Years ago when I first visited a rebuilt, tourist-crowded section of The Great Wall on the outskirts of Beijing, the whole experience left me cold. This was not the romance I had imagined for ages, jostling with boisterous tour groups that had spilled off the buses and being constantly pestered by hordes of over zealous souvenir vendors. I was crushed to the point that I felt like turning around immediately.
But I was stuck with a small group and we had limited time so I grudgingly decided to make the most of a disappointing situation. I pushed past the hawkers, climbed a long set of stairs and desperately sprinted through the crushing throng to one end of the restored section of wall, where the mass of humanity thinned out, and peered around the last watchtower and past a barrier with a “Danger – no admittance” sign attached to it. I could see the wall continuing here, alone, in a semi-crumbled state, twisting and winding away from me and then disappearing over a rise. Far away, up high, it appeared again, clinging to a mountain ridge. Years of history were whispering to me, beckoning me, and daring me to take a few steps into her time to see what lay out of sight.
First built over 2,000 years ago and then extended, rebuilt, or repaired in subsequent dynasties, the wall in this condition was fulfilling my idealistic imagination of mystery and intrigue – weathered and partially reclaimed by the land, but not so much that its decorated past was lost.
I spent what little time I had sitting in one of the windows of that tower staring out onto this remarkable panorama before being rudely jolted from my reverie by our guide exclaiming that our transportation would be leaving soon.
I knew I’d return. Exploring those wild, precarious, and lonely sections of the wall many miles beyond the crowds defines travel and photography for me – when adventure, adrenaline, and history converge.
That’s my fiancee (bottom left) approaching a stunning section of the wall up in the mountains.