If you are tired of the maddening hordes of tourists on the most popular stretches of the Great Wall like Badaling or Juyonguan, then maybe it is time to try out some less crowded alternatives. The mountains surrounding our fair city of Beijing contain a veritable treasure trove of largely unspoilt stretches of the Great Wall just waiting to be explored by the intrepid trekker. These unspoilt and generally unrestored parts of the wall make up what is known as “The Wild Wall,” and wild it certainly is, with many of these sites virtually impossible to visit for the casual tourist.
Unspoilt Yet Accessible
Once upon a time all the areas of the Great Wall were wild, unspoiled and largely in ruins, but in the name of tourism development, several stretches have been rebuilt essentially from scratch, with all that entails in the lamentable form of parking lots, restaurants and souvenir stalls. Luckily, it is still possible to find places that are accessible but relatively unspoiled and in original condition. Jinshanling and Simatai are two such places. They are situated in the mountains northwest of the city on the border between Miyun County and Hebei province. Their main claim to fame is the trekking route stretching between them for about 6 kilometres, easily accessible for a day trip from Beijing.
The trek between these two scenic spots is probably one of the most worthwhile excursions you could take out of the city, and is definitely a must for anyone whose dreams of a visit to the wall don’t include crowds of tourists, fume-belching tour buses and tour guides with screeching megaphones. Here the only sound you can hear is the wind blowing over the long forgotten walls and howling through the empty doorframes of the watchtowers. The view of the Wall snaking its way over the mountains in majestic solitude is sure to make any sore legs or blisters worthwhile!
The Great Wall at Simatai. Photo: kevinpoh
Feel History Come Alive
Standing on the wall, the predatory birds circling overhead, pondering the history that created this structure… this is one of those precious, rare moments in China where you can actually feel history coming alive.
If you happen to feel an irresistible urge to raise your arms and signal your imaginary army of a thousand bowmen let arrows rain down over your Mongolian foes, do not worry! This is but a normal reaction to standing on one of the few parts of the wall virtually unchanged since those heady days in the Ming dynasty when battles with Northern barbarians were the order of the day.
This particular part of the wall was originally constructed much earlier than that and goes all the way back to the northern Qi dynasty between 550 and 577 AD. Through the ages, the Wall fell into disrepair until the Hongwu emperor of the Ming dynasty (who reigned from 1368 to 1398) decided to rebuild it in the face of ongoing Mongolian attacks on Beijing. It is the wall of Hongwu which we can see today in all its wild glory.
Most people do the trek between Jinshanling and Simatai through a group trip arranged by one of the city’s many youth hostels. Though it is possible to go here by public transportation, we strongly recommend going on one of these hostel-arranged tours. It is very convenient since they will take you from a fixed location in Beijing to Jinshanling, and then pick you up in Simatai after you’ve finished the trek. The tours generally leave early in the morning around 08:00 and take approximately three hours to reach Jinshanling. You will have three to five hours to complete the 6 kilometres. These tours do not generally visit shops or include other unwanted stops on the way.
Please note that there is almost no shade on the trek apart from inside the numerous watchtowers. Since the hiking route passes through terrain that has not been developed for tourists, be aware that there are no railings whatsoever and some stretches of the trek are very precipitous and potentially dangerous.
Jinshanling Great Wall
Add: Luanping County, Chengde city, Hebei Province
Tel: 031 4883 0222
Getting there: Take the long distance bus No. 980 or No. 970 from Dongzhimen to Miyun town. From Miyun town you will have to take a taxi or minibus the rest of the way. It should cost around 130 RMB for one car.
Simatai Great Wall
Add: Gubeikou Town, Miyun County, Beijing
Tel: 010 6903 1051, 010 6903 5025
Note: At the time of writing, the main gate of Simatai great wall was closed for restoration. Therefore individual travel is not permissible in the Simatai section of the Great Wall, although groups are still allowed in.
(Blog posted by Niels Flintholm on Jul 01, 2011. You can see the original article by following this link to eChinacities.com)