Hong Kong (Beijing) Day 19 (January 12, 2006)

14 01 2006

Ming Tombs and the Great Wall

Today had two major attractions planned.  The Ming tombs and the Great Wall of China. As usual we headed out of the hotel around 0815, and we promptly sat in the dead still traffic, with gentle snow falling around us.  Despite the snow and the fact that 1 in 3 families in Beijing own a car the bicycle is still one of the favored modes of transportation.  People kept biking everywhere, just with more clothing.

We crept along at just below a snail’s pace, until we had significantly cleared the city, at which point the traffic thinned finally, allowing us to actually move at a more normal pace.  It took over an hour to get to the tombs.  IT was snowing at the tombs as well, and the footing was quite slippery.  The snowfall seems to have dampened the enthusiasm of many tourists, which meant that the area was much quieter, leaving some great winter scenes:

The tomb we visited is the 10th of 13 emperors entombed on the grounds, and was build in the 1600’s.  The actual burial chambers had high vaulted ceilings, and were made from large blocks of granite(?)  The door to the emperor’s burial chamber was composed of two marble slabs, about one foot thick, and probably 4m high, and 2m wide.  HUGE.  In front of the burial chamber was a long corridor in which lay large marble chairs. One for the emperor, and one for his empress.  The tomb had two side chambers which were intended to hold others, but were never used.  This must have been frustrating for the builders.  Build two large rooms, that never were occupied.  The Front door to the tomb had a large copper clad door, with the standard imperial 81 studs (9×9), and the whole thing was buried under ground . 

There was a large ramp leading down to the door, and the whole thing (ramp included) was covered with dirt, including a direction stone.  In front of the tomb, some distance away was a large tomb marker (large meaning 5m high, and 2m on each side.  LARGE) bearing the emperor’s name, and an inscription in Chinese.  This obviously was a good help to those looking for tombs to excavate 🙂

Since this tomb was discovered completely undisturbed, they found many gold artifacts.  Gold bowls, gold coins, gold ingots even.  I wonder at what point the Chinese began to value gold as a “precious” metal, rather than the copper and brass which had been so common in all the relics we had seen to date.

After the tombs, we were taken to yet another sales pitch.  This time they pitched some herbal cream to help lessen pain in joints and muscles.  Mrs D bought some cream at what seemed to me to be a high price for something that looks and smells just like tiger balm.  Lunch was good, and we were served some 56% alcohol in little shot glasses.  That’ll keep you warm in the winter!

From lunch it was off to the Great Wall at Juyongguan pass.  We arrived at the wall, and it was still cold, but it had stopped snowing.  It was 1500 when we were allowed to head up the wall at will.  I told Mrs D that we had better bet going if we were to get up the wall.  We had to be back by 1600.  Only one hour to get up and down the wall, and it seemed to go STRAIGHT up the mountainside.

Mrs D and I hiked together for awhile and we watched various tourists almost wipe out a number of times.  It was at this point that I wished that I had brought the day hikers from the hotel.  All this way I carried those boots, and I forgot to wear them for “The Wall”.  Sigh.  After about the second watchtower, and some serious elevation gain, Mrs D decided she had had enough.  I refused to give in. I had come all this way to the great wall so I was going to hike it to the end of the segment that we could hike.  I reluctantly left her there and continued my hike.  The stairs were very slippery and I watched a few people in dress shoes almost totally wipe out on their butts.  The wall got pretty thin in places, and people going down and people going up had some tough challenges passing each other.  Downward took priority as it was they that were having the hardest time keeping a grip while stepping down onto the icy steps.  I made a note to myself to watch out for the way down.  Since it was cold and snowy the number of tourists was definitely low. This was a good thing, as if there were more, we’d definitely have some injuries. 

As I got higher up the wall, the crowds thinned, and it was pretty much down to me, a Korean  woman, three Germans, and a Chinese couple.  We hit the end of the hikable wall at about the same time, so we took turns having each other take pictures of ourselves.

Having rested a bit at the top, I realized I’d have to hoof it if I was going to make it down to the bus in time. I decided to count the steps as I went.  I was going pretty well, until I hit one step that suddenly became four.  I could feel the sockets in my shoulders pulling as I strained to keep from having a bumpy ride down to the next watchtower.  Got to be more careful!  I walked much more cautiously after that and still managed to wipe out about 6 times. I stopped for the odd photo while going down, but mostly hurried down, and met up with the Mrs part way down.  We zipped down, and were just about the last to get back on the bus.  Everyone else had had enough of winter.  LOL!  -2C at worst.

I made it down the wall 50 minutes after going up.  I counted 1524 steps on the wall.  It was a 230m gain.  By the time I got to the bus my shirt was soaked from sweat.  It definitely had been a good workout. 

Padlocks symbolizing good health tied with a red ribbon and with a family or couple’s name inscribed, attached to the wall:

The ride back took us to dinner, and then back to the hotel.  Blog updates, and nice Irish coffee in the lounge that night.  Then it was off to bed at a much more reasonable hour.

Photos at http://www.fotothing.com/DragonSpeed/photo/d8460e471f3ba753fa0ec3813a66a5dc/

What would  a trip to a non English speaking country be without a funny translation on a sign:




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