Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In the land of Pagodas - Part III - The Great Wall

          If you have ever wished for anything very earnestly, with an innocent heart, it is sure to come true some time or the other in your life.  The trip to Great Wall was one such experience for me the other being the one to Shantiniketan.  The trip was organised as part of the school on the Sunday during the school. If we would go to the Great Wall or not depended on the weather but we wentto the Great Wall anyway. :)
          We started after the breakfast in two groups. The journey was a pleasant one. It took more than 45 minutes to reach the Great Wall. On the way it was raining. Scenic places appeared through sheets of rain. A canal with trees on either sides was an unforgettable one. The part of Great Wall we went to is the Mutianyu Great Wall.
           Finally we reached our destination, i.e the entrance to the Great wall. When I say entrance it is a flight of steps which you have to climb to reach the Great Wall. After all it is built on top of a mountain. :) So after getting the tickets from our guide (who was carrying a guiding flag perched on top of her umbrella), we started the ascent with the instructions to be back to the base within an hour. I can call it only an ascent since we were literally climbing up the whole mountain!

           Here I have to mention what all I was carrying. My backpack with almost three bottles of water + my purse + my camera. So the camera happens to be a half kg one with an almost 300 g of lens attached to it. And obviously being a tourist I had to take photos and put it on my neck as all aspiring photographers do (let me take the privilege of calling myself a photographer). And we began our climb.
         There were neatly cut steps to climb the mountain and these steps are probably centuries old. On our right was the valley side and all the resting places were on the left. There were steps, steps and steps. I started climbing enthusiastically and by after thirty steps I started panting. And ofcourse I have to mention my footware and jeans. In view of the Great Wall climbing I should have taken my shoes which I forgot to in the last minute packing and was wearing a very fancy Bata footwear. Luckily all through my visit in Beijing it didn't break. :) On that day I wore a jeans which I don't prefer to wear on other days at all, and this particular jeans which was restricting my motion on account of being skinny ( I realised this fact after a long time!). So along with my own natural exhaustion, the bag, the jeans and the camera on my neck were adding to my difficulty in climbing.

         And I literally fell back int he group and joined the group which was coming after us. I dont remember how many people waited for me to get a breath, earnest thanks to all of them for being very kind. So my group partner who happened to be in the latter group with which we merged offered to carry my camera. Thanks to him. And then after some more flight of stairs my comrade offered to carry my bag. This bag was carried by another of my friend later.Thanks to her too. She was also having difficulty climbing, but she was very determined to climb. It was an extremely tedious climb. But I too got determined. Then I realised why out guide had told us that those who climb the Great Wall are heros! It takes that much effort to reach there.

           I can still taste the salt on my face. :) On the way we reached a place were there were some fallen branches. I broke a long staff from a branch and used it as my support. The rest of the way i supported myself on this staff. When I was making this staff for me a grandma passed us. She might have been 90 years. There I was young, but struggling to climb the mountain and there the granny was who was walking breezily as if this was all a child's play for her!! :)

          Finally sweating  and with reddened faces (I couldn't see myself, but I am sure that I was red too) we reached our destination, the Great Wall!!! We climbed another small set of stairs to the wall. I had never imagined that it would be as difficult to walk on the Great Wall as it was to climb to it. We entered as roofed portion where sweet/cool drinks vendors were sitting. After the climb after seeing them I started wondering how they manage to climb up ad down everyday! (And also thought that if I were a candy vendor on Great Wall who climbed the mountain everyday, I would be thin and healthy. ;) )

