Sunday, October 31, 2010
Although the fact that it can be seen from the moon is a myth, the Great Wall is a truly outstanding piece of ancient architecture, a series of walls built between the 5th and the 16th century BC, with the main purpose of protecting the Chinese Empire from the attacks of nomadic tribes.
Our tour began at the Ming Tombs, big complex with the graveyard of the emperors of the Ming Dinasty. Most of the Great Wall was built during this dinasty, and was started under emperor Zhu Yuanzhang who also founded the Dinasty in 1368. The Ming period ended tragically in 1644, when the last emperor, Sizong, hanged himself after strong peasant uprisings headed by Li Zicheng, who managed to defeat imperial forces and break into Beijing.
In Changling, we have visited the burial mausoleum of Chengzu, Zhu Di (third emperor of the Ming Dinasty) and empress Xushi, with annexed a museum displaying ancient imperial Chinese tools and jewellery. To stay within the jewellery topic, afterwards we headed to the state-run jade factory, where they work (and sell) all kinds of Chinese jade.
After the jade factory was the turn of Chinese medicine. Or better, a wellbeing-sort-of-spa centre where we were introduced to the fascinating world of natural remedies. Apart from the too touristy atmosphere, the group was starting to get impatient about the Great Wall that, in the itinerary, was left as the last part.
Finally, we made it, more than an hour drive from Beijing, through a mental summer holiday traffic, we got to the Wall. Needless to say, the view started striking all of us since far away, and every time we saw a "piece" of it, the bus echoed of our "Oooohhhh".
The heat was stifling, and the massive crowd didn't help face the long walk that was awaiting us. We started climbing huge stone steps and steep uphill paths literally pushing our way with the elbows.
There is not one single best viewpoint, it's a gradual achievement, and staring at that overwhelming landscape from the Great Wall nonetheless, makes the exhausting route all the way worthwhile.
Our guide gave us instructions on how to go back but didn't come with the group, so after we reached our top spot and were starting the descent, we followed the crowd towards the exit. While we were facing the hard way back, the first signs that something was out of place started showing up.
Then, we realised we hadn't seen the little train we used to get to the entrance of the wall, that was supposed to bring us back down since we had a return ticket.
We kept going and immediately after the exit something felt unavoidably wrong. Much more quiet than what we had found when we had arrived, slightly different people, a soft-looking camel posing for tourist pictures and, more importantly, our bus was not there anymore.
It took us a while to understand it, but connecting all the dots, the truth was inescapable: we had ended up in Mongolia. Inner Mongolia, to be precise.
Originally, with my parents we had planned to go to Mongolia, but of course organising the trip, not "by mistake".
It has been an exhausting walk, the descent was double-length of the way up because we couldn't find the train that spared us half of the trip at the beginning; the heat was unbearable, the path bristled with pitfalls, such as small stones making it dangerously slippery.
As if this wasn't enough, once outside, before understanding where we were, we kept looking in vain for our bus. Finally, we had the epiphany, we found the phone number of our guide through her office and she told the taxi driver where was the bus (oh, because of course none of us spoke Chinese and we were unable to explain it ourselves).
After a huge traffic in the pass between Mongolia and China, we got to our bus, tired and annoyed for the unexpected extra-walk, but suspecting already our adventure would have become source of jokes for long time in the future.