Slide Down the Great Wall

Photo: Great Wall of ChinaThe Great Wall of China is mythic. When people talk about it they almost always–erroneously–note that you can see it from space (NASA’s take on the subject: You can’t see it with the naked eye, but you can detect it in certain radar images if you really know where to look). Or they say how it’s actually a huge tomb, as the bodies of the men who perished while working on it were often buried inside (in fact, there have been no bones, human or otherwise, found in the Wall, though a great number of workers did die while toiling to build it). But no one ever talks about the slide.

Or at least that’s what I thought when I visited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall last week during my visit to China. A two-hour drive north of Beijing, Mutianyu is a small mountaintop village with a beautifully restored section of the Wall that doesn’t see nearly as many tourists as the more popular Badaling section (which is where Nixon visited the Wall, and is much closer to Beijing). We were told that October is one of the best times to visit the Wall, and we arrived to cloudless skies, perfect temperatures, and a clear view of the Wall twisting over the mountain’s ridges, its granite parapets jutting out like vertebrae in a spine. It was, in a word, spectacular.

  

There are two ways to get up to the Wall at Mutianyu, a gondola or

chairlift, and I recommend that you opt for the gondola and then walk

to the right once you disembark. That way, you’ll get to enjoy the Wall

while walking down its slowly sloping decline, rather than huffing your

way up like the unfortunate chairlift folk. When you do reach the point where the chairlift drops off, you’ll find one of the most charming and bizarre things I encountered during my entire trip to China: An alpine slide which takes you on a twisty, five-minute ride back down the mountain.

While a childhood incident involving an alpine slide left me with some trepidation (let’s just say it involved my eight-year-old’s need for speed, a faulty break, a huge gash on my knee and the ripping of a beloved blue satin jacket), I was able to overcome my fears in exchange for being able to say that I rode a slide down from the Great Wall. And though I was far too nervous to take out my camera, lest I expose myself to injury, YouTube has amassed a collection of videos depicting the slide in all its glory.

The other rather spectacular thing I encountered in Mutianyu was The Schoolhouse. An American lawyer and his Chinese wife have converted an abandoned schoolhouse building in the village into a sleek restaurant and community art space with a glassblowing studio and gallery that wouldn’t seem out of place in a major city. We stopped in for lunch and had a delicious meal of pumpkin soup, sandwiches, curries, and noodles.

The Schoolhouse project has evolved to include lodging as well, and they have renovated other buildings in the village into 11 modern weekend homes now available for guests to rent, all of which have outdoor gardens and gorgeous views of the Wall. The couple works in partnership with the villagers to incorporate home visits and local tours, and their sustainable tourism model employs over 200 local people. It’s all the more reason to seek out Mutianyu when planning your visit to the Wall.

Read More: To learn more about the Great Wall, read an excerpt from the 2003 story in National Geographic magazine about following the trail of the Wall through rural China. And get tips on visiting China with our online travel guide.

Photo: Janelle Nanos 

Comments

  1. Kimberly
    November 12, 2010, 1:55 pm

    I never thought an there’s an alpine slide in the Great Wall, this must be very long!

  2. Susana
    November 12, 2010, 4:28 pm

    Well there you go whatever next a chinese winner of the mens downhill at the winters olympica
    REally enjoyed the blog

  3. John
    November 14, 2010, 10:01 am

    Great picture of great wall.

  4. Marci
    November 15, 2010, 3:50 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience with China’s Great Wall. This is one place I am dreaming to visit one day. I hope I get the chance and resource to go on travel soon.

  5. abercrombie
    November 15, 2010, 8:20 am

    I want to go to great wall. amazing.

  6. Emily Chaplin
    November 15, 2010, 4:47 pm

    What a great story, and find, Janelle! Thanks for sharing. This is going on my travel list for sure.

  7. richardtede
    November 19, 2010, 5:05 am

    our family is planning to visit china this post will help us in gret deal :)

  8. Waller
    November 21, 2010, 7:58 am

    I spent a year in China as a student and visited the Great Wall but was not aware of the slide. Will definitely have to make another trip and try it out while I’m there. Thanks for telling us about this. Looks like fun.

  9. joran
    United States
    March 9, 2012, 9:51 am

    I went on this slide It was awesome … but the chinese go down it sooooo slow … make sure you give a chinese person a good 10-15 minute lead or youll catch up to them and have to slow way down

  10. Andy
    June 14, 2013, 5:34 am

    Well done ! These are great pictures of the Great Wall! Which reminds me… I should go through my India pictures and post some. I log on to your blog on a regular basis. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

    In return, I also found a great blog of Jinshanling travel tips, I’d love to share it here with you and for future travelers.
    http://www.wildgreatwall.com/how-difficult-is-it-to-do-great-wall-one-day-hike-from-jinshanling-to-simatai-west/

  11. Sarah
    Grants Pass, Oregon
    March 30, 12:39 am

    Never been to see to see the Great Wall, however, I like coaster rides and that slide looked like fun. That would be just like me to go down it and video everything happening as I slide. I’d like to know how you slow down and what is it that you are sitting on. Is it a board with wheels? Any rate…Looks like fun. thanks for sharing.