A trip to China would not be complete without seeing the Great Wall which crosses the country from East to West, from Xinjiang province to the Gobi desert. It took ten years to build this gigantic building started more than 2000 years ago when the Emperor Quin Shi Huang decided to link together walls built by independent kingdoms to keep away nomads. Obviously a large part of the wall has not withstood the test time and many sections of the wall are completely or partially destroyed . Some sections have been renovated and draw every day thousands of tourists. Badaling and Mutianyu are indeed the most popular sections and therefore I would suggest that you avoid them because even though the Great Wall is one of the most visited monuments in the world , it is not very difficult to get away from the crowds and even end up strolling alone on this stunning monument .
I spent two wonderful days on the Great Wall , far from the bustle of Beijing at the end of October. . I wanted to explore the Simatai-Jianshanting section but unfortunately it was closed for renovation . So I walked in the opposite direction from Jinshangling to Gubeikou , which was ultimately a good choice because it allowed me to see a renovated part of the wall which was not so touristy (Jinshangling) and a damaged part that has remained untouched (Gubeikou)
I arrived in Jinhangling from Beijing mid-afternoon on Monday 21st October. I had no trouble finding a hostel located only a few steps away from the wall where I could leave my stuff in an empty dormitory . 60 yuans for a night (6 euros) at the foot of the Great Wall of China, this is not too bad! I had planned to have some rest but once I got rid of my bag I couldn't wait and I went directly to the wall that had never been so close to me . I followed a path, climbed a few steps and finally there I was, breathless at the top of the wall. What a strange feeling to be standing there! I could see the mountains all around me and the wall on which I was standing snaking from one peak to the other until it got lost on the horizon behind the mountains. The autumn colours and just the fact of being there in front of the sun that was about to set was just amazing. I walked for an hour or two until the sun was about to disappear before returning to the hostel.
The next day I started the day early. I wanted to make the most of it and I especially wanted to arrive in Gubeikou before nightfall . After devouring a full bowl of delicious noodles, I was ready to go. It was 8:00am and still a little cold but I had the wall for myself . I went to the part that leads to Simatai and walked on this section until a sign told me to turn back. Around 10.00 few tourists arrived , most Chinese travel in groups . Along the way a group of six women probably in their 40s stopped me to take a picture with me! A little further there were two Chinese working on a construction site in their uniforms who asked me to pose with them ! I found it quite funny ! The further I went the more the wall was deteriorating and less tourists I met. But at some point it was no longer possible to continue. A wall prevented me to go any further: I was at the entrance of a military area, not accessible for tourists . So I had to walk back, I was surprised and a little annoyed because the previous day I had been confirmed that I could walk to Gubeikou . So I asked an old Chinese man how I could reach my destination. He made me a few signs and I understood that I had go down the wall and walk all around the mountain to get around the forbidden part! I was a bit doubtful because I had not seen any clear marked path. Fortunately another Chinese woman working on the site and who spoke a little English confirmed me that it was possible to access Gubeikou bypassing this part of the wall. What trip! I had to go down the mountain and then up again to get back on the wall which took me at least two hours! Breathless there I was again on the wall. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy. I could see the wall disappearing in the distance ahead of me and nothing else. I did not encounter a single person on the road. I still walked several hours before finally seeing Gubeikou village situated between two mountains. I was exhausted when I arrived at the foot of the mountain. So I stopped at the first inn I saw. They offered be a nice room for 100 yuan a night but I managed to get it for 60 yuan, with a double bed, private shower / toilet and heating that was a good deal. I ordered a bowl of noodles - because I can't order anything else in Chinese ! And I went to bed before it started raining.
The next morning the weather was glorious . It didn't take me too long to get ready for my second day of Great Wall exploration. The continuity of the wall was standing on an impressive peak that dominates the village. I had so much trouble to find the access to the wall that I almost gave up thinking that this section was not accessible. Fortunately I persevered and after getting lost several times there I was back on track.
This section of the wall is extremely deteriorated , so deteriorated that most of the time you can not walk on it but I climbed the mountain until I finally found myself above all the other peaks. The scenery was breathtaking. The silence was complete. I was stunned by the beauty of the landscape. After a few hours I lost the path that I had been following . I was at the top of the highest mountain and in front of me was the void. There were no more signs of wall close to me but I could see it reappearing much further, on another mountain . I had to stop at some point anyway . Of course this wall seems infinite and you want to keep walking on it to see a bit more but I guess you could spend a lifetime doing it. So I sat for a moment, alone, watching the scenery while enjoying the rare silence from China, then I finally walked back down .