THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
While in Beijing, it is almost customary to visit the Great Wall of China. Though China is known for many things, the Great Wall, one of the seven man-made wonders of the world, remains an attraction for all the visitors. So when we were planning to visit Beijing, I had made sufficient enquiries before hand if it was possible to make a day-long trip to the Great Wall from Beijing. After all the name ‘Great wall’ has been etched in my memory ever since I knew there was another country by the name of China in my primay classes many decades ago.
There are two or three areas of the Great Wall, within 100 km from Beijing, which have been well developed for tourists’ visits. The visit is also combined with other attractions enroute. We chose a package which combined it with Ming’s tomb. Also thrown in the package were visits to Jade factory, enamel factory, Tibetan herbal medicine house and tea house. All such factories had packaged these visits as an educational tourist attraction, but in reality they all were commercial enterprizes which organized guided trips within the factory with the ulterior motive of persuading the tourists to buy their products. As a sale strategy, these houses had employed English speaking charming damsels to lure the visitors. We disappointed all the pretty young girls, but were impressed by their perseveration. However, the Great Wall was interesting. We had chosen the Badaling section of the Great Wall for our visit. It is 70 km northwest of Beijing and is the best known section, and hence the most packaged. The moment you reach there you are welcome by a number of restaurants and souvenir shops. And since we were there just three weeks before the Olympics, the most saleable souvenirs were Olympic memorabilia. It had been cloudy since morning, and by the time we reached there it had started drizzling. So we also made a beeline to one of these shops to buy ‘one-time use’ kind of raincoats. We decided to climb the wall from one part of this section and descend from the other negotiating and climbing steep stairs and hiking on the wall. The wall followed the contour of the adjoining steep range of hills. The area was full of local and foreign tourists, and the local school children made the entire atmosphere very lively. We three Indians stood out different from the rest and were in huge demand by the school students to have photographs with us. Of course, we did not disappoint any. We decided to walk and walk leaving the crowd behind us. Then the natural landscape and scenic beauty got better with hills and lush greenery on both sides of us.
The Great Wall of China is 6400 km long and has been built over a period spanning from 6th century BC and 16th century AD, making it a wonder that has taken the longest time to be erected, by successive dynasties to defend themselves against the northern invaders. Over the centuries the wall has been in despair at many places due to neglect, vandalism, and harsh climate or sandstorm. Our guide also told us that at many places, local people vandalized the wall to use the building material for their own houses! However, at Badaling, the wall has been restored for tourists and does not give the feeling of ancient ruins, unlike the ruins of Greece. In fact the wall does not seem restored but rebuilt in its entirety. Some people feel that there is nothing genuine about the experience. However, we were happy with the visit and other experiences and returned to our hotel in time for the evening Beijing Opera show.