Great Wall outlaw

The security guard was shouting something at me, but I had no idea what he was saying. I looked at his hands to see if he might be making some kind of gesture that would give me a clue, but all I saw was the half-meter club he was carrying in his right hand. He kept repeating the same word more and more angrily and I was at a loss.

That’s what happened as I was jumping the brick parapet coming back from walking along a section of the Great Wall of China that is officially closed to the public. Ken and I along with two tour-mates had ventured there because we saw Chinese people do the same thing. And besides, who doesn’t want to see what’s over the next hill?

We were visiting the Great Wall at a location called Mutianyu, about two hours north of Beijing. Here, you have access to a restored three-kilometer stretch that includes about 14 guard towers from the Ming era.

At the base, there is a welcome center with a museum, restaurants, souvenir shops, two aerial trams to take you to the top of the wall and a luge run to bring you back down.

From the top, the views to the north are breathtaking. All the way to the horizon, the wall snakes east and north over ridges and mountaintops. Crumbled guard towers dot its length. The immensity of it is hard to grasp.

Where we stood on the restored section, it climbed steeply from east to west. Along the way, each guard tower, numbered 6 to 20, had also been returned to its Ming era condition. They were either an open platform or a small two-story brick structures with several rooms, narrow arched doorways and windows to the north and south.

The walkway at the top of the wall is mostly stairs of various width and height. Some parts are extremely steep with stair heights that forced me scramble more than climb. As we walked along, we talked about what it must have been like for the soldiers who were assigned here, especially in winter when the winds howled across the mountains and the stairs became icy. Was this the inspiration for the Wall in Game of Thrones?


When we got to guard tower 20, the end of the Mutianyu section, we were curious to see what lay beyond the parapet that closed off the section. It was easy enough to climb over it, so we did and continued to the next guard tower, a platform, where we had the wall completely to ourselves.

It’s as we were returning from there that I was greeted by the irate security guard. Luckily for me, Fiona, who had climbed over the parapet with us, understood what he wanted. Show him your ticket, she said. He wants to know if you have a ticket to be here. That was it! I produced my ticket and he immediately lost interest and wandered off to chat with the vendor who’d set up a kiosk nearby. Our little foray out of bounds had been totally worth it.


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