A couple hours outside of Beijing is the Gubeikou Great Wall. It has a section of the wall that winds along the ridge like a dragon, hence the Winding Dragon wall. On the west of it is the Crouching Tiger wall, taking its name from the mountain because it looks like two tigers, one lying on its back while the other lies on its stomach.
The photo was taken from the Winding Dragon wall, looking west at the Crouching Tiger wall. (This section of the Great Wall is not restored and much of it is in ruins.)
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China was built in sections over a 2,000 years period. It was also built on the top ridges of mountains. While perched high on a horizon has always looked picturesque, I learned that it was a challenge to hike and climb the wall (it’s not a stroll), let alone to build it!
Creating a defensive line along the borders was a necessity against a powerful and nomadic people of the north. It took a bold vision to conceive of such a monstrosity. And a lot of sacrifice. During one period, it was reported as much as 1,000,000 slaves and criminals worked alongside soldiers and skilled craftsmen. And many thousands died on the worksite and were buried beneath the wall. The Great wall is probably also the longest graveyard in the world. You might also find it interesting as the Chinese claims the humble wheelbarrow was invented during the construction of the Great Wall.
While Emperor Qin was the first ruler to unite China and being was credited with building the Great Wall, large parts of the wall was actually built back in the 7th century BC during the Chu period. Emperor Qin, however, connected most of these sections into a single system. The walls were rebuilt or extended in later periods during the Han, Bei Qi kingdom and Sui Dynasty. During the peaceful renaissance period of the Tang dynasty, the wall had less significance but it was again rebuilt and expanded during the Jin and Yuan dynasties. It was during the Ming dynasty that the wall was maintained and strengthened to become the Great Wall it is today.
The Great Wall of China is not one long wall but a system of wall. With all known sections measured, the Great Wall is about 13,000 miles "long." And that is the original name to the Great Wall: it was called the Chángchéng or the "Long Wall."
Much of what tourists see these days are the restored sections of the wall. That was the case of the Jinshanling wall where I started my journey. Since it takes about two hours to drive out from Beijing, it is not the most popular site... for now. They are building a high speed rail that will take tourists about 45 minutes to get out here. And they are already building a new "village' full of shops, restaurants and hotels to accommodate all the visitors. Perhaps this is to bring relief to the amount of visitors to the most popular site at Badaling where it has been reported to see as much as 80,000 visitors a day! On my visit, I saw no more than a couple of dozen visitors and it thinned out as I hiked further west towards the Gubeikou wall. We arrived there just at sunset.
There is a well-known saying that was attributed to Chairman Mao: "Until you reach the Great Wall, you're no hero." Today, it has come to mean your commitment to 'get over difficulties before reaching your goal.' And that is what it means to climb the Great Wall of China.