Monument to humanity
BEIJING is one of the world's great cities, no doubt about it. Steeped in history and culture, it remains the essence of all that is China, from the amazing opulence of the Forbidden City (think the movie, The Last Emperor) to the simple and humble traditional dwellings, the 'hutongs', where many people still live happily in a communal-style arrangement, sharing meals and socialising in a common courtyard.
Outside the city, about an hour's drive or 60km into the rural province of Badaling, you will find the most talked about, written about and speculated upon attraction in the world - the Great Wall of China.
When an attraction has been as widely known as the Wall, it sometimes doesn't hold up in the flesh.
It was with some trepidation then, that I undertook the bus ride to one of the best vantage points of the Wall - but reality in this case is far greater than the imagination.
The Great Wall of China is one of the most moving, spectacular sights in the world.
Beijing residents say, “to see China without visiting the Great Wall is to not really see China at all”. Right they are. Curiously, I found tears in my eyes (and that wasn't just from the icy wind which accompanied me on my trek).
Somehow, despite not having any connection to this place, it was impossible not to feel moved by the courage and determination of the human spirit. More than 6000km of hand placed stone created the monument over centuries - starting in 221 BC during the Chin Dynasty, and ending in the 1500s during the Ming Dynasty.
Today, it's used not for military action, but for tourist action. Along the steep incline (trekking this is no bed of roses; it's steep, uneven and tough in parts), artists and craftspeople sit on the stone steps sharing their talents.
The Great Wall of China is said to be the only man made structure that can be seen from space. And if this is the only thing we will be judged on from the heavens, it is a fine thing to represent the resilience of humanity over the eons.
■ Helen Wongs Tours has a Six Days In Beijing itinerary which starts from $1499. It includes return economy class airfares with Cathay Pacific Airways, four nights accommodation, one full day tour to the Great Wall and Ming Tomb with lunch, transfers with English speaking guide; five meals, China visa for Australian passport, travel kit and bag.
■ For more go to www.helenwongstours.com.au or call 1300 788 328.