“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
I arrived in Mutianyu after two hours drive from Beijing (the capital of China) ready to accomplish an old childhood dream: walking on the great wall of China. The weather seems to by on my side today, the grey polluted sky of the capital being replaced by a blue, clear sky where few fluffy clouds are trying to temper the burning sun.
Some colleagues decided to accompany me in what is about to become an unique life experience, even though they don’t seem at all excited to face one of the New world wonders, fact which disappoint me a bit. I decide to ignore all the negative behavior that might ruin my excitement and enjoy this page of ancient history which openes its pages right in front of me.
The construction of the wall started as early as the 7th century B.C and its purpose was mainly to protect the country from the invasion of the nomadic tribes. The wall is often compared with a giant dragon which streches for 21.000 km, having his head in Beijing and his tail in the desert of Gansu province.
We choosed to visit Mutianyu today, one of the best restored and well maintained sections of the wall, with numerous watchtowers (not so commun in other sections), built in Northern Qi Dynasty (500-570) and only 70 km away from the capital.
In present, the danger of nomadic invasion faded but the wall still spread fascination amoung the tourists, attracted by its great history and beautiful location.
To reach the top of the mountain, we have to adventure in a 550 meters cable car ride which normally takes only 5 minutes but it seems to be an eternity if you dare to look bellow your feet. My hands are sweaty and my heart is beating fast…in the end of the day who can trust a cable car made in China?
I am finally on the top, mesmerized by the greatness of the wall which gained its name of the longest cemetery on earth, after million lifes were lost while building it. The primitive technique of construction, using rammed earth was gradually changed with bricks and stones, making the Ming Dynasty construction stronger and more elaborated but even more difficult to explain.
Mutianyu is made out of two different section, one is steeper while the other one is lean. My colleagues, as I mention before, are responsible to ruin all the fun and we agree to split in two different groups. Some of us could explore the challanging side of the wall while the others could relax away from the sun, sipping a refreshing beverage in one of the terraces located on the wall.
“I didn’t say it would be easy, I said it would worth it”
People of both genders and ages follow my example, unafraid of the burning sun pursuing their dream. Most of them are exhausted and grab the side of the wall in dispair while others give up on climbing, taking a well deserved break on the stairs.
Me, on the other side, I am walking resettles, stopping time to time in one of the watching towers to admire the beautiful landscape over the Huairou county. As I move forward I realize the wall structure is similar but so different in the same time.
As much as I want to discover all the 5,4 km of the Mutianyu wall, I decide to show some consideration to my non-athletic colleagues and join them for a beer before our departure.
A funny Chinesse man is inviting the costumers for cold drinks using a megaphone and unexpectedly an almost perfect english while the waiters are trying to convince us to buy some overpriced souvenirs, bringing it directly to our table.
We are ready for the next adventure, this time together: the toboggan. At first I was a little bit sceptic regarding this method of decending the wall, but then I realized it is a safe, comfortable and fun device which use the gravity to make coasters drive along the mountain. Beside that, the thrilling device is 100% made in Germany and if Michelle Obama was brave enough to try it what harm could happen to me?
At the end of the ride another surprise is waiting for us…few retaired warriors in red armor and contemporany sneakers, are offering their rusted swords for an inedite picture in exchange of 10 $ fee.
Along the alley, few bars and shops beautifully alligned are selling their goods 10 times more expensive than eveywhere else in China. Our driver is waiting for us in one of these restaurants and we are ready to go back to the hotel, a little bit afraid for our life. The man driving skills, freeze the blood in our veins, whenever he ignores the traffic signs or speeds uncontrollably and neighter of us is brave enough to occupy the front seat.
Once we exit the parking a tick rain starts watering the earth and I smile greatful to the divinity who listened to my prayers, protecting our trip from bad weather. Now I can close my eyes relaxed…
“My home is in Heaven…I am just traveling through this world”. Billy Graham
The day is far from being over and I decide to explore other wonders of China. I take a shower fast and I meet down in the lobby other colleagues ready to get lost in the big capital of bicycles, Beijing.
