It was just a few months ago that I found myself standing at the top of the Great Wall, after a long winter hike, admiring the most beautiful landscape and it still feels unreal. It has been one of the best travel adventures of my life so far.
My friend and I started at 6.30am from home to take the bus 873 which goes to the Great Wall, costing 12RMB one-way. It usually takes an hour to reach the Badaling section from Beijing but it took us two and half due to the traffic. Good start, eh??!
As soon as we reached the starting point and bought the entrance ticket, I realized that this hike wasn’t going to be ordinary.
Moreover, it would be a hard row to hoe due to the chilly weather. I was well prepared though – thick jacket, warm clothes, comfortable shoes and gloves with grips.
Our aim was to reach the North Eighth Tower which is the highest point of this section. When we started, the temperature was -12°C. We were also told that the wind is wild and the temperate would be -15°/20°C at the top which scared us a bit.
Unaware of the complexity and degree of this man-made structure, we started our hike slowly and once we reached the First Tower, our confidence was boosted and we just wanted to keep climbing higher. As we went further, we noticed that the flight between each step was really high; and the straightaways were too steep and complex. However, the view from each Tower was beautiful which motivated us to keep climbing and not give up.
We took a small break on reaching the Third Tower. We’d carried a lot of fruits and snacks; and hot water bottles which became ice-capped water bottles due to the freezing temperature. We couldn’t stop admiring the scenery and feat of the wall which is seen stretching for miles behind and in front. My friend overheard some Chinese people talking among themselves about how difficult the hike is. Nonetheless, we proceeded with our hike.
As we moved further, we spotted a huge stone area where the famous quote by Chairman Mao, the founder of modern China, “不去长城 非好汉” (Bù qù chángchéng fēi hǎohàn) – “He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man”! was inscribed. As a first-time visitor, hiker and typical-tourist, I went and got my photos clicked up there! Why not? China’s Great Wall, one of the wonders of the world, is the greatest architectural achievement ever accomplished by the Chinese and for me, hiking to the top of the Great Wall is one of my greatest achievements.
The toughest climb was from Fifth Tower to the Eighth. It turned out to be much more strenuous than we imagined. The weather had become more bitter with wildest of the winds and the flights of the steps were steeper and irregular both in height and width. The climb demanded a lot of mental and physical strength to pull it off. There was a moment when I felt like giving up. I had no energy left to continue my climb and the thought of climbing back down made my blood run cold (apart from my body turning numb due to the unfriendly weather). I even asked my friend to go further and that I could rest and wait for her at the same spot. But I realized how negative my own thinking actually was and how much it was holding me back from what I wanted in life.
So, I convinced myself to not give up and I can’t tell you how incredible this experience has been. With frequent rests, we made it finally to the summit: The Eighth Tower. I personally found the downhill climb more taxing than the uphill as we had to keep ourselves from falling forward. Fortunately, we kept ourselves upright the whole way down.
It was marvelous to see the vastness from the top of this historic structure. The view of the mountainous landscape and all the watch towers linked by the connecting wall is beautifully rewarding. To be able to climb the steps built centuries ago and walk into the watchtowers is a privilege and a humbling experience. I believe the view speaks for itself but this is the ultimate hiking trip, and a must visit man-made wonder of the world.
The Great Wall of China not only exemplifies China’s rich culture but also represents a journey of unbreakable strength and the importance of togetherness during all life challenges.