The Great Wall – Part 1 Shanhaiguan

Labour Day – May 1st is approaching. Also in communistic China a free day for the ‘working class’. Juhey! The perfect opportunity for us to take a long weekend off and to head out of Changchun for our first real ‘China discovery trip’ together.

After a hint from a colleague we buy tickets for the high speed train from Changchun to Qinhuangdao, a 4 hour ride to a rather small and dull city near scenic Beidahe on the coastline of the Bohai sea. However, the district on the east side of the city is Shanhaiguan, known for its ‘Lao Long Tou’ (Old Dragon’s Head) and the ‘First Pass Under Heaven’, or in other words, the eastern start of China’s Great Wall and the wall’s best preserved fortress.

A key piece of Chinese history was written here since a battle in this fortress in 1644, known as the battle of Shanhaiguan, has been crucial in the defeat of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of China’s last imperial dynasty: the Qing dynasty ruled by the Manchus. And all of this because of a woman! Or at least according to the legends :-). One day Ming rebel Li seduced the concubine of Ming general Wu and they spend the night together. When Wu finds out he gets so angry that he decides to desert the Mings. He opens the gates of the First Pass Under Heaven for the invading Manchus and joins their forces against rebel Li. Li is forced to surrender. Through this, the way is paved for the Manchus to conquer the Ming capital Beijing which meant the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty. Exciting! 🙂

We get ourselves prepared to submerge in a massive touristic crowd.
As to compensate for the touristy things, we book only one night in the hotel and try to gather as much info as possible on the non-touristic parts of the Wall, hoping that it will be possible to hike along it straight into the ‘real’ China, as such discovering a very small piece of the 6000 km long old dragon.

DAY 1:
The starting point: Changchun West Railway Station IMG_1177_First time in the ‘bullet train’ for me (Veerle), spannend!! 🙂IMG_7913_Neat, friendly staff and spacious seats.IMG_1210_Typical Manchurian landscape surrounding Changchun (known as the granary of China because of its huge fertile lands):IMG_1204_IMG_1202_Our first steps on The Great Wall! Looking down on the old center of Shanhaiguan. With far fewer tourists as we were told. We don’t complain. 🙂
The air looks hazy, but fortunately it is (mainly) because of the humidity.
IMG_1255_The central square of the “First Pass Under Heaven”. Still the decor for daily acting of historical scenes. Rawi lets his imagination run free!IMG_1229_ Touri picture!IMG_7939_Little dragons:IMG_7941_Chinese WarriorIMG_7970_Touri picture #38.475
General Róngwěi and concubine Fěilí :-))
IMG_1244_More little dragons!
In the headquarters of General Wu.
IMG_7960_On top of the tower of prayers:IMG_1251_Touri picture #xxxxxx (lost count)IMG_7963_Ying’en Gate Tower:IMG_7967_Old Dragon’s Head. The wall continues towards the back, parallel to the coast line and then ends into the sea (see next picture). The Dragon’s Head is also fortified and should be nice to visit but already closed at the time that we arrived. So we just made a stroll on the beach.IMG_7987_
IMG_1262_The beach of the Bohai sea. Looks nice on camera but unfortunately very smelly (dead fish) and dirty (pieces of plastic e v e r y w h e r e).IMG_7997_Great Wall climbing part 1 !IMG_1274_

DAY 2:
Rain was pouring down when we woke up so we decided to first have a traditional Chinese noodle breakfast and than go looking for the Great Wall Museum that we could not find the other day.IMG_8014_We started entering randomly into some buildings and then we got it! In a very typical Chinese way, the huge museum was not indicated at all :-). The good thing: a very nice museum, few visitors and completely for free.

On the picture: a map of The Great Wall in ancient times at Shanhaiguan starting on the right side with the Old Dragon’s Head in the sea, in the middle the First Pass Under Heaven (the big fortified square) and on the leftmost side Jiaoshan or the first mountain of the Great Wall. All these ancient constructions are now surrounded by the modern buildings and infrastructure of Shanhaiguan district.
After our museum visit, we will cross the town and try to follow the Great Wall into the direction of Jiaoshan and then hike as far as we can.
IMG_1224
IMG_1290 IMG_1292_As we are traversing Shanhaiguan town, a cuty crosses our path. First seen from the front…IMG_8035_… and then from the back!
IMG_8036_Many children wear these kind of pants here. It saves a lot of nappies. Very sustainable! 🙂 But you have to get used to seeing peeing and pooping children on every street corner.
However, they assured us that in winter they do give them a nappy and a regular pant!

