OR I FINALLY MADE IT TO THE LONGEST GRAVEYARD IN THE WORLD!
Stirring from my uneasy sleep in my hovel I immediately started fretting about my MSS (Ministry of State Security, their Secret Service) ‘guide’ (I know you’re all snickering behind your hands about me being paranoid but I’m pretty sure I’m right) I dressed and had their hideous offering of breakfast then waited for her to turn up. She was late and I started freaking, because that’s what you do there, panic and be suspicious, but she showed up and when I asked to see her certificate she went shady. We went off and I had a strong feeling I was being abducted not going on a tour of the Great Wall. She started going onto this weird state sanctioned rant. She suddenly didn’t speak English when I asked her questions. She refused to go off piste with my wanting to talk about alternative subjects. Yes I know that she too could be scared but my story is better.
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
We drove through this brown landscape scattered with snow until finally the mountains were seen and we were there.
Over 2,000 years, many imperial dynasties built, rebuilt, and extended this long snaking “wall” that you see a section of in the pics below. The latest imperial construction was performed by the Ming Dynasty, and the length was then over 3,700 miles. Obviously succeeding generations had to patch up the bits that had eroded and fallen. When you walk on it there are large sections which lean at an angle unsurprisingly. The audacity of the project was incredible and it is truly mind blowing in the flesh.
The very fact that a cable car is offered rather than you climbing up to it shows how bloody difficult it was to achieve. The marauding Mongols and terrible tribes who would conduct raids had to be blocked by China. It’s hard to imagine it was started in 770 BC , by 221 BC they had convicts and soldiers doing all the hard work and dying at a rapid rate. They reckon 400,000 died at this time and were actually buried within the wall itself. (The Chinese it would seem have always found people expendable) They were buried in its foundation thus being dubbed the “longest cemetery on Earth.” Another fascinating fact is the secret of the strength and longevity of it lies in the sticky rice that was used as its mortar. Apart from that earth, stone, brick, lime, and wood. The materials used depended on the local resources available. When building on mountains, stones were used, when building it across the plains, the materials used were earth, bricks, and lime.
Some untended bits are like gardens now with trees growing through. You can have a tour where you camp overnight….on all those dead bodies?
Now, I don’t like heights but I especially hate being in a chair going on a string up into mountains. Cable cars are too scary and I was pathetic and whining a lot of the way. This really cheered up my guide who by then hated me.
TOP TIP: Now the point is of showing you these photos is, if you travel in the midst of winter you can actually have the place to yourself. I had been used by then, to have tourist free zones by travelling at this time of year. After my trip on the Trans Siberian Express this was a walk in the park. There were no bitter winds, and frankly, after all my ordeals since I had arrived in China, this was a balmy climate. I still had the fretting about the following days journey but it was laid to rest with this amazing experience. As I had been in Mongolia on my penultimate stop before China, it was bizarre to look over this wall to see the land it had been created for to was it’s enemy. The enormity is mind blowing. Ghastly shouty screamy foul tourists and irritating ones that want to run along it are not there. Me? I had it more or less to myself. If you plan to go winter is simply the best time.
This incredible feat, along with the terracotta army, just shows the incredible might of these people. However all these massive plans always have massive prices. The fact that we had to take a cable car up shows this huge human endeavour just to get up there with the materials and I wonder how much suffering was endured.
Built for the purpose of defense, there are holes on the tip of the wall called watch holes, and strange arched peepholes under the wall called embrasures. I saw some strange dips in the stone near them which I joked must have been for their lunch while on guard.
The watch towers or guard towers numbered about 25,000 at varying distances and messengers would run a relay for the latest news of any action. Some are simple and some ornate with dragons on their roofs for magical protection. These roof charms were to protect rather than decorate.
Do go in winter and do get a guide who has a permit to the top carpark. Don’t expect to stay for long if you are with a guide and if you go it alone to another section be aware that its a long hike up! After my cockups you might want to plan this meticulously as remember YOU ARE IN CHINA!
OVER AND OUT FROM THE LONGEST CEMETERY.
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