‘I have always wanted to see the sunset in the mountains. I have never experienced that before.’ That was Justinas reason to spend the night on an abandoned part of the Great Wall. This experience exceeded his expectations.
The longest wall on the earth
The Great Wall of China had many names through history. Both in Chinese or English. It was called ‘Long Wall’ or even ‘Ten-Thousand-Mile Long Wall’ (which simply means immeasurable translated from Chinese, while the real distance is 5 000 metres long).
The Great Wall was built during many centuries. And the construction of it took more than 2,300 years to build. First border walls were built to prevent Mongolian invasion and to protect the Silk Road Trade in 770 during Zhou Dynasty. Then the First Emperor of Qin linked the Great Wall sections on China’s northern border. But this version of the Wall it’s not what you see today, because it was made from compacted earth. And that actually was the only time when the Wall existed as a continuous structure.
After its completion, the Wall was largely abandoned. It was expensive to maintain and guard it, so some dynasties let it decay or deconstructed it to use for parts.
It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty started to work on the wall that we know today in 1400. Unlike the earlier fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger and more elaborate due to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. Up to 25,000 watchtowers have been constructed on the wall. Despite that the Great Wall never effectively prevented invaders from entering China, it came to function more as a psychological barrier between Chinese civilization and the world, and nowadays is a powerful symbol of the country’s strength.
The myth that the Great Wall is visible from the Moon or Mars was denied many times. But most of the people still believe it. Most of the Wall is decayed and unusable. And in the Gobi desert, many kilometers of it are completely buried in sand. While other sections are completely overrun by lush forest.
For most of China’s history, the Wall was actually seen with negativity and embarrassment. For generations, it symbolized the power of an oppressive government and the unsavory death of countless people. It is unknown exactly how many workers died building the Great Wall, but some authors estimate it from hundreds of thousands up to a million.
When the Wall was explored by Westerners China started to showcase it as a symbol of longevity and greatness. Nowadays it is one of the must see places while visiting China and everyone loves it.
Secret Path to the Great Wall
We started our travel to the Great Wall from the center of Beijing. Our group made the group of four and all of us wanted to see the remote part of the Wall which haven’t been renovated by the government yet. Firstly, we took the train to the city called Huairou. And then there are few options to get to Xizhazi (西柵子村): you can go by bus or grab a taxi. Latter was our option, because the bus shuffles only two times per day and the time was inappropriate for us. But keep it in mind, you need to walk a bit further from the train station to make a bargain with a taxi drivers.
After arriving to the right location there is an ‘eco fee’ for the locals (which is 20 Yuan). And then you are free to go to the top of the wall.
We knew it’s about 2 hours walk both ways, but we didn’t take an option to walk back. As Justinas and his friend Andrius are photographers they chose Zengbei tower for it’s reputation among photography culture. 991 meter altitude gives you a great scenery and fantastic view! Obviously they wanted to capture a sunset from up there. The picture itself says it was worth it.
At the town of Xizhazi there is the most popular hostel (where you can stay at) or ask for help to find the road which leads to Zhengbei tower. We asked the owner of the place and he kindly lead us to the right direction. You’ll know you’re at the start of the trail when you see a giant sign (in Chinese & English) saying you should not climb the Great Wall.
The climb is a great experience, because the distance from the town looks like a super long way to walk, but it rapidly goes steep and you reach the top of mountain pretty easy. The way is overrun by bushes, but in a mean time you can also see a great area which appears in right front of you with! Even though it’s an abandoned part of the Great Wall, we met few groups of people climbing down from the top. So you cannot call it non touristic place.
At the top of the Wall we were welcomed with cold drinks: beer, cola and water. We were surprised! The woman was selling the goods in such an area. She also asked us to pay an ‘entrance fee’ that we could use her ladders to climb up to the Zhengbei tower. But the view was worth the cost though.
It was incredible to see how the nature demolish the wall and it interflow with the mountains. Everything what was taken comes back where it belongs: ruins affected by erosion come back as sand to the nature from where it came from.
We looked around intended to find a shelter for our sleeping place. But nothing than an empty, rocky space showed up and we found ourselves collecting empty water bottles to use it as a protection from cold paving. As it was a hot day, we didn’t have many clothes to put on after the sunset and we have to rely on each other warmth.
Next day we walked to the renovated part of the Wall, widely known place Mutianyu. We enjoyed it even before the opening hours (because we walked from the other side of the wall). And the peacefulness of the place enchanted us.
If you are looking for an extraordinary experience while visiting the Great Wall of China, our route is definitely what you are looking for! Just don’t forget to grab some warm clothes if you are willing to sleep on the wall too. And caution, the path to the top is way too slippery to walk on rainy days. Enjoy!
P. S. I couldn’t come to this trip with Justinas. And occasionally he was away on his birthday too. So I gave him a little present and told him to unpack it only on his special day. Before he left I told him I will be on the trip with him. That small surprise was a picture of us at Sakura garden. Now I can say I was on Chinese Wall too :))
All words by Eisve Treciakauskaite and all images by Justinas Lekavicius, unless otherwise noted.