Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Great Wall Hike (Part Two)

I was as excited as a kid who just could not wait to open his first Christmas present on Christmas morning, when I reached the crumbled watch tower where we were to begin our  5 hours hike from Gubeikou to Jingshanling. After all, I have been dreaming about this hike since I heard of it's availability when I arrived in Beijing. I scrambled up the broken steps as fast as I could. As I walked out from the watch tower, the Great Wall before me was everything that I had expected and more, definitely nothing compared to those pristine conditioned walls found at sections in Mutianyu and Badaling.

There were not proper walking paths. There were no retaining walls as these have probably crumbled and fallen down decades ago. The walking path were not well laid out stone slabs. The path was just a sandy path overgrown with scrubs and weeds on both sides. One wrong step and one could end up several meters straight down below the wall, probably with some rather serious injuries.

The walking path on the Great Wall at Gubeikou where we were to start our hike towards Jingshanling. No nice rebuilt walking path or retaining walls. Rugged and wild, just the way I have imagined her to be...Simply amazing.

And something is noticeably missing here when compared to Mutianyu and Badaling or even Shanhaiguan. No souvenirs peddlers, shoving things right into your face. No huge LOUD mainland Chinese tourists scrambling for the best spot to have their pictures taken, in totally mismatched outfits and clothes they called fashion, complete with the bright red, pink or orange umbrellas to protect their `delicate' fair white skin from the harsh sunlight.

Yes. There were still some other local hikers and they were still loud, even from some distance away but far and few in between.

Some sections of the walking path were so narrow and broken down and great caution is necessary to navigate, to prevent any unnecessary accidents.

The sections between Gubeikou, Jingshanling and Simatai are reputed to be the best and most scenic sections of the Great Wall and probably the most photographed section as well. In fact, if you ever see a picture of the majestic wall in her natural grandeur, chances are that it was taken somewhere along this route. Without a doubt however, the Jiankou section, located at the Huairou District approximately 80km from Beijing is still considered the best section of the WILD GREAT WALL. Due to the nature of the landscape, the great wall at Jiankou were built on ridges with steep cliffs on both side. (Jiankou in chinese meant Arrow Nock). Sections like The Nine Eyes Tower, The Beijing Knot and the famous Stairway to Heaven were reputed to be some of the most beautiful and captivating sights. However, they are equally dangerous to hike and required a good degree of fitness. There is a section known as the 38 Big Steps that reaches up with no good  foothold on an 80 degrees angle. There have been many reported injuries and death over the years from those who attempted to scale this particular section.

Gubeikou is the section that had seen many battles over the centuries. The most recent being the invasion of the Japanese with high casualties reported on both sides. Gubeikou is located at the Miyun county, approximately 125 km from Beijing. Stretching 20km, the Gubeikou section consists of 148 watch or beacon towers, averaging one each at every 156 meters apart, the closest being just 30 meters.

As I have mentioned in my earlier post, the storm clouds that rolled in gently as we began our hike proved to be a real blessing in disguise. Instead of clear blue skies that would render our pictures a little dull, the storm clouds gave our pictures an added dramatic twist and created more visual excitement. 

Sometimes, in our travels, we can be so engrossed with what that is before and in front of us that we forget to look around us. In fact, sometimes, the best scenes are those behind us. Such was the case as I was hiking forward towards the section at Jingshanling. 

As I stopped to take a breather, a little voice told me to turn around and have a look of what lies behind me. I saw the wall snaking downhill from where I was standing and disappeared over several ridges and peaks in a distance. The skies were overcast with interesting storm clouds formation. Then, my eyes caught sight of this magnificent moment. Suddenly, the bright sun rays broke through an opening of the storm clouds ahead, shining down on the valley and the Great Wall below her. It was as if heaven just opened a little window and with her light, presented this magnificent structure in all her grandeur and charm.

I could not have ask for more. These are the very pictures I have come for. These are the very pictures I have envisioned in my head even before I start and the Great Wall was posing for me in her own very unique way, in all her glory and charm.

The last visit I made to Jingshanling was in winter where the slopes of the mountains were bare and still covered with snow. I have always wondered what it would be like to be standing on the broken ruins of the Great Wall during autumn, where leaves were changing colours, preparing for the onslaught of winter. I was a little too early when I went in mid October. The leaves have indeed started to change colors but they were not red yet. I was told that the slopes will be covered in orange and red by early November. I have to be contended with the following picture .....

The hike between Gubeikou to Jingshanling would normally take around 4 hours and not considered to be an overly difficult hike. The hike will start at one of the watch towers of Gubeikou, upwards past several watch towers on the way to Jingshanling. From here, we left the wall and hike below the wall, past through several small local villages and over several ridges and valleys before joining back the wall near Jingshanling.

However, we took much longer than the normal 4 hours. Firstly because, both of us have not hike much before this particular trip and secondly, we were just too busy taking pictures, at almost every turn, which was one of the main reason that I have turned down the offer from the tour company to join another group which would be cheaper. The last thing I wanted was some strangers who do not understand the true passion of photography to put unnecessary pressure on me to hurriedly finish the hike in record time. I wanted a hike where I could stop and pause wherever and whenever I wanted, just to catch that one picture that speaks to me.

Our aim was to reach Jingshanling by sun down to catch the sunset there. But days are much shorter now  as winter approaches. The sun sets much earlier. 

"You guys better pick up your pace and walk faster if you want to see the sunset at Jingshanling" Andy, our tour guide reminded us.

Despite our best efforts, we could not reach Jingshanling in time to see the sunset but that does not mean we did not witness the beautiful golden sun setting behind the Great Wall. We did and not only did we see the sun set, we witness the full moon rising over the horizon.

Stay tuned for more ....

No comments:

Post a Comment