asia · travel

When Great Means Epic

First, let me get this off my chest — we sold out! We rode the cable car to get up the wall, instead of that dramatic hike that we originally planned. But just because passed on the chance to go ala-Dora doesn’t mean that it was any less of an adventure.

Follow the Yellow(ish-red) Brick Road!

The Road to Jinshanling

I lost track of when the day ended and when another began. I nodded off to sleep at 2 am, only to wake up at 5:30 to make sure that Jan and Alex made it all the way from the airport to our meeting point safely. Fates be praised, they did and after a few bouts of groggy discussion, we agreed to slightly change our plans. In place of far-off Jinshanling, we were heading to the Mutianyu area of the Great Wall instead, given that we had less time than we thought. Adjustments were made, and after a while we were boarding long-distance Bus 980 at the Dongzhimen terminal.

Giddy for a walk on the wall!

There we were, Jan and I, swapping stories of the funny things that have happened to us so far, when we realized that according to our guidebook, we should have rode another bus that went to the interchange for Mutianyu. Our current ride was taking us to Miyun County, about three-fourths of the way to Jinshanling, where the universe obviously wanted us to go. I was only wary that instead of taking a public bus, we had to hire a car to take us to the Great Wall, which made us open prey for opportunistic taxi-drivers.

No sooner than you can say ‘Ni hao!’ did the cab drivers swarm as we alighted off the bus. We tried to duck into a shop to shake them off, but they sprightly followed. “Five hundred, I take you to Jinshanling,” a tall man with white whiskers offered. Prior research advised us that RMB 100 should suffice, so in our best poker face, we countered, “Two hundred.” He then gave what I fondly refer to now as the ‘Chinese Haggling No’: wailing ‘no’ with your fullest, deepest conviction, while waving your hands in an X-motion wildly like there was no tomorrow. After listening to his litany of why our price was ridiculous, we walked away, trying to ignore the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere, in a countryside where English was sparsely spoken.

A sign on the Great Wall. Oh, the irony.

Our plan was to hike down the road, and hopefully spot a hotel with a reasonably priced cab service. Another car followed us as we sauntered, but as he did not have the price we wanted, we trudged along. Imagine our surprise when we found the white-whiskered man waiting for us three blocks down the street. After another round of play-charades-like-your-life-depended-on-it, we settled on a middle price and finally, we were off to the Great Wall!

Come along for the ride!

The Wall was still a good hour’s distance way, but the route was thankfully scenic. Miles of mountains whizzed by, as we hungrily looked on to spot the first signs of the wall’s tiered edges. A couple of Game-of-Thrones analogies later (hey, this was a Wall in the North, after all), our driver finally dropped us off near the foot of the Jinshanling cable car station.

Friends, I’ll do my best, but this is where words are likely to fail me:

A vivid image to remember the first step I took upon the Great Wall.
Its infinite reach just blows your mind. Look at the length of that passage, and there's hardly a soul in it. Definitely, Jinshanling is the spot to escape from the maddening crowd.
That Rocky moment, when you feel you can conquer anything.
No doubt my favorite spot in the Great Wall. Restoration has been sparse in Jinshanling, as compared to the areas nearer the city, but I find that the ruins gives you a more truthful look at how much this centuries-old icon had to persevere.

Kicking back and soaking in the sights.
We concede -- best jump shot goes to Alex!

It was heartbreaking to have to leave — we only had two hours to explore the wall, and the time went by just like minutes. I was deliberating whether it was worth it to be left behind — I wanted to wander off more, to leave no stone unturned, to take pictures until my camera begged for mercy — but sense won over and alas, we were on our way down again towards our next pitstop.

On the ride back, I mused about a travel article I’ve come across recently, one that pondered on how budget travel has turned into this contest on who can traverse the world for almost next to nothing. I think it was at this moment that I fully grasped what the writer was trying to say — that it doesn’t matter if you traipsed the circuit with almost nothing but the shirt on your back, or if you paid a hundred bucks more than the previous guy, or if you had more scars and bruises to show. The greatest steal is walking away with a wealth of experience that you wouldn’t have had otherwise, whatever road you took to get there. The loot is defined differently from one person to the next.

For me, I felt like I made away with a million bucks. However, I have to say that I’m greedy for more.

How does that go again -- 'A journey of a thousand miles...?'

More pictures! -> 2012-04 Great Wall of China

Casualty Assessment:
Bus 980 fare (fr Beijing to Miyun County) – RMB 15
Taxi from Miyun County to Jinshanling (and back) – RMB 280 for 1 car (5 people)
Great Wall admission – RMB 50
Cable car fare – RMB 60 (two-way)
Bus 980 fare (fr Miyun County to Beijing) – RMB 15

Maps of the Great Wall in Jinshanling
More Jinshanling tips

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