The Great Wall of China
Fancy visiting China and only having an hour to explore the Great Wall. This is one of the problems with being on a tour. Still I was determined to make the most of it.
We were dropped at the gate nearest to Bejing. Most people just wandered about there and were surrounded by other tourists from across China and around the world. I decided to stride out and get as far as possible along its length.
I took careful note of the time and set off to the right along the wall - I had to walk for half an hour and then turn back. It was cold, crisp and sunny, so even I should manage about a mile, I thought.
The wall follows the contours of the hills with watchtowers at frequent intervals. The structure is wide, sufficient to carry five horsemen riding abreast, so that theimperial messengers could move freely along it. The surprise to me was that the roadway was made up of uneven steps all with different riser heights and tread depths. It was tiring to travel along and you had to concentrate. They must have been very skillful horsemen. There was an inside and an outside to the wall which was clear to see, with defensive ramparts one way and access points occasionally on the safe inside.
I made good progress, reaching the end of the restored section within my allocated half hour. There was a guard in the watchtower here to prevent any adventurous people going further. It certainly looked unsafe, with massive cracks and fissures in the masonry and some sections completely tumbled down.
I gazed into the distance and imagined what it might have been like to have been one of the Emperor's couriers, part of the communications of that age. I think they would have been proud to be part of the new technology of the time.
The guard was friendly and took a photograph for me. Then I set off back. The views were different this way, there was even a Bactrian camel tethered ready to give rides. There were more people about as I came nearer to the gate and traders of all sorts of souvenirs. I could not resist a T-shirt saying that I had walked the Great Wall of China. Then I joined my tour group back on the coach. We headed back towards the city, sharing our thoughts and showing off our purchases, or just contemplating.
Jane Grenfell, May 2000
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