My Love Affair with the Great Wall of China

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Sure, I’d seen it before. Mutianyu was really lovely and sent me roses; I still see it occasionally. Badaling… myeah; was kinda glad when it didn’t call the next day. But Jinshanling Great Wall. Oh, Jinshanling. Oriental dreams are made of you. How you broke my heart.

We had taken the Jingcheng Expressway to Chengde for the weekend and stopped at Jinshanling for a peek, almost as an afterthought. It was your regular chair-lift ride with the standard chunky-hilled view and the usual landing platform on a cemented hilltop. But when my feet landed on that cement and I turned around, all typical expectations dissolved. My heart stopped. My breath caught. Tears sprang. And there it was – draped over the wandering hills like a cashmere serpent, rolling, reclining and basking in my eyes; a bewitching lothario.

I was love-struck.

The Wall had never looked like this. It went forever. It rose, it plummeted, it coiled around and flung itself wide. It peaked and troughed and meandered and teased. It trailed away skinny into far-off Simitai and curl around powerfully under my feet to hold me close.

I gasped, clutched my hands and rested my head against its grey stones, watching the sun cast itself bronze across the hilltops. This was a life-altering moment for me. Our ensuing weekend in Chengde was spent on a high.

The Mountain Resort and Eight Outer Temples, all UNESCO World Heritage sites, are truly an unmissable China experience. The Qing Dynasty summer palace was almost a century in the making. Lusciously massive, its temples, pavilions, eight lakes, horse-riding plain, valleys, mountains, weeping willows and peacocks are surrounded by 10km of carbon-copy Wall.

The magnificent Eight Outer temples were built by emperors Qianlong and Kangxi as a nod to China’s diverse minority population. A blend of Tibetan and Han styles, and arranged like constellations around the moon of the Resort, each one is unique. Stand-outs include Putuo Zongchengzhi (an echo of Lhasa’s Potala Palace), Xumi Fushouzhi, Pule and Putuo Temple with its colossal, thousand-armed Buddhist statue, made of wood.

Other sites of historical and natural beauty around town include Kuixing Pavilion, Mulan Imperial Hunting Park and Qingchui Cliff, a 60-metre rock balancing on its tip. If you want your heart batted around like a kitten with a ball of yarn, don’t miss your chance to be seduced by Jinshanling. Your love affair may be fleeting but the memory will be cast in stone. How to get there: 2.5-3 hours by car.

Where to stay: Mountain Villa Resort, 3 star, from 470RMB/night; Chengde Hotel, 2 star, from 450RMB/night.Cost: Resort 60-90RMB. Temples 20-50RMB (open 8am-5.30pm).Top three sites: Mountain Resort, Eight Outer Temples and Jinshanling Great Wall. The hike to Simitai takes four hours.

First published, in part, in City Weekend Beijing magazine. Photographs by Tania McCartney.

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