Digital Dave's Ruminations

This is the place...

...where Digital Dave occasionally shares his thoughts on China, Photography, and other various and random subject-matter.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My 43rd birthday on the Great Wall

If you really want to get to know the Great Wall of China intimately, you have to go to where the tourists aren’t. The Huanghua section of the wall, in the mountains north of Beijing, is apparently just that place. Huanghua is an unrestored, but very well preserved, length of wall that rambles steeply and precipitously up and over craggy mountaintops and, for one afternoon, we literally had miles of it all to ourselves.

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One arrivClick to view larger imagees at this part of the wall without  any fanfare: after driving up into the mountains past the usual farms and villages (where older male villagers continue to wear the old green or blue Mao uniforms  and everyone still gazes suspiciously at foreigners), you abruptly stop at the side of the road where a handful of middle-aged women from a nearbClick to view larger imagey village are waiting for someone (anyone) to show up so they can sell you an “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirt and collect a couple of kuai (Chinese money) as “tribute” (it’s their wall, after all).  You the clamber several hundred feet up a wooded hillside and finally arrive at the base of a watchtower. Climb up a makeshift bamboo ladder and you’re on the wall.

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After admiring the spectacular view from the watchtower, it’s time to begin climbing further up the wall upon crumbling stone steps and even more perilous lengths of wall that are altogether without steps and insanely steep. There are no handrails of any kind and if you slip and fall, you’re going to tumble down hundreds of feet of hard stone masonry. (That next watchtower is only a half-mile or so away. You can do it!) The idea of armies of weapons-laden Ming dynasty warriors scurrying up the wall is incomprehensible. If one soldier were to lose it, they would all tumble off the wall like dominoes. Maybe they did!

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Click to view larger image

In spite of the dire consequences of falling off the wall (on my birthday, no less), we managed to conquer a fairly significant length of it and attain the dizzying heights that the Cinese armies did hundreds of years earlier in their mission to fend off invading Mongol hoards and Manchu warriors. It was well worth it!

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Click to view larger image

The the entire Great Wall at Huanghua gallery here.