Anyone who has studied history could have learnt about the Great Wall of China and what it means for the history of the Asian country.
However, not everyone has had an opportunity to visit this historical site which is one of the wonders of the World.
Fortunately, a group of three journalists from The New Times participated in a study tour organised by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Great Wall was part of the sites that would be visited.
Considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China or Chang Cheng in Mandarin was constructed in 220–206 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a series of fortification built to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe.
Little of that wall remains however it was rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced over various dynasties, the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
It is globally recognised as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history. According to an archaeological survey, the entire wall with all of its branches measures 21,196 km.
We landed in China’s capital -Beijing on May 9 and embarked on a 20-day study tour with about 30 journalists from nine African countries.
Ten days after our stay in Beijing, the dream came true as we left our Xijiao hotel on bus to the north-east part tour the Great Wall.
Before starting the ride, our guide Zhan Nam Nancy who is a tour guide gave us some instructions to follow. She told us that if someone among us feel tired or encounters any health problem they should descend immediately, she also advised us not to force ourselves to climb the steep stairs of the wall.
However none of would think of not climbing to the top of the wall and make history, the only challenge was that we were given only two hours to climb the wall and come back to where our bus was parked.
In this new technology era, it was impossible to start such a journey without taking “selfies” or photos as people start climbing the wall.
The parking is full of buses, taxis and private cars and many are buying tickets to enter. Some of them are Africans like ourselves but as you start climbing you begin hearing different languages being spoken.
Everyone was very friendly with some people helping each other by taking pictures or sharing water.
All tourists touring the Great Wall are instructed not to destroy the ecological environment like cutting trees, destroying flowers, littering, swimming or fishing in natural water around the wall. The guides advise people to maintain the hygiene of the site while minding their steps among others.
This fortification consists of a large pathway of cut stones between two fortified walls that crisscross hills, mostly made of stairs from the bottom to the top which makes it difficult to climb.
Some big canons used to protect ancient china and can be seen installed at the beginning of the Great wall. We met a group of South Africans who were coming down tired and they excitedly started telling us all the wonderful things we were going to see.
As we continued climbing the steep stairs, we met a smiling old couple from Nepal that had just seen an African man for the very first time. They couldn’t speak English but their gestures showed that they wanted to take a photo with us, which we voluntarily granted and everyone beamed from ear to ear.
From Mexico, France, Pakistan, India, USA, Peru, Russia to name a few, different nationalities were represented among the tourists who all looked very happy to have accomplished the dream of climbing the wall.
We did not come across any Rwandan national. Someone might ask how we knew that! It is simple, whenever we saw any black person, we greeted them in Kinyarwanda to see if there were from Rwanda.
Meanwhile, after climbing the wall for a few meters, we heard men speaking Luganda, a dialect widely spoken in Uganda and surprisingly greeted them in their own language. Happy they were and we took a break having a conversation with them as they were coming down telling us how excited they were to have reached the top of the part of the wall.
The conversation we had with them brought more curiosity to us as we committed ourselves to finish the tiresome but inspirational adventure that would last more than an hour to reach the top of the wall.
Going forward, Samuel Abate who is an Ethiopian in our team recognised a compatriot from Addis Ababa who was also on a different mission in China and greeted him in Amharic as they went on taking pictures and exchanging contacts.
Not far from where they were standing, we could hear some people speaking Swahili: they were Kenyans. We approached them and together with a Ugandan in our group started singing the East African famous “Wawaka moto” song as we climbed together until the end to get a medal or a t-shirt.
In every distance of about 200 meters, there are pavilions which were used as watch towers by Chinese soldiers to detect enemies.
For now, these kinds of small houses made by stones serve as both a reference for the past history and rest places for tourists who climb the Great Wall.
Not everyone can however make it to the Great Wall. In our group one person got weak and failed to climb before receiving first aid as she waited for the ambulance for further help.
For health persons, we were advised to take some rest before continuing with the journey to the top.
At the top of the Great wall, you get a magnificent view of china, Beijing and the other part of the wall located on the opposite hill.
It was relaxing to breathe fresh air from the green forest surrounding the wall and take memorable pictures.
Only people who reached the top are allowed to buy and wear gold medals from the art shop located there.
Descending was also another challenge as we were already tired and refreshments were finished but the fact that we were coming from one of the seven wonders of the planet gave us the energy to get to the bottom.
In her 70s, Rhonda came with her husband Lindsay from Australia to visit the Great Wall and other parts of Beijing as well as Shanghai.
Breathing heavily, the couple held hands as they took a short break at the top of the wall and revealed how their dream had come.
“I am very happy and excited that I managed to come and climb the Great Wall of China, this is the world heritage and was on a to do list, we promised ourselves to one day come here and it is good that we managed to climb to the very top despite our old age,” she says with a smile
“This is really an incredible sightseeing experience and it tells how Chinese people were too strong and courageous to defend themselves, this place is worth visiting,” she added.
Zhan Nam, the tour guide at the Great wall said at least 30,000 people from all over the world climb the Great Wall every day. The fee to visit the Great Wall is 45 YUAN which is approximately Rwf5600.