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Walking on the Great Wall

It’s not every day that you get to take a walk along a 2,700-year old wonder of the world. So for me as a traveler, today’s visit to the Great Wall of China was pretty special.

We’ve all seen pictures of the wall, and probably heard various tidbits about it, such as the fact that it is the only man-made object visible from space. On our drive to the mountains outside of Beijing, where sections of the 4,000-mile wall are most accessible to visitors, our local guide Eddy gave us more details about the creation of this landmark.

‘The emperors built the wall to keep out the Mongols from the north,’ he said. ‘Over one million workers were involved. Many of them died while they were building it. Most of the workers were prisoners, so if they got sick or wounded, nobody cared. They just buried them inside the wall.’

Today, the wall is still as spectacular as it must have been back then. It snakes along the tops of ridges like a spine on the mountain range. In the sections near Beijing, the wall is wide, tall and easily walkable — even on a late winter day, the place is buzzing with tourists, most of them Chinese nationals visiting from other parts of this large country.

We had two hours to spend exploring the Great Wall.  I chose to take the challenging hike from our starting place to the Eighth Tower of the North, the wall’s highest point near Beijing. The journey included a lot of steps and no small amount of heavy breathing, but the views from the top, and the accompanying sense of accomplishment, were more than worthwhile.

After all, this is one of the great accomplishments of ancient humanity. Eight thousand miles away from home, it only makes sense to me to make the most of the opportunity. So the Great Wall of China, and its Eighth Tower of the North, is officially checked off the bucket list.

A steep hike from the bottom

Brian stops for a photo on the wall… with hair wind-whipped into a frenzy.

A remnant of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, fixed just beside the Great Wall.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.