Bucket List: A group of things to do or places to see before one kicks the bucket.
We have never had an official list ourselves, most likely it would simply read "everything," but when we laid eyes on The Great Wall of China we instantly knew it was near the top of that nonexistent list.
Our first glimpse was from a bus while approaching Juyongguan Pass north of Beijing. As we climbed into the mountains, the ancient fortification began to materialize out of the city's famous "haze." It was even more breathtaking than the smog we had left below.
The section we were seeing is only a tiny portion of the over five thousand miles still visible today. In fact, historians believe at least that much has been lost to the ravages of time, so there would be somewhere around thirteen thousand miles total.
The earliest construction probably began nearly 700 years BC as wood and earth barriers to hold off enemies. About five hundred years later the Qin Dynasty unified China and began building more imposing fortifications along the northern border.
Construction continued for about a century, through the Han Dynasty, and then stopped for about a thousand years until resumed by the Jin Dynasty around 1200 AD. Most of what remains now was built or reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty six to eight hundred years ago.
We pulled off the highway at the part of the wall known as the Badaling. Built as part of the Ming construction, it was finished around the time that Columbus was cruising around the new world. Due to the proximity to Beijing, this is the most visited spot on The Great Wall, and it showed as we began to climb the stairs up to the walkway along the top. It was wall-to-wall people (ba-da ching!)
Reaching the walkway turned out to be next to nothing compared to the climb we faced ahead of us. From the bottom of the valley, where we were parked, the wall rises in both directions straight up the sides of some mighty steep mountains. But our competitive nature kicked in and we took off through the crowd.
We were under a time constraint, we had a bus to catch if we wanted to make it back to the city, but we were bound and determined to see how far we could go. At the first watchtower we stopped for a breather and an amazing view, then raced up to the next turret.
From our new vantage point we could see the entire valley spread out below, and the people back by the bus were beginning to look like ants. Looking out over miles of wall snaking over the mountains and valleys it was easy to see why the Chinese have often compared it to a dragon.
But there was still more up to go, so we bolted up even higher. At this altitude the crowds were thinning, seems we had weeded out anyone who wasn't at least slightly crazy. Puffing and panting, and running out of time, we pushed each other ever higher.
"OK, we should turn around now," drifted down only to be answered by "Oh no you don't, not until I get above you!"
Under the growing threat of missing the bus, and burning muscles about to stage a mutiny, we finally settled on a draw. But our thinking that the trip down would be much easier than the climb up turned out to be somewhat flawed.
Coming down may have been faster, but it was definitely more dangerous, and much harder on the old knees than going up. There was no time for gawking at the scenery on the descent either, every second of attention had to be focused on placing each foot on the proper spot lest we take the trip down literally. Certainly would have been faster, but tumbling down several thousand feet of ancient stone work didn't strike us as a good way to end our day.
No need to make The Great Wall the last thing we ever check off our Bucket List.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
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