Mutianyu is about a two hour drive from Beijing and includes one of the most famous sections of the Great Wall. When I last visited, there was a bit of a carnival environment around the entrance with sketchy shops selling hats, water and other trinkets. I was therefore surprised (well, I shouldn’t have been given that this is China, where things get rectified faster than you can imagine) at how much had changed since my last visit.
The government has built a huge (and well designed) welcoming centre where you can buy tickets and arrange for the day. Leading up to the entrance, all of the shoddy shops are now gone and replaced with proper restaurants, cafes, retail stores, and even a few bars. The whole setup is neat, clean, orderly, and with signs in several languages. Some of the more obscure, but fun things remain, like the kart/slide that you can take to return to the lower ground, and of course, the two gondolas.
For anyone that has spent time in China will know, getting clear air was a huge challenge the past decade or so, but as the government has shifted its emphasis from low end manufacturing to high end manufacturing and services, the air quality has been improving in leaps and bounds. However, even with those improvements, it’s still rare to get a perfect day, given humidity, sand storms, and/or just having boring blue skies.
Imagine our luck that the day we were to arrive in San Sa Village, the weather forecast said it would be heavy rain the entire two nights we would be there. The locals said that it had been raining in the mountains the past two weeks with no blue skies or sunshine in sight. Consider then the turn of luck we had when the heavens opened, and shortly after, the skies cleared, leaving us with air quality like I haven’t seen on any of my visits to the Great Wall.
In one image, you can see the Beijing Central Business District (CBD) of Guomao, including the new CITIC Tower, Zaha Hadid’s SOHO buildings and the CCTV Tower. This is from 80km away! I may never experience these conditions again, so I’m so grateful I had the wonderful GFX100S on hand to capture it all with 102MP of glorious detail!
To get to the highest point, we took the gondola up to station 14 and then hiked up to station 20. The last two stations were quite difficult and challenged our legs as well as our minds. The last station especially has a near vertical climb which gave me intense butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t look down for fear of getting frozen with anxiety. We hiked 102 floors and 12.4km to get to station 20. Once at the top, the views were worth it, but coming down meant a pretty frightening and slow descent!
I hope you enjoy these images from the Great Wall of China!
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