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Great Wall of China

Mutianyu - one of the best sections of China's Great Wall to visit
by Elizabeth Willoughby
Beijing is so smoggy that there's an app to tell you whether or not the air quality is safe enough to venture out of doors, if one has a choice. Nevertheless, the city is the launching point to visit one of China's best sections of the Great Wall that is still in existence. Less than a two-hour drive north from downtown Beijing is the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall. This is the segment where visitors should cast their attention.

Along a mountain ridge that climbs at some points to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level, the Mutianyu section in Huairou District was built around 1404. That was the beginning of the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. But that is not why it's worth visitors' attention. Endless forest covers steep mountain slopes and treacherous passes, while the wall wends its way along the top of the ridge, slithering back and forth like a serpent dragon. At least, that is how the Chinese see it. It is undeniably picturesque, but it has a unique element as well – its architecture.

Forts were built at points along either side of the wall to provide extra layers of defense for the border troops, and the wall is additionally fortified with a heavy concentration of watchtowers. Rare along the Great Wall, one platform on the southeast side has three watchtowers abreast. The towers on the surprisingly wide wall come with fireplaces, storage areas and stairways leading up to better vantage points.

The Mutianyu Great Wall continues, bit by bit, to be excavated and restored. Earlier this year (2015) three more sections and their towers were opened to visitors. What no one forewarns, though, is that there are many uphill steps along the way, some steeper than others. Happily the trek back is mostly downhill, although the steepest stairways are rather intimidating looking down.

Bring a spare camera battery and bring water. Vendors might not be around, and when they are, their prices are inflated. Also keep an eye on the time. The gondola, which brings visitors back and forth to the beginning of the wall, stops operating at 17:30. If you miss it, it is a long hike down to the car park on legs rendered wobbly like jelly from the walk along the Great Wall. On the other hand, the later you stay, the fewer the tourists. Imagine getting a picture of the wall with no one else on it. Imagine the sunset on a clear evening.

This article was originally published in September 2015 here at Examiner.com.

© Elizabeth Willoughby 2015

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