Another brick in the Wall

One of the first things I did after coming to China was visit the Great Wall. Like most tourists, we went to the section of the wall called Badaling (八达岭). As you can see if you look at my old post, it was pretty crowded there and pretty commercialized. So this year when my sister and nephew came to visit, I wanted to show them something different – as well as giving myself a new experience instead of a repeat.

In my guide book, Simatai (司马台) was described as being less visited, less restored, and less crowded, which fit the bill perfectly. Of course, being all those things, it’s a little more of a challenge to get there. Luckily, I have some good friends who are locals and willing to help out. One of my friends told me that she saw a tour bus in the neighborhood, near the Sanlitun Youth Hostel, that said Bus to Jinshanling and Simatai the Great Wall on its side. She even wrote down the phone number on the bus. It turned out I had to arrange the trip through the youth hostel – the tour company won’t take bookings directly. So I went into the hostel and handed over a bunch of cash, signing up for the next morning (April 10).

We had to be there at 6:30, and the tour included breakfast on the road and a buffet lunch. All for Ұ260 (about US$38) per person, and actual entry tickets to the Great Wall were not included.

The “breakfast” was a pretty unappealing sandwich with some sweetened fruit juice. Really wish I’d taken the time to eat something beforehand. The bus ride was a total of about two and a half hours, with a stop at Miyun (密云) for gas, beverages and snacks – though the gas station had a pretty pitiful selection. I got a bottled coffee drink to wake myself up.

Miyun is a town in the Beijing Municipality and sees itself as the gateway to the Great Wall, so they use its image to decorate the town.
That’s a roundabout in the middle of town, not the real Wall.

After Miyun we headed into higher country.
We passed a little way into Hebei (河北) Province to a place called Jinshanling (金山岭), which basically means Gold Mountain. There is not gold in these here hills – it gets the name for the color of the trees in fall or something.
This section of the Wall was first built in 1368 and restored in 1567; parts of it have been restored more recently, though as you will see, certainly not all of it. And yes, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entrance ticket to this area is Ұ50.

The bus dropped us off here, and the guide gave us instructions on how to manage the ten kilometer walk to Simatai, where the bus would pick us up in about four and a half hours. No pressure.
The day was clear but hazy, so visibility was pretty good although the sky was generally not blue.
Note the relative – nay, complete – lack of tourists. This particular bit is obviously restored and in very good shape.
The start of the journey features some climbs which seemed a bit steep at the time. Little did we know what lay ahead of us.

As you go along, the state of the Wall deteriorates.
Note that the next guard tower in line is pretty far gone.
And past that is a section that you can barely walk on.
Note the lovely trees in bloom – I’m pretty sure they’re cherries. It was springtime, and things were starting to look alive.
The trend of steeper and more deteriorated continued.
Not long past this point there was a sign to inform us that we were entering the Simatai section of the Great Wall. This area costs Ұ40 to get in. There was a sign that said it was the ticket office of Simatai Great Wall, but there was no one there. At one point a woman was just walking along and checking our tickets.

There was a rather inconspicuous arrow pointing us around this tower.
Seems obvious that the path does not go through it, but many people tried, climbing up inside only to find out the other side was even less accessible.
We walked around it.

Here’s a picture that gives you a good idea what Simatai is like.
You can see that parts of the Wall are only a few feet high along here. And look at the ridge in the distance. See how the Wall continues up it?
That’s an area where it’s not very high.

As you walk along, you can see that aside from tourism, the local economy also includes agriculture.
Those are terraced corn fields. All along the Wall, we met up with locals trying to supplement their income by selling water, cola, beer, postcards, or guidebooks or (for the ones that spoke more English) offering their services as guides.

Between where the previous pictures were taken and the steep ridge in the distance is a river.
You have to cross a narrow suspension bridge (for an extra Ұ5) to cross it – not that you have a choice.
It’s a pretty steep descent to the bridge.
That’s another Great Wall ticket office. There’s actually a guy sitting on a folding chair at the other side. And that’s my sister and nephew not being exhausted.

From the other side looking back:
There’s a big sign near the Simatai parking lot to introduce the area. “Simatai Great Wall is most famous for its five characteristics: precipitous, dense, ingenious, peculiar and comprehensive...it is the only section that still keeps the original appearance of the Ming-dynasty Great Wall.” It also describes the “rope bridge” as looking like a “magnificent rainbow” – sure.

As tour members straggled in at Simatai, a minibus took them to a nearby restaurant for a buffet lunch. As it was after 2:00 and we’d had virtually nothing for breakfast and had just hiked 10k over rough terrain, to say we were starving would be an understatement. The food was tolerable, a selection of the most common Chinese dishes: gongbaojiding (kung pao chicken), tomatoes with scrambled eggs, and so on with steamed rice. Beverages were extra.

Outside the restaurant, there were ears of corn hanging on trees to dry. Though given that it was only April, this must be last year’s crop.
The trip back into Beijing took a lot longer than the trip out. Why? You might ask. Here’s why:
A bit after we passed the airport, we hit rush hour traffic. It was like this for something like two hours covering what should have taken 30 minutes or so.

I’m worn out now just from writing about it. But what a day!

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