Lifestyle Awards 2013
Wellness & Relationship
My first visit to the Great Wall of China
Posted By: Siddharth Vinayak Patankar
Since I was a child, I remember thinking about the Seven Wonders of the World – the ancient and modern ones. I know I still often get them mixed up, but the one constant thought was always to actually see what still exists on the ground today. So when I was invited to visit the 2012 Beijing Auto Show, my mind instantly jumped to the Great Wall of China. Nope, I hadn’t googled it, or even remotely researched it to know if it was even anywhere near Beijing. But I remember a similar pang in 2010 when I went to Shanghai for the World expo – my first trip to China, and thought, hey I should at least find out.
But given the hectic work schedule I follow, it soon disappeared into an abyss that I call my to-do list! It was only after we touched down in China’s capital, that I asked my hosts more about our non-motor show itinerary – and discovered that we indeed had a day for some sight-seeing. So for the first time in my decade-long journalistic career, I signed up for that day’s agenda. Usually regardless of the country in question, I always use any extra time to go out and film more – be it at a motor show, or an auto plant, or even just shooting a new car. But when I saw that the agenda included a trip to the Great Wall, I was there!
So we woke up bright and early, all set for our little adventure. A motley group of auto journalists, their accompanying camerapersons, individuals from the host company, and of course – a tour guide – let me rephrase that – an English-speaking tour guide! Very important in China. The bad news was that it had been raining incessantly since the previous night, and the weather looked the complete opposite of our levels of enthusiasm. But we persisted, and a slightly damp bus ride through pelting rain brought us to Mutianyu – which houses a section of the great Wall that used to guard the capital and imperial tombs. Now I gathered that there are several spots along the original wall that can be visited from Beijing, and indeed other parts of China. But we were told Mutianyu offered the best mix of glorious views, ample sections of the wall, and only a few tourists. The option was Badaling, which though closer, would have meant jostling for space!
The first order of business on arriving was to buy some umbrellas from a local vendor. That done, we all set off towards the cable car ride to the top of the ridgeline. It wasn’t that cold, but the wind meant that the umbrellas could only do so much! Plus I had rather smartly left my weatherproof jacket on my bed – in New Delhi when I was packing i.e.! So unlike the others, it was just quite literally the shirt on my back that attempted to meekly shield me from nature’s fury! The cable car ride was short, and any views were marred by raindrops on the windows of the plexiglass bubble, as well as mist and clouds that always accompany dull, wet and grey weather.
And then it happened. Once we stepped out of the cable car station, I saw my first take-your-breathe-away view of the Wall. It snaked its way atop the ridgeline, winding along over peaks and slight troughs, till it disappeared from view. And to think what I was looking at was just a few metres of what’s recently been established as being nearly 22,000 kms long. So off I went. I was suddenly 10 years old again. Staring in bewilderment at what the ancient Chinese had achieved. Sure the Wall has changed shape and size, length and height through many rulers, but the magnitude of what stands before us today, something that really did stump me. We started to make our way towards the left section, and soon I realised that from our original group of about 8 or 9, we were now down to just 3. The wall has lookout towers after every few metres. These vary in shape and size – some are even open to the sky. But the ones which were are closed, include those which are tiny and others which have rooms in them. That’s pretty much where a lot of people preferred to stay since walking further meant braving the now lashing rain. Yeah did I mention the wind chill at that height was only adding to the fun of being drenched? Nevertheless, on we went. The slippery wet stone wasn’t helping, nor were the rather tiny steps in sections where some climbing was involved. And then we came to our Everest. There was a section of what I later counted as nearly 500 steps that went up at what seemed like a 90° angle! It was not surely, but boy was it steep. We were pretty much gone by the time we reached the last 14 steps which were suddenly narrow, and very high – as in each step was high. Finally I was clambering up on all fours – for fear of falling backwards, and also due to my legs feeling like lead jelly (is that even a thing?).
After catching more than one breath, I slowly opened my umbrella which had served as a walking stick for about a kilometre. And then I looked around. We were high up, the area where our colleagues had stopped made them look like ants. The hills rolled off to either side of us, though I have to say the view to the north was brilliant. Tall jagged peaks, green rolling hillsides, and magnificent thick clouds. It was then more than ever that I wished it had been a clear day. What cool pictures I’d have had! And I wouldn’t have been freezing my butt off! After taking a few pictures, we reluctantly turned back. Oh yes we could have climbed further – what looked like another 500 steps to reach the next tower. But we had run out of time and energy. The climb down was also treacherous, as it meant worrying about slipping on the slick wet stone. But we made it down, with just a minor fall or too. We were tired, hungry, and very cold – drenched to the bone by then. But I wore a constant smile on my face. Sure millions must come every year to visit the Great Wall, and so what I had done was nothing special. But for me it was. Special, memorable, unforgettable. I felt humbled by the efforts and vision of those early rulers and their workers. Their effort, their fortitude, their skills and planning, made my everyday stresses and problems seem so miniscule and unimportant. That was a good lesson to take home with me – as were the pictures and memories of my first visit to the only man-made object visible from outer space.
I hope to go back someday – maybe to a different section of the wall. I know any number of visits would be equally awe-inspiring, magical and special. Of course I would prefer a dry day, and wouldn’t want to take away a cold and fever as I did from my first visit to the Great Wall of China.
(Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor-Auto with NDTV. The pictures used in this blog are also clicked by him.)
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