         On reaching the destination, I took all my possessions back from the people who had kindly took them for me and started the photographic pursuit. Carrying a three quarter kg camera was not a bad idea at all. :) When I look at the photos I was able to capture there, I feel happy. :) We started walking there. As I had mentioned, it is difficult to walk on the Great Wall. Since the wall is built all the way on top of the mountain, it rises and falls accordingly. And then there are steps again. Not the usual high ones only, but the low thin steps which looked from far away seem to be part of the floor. On the way a group of tourists from some other country crossed us. A guy in the group said "Namaste" to us. :) Yup there was a "Namaste" also on top of the Great Wall. This was the result of the salwar, which was just the trailer of what was to come the next Saturday. :)
        I also saw photographers with more than 1kg cameras on the top. Nobody can miss the chance to photograph the only man made structure visible from the moon. :)  I wanted to experiment running and walking on the wall in different ways, but didn't have the courage to do so with the 0.75kg cam hanging on my neck. If I ever get another chance to go back there I do want to walk freely. We climbed another roofed structure and spent some time there. There was a cute child who was looking curiously at my staff. Infact most of the people were looking at that staff!! :) But it was fun holding that staff. It was as I would imagine as a five or ten year old. I had embarked upon a great journey across the mountain and walking with a staff in my hand. I don't remember where I picked up this image, but it is one of the images which was dear to me as a kid.

      Then we all looked at our watches and realised that the time given to us was almost over. We had to go down. Should we trek back or should we take the rope way was the question. Finally the deadline set by the travel guide won and we decided to take the cable cars back to the foot of the mountain. This was my first experience of travelling in a cable car and I was to speak honestly, scared. Everything happened so suddenly that all I can remember is standing in a line and then ushered forward with DJ to stand at a point where we were given fast instructions to sit as soon as the car came behind us. The cable moves at a constant rate and you just have to sit, and the people in charge will put the cross bar with a T on the bottom which you have to hold with your feet. It all happened in a flurry and after that there was silence. I was almost more than 1 km up in the open air! Sitting on a car with horizontal bars! One wrong move and things will fall down! DJ was very relaxed. She had taken cable cars before. I took one photo and kept the camera in the bag. Somehow I felt that I should keep the lens cover away from my hand for fear of losing it. Now I feel that it was a good decision. Had I taken photos then I would never have taken in my surroundings clearly.

      I looked down and saw my slipper. What if the thing fell down? So I decided not to move. What about the pounding heart? I told myself not to get scared. DJ was photographing and taking video. From behind I heard yells from our companions telling that they were scared. I screamed and said "even I am!". That was fun. And my staff which was coming with one of our companions behind, fell down into the jungle deep down. I passed tree tops, I tried to touch one. There was lush green forest beneath us. And the cable car moved silently to the valley. I can't express the feeling I had in words. It has to be experienced. Those moments of silence were some of the best moments I ever had. Ofcourse I was anxious. Still I enjoyed the anxious silence. On the way I saw one of the students from the school travelling on a chute way from up the mountain. I smiled at him and watched him slide down silently along the mountain. I imagined myself travelling down the chute and decided that cable car was better at that moment. And reminded myself of the ad "darr ke aage jeet hai".

        We glided down and down. The whole valley could be seen. Slowly sounds started coming back. We were nearing the valley. And then suddenly we reached the disembarking point and were ushered out of the car. Then everybody came behind us. We climbed some stairs and two men in red gown with swords appeared before us! We didn't know what was happening. Apparently they were posing for photos or something.

          We didn't do any shopping there for lack of time. There were many interesting shops, with interesting things, but we went on. On the way back to the bus I noticed the T-shirts hung in the shops. They said "I climbed Great Wall!" :) In the bus people including me posed with a "V" for being happy about climbing the Great Wall. Then we started and I bid goodbye to the great wonder.
We stopped on the way for lunch, which was very tasty. I don't know if it was the exhaustion from climbing which made the whole lunch tasty or the fact that the food was actually tasty, it was very enjoyable.
         We had planned to go around the town where we were staying, but cancelled it since everybody was exhausted. We returned to the resort and I had a nice and refreshing bath and fell asleep immediately. Did my dreams revolve around the Great Wall?
       I still can't believe I climbed the Great Wall that day. I still can't control my excitement. Who can; when one of your innocent childhood dreams has come true? :)



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