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The Great Wall
Badaling - Simatai - Jinshanling
The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan on the east cost to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. Standard histories emphasise the unity of the wall. The "original" wall was begun 2000 years ago during the Qin dynasty (221 - 207 BC), when China was unified under Emperor Qin Shihuang. Separate walls, constructed by independent kingdoms to keep out marauding nomads, were linked. The effort required hundreds of thousands of workers, many of them political prisoners, and 10 years of hard labour under General Meng Tian. An estimated 180 million cubic metres of rammed earth were used to form the core of the original wall, and legend has it that one of the building matrials used was the bodies of deceased workers.
The wall never really did perform its function as a defence line. As Genghis Khan supposedly said "The strength of a wall depends on the courage of those who defend it". Sentries could be bribed. However, it did work very well as a kind of elevated highway, transporting people and equipment across mountainous terrain. Its beacon tower system, using smoke signals generated by burning wolvesī dung, transmitted news of enemy movements quickly back to the capital.
Bataling is located 70 km north-west of Beijing at an elevation of 1000 km. Since this is the most famous part of Great Wall, you will find everywhere crowds of tourist. Especially during the summer it is a carnival, and sometimes impossible to move against the crowds. A cable car exists for the weary, and a slide down. The restored section crawls for about around 1 km before nobly disintegrating into ruins, unfortunately you cannot realistically explore these more authentic frangments.
Tips and suggestions: If you are a weekend traveller or you want to visit a Great Wall just to say "I was there" or just to check it off your list of sights you want to see in China, go for it! Otherwise this part of the Great Wall is an absolute waste of time (and money). First of all, this part of wall is more man-made than a real historical sight. Everything is suited for tourists, you can even get a certificate (sure for some not small fee) confirming your visit. Secondly, this is not a hike or tour this is a battle with thousands of people. Donīt even think about some nice photos picturing yourself alone. Not even it is almost impossible to make photos thanks to the crowds of people, but especially during the summer you will have hardly any change to be on the photo without any stranger. If you feel, you cannot climb up, you can take the cable car, but donīt take the slide as it is a colossal waste of money. Better situation is during the winter, when you can "move and breathe" amongst the people, however compared to Simatai, where there were just 6 people including ourselves climbing up, Bataling is still crowded. In the winter you can escape the people by walking to the further parts of the wall. Badaling is more a tourist factory, which reminded me Bibione - well known resort for Czech and other European tourists. If you look for something more adventurous, go for Simatai.
Simatai is located in Miyun country near the town of Gubeikou, the stirring remains at Simateai make for a more exhilarating Great Wall experience. Built during the reign of Ming dynasty emperor Hongwu, the 19 km stretch is punctuated with watchtowers, steep plunges ad scrambling ascents.
It is not for the faint-hearted: This rough section of the Wall is very steep. A few slopes have a 70-degree incline and you need both hands free. One narrow section of footpath has a 500 m drop, so it is no place for acrophobics. The cabel car could be an alternative to a sprained ankle.
Simatai has some unusual features, like "obstacle walls" - walls-within-walls used for defending against enemies who had already scaled the Great Wall. Small cannon have been discovered in this area, as well as evidence of rocket-type weapons, such as flying knives and flying swords. Another peculiar feature is the toboggan ride. Unfazed by the dizzying terrain, hawkers make an unavoidable appearance.
Tips and suggestions: Since some parts of the wall are really steep and you need both hands free, bring a day-pack to hold your camera and other essentials. The strong shoes are an absolute necessity. If you want to visit the wall during the winter (as we did in February), you should take a good sweater and jacket with you, since there can be a very strong wind which causes a further drop of temperature even under minus 25°. This can be very unpleasant on the way back or down, when you donīt experience such a strain compared to the climbing up. After the sweaty climb, you can get pretty cold. Thermos with hot tea is also a very good idea. (When you climb up the wall with all this warm stuff on, you will get pretty sweaty even if you unzip or take off your jacket, believe me, so donīt stop for too long time at one place, otherwise you will be freezing to death. In such a situation a sip of hot tea can be very helpful.) Be also prepared to be followed by Chinese venders trying to sell you postcards and other stuff. There are very insistent, one "no" or "bu yao" (don' t want to) doesn' t help, they will follow you a half of the way up.
Though not as steep as Simatai, the Great Wall at Jinshanling is considerably less developed than any of the sites previously described. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Jinshanling is that it is the starting point for a hike to Simatai. You can do the walk in the opposite direction, but getting a ride back to Beijing from Simatai is easier than from Jinshaling. Of course, getting a ride should be no problem, if you have made arrangements with your driver to pick you up (and didnīt pay him in advance). The distance between Jnshanling and Simatai is only about 10 km, but according to Lonely Planet it takes nearly four hours because the trail is steep and stony.
Tips and suggestions: If you are in a good physical condition, the trip from Jinshaling to Simatai should not take you more than two and half to three hours. The terrain is steep and stony, be prepared to use your hands. Also a good tracking shoes is a good idea. If you want to hike the wall during the summer, donīt forget to have enough water with you. In the worst case you can buy something to drink from local vendors who can be met all the way to Simatai, but be prepared to bargain. In case, you desire to make the trip during winter, a thermos with hot tea can be helpful. No matter in which time during the year you go, there are always local vendors accompanying you all the way to Simatai and trying to sell you T-shirts, books, postcards etc. I bet after two hours of saying "no" or "I donīt want to" or "bu yao" you will get pretty annoyed.
Source: This page uses information from Lonely Planet