The last wall standing...

The last wall standing...

Explore the spectacular Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

Unlike its seemingly monolithic name, The Great Wall of China comprises several separate series of fortifications spanning across Northern China. Each of these walls has been built, rebuilt, enhanced and preserved over the centuries by various Chinese dynasties, and most recently by the Chinese Communist Party, and each one varies in characteristics. So, as a tourist, which one should you visit? Ideally, the answer would be all of them! But if that isn’t possible, here’s my pick: the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China is a restoration masterpiece, renowned for efforts at reinstating the glory of Chinese dynasty’s era.

Located in the Huairou district of Beijing — an hour-and-a-half away from central Beijing — the section was first built in the sixth century during the rule of the Northern Qi. The Wall was then reconstructed under the supervision of General Xu Da of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in the early years of Ming Dynasty. During the times of Chairman Mao Zedong, however, certain sections of the Wall were damaged when policies to destroy historical buildings were put in place. But when Deng Xiaoping came into power following the end of the Cultural Revolution, restoration projects began to take shape. Deng declared ‘Love China, Rebuild Our Great Wall’, and the first site of the Wall to be restored was the Mutianyu section. And in 1987, towards the end of Deng’s rule, The Great Wall was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site — an inscribed piece of rock at Mutianyu boasts the UNESCO tag.

Since this section was once built by emperors in the northern mountains, it came with great strategic importance and therefore, the architecture of the Wall is defensive in nature with merlons and crenels enabling easy and targeted firings. The Wall is also uniquely constructed with multiple watchtowers. Interestingly, one of the watchtowers has recently been turned into a designated graffiti section for tourists who intend to leave behind personalised scribblings, although the move seems more like an effort to contain graffiti rather than have it spread across the entire length of a sacred heritage site. The section also prides on its forest coverage — about 96% of the area around the Wall is green, making for breathtaking sights and fresh, cool air. There are three ways to climb up and down the Wall — the 4,000-plus steps, a four-person gondola ride and a two-person chairlift. And for those seeking fun, another mode of descent catches the eye — a toboggan. The slide-ride moves through the mountain in a few zig-zag bends and slides from the Wall to the valley below.

The foot of the wall is littered with restaurants serving everything from traditional noodle soups and tea to western snacks and ice creams, and other souvenir and clothing shops offering some good old retail therapy. And for those with artsy inclinations, there are also a few Chinese artists selling slabs of marble intricately hand-carved with images of the Great Wall. The food and shopping centres make for ideal tourits spots for those who wish to plan for a day-long trip.