March 12, 2009

Arnab and the Great Wall

My first visit to the Great Wall turned out to be much more dangerous than I had anticipated it to be. There are several sections of the wall that are around a two hour drive from Beijing. Rather than a jaunt through a tourist heavy portion of the wall, I visited Jiankou. Featuring long and steep stretches of unrestored splendour and sheer drops onto the jagged rocks below for anyone who has the misfortune of toppling off the wall, the world's longest tourist attraction was quite spectacular here.

After a strenuous climb up to the wall through snow covered wilderness, I believed that the most physically challenging portions of the hike had been completed. I was wrong. Like a video game, each consecutive stage of the trip proved to be more daunting and exciting than the last. Many portions of the wall were missing or crumbling apart. To get from one segment to another I had to scale near vertical steps or climb bare handed on the sides of the mountain to reach the next level. Some stairs were referred to as 'ladders' as there angle of elevation eared 80 degrees. Strategically positioned watchtowers allowed me to catch my breath and enjoy the panoramic view, before I continued onwards on the perilous path.

The Chinese climbers had come well prepared with heavy duty gear including walkie talkies, walking sticks, ropes, and brand name clothing, while the foreigners were an ill prepared ragtag outfit. At one point a piece of the wall came lose, bounced of the shoulder of one adventurer, then narrowly avoided obliterating another member of the expedition, before smashing into a thousand pieces down below. The perilous trek concluded soon after as we found a gap in the wall and slid down the snowy hills back to base camp.

"He who has not climbed the wall is not a true man" - Chairman Mao