Yeyeeee, we found the beginning of the ‘Great Wild Wall’ !!!!
Here in the form of a big sandy bank. And walkable!IMG_8050_Soon turned again into bricks:
IMG_1301_
View on Jiaoshan and the first ‘mountain’:IMG_1309_When we arrive at the foot of Jiaoshan, it appears that the whole area is closed for the public due to fire hazard. We decide to take a taxi and continue our Great Wall quest at Jiumenkou, the next scenic area of the Great Wall that is accessible for tourists, located about 15 km further along the wall.

The special thing about Jiumenkou is that it features the one and only Great Wall bridge of the entire 6000 km of Great Wall. All other times that the Wall crosses a river, it just stops at one river bank and continues at the other one. Besides the bridge, there is also a huge labyrinth of tiny tunnels where soldiers were hiding in times of battle and through which all kinds of commodities were smuggled when the Great Wall was still the closed border of the empire.

View on the bridge from the touristy ‘scenic area’ side of Jiumenkou. The Wall on this side goes back in the direction of Jiaoshan and the sea.
On the other side of the river the Wall continues land inwards and becomes ‘wild’ again. After a visit of the scenic area we will try to continue our hike on the wild side. The sun is slowly breaking her way to the clouds, just perfect!IMG_8082I am sure Rawi would have been a great Dragon Warrior, but luckily times have changed :-).IMG_1343_ On the highest point of Jiumenkou Scenic AreaIMG_1335_From here towards Jiaoshan (in the direction of the sea), the protecting role of the wall is taken over by nature with a long series of steep rock cliffs.IMG_1337_View on the other -wild- side of the Wall. That’s our way to go!IMG_1342_Yuhuuu, all alone on the wild side and it seems like there is a path!IMG_8130_Jooooow Rawi, can you see the next tower?IMG_1373_The next ONE? I can see the next 50 !!!IMG_1365_5 towers later with Jiumenkou still on the background and not a single tourist anymore.. :-):-):-)IMG_1379_IMG_1380_IMG_1493_IMG_8154_IMG_8151_Chinese fast food dinner: Thick pancakes filled with vegetables.IMG_1400_The sun is slowly setting. We decide to leave the Wall and hike down to the nearest village to find a place to sleep.IMG_8160_Village spotted!IMG_8170_Coming closer, so far so good.IMG_8181_The first encounter with village creatures. Hi there, fluffies!IMG_8184_Our second encounter: “Serious, dude, I am the best biker in town!”IMG_8188_We easily bumped into the local all-in-one shop-bar-kindergarten-parochiezaal (= local meeting hall) and got ourselves two cold pijiu’s (pronounced as pidjow, = a Chinese beer)… IMG_8185_…and quickly attracting a lot of attention:
IMG_8191Lots of laughter because of our attempts to pronounce the few Chinese words we know in a more or less decent way (in which Rawi was succeeding much better than I was!). After a while and after some concerned questions of the locals on how we would go back to the big city, Rawi carefully asked whether we could maybe sleep somewhere in the village. An intense Chinese discussion followed his question of which we could not understand a word (or at least me). Then, one of the elderly women approached us carefully, and whispered in Rawi’s ear: “100 yuan, okay ma” (12 euros, okay?). Apparently those people were not used to have laowai’s (= foreigners) passing by to spend the night in their village, and were unsure how much to charge us. We said “okay!” (of course!), very relieved that we did not need to build our own shelter for the night :-).

