Magnificently Dangerous- The Great Jiankou Wall

by Vrinda Jain
Magnificently Dangerous- The Great Jiankou Wall

February 3, 2021

The Great Wall of China dates back to more than 2000 years, and it is an impressive architectural marvel frequently praised as one of the world's greatest human-made wonders. Yet many parts of the 21,196 km long wall remain unknown.

While millions of tourists visit the Great Wall of China annually, the Jiankou section of the world’s longest wall is one part of the wall that sees minimum numbers of tourists. If you are wondering why, it’s because it was designed on ridges with cliffs on either side, making it one of the most dangerous sections (imagine how the Chinese people managed to build a wall in such terrain in the first place). The harsh terrain of the wall is a hiking spit for seasoned and sure-footed mountain hikers.

The Great Jiankou Section

The Jiankou portion of the wall fences the sharp green mountains for 20 km. From the valley below, the wall looks like a snow-trucked mountainous peak. It’s situated just 100 kilometres north of Beijing. But this portion is different from its better-known neighbours, like Badaling or Mutianyu.

There are no souvenir shops, eateries, cable cars or monorails in Jiankou portion. No one sells tickets in this part of the wall, and the scanty tourists who visit this site aren’t accompanied by the nagging guides claiming to make the visit more comfortable.

To get to this part of the wall, tourists have to climb up the mountain for 45 minutes. Established in the 1500s and early 1600s, this portion has remained unchanged for centuries, and there has been no reconstruction until recently.

Great Jiankou is the most dangerous section of the Great Wall Of China

Over time, the buildings have melted into mounds of debris. Some parts of the wall have collapsed entirely, leaving once-wide sections so narrow that only one person could walk at a time. Grass and trees have grown into the field, making the wall appear more like a forest than a fortification.

The lack of wall and no maintenance work makes this side of the wall immensely picturesque, but risky. Each year, around one or two people die walking on this section of the wall (take a clue, people).

Why Is It Dangerous?

Jiankou in Mandarin means “arrow nock”; this is because the peak’s structure looks like an arrow, with the sloping ridge opening as its arrow nock. Crafted from local stone, dolomites and sizeable white rock pieces, the wall’s appearance is simplistic yet majestic enough to portray strength even from a distance.

It runs from the Ox Horn Edge Wall to the Nine-Eye Tower via the Beijing Knot, joining Mutianyu in the east and Huanghuacheng in the west. Jiankou’s section was constructed along a mountain ridge with especially cliffs. It looks like an elongated ‘W’ from above, similar to the form of a bow.

Due to natural factors such as erosion and weathering, this hike is considered risky and unsafe. Many adventurous hikers have lost their lives in the past in this section of the wall.

Workers repair the damaged building at the Jiankou section of the Great Wall.

Jiankou Restoration Project

In the 1990s, people said that if the Great Wall is not repaired, it will vanish in 30 years. It is necessary to restore the Great Wall, but the reconstruction is always complicated. Some projects have been criticised for reconstructing the Great Wall. In 2016, a portion of the Great Wall in northeast China’s Liaoning Province was renovated into a traffic lane.

Another renovation project in Beijing has transformed part of the Great Wall into a “shiny white” and “brand-new” portion. The friction between preservation and reconstruction has haunted Cheng Yongmao, an expert in the restoration of ancient buildings in charge of the Jiankou project.

Complex Terrain Makes Restoration Challenging

The Sharp cliffs and hillsides make it difficult to lift or carry modern equipment, so the wall’s restoration attempts have solely relied on old reconstruction methods. Traditional bricks were laid by hand using very primitive tools and transported by packs of very tough mules.

Every day, beginning at 6 a.m., the mules saddled with up to 440 pounds of bricks each, which they rig up a mountain forest pathway for waiting for staff. These people with a heavy burden across their shoulder travel across the jagged ridges for 10 hours a day.

Labourers and their supplies are often held to local governments’ strict standards, focusing on maintaining the wall’s natural beauty and original nature.

The Future of the Wall

The re-design follows the concept of “protection first,” so that the original beauty and architectural features are preserved. The new bricks look identical to the old ones, but people can notice the difference by looking closer.

The new bricks to rebuild the Great Wall, manufactured in the Shanxi province of North China, following the conventional process used hundreds of years ago. Most of the path is filled with rubble instead of a smooth pavement seen in the Great Wall’s Badaling portion. However, the debris was reinforced and fixed, making the experience more like rock climbing, secure but still tricky.

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