I’ll make one thing clear right from the beginning: I don’t by any means claim to be versed in the ways of photography. Far from it, in fact; the only cameras I’ve ever owned have been part of my mobile phones, and I’ve even forged a reputation amongst friends for displaying the opposite extreme to the snap-happiness expected of a modern-day twenty-something. Taking a selfie is now an everyday part of life for so many, but I had left home, completed a university degree, emigrated to Spain and moved out of Spain again before losing my selfie virginity at the ripe old age of 23. How shockingly behind the times, eh!
Somehow, in the past year things have changed. I mean, I’ve hardly gone all out and thrown myself into the world of food pics, crazy-face shots and hourly updates on what my dog looks like. Nor have I made any really drastic lifestyle changes such as joining Instagram or buying a proper camera. But nowadays, I do at least make the effort to digitally document any spectacular sights I have the good fortune of seeing. Perhaps starting my blog was what made the biggest difference to my level of camera usage; several of my articles featuring European destinations were more complicated to publish than they would have been if it wasn’t for my needing to ask some generous friends for their photos (including an article on Burgos, a city in which I lived for ten months. Now that’s just embarrassing). And the more I utilise the camera to capture the essence of travel, the more curious I become about the art of photography. Especially when seeing a sight like no other…
The Great Wall of China will make even the most snap-shy photography refuseniks fancy their chances behind the camera. Have you ever found yourself putting the camera back in your pocket or bag, thinking to yourself ‘That’ll do now, I’ve enough pics’, only to turn a corner and see a view that seems to somehow surpass the previous sights, thus bringing the camera back out with an exclamation of ‘Oooh, but I’ll just have to get this one as well!’? Well, that’s what you can expect if you walk on the world’s most famous sometime border control. With both the brick structure itself and its mountainous surroundings drawing a constant series of gasps, visitors will inevitably feel as if they are getting a better-again photo opportunity every few seconds.
I won’t waste any more of my readers’ time telling you all how great the Great Wall is. ‘Sure, we know that’, I can hear people saying with rolling eyes. ‘It is called The Great Wall for a reason, isn’t it?’ All I will tell you, though, is that the China Highlights tour to Mutianyu will be hard to beat as a way of seeing it. With various different sections of the Wall available for tourists’ exploration, it can be difficult to know which to go for, but our choice of Mutianyu paid dividends with its rural beauty, the ease of the cable car access and the intact conditions of the magnificent stone barrier. Furthermore, the tour turned out to be excellent value for money with a hotel pick-up, a minibus bringing us along the hour-and-a-half drive from Beijing and an English-speaking guide all included. The only downside was that the lunch, also included in the package, was nothing short of revolting, so maybe a packed lunch would be recommendable.
So, back to the point of how Mutianyu brought out the wannabe photographer in me. With features of the Wall’s structure tempting my fiancée and I to try out different camera positions despite my lack of knowledge on such topics, I later had the idea to write a photo-based article. Whittling down all of our pictures to my five favourites was no easy task, but here goes.
5: So there it is!
As the cable car ascended, we eagerly strained our necks in all directions to catch our inaugural glimpse of the coveted Wall. And lo and behold, it appeared in all its magnificence as we neared the top. This shot, captured from the cable car, encapsulates the excitement and awe of finally laying our eyes upon this glorious remnant of Asian heritage. The rolling mountains of what was once Mongolia (and is now part of China’s Hebei province, as our tour guide informed us) make for an incomparably spectacular backdrop, while the smatterings of January snow upon them could hardly have been more perfect.
4: On and on the road stretches…
So here we are, on the Wall. On the long, winding, stony path. And what a path it is. Seeing the rocky walkway thin into the distance as it meanders its way up into the mountains and out of sight makes one truly appreciate its titanic nature. As the physical eye endeavours to take it all in, the mind’s eye races along the lofty route, its journey extending over many miles and back thousands of years. What must it have been like for the guards and soldiers who patrolled this very Wall all those millennia ago, I begin to wonder? And how many have walked its walk since, their motives ranging from patriotic protection of Chinese territory to plain curiosity and including the sale of goods cross-border, restoration works and bloody invasion-driven warfare? Here, we are truly walking along history.
3: Where the guards once watched
As I was saying, it doesn’t take long on the Wall for one’s inner would-be-photographer to emerge from its shell. We were barely up there five minutes when I started getting creative with camera angles, trying to get snaps going through doorways or out windows. My lack of expertise in the area probably did shine through in most of my attempts, but I must admit to feeling somewhat proud of this one. Gazing out through the rampart and enjoying the view once carefully watched by Chinese border guards, this is another scene that puts viewers in the shoes of yesteryear’s patrollers. Not only that, but it encapsulates the close-up simplistic beauty of the brickwork as well as the overall grandeur of the entire structure and its picturesque surroundings.
2: What lies through the doorway…
OK, credit must go to my fiancée for this one; it was her idea. (She’s also a fine travel writer, whose detailed and informative discussions of the realities of life in China can be found on her blog, Girl Seeks Travel Kicks.) Continuing the theme of pointing the camera through gaps in the rampart, windows and doors, here is a photo that truly conveys a sense of further adventures lying in wait. Peering through the arch and down the steps encapsulates the excitement of exploration, and the realisation that what might have seemed from a distance like the end of the road is in fact a new opening. On top of that, the traveller’s curiosity is stimulated all the more by the darkness of the open archway leading into the watchtower at the bottom of this slope. What lies beyond there, one wonders? Another stretch of elevated, rocky walkways, perhaps?
1: Feeling on top of the world!
As I mentioned in the introduction, choosing the top five from all of the snaps we took on the Great Wall was no mean feat. But then again, it would be more accurate to say that the difficult part was choosing numbers 2-4. As far as the contest for first place goes, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Standing on top of a sight we could only have dreamed of actually laying our eyes upon up until the past year, this picture is already a dead cert to be framed in the future. My fiancée and I may not actually have our own place yet, and such a time is still quite a while away, but we already have something to put on our wall. After all, what better way to decorate our future wall than with a memento of our visit to a wall of a different variety? With our beaming smiles in the winter cold, and the background of the grey stone winding its way up the green mountainside, this one will be difficult to ever beat.
At the time of writing, Kerrie and I pause for another look at this awesome snap. ‘We could just never regret China’ she says to me, despite all the mayhem we’ve been through whilst living in the chaotic and downright bizarre city of Shangrao. And I couldn’t agree more. We’ve seen so many inspiring sights, had so many life-changing experiences, learnt so many lessons and grown so much as people and as a couple during our stay here, all the while feeling horrified and shocked at the horrendous poverty and suffering, revolting phlegm-clearing and spitting and eternally-death-threatening traffic we see on a daily basis. And if we were to choose one photo, or one moment in time, to truly sum up how glad we are we came, and how worth it it’s all been, this one would undoubtedly do the trick.