on September 7, 2006
I was dreading the over commercialization of the Great Wall at Badaling, but hesitant to tackle the difficult trek from Simatai to Jin Shan Ling with my 76 year old father. Thankfully, our tour guide suggested the much less visited, but easily accessible Juyongguan. Located 32 miles northwest of Beijing on the way to Badaling, Juyongguan was reportedly used as early as the Qin Dynasty when the First Emperor started the Great Wall. Juyongguan guarded one of the two crucial passes to Beijing and thus gained historical significance as the site of many battles involving Jurchen, Mongol and, Japanese invaders. For more click here. In the central portion of the pass you will find two towers and a dedication by Mao stating that only "great heroes reach the Great Wall." This is no exaggeration. The wall stretches to the left and right along the ridge of incredibly steep mountains for 2.5 miles of wall. The left side was almost empty due to the steeper initial ascent even though it flattens out eventually. We opted for the less steep and more popular right side in spite of its relentless upward climb. Dad made it as far as the first tower. He decided to stay with the guide while I continued to the top. While the crowds thinned out the higher I went; I was never truly alone. And I was okay with that. Even the shop halfway up was a reminder of what it was like to build the wall –gallons of bottled water and boxes of t-shirts are nothing compared to the thousands of bricks necessary to build it. The present Pass was initially built in the Ming Dynasty and was extensively restored between 1993 and 1997. To be honest, the restoration, like most we saw is a little too perfect and new looking. It wasn’t until the end of the reconstruction at the top that with trembling legs and a little imagination you could see what might be the remains of the wall continuing impossibly into green mountains. The surrounding the valley area was considered during the Jin Dynasty (AD 1115-1234) as one of the Eight Sceneries of Beijing. While it is not what it once was, it’s a relief after the grayness of Beijing.The wall is open between 7:30 and 5:30 PM. We paid our guide $140 US for his time, the cab, and admission (normally $5US). Unless you have special needs I suggest you skip the tour guide and just hire a cab for the day. I could have done without the "visit" to the jade and cloisonné factories. Plus, the nearby Ming Tombs that are part of most itineraries were just not that memorable. Still, I am thankful our guide took us to Juyongguan. We got to experience the Great Wall without the circus-like atmosphere of Badaling or the imminent threat of killing my father. In fact, it was the highlight of the trip for both my Dad and I.
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