2. Great Wall of China
I had seen photos of the cable car leading up to sections of the Great Wall of China but I hadn’t seen any photos of the tobogganing slide going down. From that opening sentence you may think that I visited Great Wall: Tour Group Central, but I didn’t; Mutianyu is one of the best preserved sections of the wall but it’s not the most heavily touristed. Fair play about the cable car, it’s a very steep trip up to the wall in this section, the mountains rise straight up, stepping out of the flat plain Beijing sits on, and a lot of people would have been unable to walk on the wall if they hadn’t been able to get up in the cable car, but when I got up to the first landing there was a television production crew filming some kind of song and dance spectacular, a stage had been set up and there were red lanterns everywhere as well as kids singing and dancing and men flying kites. I have no idea what the occasion was but it can’t happen every day—neither can the wave after wave of kids playing chasings around the first few guard towers and families sat on the wall having picnics, but then the views of the surrounding hills are impossible for me to put into words—you’ll have to look at the photos and watch the video when I finish it, so it is a great spot for a picnic. A few hundred meters on as the arrow flies the people start to thin out and the going gets a little steeper, the final open section to the left has really steep stairs to climb and there was a nice sense of international camaraderie as people gee’d each other on to get to the top section, where, as well as an even more indescribable view there was a fellow wall walker singing songs from the Peking Opera. Strange and probably an impossibly unlikely one off but I’m sure it will be one of my enduring memories of this trip to Beijing. Also enjoying the entertainment were a group of people working on repairing the next section of wall, with a horse who was looking precariously over the edge at us. Older people had stalls along the wall selling cold drinks, including beer which they kept offering all the men speaking English, they bring their wares up every day on mules, you can see the mules on the tracks beside the wall. The toboggan slide was a long stretch in the other direction. And it was a regular toboggan track, like a big slide. Yep, it is a logical way to get down the mountain, but it kinda jars with the kinds of things I was thinking about while I was walking along the wall, namely how brilliant it is that such a huge undertaking could actually exist, but it brings in the money which supports the local economy, and it looked really fun, so I went on it. Around the base of the wall are the souvenir stalls, but once you get up onto the wall there are sections where you’re at least out of hearing distance of any other walkers and you can sit and have a ponder and take some breathtaking photos. If you can get further out and walk on the ruined sections it may be more the experience you’re looking for but if you’re short on time, M is only about an hour and forty minutes out of Beijing and you’re still able to appreciate how huge an accomplishment it wall is and why it definitely deserves the title ‘Great’. And did I mention the view, and that you can see the wall dwindle off into the distance, linked by towers which stand out on the top of mountain ridges.