Friday, May 21, 2010

Walking Wild - Untouched, Unrestored, Undamaged Wall

It's over 30 degrees C (high 80s F) in Beijing now. As a friend said, Spring barely happened--the trees and flowers are very confused--and we just rushed straight into Summer! Last weekend, before this sudden hotspell, some friends managed to drive to the countryside just over the border into Hebei province, to get away from the city for one day, and enjoy some fresh air, fresh food and some gentle hiking.

It wasn't any special holiday weekend but traffic was bad on the highway to Badaling and other (restored) sections of the Great Wall nearest to Beijing. They knew they should start out early at the weekends, but 8.30am was too late, 7.30am would have been better. To compensate, however, there are some magnificent views of the Wall following the peaks of the mountains.

The group had instructions to go to Chenjiapu, a small village of old farmhouses with some families settled there since the Wall was built, many with surname CHEN. From there, it's a short walk to the base of the mountains on top of which are several beautiful untouched sections of the Wall - undamaged (by Man, but not by Nature) and unrestored. One can hire a guide for 100 RMB to take you on a range of walks, such as High and Round Towers (only 3 such round ones on the whole Wall, the guide said), demanding but rewards with one of the best views over the Chenjiapu valley and beyond, or Hunchback Curve, also demanding but with some of the most picturesque Wall curves and fairy-tale like staircases in beijing, or Easy Over, a short walk of 3 or 4 hours.

My friends went for a shortened version of the short walk . They met no one else on their 2 hour trek, no tour groups, not a single backpacker even and no ladies selling postcards. They were welcomed by groups of lovely blue butterflies. They were able to scramble up a part of the Wall which descended into the valley, but gave up halfway up because it got too steep and there were too many loose stones. Later on they met a group of local people on a survey mission, looking to develop the area for tourism. That was bad news!

They got back in time for a hearty, healthy lunch. They even picked some of the fresh vegetables and leaves themselves from the farmer's own plot, grown organically they said, but no questions were asked on what they used for fertiliser. The farmer's wife cooked up a table full of dishes, all freshly made.

It was only the (plastic) flowers in the dining room that were not 'fresh'.

The farmhouse also has simple rooms for overnight stays, only 50 RMB per person, complete with traditional 'kang' bed with underbed heating in winter. There are even hot showers available, courtesy of the solar water heater. And TV via satellite dish, but no CNN or BBC I'm afraid.

A short walk round the village rounded off our trip. They met an old lady in her courtyard home, doing her daily housework, all very traditional, in contrast to the wedding photo proudly hanging on her wall.

I wonder how she spent her honeymoon? staying up to watch the sunset (or sunrise) over the Wall, or the stars at night? How romantic!


  1. That looks like a wonderful trip! Did you stay overnight?

  2. No, but I could stay with you there next time if you want!