Clinging to a Cliff Under the Great Wall

After the debacle of the Chinese camping ground that really wasn't, we had three major problems:

1. No water left and nowhere to fill up

2. Nearly two weeks' worth of dirty washing - for four people, that's a lot of unclean clothes

3. The area surrounding the campsite included a magnificent stretch of the Great Wall (known as Huangyaguan - yellow cliff mountain pass), a river, some caves, and extraordinary beauty. We weren't ready to leave and had planned on staying several days.

I can't say just how helpful Mr Googlemaps has been on this trip, and that's how we found the Dongshan (East Mountain) Hotel, perched high up on a precipitously steep hillside underneath the Great Wall itself.

The winding switchback road all the way to the top proved a huge effort for the van, but apparently practically none for the punchy little two-stroke engines of the trayback tricycles laden with peaches overtaking us on the steeper sections. Peach and apricot trees heavy with fruit seemed to be the only thing holding the mountain together, terraced in climbing rows.

The Dongshan Hotel, the van, and yes, our washing

The Hotel is located through the entrance gates to this section of the Great Wall, so if you haven't already purchased a ticket you'll need to buy one in order to stay there.

Calling the Dongshan a hotel may have stretched the truth slightly - the hotel reception, in a temporary tin shed in the car park, apparently also serves as the local police station. Inside, two policemen sitting on a vinyl sofa and smoking heavily, are interrogating a skinny male suspect about a robbery of something yellow. A car? A handbag? A pair of sneakers? Through the thick local dialect it's about all I can make out. Still, he doesn't look that worried, leaning back languidly on the opposite sofa and tapping the ash from his cigarette into a plastic ashtray. It's all very Columbo, circa 1974.

The check in procedure involves a lot of carbon paper and forms in triplicate ("Make sure you use the correct form for foreign guests!" barks one of the police officers to the receptionist, before he goes straight back into questioning) and then we were shown to our rooms.

The long low building of the hotel is guarded by a pair of terracotta warriors with swords, just to ward off...something or other. The eaves are painted with scenes of the mountains and the wall, in local traditional style and through the flycreen curtained front door are eight rooms in all, identically furnished with three closely spaced single beds, a  television, a kettle, and a tiled bathroom with cold running water and a tank you can plug in to heat water. If you touch the edge of the tank by mistake it gives you a small electric shock, and this initially worried me quite a deal, but as long as you touch only the outlet hose of the tank you're fine. And we all really, really wanted hot showers.

The real treat of the Dongshan is the location, and the ability to walk along the wall at any time during your stay - dawn, dusk or midnight if the moon is full and the mood takes you.

Huangyaguan is a stunningly beautiful section of the Great Wall with a history of more than 1400 years - the wall unscrolls down mountain cliffs on both sides of a deep river chasm, meeting in the middle over a bridge like 'two dragons drinking from a stream'. It's unforgettable in scale and magnificence and I hope you can get there to see it someday. 







The newly restored section of the wall meets the 'old wall' made from the local gold-coloured granite high up on the western wall.

Huangyaguan (Yellow Cliff Mountain Pass) Great Wall

Northern Tianjin Province

The Wall is accessible in two sections, the popular and easy to get to Western Wall where tour buses arrive from Beijing or Tianjin (both around three hours), and the less accessible but equally stunning Eastern Wall which you can get to via minivan, horseback or three-wheel tricycle, all available in the Western Wall carpark.

Adults 65 yuan
Children 35 yuan
Children under 1.2m free
Parking 10 yuan

Dongshan Hotel

Co-ordinates Lat 40.245314°  Long 117.454871°

All rooms are triples with their own bathroom but rates depend on the number of occupants. Meals not included.

Singles 100yuan/night
Doubles 200yuan/night
Triples 300yuan/night

Discounts available.

There is no food available at the top of the mountain but the Dongshan is happy to open their restaurant - overlooking a lotus pond - for guests. Dinner for four people including a variety of local dishes and soup around 100 yuan in total.

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