The Great Wall is a mighty Dragon

Great Wall at Jinshanling

The Great Wall snakes over the mountain ridges of northern China like the backbone of a mighty dragon.

A crumbling monument of stone from the distant past that enthrall visitors today yet was built to keep out marauding invaders from the west.

The only marauding invaders it receives now are the relentless onslaught of tourists, crowding its rebuilt defenses and tramping along sections of its renovated brickwork.

It’s easy to find lengths of the wall that are less populous however, and more authentic. It just requires a little research and a longer journey out from Beijing.

Great Wall at Jinshanling

For ease we booked a tour to the Great Wall through our hostel {Chinese Box in Xisi} in Beijing. The tour was for Jinshanling, a section of the wall just under 150 km north of Beijing, a four-hour bus ride that saw us waiting to be picked up outside the hostel at 5.45 am.

We drove through the pre-dawn darkness of the city to pick up a few other tourists and backpackers before setting off through the already busy traffic to head out of Beijing.

When we eventually left the sprawl of the city the landscape became mountainous and we caught glimpses of the wall.

We had seen it briefly from the train on the way into China but now we could view it much closer, and grasp the enormity of its construction.

Great Wall at Jinshanling

An agreeably empty bus park awaited us at Jinshanling, could we really be the only tourists here?

A few hawkers patrolled the path up to the wall, hunting for individuals to attach themselves to for the walk.

The trail led upwards onto a renovated section of wall. During the busy season a cable car can transport you effortlessly up but the walk was pleasant and easy enough.

Our bossy guide simply supplied us with breakfast {unpleasantly this was to be MacDonald’s before we set off}, some early morning, not quite awake enough to take it in, historical information on the bus and a point in the right direction when we arrived.

We were left to our own devices to explore and hike.

Great Wall at JinshanlingJinshanling is interesting as there is both a renovated and rebuild section and a wonderfully authentic unrepaired stretch.

We headed left towards the original section, the new brickwork was easy to walk on, level and uniform.

Our little tour group spread out, everyone set off at their own pace: we did indeed have the wall to ourselves, there were just a couple of other independent tourists there.

Great Wall at Jinshanling

The renovated section ended soon after and the wall became far more interesting to traverse. The path was uneven and the many steps were steep, high and tricky in places.

There was little in the way of walls either side of the path, the bricks had fallen, crumbled or been robbed over the years creating a sense of wild openness.

This dilapidation made the hike feel more adventurous, the surrounding scenery was dry and sparse, a wild uninhabited land, far removed from crowded Beijing.

From the high elevation of the wall it’s true magnificence could be seen, it snaked away from us for as far as the eye could see, over the mountain ridges, China to the one side, {Inner} Mongolia and the west to the other.

Great Wall at Jinshanling

Chinggis Khan did breach the wall, imposing Mongolian rule on China for almost a hundred years, many centuries later Chairman Mao advised people to use it as free building material.

A wonder then that so much of it survives. I do hope that the authorities leave plenty of what’s left in an untouched state rather than repairing it all.

It was so much more pleasant to hike an original part of the wall and get a feel for its age and importance.

Great Wall at Jinshanling

After our walk and explore of the wall we met the rest of the tour group back down near the bus park and had a buffet meal for lunch in one of the restaurants, there were a few tasty vegetarian options to refuel me.
The hike had been tiring with all the uneven steps and steep up and downs, I dozed on the long journey back to Beijing.
The day had been thrilling and I still can’t believe I got to see an impressive section of the iconic Great Wall of China with no tourists, no crowds, under blue skies! It really isn’t to be missed!
Great Wall at Jinshanling
There are even quieter stretches of the wall, parts that haven’t been renovated at all. Just check your guidebook and go explore it!
I’d love to see your pictures if you have done.
Pin it for later:

The Great Wall of China


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6 Responses

  1. rickistout says:

    The hike from Jimshanling to Simatai is amazing, and ends in a zip line. However, I heard a large section of this is now closed. Was that an option?

    • Yes, I think I remember that the Simatai bit was closed off, we didn’t walk that far though. We were just told to walk to a certain point along the wall and turn back. Wow, a zip line, that is one way to get down! it certainly wasn’t an option for us.
      I was thrilled with the scenery, and so pleased we had it so quiet.

  2. Ayla says:

    Obviously I’d like to see the the Great Wall as I want to see everywhere but it’s never really been high up on my list of things to see. You make it sound amazing though and the pictures are brilliant! Hope you’re still having an incredible time! 🙂

  3. Dave Rowley says:

    So amazing you got the great wall to yourselves!! There were LOTS of people the day we went to Jinshanling in summer 2008. It must have been something to feel the wall the way it was hundreds of years ago with few people around – it’s really in the middle of nowhere and must have been even more remote back then! Can you imagine how hard it would be to breach that wall fighting up the hillsides into an onslaught of arrows from above?

    • wow, you went to Jinshanling too, how cool! It must of been the time of year we visited Off season, or slack season as they say in China, certainly has it’s benefits!
      The wall was certainly in some precarious landscapes, I think it would have been hell to attack. But then the Mongolians were fearsome attackers!