The Great Wall of China had always been in my list of must-visit places. I can still vividly recall the first time I read about it in our high school text book. I was in complete awe reading about its history, how it was built spanning dynasties and centuries.
When the opportunity to visit Beijing came along, the first thing I did was research on which part of the Great Wall is the least crowded of all. I quickly discovered this tour called China Highlights, which organizes a small group of 5 people for a three-hour trek along the wall. Although they advertise this on their web site as a trek from Simatai to Jinshaling, we actually trekked from Jinshaling to Shalingkou instead. But it was still a great walk.
Jinshaling, is actually located in the town of Chengde, which is a couple of hours’ bus ride from Beijing. I chose this portion of the wall not only because it is a lot less crowded but also because these portions are authentic and unrestored, unlike the ones closer to Beijing, like the most famous and crowded one in Mutianyu. I wanted this to be a really intimate, memorable, unique and wonderful experience, one I would always be glad to look back on… and it really was!
When we arrived at the park, we had to hike up for about half an hour or so to the starting point of the Great Wall trek. It was gruelling. It reminded me so much of the time I climbed Mt. Pulag 11 years ago. I wanted to give up at one point while we were climbing a series of very, very steep steps! My legs were prepared for it from doing Xtendbarre for more than half a year before this climb but I couldn’t say the same for my heart and my lungs! I was just thankful I was not the only one trying to catch my breath from time to time. But every time, I would look up and see that I am fast approaching the wall, I would be so happy and immediately get motivated to continue on.
From the starting point of the trek, the view was absolutely amazing. It took my breath away, literally and figuratively! I was seized by a feeling of futility and greatness all at the same time. It was magical!
I could not imagine how much suffering and sacrifice was done by the people who worked on these walls. I was only walking on them for a short period of time but I was already much too fatigued and weary afterwards. I was so sore we had to book for a massage afterwards. It really helped a lot!
A few tips: make sure to bring some water and snacks because you will get very thirsty and/or hungry along the way from all the walking and sweating. You will sweat a lot. To keep myself cool, I brought a tiny face towel that I would wet with water and pat on my head, face and extremities from time to time. Also, don’t overexert yourself. If you feel that you must stop for a while to catch your breath or rest, then you should. It’s not like you’re in a marathon or a race. You paid for this trip to be enjoyable and to have a great time.
Although they mentioned on their web site that they offer bottled drinks, this is only during the halfway break during the trip. The tour guide does not carry the water bottles all the time. There is just a designated area in one of the turrets where they have a station with refreshments. Then if you buy from the local farmers that follow you around, it will be very, very expensive and annoying to haggle with them.
And of course, I could not stress enough how important it is to protect yourself from the sun, so you should not forget to smear a generous amount of sunblock on your skin, wear a hat and some sunglasses.
We reached Shalingkou 5 kilometers and three or so hours later. Then everything was downhill from there. You’d think that this would be a lot easier than climbing, but actually going down is really painful for the knee joints, which I really hate. All I could say is that I am just so glad I already did this at this point in my life when I still can.
I had the most wonderful time which all resulted into lots of beautiful, beautiful pictures because we were blessed with a very nice weather. It usually rained in the afternoon, but thankfully, it skipped the day we climbed the wall. But don’t just let my pictures tell you all about it. Go ahead and see it for yourself.
Thanks for reading and have a good weekend! 🙂