The Great Wall of China
It is not the Great Wall itself, rising up from the low lands to the high that the boys will remember. The immenseness of it running along the ridge of blue hazed mountains. The history of bloodshed and labouring, over two thousand years of it buried in the tilted fortification of stone, brick and wood, each slab carried somehow up to the very top of the world, and stretching from East to West for five thousand, five hundred miles. It is not the mist clad air that lends the world a ghostly veil, or the luminosity of autumnal colours, the blood red of the maple trees, the yellow of the pines, the vermillion oranges and rusted pinks that sweep as far as the eye can see. It is not the old Chinese man who sits at the bottom of the steps, selling polished coins, burnished bronze carvings, and knives so sharp, that the boys would usually stop beside in awe, and plead endlessly for them to be purchase. Or the middle aged woman from America, who’s staring out at the view with a tear in her eye and a camera that she hasn’t used. Or the party of French people who have brought chilled wine and crystal glasses, wizened cheese and crackers to toast each-others health and the luck of their lives. Or the teenage Chinese boys who blare out hip hop music from a small tinny ghetto blaster, who run one way along the sloping wall and then the other to avoid the steep climb to the first watch tower, upsetting the French people and the lady from America. Or the watch towers themselves, the troop barracks, the garrison stations, that over the centuries have been lit to send messages from the west of China to the East, from one tower to the next in a morphs code of smoke and fire, that house nooks and crannies which the boys’ endlessly expanding imaginations would usually turn into a hiding place from whatever enemy they were running from.
Nor will they remember how we got to the wall itself. Up by chairlift, our legs dangling perilously over the ridges and dips of covered woodland that seemed such a painfully long way below us. They will not remember how their mother clung to the horribly thin looking cables, unable to move, to open her eyes even, for the better part of that ride, shrieking, if the truth be told, when the chair lift rocked and buckled over each elevated propulsion tower.
No. It is none of these things that the boys will remember. What they will remember, on their visit to see the Great China Wall, (which if you want to look at it one way, they have got to by crossing many countries by air, by land, via India, up through Kashmir, on through Beijing), what they will remember is this: The toboggan slide that brings you down from the Great Wall, down to the green flatlands below. A great silver snake of polished metal that winds its way down the whole valley, running a mile or so past the burning maples and pines. They will remember how we boarded our toboggans for the environmentally friendly journey downwards, how we pulled back the breaks, pushed down the accelerator, and how we then flew down the mountain side that a thousand armies have climbed up. They will remember how they whooped and screeched and hollered with delight, the shadow of the great wall above them, the valley of Matianyu below. With a fresh, sharp, sunlit wind blowing in their hair.
Audley Travel (01883838200; audleytravel.com) offers tailor-made trips to China and specialised tours and home-stays to villages in Guanxhi and Guizhou.
The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war.
If you would like to donate something please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.