Mutianyu Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is an architectural masterpiece, coming into creation as early as 220 BC through the leadership of Qin Shi Huang. The wall was originally created in order to protect China from foreign invaders along the northern borders in an east to west direction. Despite this seemingly unbreakable wall, the original wall has eroded over the centuries as it was originally made with earth, stones, and wood, and thus was restructured during the Ming Dynasty. The wall stems 13,171 miles in total and is still one of the world’s major wonders.

Although I had previously visited the Great Wall, my second visit did not fail to astound me – especially since we visited the Mutianyu section, which I had previously not been to. There was just so much history and culture embedded within those stones, and you could still feel the resolute and unwavering power of the Chinese. China is known for having one of the most detailed and longest histories, and through our visit it was very clear that the sheer force of China’s history was embedded within the millions of bricks and stones.

We took a cable car up towards a higher elevated part of the wall, and once we arrived at the top, we had two hours to explore the entire section (figure 1, 2). While initially I believed two hours was far too long, it was just the right amount of time. The sky was clear of any clouds, and the temperature was absolutely perfect (warm enough to traverse around without a coat). Traversing the wall itself was quite a challenge – numerous stones were out of place, other tourists were everywhere trying to get through the small entryways, and there were thousands upon thousands of stairs. While I was completely out of breath (due to the stairs), I was able to take a moment to appreciate the sheer force of history that I was climbing across – the amount of physical labor with limited technology, the planning, the execution, the representation of China as a solitary unit standing strong after centuries – it’s all quite incredible to think about. Once I had made it to the top, all the hard work paid off with the incredible view of the wall, the mountains, and the scenery (figure 3).

Though most of us had already visited the Great Wall, I think we were all still in awe by how incredible it was. There is really nothing that can compare to it, and it was one of the few times where I could look past the extreme modernization in the cities and actually see how China has become a leading force in today’s society.

 Figure 1

 Figure 2

 Figure 3


Throughout the duration of our travels through the Yunnan province of China, we stopped briefly in Wenhai village righ outside of Lijiang to further our understanding of the Naxi and Yi people and their culture. There are 800 people who belong to this region, and culturally are split into two ethnic groups – the Yi and the Naxi. The Yi live on higher grounds in the mountains, while the Naxi inhabit the lower grounds. These people’s economy and livelihoods rely heavily on farming potatoes, corn, wheat, barley and more along with their livestock of chicken, sheep, goats, cows, pigs, and donkeys. Our advisor, Dr. Bullock, actually had lived here years ago to develop an Ecolodge that is continuing to expand and flourish. This Ecolodge has expanded quite extensively from the times when Dr. Bullock had seen it last, and can now house 12 travelers at a time who want to spend time in Wenhai to explore the village and trek across the beautiful landscape. Completely built from scratch, the housing is equipped with running water, dining rooms, and living rooms all complete with the Naxi touch. The eco lodge relies completely on solar panels and biogas – all created and carried by the Naxi people along with colleagues such as Dr. Bullock. As the people and the culture of Wenhai has been threatened over the past years due to failure of crops and climate change, it was important to work to help preserve the village, its incredible culture, and traditional ways of life. Creating the Ecolodge allowed for travelers and Naxi people themselves to rest comfortably as they continue their journeys exploring the Jade Snow Mountain while also learning about the history of Wenhai.

We were lucky enough to be invited for lunch by Dr. Bullocks old friends from when he worked in the village, and had traditional Naxi food. Although I was unable to eat any of it due to my extensive list of allergies, everyone on our trip claimed the food to be some of the best they’ve had – stemming from the different meats and vegetable dishes to chicken feet – all raised and grown within the village itself.

Wenhai lies at 3100 meters at the base of the Jade Snow Dragon mountain, just outside of Lijiang. There are not enough words to describe the beauty of the Wenhai village – from the distant rolling mountains to the intertwining streams that lead into the lake – it almost seems as if Wenhai has never seen hardship, and has been perfectly preserved throughout the years. Cattle would peacefully roam the roads, chickens would run around us as we walked, and the surrounding mountains gave us all an overwhelming, and much needed, sense of peace. It was an incredible village to visit in its stark comparison to the constant roar of the heavy urbanization in Shanghai. It allowed me to truly grasp that China has such an immense and interesting history that would take centuries to fully comprehend. Being in Wenhai, even only just for a short period of time, gave me a glimpse of that past history that led China to where it is today.

Below are some pictures from our walks around the village, from the streams leading to the lake, the abundance of beautiful flowers and nature, the cattle, to the Ecolodge Dr. Bullock helped form. It still amazes me how serene and completely incredible it was to be there.