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China: Jinshanling Great Wall

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Jinshanling Great Wall | China | Asia

[Visited: September 2014]

Suddenly, a high wall appears in front of me, and I realize that this is not just a wall, but the wall: the Great Wall of China. It is around 4am, and I have hiked up the trail from the entrance at Jinshanling in the middle of the night. It is full moon, and even in the valley, I could see the trail without using a torch even though it was lined with trees. Now, I come in full moonlight, and there is bright light everywhere. When I reach the top of the wall, and look around me, I am in awe. The Great Wall of China stretches towards the horizon on two sides, meandering over the mountains, with plenty of watchtowers. I climb the wall towards the east, and when I reach a higher point, the view becomes magnificent. To my surprise, I see the contours of the wall at Simatai, in the distance, with lights; that section has been restored in recent years and apparently has become a Disneyworld version of itself. But for now, the Jinshanling section is still wilder, and let us hope it will stay that way. There is no one else around, and I have the wall all to myself while I walk east, towards Simatai, and towards sunrise. It is a surreal experience: here am I, walking the centuries old Great Wall all on my own.

Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The central area of the Jinshanling Great Wall with the Large and Small Jinshan Tower

When I reach what seems to be the highest tower of them all, I decide to wait for sunrise. While walking, I felt OK, but now, I fell the wind, and it starts getting chilly. While I can see the darkness seep out of the sky in the east, my eyes turn to the west over and over again: the moon turns red, making for an unforgettable scenery, until it dramatically disappears behind the mountains like an acclaimed actor behind the curtains. When the sun finally pops up above the jagged mountain range, I start walking again, enjoying the views and the warmth of the large orange disc in the sky. When I set out of Beijing, I had planned to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai, but the farmer I stayed at during the night has informed me that it is still closed. There are parts where I have to follow a trail outside the watchtowers, and then I reach one whose doors are simply closed. Once more, I follow an outside trail, until it stops. There seems to be a way up the wall, but when I am halfway climbing the wall, using openings as footholds, I realize that I am doing something foolish. Suppose I manage to get on the wall and walk all the way to Simatai on an officially closed section? That could land me in trouble. I decide not to risk it and to be obedient, and retrace my steps on the wall towards the west. But I do so not before casting a look on the famously steep mountain ridge to which the wall of Simatai precariously clings.

Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Full moon setting over the Great Wall of Jinshanling

It is only after passing the tower where I started my adventure in the middle of the night, that the more famous towers of the wall come in sight. The Small and Large Jinshan Tower, supposedly the name givers of this section, the General Tower, the Dark Tower - all sturdy, square buildings with a history going back many centuries, just like the entire wall is studded with anecdotes and incredible stories. Some of the buildings on top of the towers are shaped with eaves, decorated with small dragons, made from polished bricks. This section is famous for its high number of watchtowers: every 100 metres, or less, depending on the terrain, stands yet another tower. Some are two-tiered, with a small building on top where soldiers once lived and where arms were stored, in defence of this enormous barrier protecting the Middle Kingdom against hostile troops. There are beacon towers, and barrier walls to protect the Wall from within. The Great Wall lies in the landscape with twists and turns like a giant snake with a never-ending body and with no head or tail in sight. And then, suddenly, I reach a watchtower which is closed and surrounded by barbed wire: there is no way I can continue here. From this tower, the wall continues towards the mountains in the distance, until it disappears at the horizon. There is a trail at the base of the wall, and I climb down the wall to reach it, walking down a path back to the tiny village of Jinshanling with a view of the wall from below. It is almost seven hours since I left for a long hike up and down the stones and stairs of this particularly pretty stretch of the immense Great Wall of China, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction.

Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Small Jinshan Tower in the central area of the Great Wall of Jinshanling
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The western section of the Great Wall at Jinshanling
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): View of the Great Wall from within one of the watchtowers
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The Great Wall meandering over the mountains at Jinshanling
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Wilder section of the Jinshanling Wall partly overgrown by grass
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Watchtowers on the top of mountains and the Great Wall meandering from tower to tower
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The eastern section of the Jinshanling Great Wall, with the Simatai section in the background
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The ruinous eastern section of the Great Wall of Jinshanling
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Remote section of the Jinshanling Great Wall with sweeping views over the mountains
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Restored section of the Jinshanling Great Wall with the Large Jinshan Tower in the background
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The Great Wall meandering over the hills of Jinshanling, looking east
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): The western section of the Great Wall of Jinshanling has trails and flowers on top
Picture of Jinshanling Great Wall (China): Restored section of the Great Wall of Jinshanling

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