Our cozy B&B for one night at Xiaohekou:IMG_1408_Rawi with two of our hosts 🙂IMG_8204_The presidential suite, just for us!
On the countryside, Chinese people typically sleep on a concrete platform under which they burn a fire in winter to keep the bed warm. They only cover it with a thin blanket serving as a mattress. Way too hard for our spoiled European bodies, so we took all the blankets they gave us and slept on top of it which turned out perfectly.
IMG_8216_

DAY 3:
After a very quiet and refreshing night of sleep, our hosting lady invites us for a delicious Chinese breakfast: rice with fried eggs and tomatoes, and fried spring onion with sea fruit.
IMG_8222_We plan our hike for the day. Instead of continuing on the wall where we left the other day, we decide to hitchhike until a small village at the end of the valley (Miaochengzi), and hike up to Zuizishan mountain to continue our hike on the Wall. The reason: we read on the internet that the part of the Wall between Zuizishan and Xiaohekou, called the Wuliantai” towers, should be very beautiful. We would then continue our walk until Dongjiakou and find a place to sleep there.

On the map: walking direction from South to North. The blue line is the renovated Great Wall at Jiumenkou. The green lines are parts of the wild Great Wall that we walked. The yellow lines are trails we walked/hitchhiked in between.

We promise ourselves that next time, we will come here with our bivouac bags and will hike the complete Wall until Zuizishan mountain whilst sleeping in the tower shelters of the wall!Wall Part 1 - SectionsWalking through the village reminds us of the countryside of South America, ditches and pits serve as garbage disposal. Except for that, the village is tidy and pretty well organised. And we hardly see/hear any dogs (which always gave me the shivers in South America).IMG_1419Hitchhiking through the valley.IMG_8237_The whole family on their way for a day of sowing.IMG_8234_Looking back on our trail up hill from Miaochengzi to Zuizishan mountain.IMG_1430_Rawi pointing towards our next destination on top of Zuizishan mountain: the 5 Wuliantai Towers.IMG_8253_IMG_8257_Chinese hikers and their strange obsession for full body covering. But very enthusiastic and friendly always. They like to keep their skin as white as possible because they don’t want to look like farmers and field workers (considered as lower class). Afterwards we found out that it’s maybe also because sunscreen is sooo terribly expensive here.IMG_8269_IMG_1436_IMG_8267_IMG_1454_IMG_1448_
IMG_8291_Stunning views, never ending..IMG_1462_Imagining how ancient Chinese warriors must have climbed these steep steps a thousand times..IMG_1481Following the Wall downwards to Xiaohekou for lunch breakIMG_8303_Somehow I feel a bit watched! 🙂
On the outlook for tourists whilst Rawi takes a refreshing nudist dive in the pond.IMG_8308Back uphill after the break. Looking back towards the three last Wuliantai towers.IMG_1502_From a bit more distance: the five Wuliantai towers in a row (the rightmost one not very visible):IMG_8320_Little big buddy crossing our pathIMG_1507_Going down steeply… IMG_8335_… with an almost vertical ascend on the other side!IMG_1553_

Beautiful middle age scenery at one of the towers …IMG_8355_   IMG_8301_IMG_8360_Arrival in Dongjiakou village, eventually..IMG_8387_Crime scene:IMG_8373_The victim’s jacket:IMG_8371_The victim’s corpse and its killer..IMG_8379_Rawi becoming partner in crimeIMG_8384_With only one aim:
IMG_8381_A plate of delicious grilled mountain goat! 🙂

DAY 4:
We get up very early to climb up to the Dongjiakou Wall before taking the bus back at 8 am to Qinhuangdao and catch the bullet train at 12 am back to Changchun.

Leaving our room at 5am in Dongjiakou:
IMG_8398_Entering Dongjiakou scenic area:IMG_8405_Hiking path up to the wallIMG_8407_IMG_1583_Enjoying the early sun raysIMG_8412_Truly stunning views and not a single living soul as far as we can see.IMG_1590_Just a tiny part of the ancient 12.000 km wall of the Ming dynasty…IMG_1603_…but with gorgeous far views on top of each hill.IMG_1606_IMG_1622_IMG_8424_IMG_1615_IMG_8436_IMG_1640_

IMG_8438_IMG_1634_IMG_1654_Back down, more than just satisfied. An amazing last hike on the Wall this trip. Ready to take the bus back to Qinhuangdao and then the train back to Changchun.IMG_8442_ IMG_8444_

Dear Great Wall, we will be back, for sure !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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