Friday, February 22, 2013

Beijing - Great Wall of China

Event date: 5th December 2006

After a tour in Ming tomb and lunch, our group proceeded to the Great Wall of China, recognised as 1 of the wonders of the world. I had a vow (declared to hubby) before we went that I will climb and walk through the great wall as far as it can be and/or allowed to. Let us see if I managed to achieve my mission. I was 40 years old at the time of visit, surely I can! For the record, I climbed and concur Mount Kinabalu in 2001, 5 years before a climb in Great Wall.

Let's get back to the history and the facts of world famous fortification of China. It's a great thing for me to witness a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China in part to protect the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups or military incursions by various warlike peoples or forces. Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC. Later it was joined together and resulting a bigger, stronger and unified wall to earn it's name as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the 1st Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. I can write and talk in length about the Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Chin dynasty as he was the 1 who was responsible to unify China as a big China, today. Saddened that little of the wall built by him remains. After his effort, the Great Wall has been on and off rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced. The majority of the existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty.

Beside a military purpose, the Great Wall was built as border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km. This is made up of 6,259 km sections of actual wall, 359 km of trenches and 2,232 km of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km. I wish to share the below map of the chronology how the construction of the Great Wall during the Chinese history, found in Wikipedia.

From the above map we can see the series of construction by a different emperor in different dynasty as the Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn Period between the 8th and 5th centuries BCE. During this time and the subsequent Warring States Period, the states of Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Yan and Zhongshan all constructed extensive fortifications to defend their own borders. Built to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears, these walls were made mostly by stamping earth and gravel between board frames. Emperor Qin Huang Shing conquered all opposing states and unified China in 221 BCE, establishing the Qin Dynasty. Intending to impose centralized rule and prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state borders.

There are 8 sites of the Great Wall open for tourist, starting from the north-west clockwise, are Badaling, JuyongGuan and HuanghuaCheng, then Jiankou and Mutianyu in the north followed by Jinshanling, Gubeikou and Simatai to the north-east. A few desolated sites have been closed by the authorities to prevent further damage to the structures as well as injuries to tourists. We were brought to the site of Badaling. Badaling is the most famous and most visited section of the Great Wall of China, seated approximately 50 miles northwest of urban Beijing city in Yanqing County. The portion of the wall running through the site was built in 1505 during the Ming Dynasty, along with a military outpost reflecting the location's strategic importance. The highest point of Badaling is Beibalou, approximately 1,015 metres above sea level.The portion of the wall at Badaling has undergone heavy restoration, and in 1957 it was the first section of the wall to open to tourists.

There was an older and incomplete wall here during Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC). However, wall we are seeing was rebuilt in 1571 and was repaired in 1957 for public access. It is considered the best preserved, being the hallmark of Ming Dynasty wall construction. It became a United Nations world cultural heritage in 1987. The section is about 5 km long with 19 watchtowers. The wall extends from peak to peak and is made of rectangular slabs, standing eight to ten meters high, six meters wide at the base and five meters wide at the ramparts, hence allowing ten soldiers or five horses to stand abreast. Along the wall are observation platforms every 500 meters and they also serve as sentry posts and storage for weapons and food. Many sections of the wall were in desolate places, and food and quarters were supplied via narrow paths to the wall where they are pulled over the side in baskets. Alright, the view from the shared photos evidenced that the steps and the wall were too much for me to explore. Hence, in addition to a thick air of winter season, I was able to catch my breath climb the first part of the steep stairs to reach the first observation platforms. 

Our 3 boys were up above till the last point where the authority disallowed further climb due to safety reason. I stayed behind with Syahirah. We took many photos while waiting for the rest to come down. We were told that the left part of the Badaling wall is steeper but gives a better scenery of the wall. To the east of Badaling is a 2 meter high rock said to be where Dowager Empress Cixi looked towards Beijing in reflection to her previous grand court life-style compared to her then 1900 distress in her fleeing to Xian to escape the Eight Nations Allied Army. This is the rock mentioned earlier, called “Looking to Beijing Rock”, with a monument for foreign contributors to the reconstruction of the Great Wall in the 1980s.

The Great Wall offers a timeless charm to tourists, but scenery varies with seasons. A visit in different time will allow a different scene. In spring, when trees and plants begin to turn green, the Great Wall shall glow with the lush vegetation. Every thing looks so fresh. It is a good time to avoid the crowd tourists in summer and autumn. In Summer, the booming flowers and colored leaves cover the mountains, which will give much nicer scenery by crowded tourist. When fall comes, the mountains are blanketed by colors, creating an amazing view and the weather during this time is pleasant but crowded. This season could be the best season to visit. The mountains and the wall itself are covered with snow in winter, offering an awesome snowy scene. The weather in this time of the year will be frozenly cold and tourists are fewer. It is the best time to get the whole view of the wall. We were there in early winter season when the snowing was not even started. How sad! 

Finally, the hero came down with a victory sign. Nasrul face was reddened from the run.

We couldn't locate Nazhif and Naim, thus, decided to explore the adjacent side door. There, we found a Mongolian lady operating a small business for a tourist to take pictures with her 2 hump camel. They gave a helping hand for Syahirah and Nasrul to had a small ride with the camel.

It's time to say goodbye. To record the reason of my unfortunate mission to climb the many kilometers of the Great Wall, I snapped a picture of hubby climbing down. How scary it was to look down. It's a remarkable attempt that I and Syahirah managed to go up even to the first observatory tower watch.

Lastly, I wishes to share our children's happy faces in the place where 2000 years ago, the Chinese people (uncounted death) had started the construction of the world wonders, Great Wall of China. Their difficulties under the tyranny emperor, their blood and sweat will not be forgotten.

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