Long before President Donald Trump came up with the idea to build a wall to separate the United States of America and Mexico, there already existed a wall so mammoth it was routinely cited as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’.
We’re talking about the Great Wall of China, of course. This longest man-made structure on Earth is not a long continuous wall, but in fact a series of walls and fortifications built along different regions by different rulers during different time periods.
Contrary to a popular myth that started circulating in the 1980s, the Great Wall is not visible when flying on a spaceship from outer space. But it is a marvellous piece of architecture. Considering that it took more than a million people (largely made up of soldiers, peasants and convicts) to help build the walls over the course of 2,000 years, we couldn’t have expected anything less iconic.
Overall, the wall is estimated to be approximately 22,000 kilometres long, spread out horizontally over various parts in northern China. In recent years, reports have surfaced about some undiscovered parts of the wall, hidden beneath thick forestry that has materialised over the course of the millennia.
In this modern era, access to historical sites have become much easier. Visitors often make capital city Beijing their first visit in China, from which the Great Walls in Badaling or Mutianyu make for popular day excursions. But here’s the catch – you’ll probably get to meet a million new friends like this:
The good news is, you don’t have to follow the masses. You just need to fly into Tianjin, a coastal city which has access to this less hectic but equally breathtaking part of the Great Wall. The Great Wall in Huangyaguan is an awesome section with significantly less tourists and equipped with good facilities.
Located some hundred kilometres north of Tianjin, the walls here were first built around 550 AD during the Northern Qi dynasty, and repaired a millennia later during the Ming dynasty. In 1984, the Chinese government started a major reconstruction project to fix parts of the three-kilometre-long wall as well as its many watch towers. Today, it’s one of the best places to relive China’s magical yesteryears, mostly because the panorama is spectacular without all the chatter and hundreds of selfie sticks waiting to poke you.
Because the number of tourists at Huangyaguan are fewer than in Badaling or Mutianyu, it’s highly possible to have a whole section of the wall to yourself. It also depends on the time, day and season of your visit. The winter months of December to February are good options if you can brave the cold, or come in the later part of the day during summer or autumn. With practically no one in sight, you can enjoy the place like a true wanderluster, just like God intended you to be.
You can even pretend to be a foreigner looking for the secrets to gunpowder but instead found yourself fighting aliens on the other side of the wall, just like Matt Damon in the Zhang Yimou movie The Great Wall.
Aliens or no aliens, we’ll probably never know for sure. But the Great Wall was built for many reasons. Primarily as defence from the northern nomadic tribes from Mongolia, the walls also function as border control to supervise the immigration and emigration in and out of old China, as a transport corridor and even to send smoke signals! It is uncertain whether the smoke signals are meant to cue housewives to start preparing dinner or to legit report an emergency. Perhaps it could be for both, hunger is an emergency after all.
The hikes here are not difficult but it is steep at certain parts especially the one dubbed the Sky Ladder. Proper shoes are highly encouraged, so leave your heels at home please. Other sights not to be missed include the One Watch Tower (also known as Widow Tower), as well as the statue of Qi Jiguang, a military general a.k.a. old school hero during Ming Dynasty.
The Great Wall at Huangyaguan is also the location of something really cool, which is the annual Great Wall Marathon. Cited as one of the most challenging marathon events on the planet, the event attracts thousands of people from all over the world, some who even come back year after year to relive the same running obstacles!
Whether or not President Trump gets to build his wall is uncertain, but it doesn’t seem that the world needs another big one. The Great Wall of China, a monumental architectural feat 2,300 years in the making and then some more, has enough magic to wow its visitors.
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