The bus ride from Beijing to the Juyongguan Great Wall takes an hour-and-a-half due to traffic, says Anoop NS, our tour manager. Bored, I look out of the window only to have the view obscured by a thick fog. Just as I am starting to doze off, Anoop announces that we are nearing the site. The fog lifts a little and I get a glimpse of the mountains in the horizon. Finally I see it, the imposing Great Wall snaking its way, like a writhing dragon’s tail over the expansive mountain range.
Juyongguan Great Wall is one of the three most famous passes along the Great Wall of China. The other two are Jiayuguan and Shanhaiguan. Juyongguan Pass has two passes, one at the South and one at the North. While the South pass is called Nan Pass, the northern one is called Badaling. Although Badaling is the more popular of the two passes, we take the Nan pass.
Originally commissioned during the Qin Dynasty, the Juyongguan Great Wall served as a strategic military garrison and was the site of many battles. “If you observe closely, you will find that the Juyongguan Great Wall is not a straight wall; it is more of a giant circle that runs around the mountain ridges,” says Anoop.
The entrance to the Juyongguan Pass is touristy, with shops selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs. As there are no cable cars to help visitors up and down at this section of the wall, the stairway it is for all. Although it looks fairly easy to ascend from the bottom, I soon discover that looks can be deceiving. The climb till the first Beacon Tower is simple, tricking you into going further. I pause to click snaps of the shops and the surrounding grounds. The first few steps, which are of a normal manageable height, suddenly become as high as or above my knee. The steep slope and the uneven step size make climbing really exhausting despite the handrail.
Huffing and puffing, holding the rails for support, a throng of climbers go past at various speeds. Nearly everyone is in sensible clothes and shoes. I gasp as I spot a woman in pump shoes climb the steps like a gazelle. Some take a breather on the steps sipping water from their bottles. Several sweaty, red-faced, out-of-breath climbers pause and smile to take photographs. I wonder out loud at how the Wall is surprisingly graffiti-free to a friend, but I hurriedly swallow my words. There on a wall are etched names and what not.
The fog plays spoilsport as it continues an extended game of hide-and-seek with the view of the valley below. When it does clear up briefly, the view is spectacular. I ponder on how workers constructed the Wall through the steep, rugged terrain for thousands of miles. By the time I reach the fourth tower, I decide to call it quits. Gasping for breath, I can feel my legs and lungs ready to explode. A friend who manages the climb till the eighth tower says the crowd grows thinner as one climbs up further and so does the air. I see green when he shows me a picture of himself and the Wall with no other person blocking the frame.
The descent down is not easy as one has to watch their step. Waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, Anoop asks if I would like to pick up a certificate which states that I conquered the Great Wall from a store nearby. I shake my head in reply. Maybe next time, when I actually conquer the Wall.
Slice of history
The wall of the Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan, at a length of 38 kilometres, is said to be the second-longest in the world.