We decided to take the more expensive option for this trip and travel by taxi, rather than a packed, boneshaker tour bus. We negotiated a day’s fare down to 500RMB and then sat back to enjoy the journey. Our driver spoke little English, but we managed to get by with gesticulation – the important thing was that he was a very careful driver, taking no risks and pointing out points of interest.
We chose to go to Badaling because this part of the wall had a cable car to and from its summit and has been well-restored. The down side is that this part of the wall is one of the most commercialised, and we would be guaranteed some heavy sells. It was an absolutely superb day visibility would be good. We relished our leisurely journey on the cable car (60RMB for a return journey), the wall profiled against the clear blue sky, but on occasions the ground seemed perilously close.
A short walk from the cable car and we were at the entrance for the Great Wall – one small problem we’d failed to buy our ticket from the small booth that’s tucked away to the left of the exit from the cable car. A gentle stroll later, we are climbing the staircase to top of the wall, and within seconds, we are standing on this structure. It snakes its way along the contours of this mountainous region and we were left truly amazed but wondering how defendable this huge border really was. I guess the true strength of the wall was its vastness and the statement it must have made to potential assailants. I certainly couldn’t resist imagining life in the guard towers firing off the odd arrow or two at marauding insurgents or setting off the first beacon to transmit a message back to the military headquarters. Indeed for a moment I pictured the distant hoard of oncoming tourists as backup troops. This place just encourages fantasies!
We hauled our way up to the top turret passing many a wheezing tourist as the struggled to negotiate various depth and width of step on the steep slopes of the wall. But the view from this upper vantage point is magnificent as the surrounding countryside is laid out in front of you like an intricate tapestry. Once we shrugged off the traders selling personally engraved plaques, scarves and T-shirts with slogans like "I walked the Great Wall," we were able to find a peaceful spot and pick out the wall’s looping manoeuvrings along the contours of the land.
The Great Wall had been on my "must-do" list for several years and as we paused for breath I realised that words to describe this wonder of the world were hard to find. I do remember reading that Richard Nixon had summarised his experience with the words "it sure is a great wall". I’m not sure I can top that!