Having a drivers licence in China (or a boyfriend/girlfriend/good friends that don’t mind bringing you along who have one) turns out to be of great great advantage when living in Beijing. On weekends you can spontaneously rent a car (i.e. from Avis near Dongzhimen for 290 RMB/day), pick one of the many sightseeing spots that lie just outside of the city, and get started. So yesterday we did just that and started our trip Friday night after work – en route out of the city center traffic jams are notorious and unavoidable anyways, so you might as well get it over and done with then, and start the saturday and first day of your weekend trip after a good night’s sleep in closer vicinity to your destination.
Yesterday we set our target on Miyun 密云, a smaller district some 50k out of Beijing proper, and spend the night in a hotel there. Although a very Chinese-style breakfast was included, we quickly packed our stuff at 6:30am the next morning and drove the remaining 50k to Panlongshan, east of Gubeikou Village. With a nice headstart on all the other tourists, we arrived there at around 9:30 am, but we needn’t have worried: although it’s supposedly the only part of the Great Wall that has never undergone any reconstruction, it doesn’t attract many visitors. The small parking lot was almost empty except for some 10 cars, and during the entire time of our walk along and on the Wall we met only a handfull of hikers. And a hike it was. The short ascent through the “forest carnival” (= the obligatory tourist entertainment park/trap along the entrance area, complete with jungle gym and rope garden) leads you up a few hundred steps, before you reach the actual Wall. Compared to other much more popular parts, Panlongshan Great Wall doesn’t have such steep climbs and/or hilly sections and it simply continues on the soft ridges of the surrounding mountains. It is however far less developed and you oftentimes walk next to the wall due its high degree of decay. You definitly have to have good physical condition and some experience walking on uneven terrain. The trails are littered with debris and the steps up (and far worse – down) are crooked and of various sizes, shapes, and hights, so make sure to wear sturdy footwear. Yet, all of this contributes to this tour’s unique charme and natural beauty which all the other parts of the Wall I visited so far lack of completely. You won’t have all the souvenir shops and map sellers here, so remember to bring enough bottles of water and some snacks, because there are also no vendors along the way.
As the pictures below will show, we were exceptionally lucky in terms of the weather conditions. Even though it was already fall according to the Chinese moon calendar, temperatures still climbed above 30 degree C during midday, and those of us who remembered to apply sun screen in the morning definitly had an advantage.
There are two major watch towers along this tour, the General Tower, which has two sides with four windows and the other two sides with three windows, and the 24 Window Tower, which has – as the name correctly suggests – six windows on every side. Or used to have: two sides of the tower were destroyed during the Japanese invasion, so you need some imagination to envision the whole building today.
After making our way back down from the wall we were pretty starved (remember, no vendors along the way), so we entered the Gubeikou Ancient Village and were suprised to find it almost deserted. Lucky for us two lonesome men dressed in military uniforms (wtf?) were just setting up chairs for a wedding ceremony (WTF??) and the guy instructing them on how to align the rows was married to a women living close by who agreed to cook lunch for us. Obviously she didn’t have a menu to guide us through the food options, so she prepared us a meal from the ingredients she had at home (…I hope we didn’t eat all her supplies for dinner with her family…). We ended up with a fairly delicious choice of dishes, ranging from chicken marinated in soy sauce, over a cooked cucumber salad, to thick slices of bacon with a side of crispy onions.
Shortly before we began our drive back home, massive storm clouds darkened the sky and a major rain and hail storm came pouring down on us. It was quite impressive to see the weather change so quickly, having bright blue sky on the one side of the horizont, and dark menacing clouds on the other. As suddenly as the storm came, as quickly it was gone again, leaving the streets and everyone who didn’t make it home in time soaked and steaming in its wake.