China # 8 – Jiayguan -The Western End of the Great Wall – September 2014

June 15, 2018

It was late when we wound our way through the dark streets of Jiayuguan (Gansu Province) to find the official end of The Great Wall of China. A really full moon, the biggest and roundest of the year called Harvest Moon, lit the way as we arrived at an empty parking lot with a sign to the Great Wall entrance, a perfect place for Green to set up her tent. A little store was just about to close but we managed to grab a couple of cold beers. In the morning, a few vegetable and fruit vendors had set out their offerings.

The Great Wall of China

No matter how many photos you have seen, standing on the Great Wall of China is an original experience.

No matter how many photos you have seen, standing on the Great Wall of China is an original experience.

The Great Wall was an elaborate military defense system, including forts, platforms and watchtowers. Started in the 7th century, it eventually stretched 21,196 kilometers, (13,170 miles), across 15 modernnprovinces of today’s China. It has lasted over 2,000 years and is considered one of the greatest cultural and architectural miracles in the history of world civilization. Building materials varied according to topography and what was available. Wood, brick, stone and sometimes just willow twigs were inserted into layers of coarse clay. Natural cliffs were incorporated. Of course, one of the principal functions of the Wall was to protect the Western border of the Chinese Empire and the caravans traveling along the Silk Road.

The view was getting better with every step. Just cut through the smog!

The view was getting better with every step. Just cut through the smog!

As we started up the Wall to the top, we were counting steps. I think I lost count after about 500. From the watchtowers it would be easy to see invaders many miles away especially in ancient times without smog. At the very end of this restored section, actually a rock ridge, peak-bagger Monika climbed to the top. Lovers sealed their vows with a small padlock on the chain handrail and presumably threw the keys into the canyon below. There was thankfully an easier way down, following a long winding flagstone path.

Military fortress at Jiayu Pass

Leaving the West Gate entrance, the caravans headed for the treacherous Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts.

Leaving the West Gate entrance, the caravans headed for the treacherous Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts.

The large fortress protecting Jiayu Pass was built near Jiayuguan, a small town that became a prosperous center for the production of silk. At the large parking lot at the entrance of these historic grounds we quickly learned to always bring our passports as the folks at ticket counters and later security guards inspected them. First we visited the informative museum before walking up more stairs to the actual fortress. It encompasses 40’100 square yards (33,529 m2) and had a complex defensive system with an inner city with two gates, a central area with many buildings including pretty temples with fierce looking monster guardians, an outer city with two more gates, and finally a moat. Along the walls were watchtowers, turrets and cannons.

Last Outpost before the treacherous Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts

We would see the Great Wall of China two more times before our wheels touched the Yellow Sea of the Pacific Ocean.

Caravans coming from all four directions stopped here to trade. The General’s Fortress (as it is sometimes called) was the last outpost of the Chinese Empire for anyone heading west along the treacherous Gobi and Taklamakan deserts of the Silk Road. What trepidations they must have had leaving this haven! And what a relief others must have felt arriving safely after months of hardship and worries. Just having driven through those two treacherous deserts in a modern expedition truck with air conditioning we were in awe as we walked through the thick tunnel wall to see nothing but waterless wasteland. Camels were waiting for (tourist) cargo. One could only imagine the sounds and smells of the masses of men and animals in the mist of bartering and exchange of goods, news and ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to “China # 8 – Jiayguan -The Western End of the Great Wall – September 2014”

  1. Amazing pics..feels like you brought me with you.

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