Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Only in China: Tobogganing at the Great Wall

You know those great photos of the Great Wall? The ones with sweeping views over miles of hills, the wall snaking up and down grassy mounds, towers breaking up the line? Soft blue skies with maybe a little haze?

Yep. I don't have any of those. In fact, if I hadn't had been looking for it, I might have missed the wall altogether...

On our return back in Beijing, the smog had decided to rear its ugly head and was so thick that we couldn't see the next building in the morning. Undeterred, we were determined to make the most of our time and set of for the wall nevertheless, bypassing Badaling (are the horror stories about there as never-ending as they seem to be?) and going a little further afield to Mutianyu. This part of the wall was relatively quiet, and we soon caught the cable car up the hill.

Once at the top, we mounted the wall, and squinted. The smog was so heavy that we could see only a few metres in front of us clearly, the far hills indistinct blobs. We had a sense of a winding wall, but it wasn't quite as I'd imagined. As we walked up and down the wide steps, the smog lifted slightly and we were able to see further, but it still wasn't the view of the classic photos. However, the smog also gave us some advantages. The thick mist gave an eerie perspective, and the autumnal trees in soft reds, oranges and yellows looked beautiful against the grey of the stone.

We spent time exploring the towers and watching the wall fade in front of us, smiling at fellow visitors we kept bumping into, and enjoying the cool weather - perfect for huffing up and down the steep inclines.

Once we had finished, all there was left to do was get back down again. We could have taken another cable car, but a much better exciting opportunity presented itself. A sign led us to the most unlikely thing I could have imagined - a toboggan ride down the hill. A shiny silver slide wound 1000m, allowing us to wizz down to the base of the wall site. Although I'd been on a very similar slide before in Switzerland, it was the oddest feeling, sitting on a narrow piece of plastic with a rickety brake looking out on the Great Wall of China whilst waving at the safety personnel as I zoomed by.

Not very conventional, but hey, when in China...

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