It’s hard to top the experience of wandering along a wall that stretches for 6000 km (3700 miles) and has sections over 2500 years old. Standing tall atop this magnificent structure was Shelley Seale, who enjoyed getting well off the regular tourist route in China…
“I hiked slowly through the fall foliage in the woods surrounding the Shuiguan Mountains, about an hour outside Beijing. Vivid orange and yellow leaves swayed with the breeze in the branches around me as I picked my way carefully along the rocky path. My footsteps were the only sound I could hear. Suddenly, there it was. Emerging through the trees was a rock wall just in front of me. I peered up at the top of it, 30 feet (9 metres) above my head.
Following the path as it veered off to the left and up a steep rise, I found myself standing upon a crumbling, original section of the Great Wall of China. Boulders and smaller stones were scattered wherever they had come loose from the wall, resting where they lay for who knows how many years. Grass and weeds sprouted up from the remaining rocks that made up the top of the wall. This part of the Wall had not been repaired since the day it was constructed over a thousand years ago; it was truly a piece of ancient, undisturbed history that lay beneath my feet and undulated across the mountains in front of me. There was no one else in sight.
A few minutes later my small group of traveling companions caught up with me, and together we walked along the wall in silence, marveling at our incredible experience of leaving the well-worn tourist trail, where hordes of people clambered up steps built on the wall made of rocks and plaster younger than me. A short while later we gathered together, still the only visitors in sight, and as the sun began to set we popped open a bottle of champagne to toast the end of our trip.
After an astonishing journey throughout the magnificent country, this moment was the highlight of my travels in China. While the Great Wall is a must-see monument, most such trips are made at spots where busloads of tourists are dropped off every morning. Yet there are a few places unmarked by restoration or tourism, and surprisingly few people go there. The Simatai-Jinshanling section of the wall is one such place. The rare, serene experience of discovering the ‘wild wall’ this way, unmolested by modern human hands that could never improve upon its ancient, ruinous splendor is simply magnificent.”
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* photo by Ryan Roche – Intrepid Photography Competition