MANY snooker players travelling to Beijing, often making good use of a day off between matches after a win, take advantage of the close proximity of one of the modern Severn Wonders of the World by going to see the Great Wall of China – and what an experience it is.
Stuart Bingham was among those making the trip this week, and there is a wide choice of locations to go and see the Wall. Generally speaking there is a simple trade-off between how remote and unpopulated the section you desire with the structure in a more authentic state of disrepair, and how long you want to spend actually getting there.
But most people choose Badaling in the Yanqing region, which is between an hour and an hour and a half away depending on traffic and certainly on a weekday offers good if occasionally challenging walking possibilities on the steep stone-step sections (and some sections without steps), and spectacular views of the ridges and turrets on a clear day.7
And I will be forever indebted to one-man media whirlwind Mr Liu, a renowned Chinese sports journalist but also involved with magazines and promotion of the Asian Tour events, and another journalist Narisa, for offering to drive me there and making a special day of it stopping off at the Ming Tombs on the way home. Every now and again you are offered hospitality and generosity as a foreigner that is pretty humbling, and this was such a day.
The Wall’s overall length has fairly recently been revised upwards from 5,500 miles to 13,170 miles after detailed surveys of the more remote sections – but the Badaling part, which has undergone restoration, is around 4.7 miles long and an average of 26ft high.
The section was built in around 1505 under the Ming dynasty to keep out Northern invaders, and so held great military and strategic importance. But our journey there started out slowly. A lack of local knowledge had seen me select ‘Tomb-Sweeping Day’, in fact a week-long festival when many Chinese visit cemeteries on the outskirts of the city to pay their respects to deceased family members and keep the site in the correct order. So the plan to ‘go against the traffic’ heading north out of Beijing couldn’t have been more flawed.
But at a certain point the traffic thinned out approaching the mountains, and after passing Wall sections at Juyoungguan and Shuiguan we reached Badaling. Then it was a ski-resort style ‘bubble lift’ up to the top, and the opportunity to walk as far as you wanted – provided you were up to the return leg, or found a place to climb down from the ramparts further down and get back to the main car park.
The further you go, the more amazing it is and the effort of a bit of scrambling and a minor test of the calfs and knees is well worth it. The views were simply stunning on a clear and sunny if hazy day, and while winter must also be incredible for pictures spring certainly isn’t a bad time to see the Wall, with peach blossom bursting out all over the place.
We did a loop and then came down in a different car park, where I was again lucky to have some translation help haggling with the hawkers getting some souvenirs and presents for the family, before getting a return taxi to the other side of the mountain.
Back close to where the lift arrives, there are alternative routes down in a train, or toboggan for the more adventurous.
Then it was off to the Ming Tombs, a burial and mausoleum site chosen I am led to believe by Ming Emperor Yongle on feng shui principles – those being that if you build one at the foot of some mountains, it keeps the evil spirits out. Whatever. It was mightily impressive.
Finally a stop-off in the Olympic Park district for some wurst and chips in a German-themed restaurant, all washed down with some Bitburger beer. Happy memories of the German Masters, and overall right up there as a life experience. Thanks once again to Mr Liu and Narisa for making it so.
Photograph by Hector Nunns