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Back to the Wall
By Roderick Eime
5 September 2011

"You are walking ..puff.. on the world's longest .. puff, puff...cemetery," said Miranda, our guide, as we heaved and wheezed up the near vertical inclines of China's Great Wall.

She was talking about the horrendous toll of slave workers who perished during the building of the world's longest man-made structure that snakes across the Chinese landscape and, just at this moment, seemed more like a mountain than anything built by hand.

Once intended to keep nomads and plunderers out, this modern archaeological "mecca" has found a new role: as a central attraction for literally millions of tourists from all over the world.

It's a wonder the delicate construction is still standing after the combined tramping of millions of pairs of feet. Then again, it's made from compacted earth - perhaps we are contributing to the restoration?

After over an hour of virtual mountaineering up the restored and preserved stone ramparts, running the gauntlet of hawkers and trinket merchants, we arrive at the end of the preserved structure, to look out over a trail of rubble stretching off into the distance.

The mist enshrouding the far horizon adds to the mystique and the view is nothing short of spectacular. Heck, we've earned it!

This section of the wall at Badaling is one of the closest to Beijing, a mere bus ride from the burgeoning metropolis and ancient capital. Its location at the highest point of the precipitous Guan'gou gorge made it a prime strategic point and many of the restaurants and souvenir shops have taken over storehouses and barracks built for the soldiers garrisoned here.

These days it's resisting - or rather not resisting - a rather different invasion, with a vast expanse of tarmac parking hundreds of tour buses, each of which disgorges its cargo of clamberers into the mustering yard before setting them off to hike the rough cobblestones of history.

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Keywords: Wonder, Beijing

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