The rain stoped but the sky is still grey, covered with a veil of smog making the air unbreakable.
After almost an hour wasted in traffic, our female taxi driver finally stops in front of a gate announcing in a poor english the entrance in the Temple of Heaven. I don’t know much about the place but Alex, my colleague, assure me that the palace worth visiting, especially in this time of the year, when the nature is more splendid than ever.
As I am about to find out, the temple represent a complex of religious buildings with similar appearance, built in 1406, during the reign of Yongle Emperor. The symbolism of the construction is pretty amazing but as I am used already, my work mates interest in history is bellow the sea level and there is no argument strong enough to convince them to queue in front of the entrance in order to discover “boring” hidden meanings of ancient walls.
Odd numbers possess heavenly signifience for the temple, especially number 9, which is used obsessive in creating the doors, windows, the stairs and balustrades while the round top is projected on a square base, representing the Heaven on Earth.
We move forward, admiring the circular buildings from outside, were dark blue roof tiles, symbolizing the Heaven, seems to open its holy gates for us. On the other side, a blonde girl with blue eyes and red dress is just a rare in China as a goddess felt from the open sky and even in this sacred place I can’t escape from my admirers, who are pulling my hand for pictures, meant to imortalize this divine encounter.
The temple is surrounded by 267 hectars of typical Chinese parks, a real oasis of pace and tranquillity were the Confucian design is beautiful combined with modern elements, ancient trees and powerful vibrations.
Chinese people seems to have a close relationship with each tree from the park, often hugging it or just raising their arms in order to recharge their body with positive energy. One of the trees captures my attention as the 500 years old Juniper has a trunk with grooves which resembles dragon climbing up into the sky. I raise my hands, trying to imitate the other travelers. I close my eyes and I am waiting…waiting…
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”Albert Einstein
Outside the park, hundred yellow bicycles are beautifully aligned along the street and it would be a perfect occasion to sharpen my childhood skills, however in China nothing is that simple as it seems. Even though 430 million people are owning a bicycle in China and few other millions are to be rented from the street, the system doesn’t favor the tourists, the whole process being quite long and complicated.
We give up on the idea, being sure that taxi is a simple and more convenient way of traveling in the modern days but again we are about to discover that is not so easy.
A friendly chinese man, after a deep comunication through the signs language, is stopping a cab for us and we can finally breath relieved enjoying the short drive towards the forbidden city, another must see objective on the touristic map of Beijing.
“Magic happenes in the threshold of the forbidden.” Maria Tatar
The taxi driver drops us in Tiananmen square, one of the largest city square in the world, well known for its pro-democracy movement in 1989 which resulted in a massacre of several thousand civilian.
An unknown “rebel” stood that day in front of a column of tanks in order to stop their advance, his picture becoming even more famous than the demonstration itself. Now I am the one sitting in the middle of the square not so brave as my precursor but happy to defeat the army of thousands modern Chinese who decided to spent a sunny weekend in the square.
Across the street, right in the heart of Beijing is located the Forbidden city which was hosting the imperial palace for almost 500 years. The city was built as heavenly residence on earth exclusively for the emperors of Qing and Ming dynasties and totally forbidden to the ordinary people.
Nowdays the forbidden city its actualy permitted to anyone who is willing to pay an entrance fee but the new generation seem to care less and less about its cultural value.
Tired and hungry we decided to enjoy a local dinner in one of the restaurants located outside of the forbidden city. Big mistake…The food is awful like everywhere in China (and don’t understand me wrong, I am a big fan of chinese cuisine), the waste bin located next by each table is waiting unpatient to be fed and the toilet…is right in the middle of the pedestrian street in a small, plastic box.
We run as fast as we can withouth touching the food or relieve our physiological needs, trying desparate to catch a taxi back to the hotel.
As we are used already the taxi drivers are totally ignoring us, not interested in touristic faces (I am still trying to solve this mistery) until a kind Tuc-tuc driver decides to give us a ride through the busy streets of the capital, Beijing.