could see the watchtowers silhouetted against the hazy sky, then finally the rest of the wall came into view.
By this time it was mid-afternoon so the morning surge of tourists that usually come to this area had died down and we were able to explore relatively unimpeded. Others had told stories of horror congestion at Badaling so we were greatly relieved. The wall obviously takes very heavily traffic at Badaling, the heavily worn stones testifying to how many feet have walked along this section of it. This section of the wall has been completely renovated, so whilst it's not strictly original it gives a feel of what it would have been like hundreds of years ago.
From the starting point we had 2 choices - going right and up the mountain ridge or going left and up, up, up the mountain ridge. We went with the latter. As we started to climb we went past this row of locks and ribbons on the wall. There is a myth that if a couple attached a padlock to the wall with a ribbon then their love will be locked together forever. There were a couple of shops making the most of this opportunity. There were also other people selling stuff along the way, like T-shirts, stamps with your name on them and other such touristy trinkets you'd expect to see at a place like this. Also purchasable was an obligatory certificate of proof that you climbed the Wall.
It's a steep climb and somewhat hard going. The further up we went, the less & less old overweight tourists we saw yet we still managed to come across a Chinese woman battling with stilettos on the uneven stones (and between them) near the top of the climb. Reaching the top was worth the near-hour-long climb. Although it was hazy the mountains were still inspiring.
You can forget any notions that you may have about the wall being this perfectly formed X metres high by Y metres wide construction. It's rough, it twists and turns and it's forever changing as it winds its way across the always-changing landscape. In places it's 4 or 5 metres wide at the top, in others it's single-file only.
Along the way we passed about 10 or so guard towers, each strategically located so that the wall between guard towers could be completely protected by the archers. A very nice little military strategy on the part of the designer . These guard towers were also used for communication by passing along different coloured smoke signals. Below is a face-signal poking out.
The key significance of the wall is not it's height in any one location but the fact that it is continuous (as good as) over such an enormous length (over 6000km as originally built). Through mountains and valleys, through forests, through sand and clay, through rocks and stone, the wall just goes on and on. We were amazed at it for about 2km of it's length. Imagine that multiplied 3000 times over!
It was a quiet and subdued 2 hour bus ride back to Ti'anm*n square in Beijing. Everyone on the bus was clearly worn out from the day's activities. Once back in the city we hunted for anything that said "food and water" so we crashed in an RBT restaurant a little south of the square. Having deciding that we wanted the express route back to the hotel we took another of Beijing's cheap taxis to finish out the day.