Skinning the Dragon

With the mountain’s harshness has come the beginnings of the Great rock Wall. It has been over 70 days on this journey and every few weeks I see a part of the wall which I feel is the most amazing sight that I have ever seen. A few days later I will climb up a ridge and once again I am greeted with a sight that I am so privileged to see and thankful that my body has managed to endure the hammering to get me there.

It was early in the morning, the ground frozen white and the wind hammering my face, as we climbed in utter silence to the top of the mountain trying to generate some warmth in our bodies and get the stiffness out of out legs, which by now is the hardest task of each day, getting going. In our minds the excitement, the first section of stone wall lay ahead. The walls transformation is taking place, as the desert has now given way to the rolling hills and mountains, so has the mud sand and dust been the only ingredient for wall building, this has now changed to rock and stone.

In the distance I could see a tower, as we got closer we could see the next and the next, and on it went into the distance. For the first time we could actually see the wall strung out all along the mountain peaks in endless visual glory. The wall looked like a broad silk ribbon that had been dropped from the heavens and had softly nestled over the valleys. Walking up to the tower, I rounded it to get out of the wind and sat down to absorb the moment and reflect.

Just to sit there looking to the horizon and following this massive structure winding up and down along the mountain tops looked so surreal. The wall seems to have no real direction, except heading east. It goes left then right, splits, joins again and does not follow the most direct route, there seems to be no logic to explain it. Why must there always be a logical answer? (The longer I spend following the wall and traveling through China, the more I feel it is fruitless to try and find and find logical answers to everything, I find it is also nice to accept things as the are and have been for thousands of years) I think this is what makes it so mystical and beautiful. The longer I sat the more I felt my mind was playing games, I wanted to blink and wipe that dream away, but the great thing is that it is there, and I am living the dream. On both sides of the wall were these massive hills eroded from years of farming, and between all of this, the little areas of terraced farm land and dwellings cut into the mountain side. The wall looked like a massive sand castle with the huge lookout towers on each side dropped out of over turned sand buckets.

Ahead was the first rock block tower, a massive 20 m high structure, but badly damaged and half demolished, our first sighting of this rare and long awaited moment. The wall had sections of rock and mud, but when you got closer, you could see it was in bad condition. This puzzled us. What had happened to the rock skin of the wall? All that was left was the mud and rubble filling.

At camp that evening, I asked Piao what had happened to the wall as we were under the impression it would be large sections of rock in this area. We were informed that in 1949 during the Cultural Revolution the farmers were given permission to use the bricks of the wall to build villages. So for hundreds of kilometres the sleeping dragon has basically been skinned and the flesh (mud and rubble filling) is lying open and rotting in the wind and rain.

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