We left Jingxing early this morning to take a train directly to Niangziguan. We are going there to break our trip to Taiyuan, and is supposed to have a few small things to see, including sections of the Great Wall.
The trip was fairly short considering that it was a regional train and we were stopping at every little platform out along the way. Most of these consisted of a couple of lines of cracked and missing tiles with weeds growing up through them. A far cry from the Jingxing station that was mostly perfect, except it was being ripped up to be replaced.
On our map program Jingxing had a whole two streets marked, even though it is quite large by Australian standards. Niangziguan had a train station. No streets, so we were under no pretenses of going to a big place. We were not disappointed. The train station takes you out to a grey street and coal dust. Jingxing had enough coal dust, but here it is everywhere. There were a few touts here to take us to a section of the wall that is out of town, but we thought we would do the town section first.
Following a few other people that got off the train as well, we turned right from the station. You can also see the wall behind the station up on the hill. This was the right direction and after walking for about ten minutes we arrived at the ticket office. Tickets are relatively cheap at 27 yuan each! A real bargain. Then it is up a reconstructed cobblestone path to the gatehouse. This path would never have been so bad back in the day. Carts that took this path would have had the driver get out and carry the cart and horse up the hill, as it is so badly constructed.
Speaking of horses, an enterprising person had found a life sized stuffed black horse and stuck it halfway up the path, hoping to attract people to sit on it and get their photo taken. It was so tacky and weird we were almost tempted!!
The gatehouse has been made to a better level, and imposes itself over you. Going through the wall takes you to an old street. We wanted to walk this, but were unable to do so, as the third person to check our tickets was yelling at us to go up the wall. We didn’t see what the issue was, but maybe it is a looped track, and we will return through the street.
The start of the walk is steps. No surprises here. It is the great wall, and usually along the mountains and hills, as well as being china. Why have a slope when you can have steps?
These steps were hard though. Straight up, uneven and very tall steps. It gets you to the top quickly.
At the top we were at a reconstructed section of the wall. Identical to every other bit of the wall we have done. The same brickwork, and interchangeable except for the views. It is as if every section of wall was built in the Qing dynasty and renovated by the same company in the early 2000’s. We hope this changes further west, as we know there were many different styles of construction and looks to the wall over its long history.
That said, we had a pleasant stroll along the wall going above the town, and to the far mountain. The wall is a steep drop on the side looking out over the river and town, and is almost at road level on the other. There were a couple of sections where you can just walk off the wall and onto the road going beside it. On that side there are terraces and other cropping or orchids.
There is only the one building on the wall itself, and then a bit further is a new stele that is already falling apart. We think it commemorates the revamp and opening of this section. Then a bit further along it ends. You can see where the wall would have continued as there is a big scar going up the hillside. I had thought was a stream bed or a small landslide. It is the remains of the wall that have been taken away so this new thing could be built. (….)
Then it was back the other way, and down the same steps as it did not continue in the other direction. At least we were now able to walk that street we had mentioned before. It was thrilling. The houses were actually old. There are not enough tourists coming here to have it lined with market stalls and is actually a place where people live. OK, the buildings were built out of the old wall, and needed a lot of TLC, but it was a walk back in time. For about 100 metres before it ended in a dead end. There was another gate house here, and that has been restored rather than recreated. You can see the difference between the old bricks and the new ones. To give it its due, they are the same style of bricks as the rebuilt wall, so it is how the wall would have looked. We would have liked to climb up to the top, but the stairway was in somebody’s back yard. It was easily the best part of this section of wall.
Now we followed the road along the river to see the Shuiliandong Waterfall. A direct translation of this is “curtain” as it is supposed to form a curtain across the river as it drops about 13 meters and is however wide. The river has very little water though.
The pictures we have seen must have been taken over 20 years ago when there was plenty of water flowing down, rather than this stream of today. As usual, if there is anything to be seen, there is a wall around it, and an entrance fee. This time it was 20 yuan. We decided to skip it. Mostly because I couldn’t be bothered paying AU$5 each for a waterfall on a main river in a town. Iguazu Falls? Sure. Wallaman? If they had charged for it we would have paid. Elizabeth Falls? If we ever get there, defiantly. Some trickle of water in a hick no nothing town? Nah.
That done, we walked back to the train station. We knew there was a train around 4:30, but having explored a supposedly “cute old town”, seen some “old” wall, and skipped the waterfall, we no longer felt like taking an over priced taxi out to the other section to repeat the process. Could we get an earlier train? Well. The train station was locked up tight. It would not reopen until 3pm. Guess there are no other trains.
That left us a fair few hours to kill. We decided to walk the rest of town. There wasn’t much. The remains of a market along the one main street. It may come alive at night, or just on the weekends, we don’t know. Lots of closed stores and very few people. There is a nice gate at the end of the town looking out over the bridge crossing the river. With nothing else to do, we crossed the bridge. This looks as if it takes you to a large power plant nestled in the gap between the hills. Half way over the bridge we heard a lot of quacking. As there is only a fraction of the river flowing now, there is a lot of empty space. Most of this is taken up with small plots of crops. Under the bridge there was a duck farm. The ducks were all walking together to go into one of the rooms. Very organised and more civilised than a group of Chinese people boarding a popular train. Just as loud though.
On the other side of the river we saw a large pavilion, that seemed to have a circular staircase inside to the second floor, so we decided to see if we could get there. We couldn’t. It is inside a fish farm.
This is the second weird thing in the fish farms today. On the walk to the Wall this morning we had passed a wall on the street. Not unusual, as everything is walled here. There was a hole in the wall, and looking though we saw a beautiful manicured park. Further along we found a gate, but it was locked up tight. Here we could see the shrubs, trees and paths set out very harmoniously. From the wall we could see the park well. It had been turned into a fish farm. On our walks around town we came across the main entrance gate. It used to have a ticket office and everything. Now it is collecting dust and garbage. Weird. Another nice park space for people to enjoy that you are not allowed into!
After a long day, the station finally opened up, and we could get our tickets onwards.
The trip was very scenic, again through the hills and mountains. Mainly following the same river bed. In places it had water, in others it was almost bone dry. A policeman told us to be careful of our stuff. He was very insistent and the rest of the conductors took us under their wings, and we had a great trip to Taiyuan, where we found a tout to take us to a clean and cheap hotel. Even if our room doesn’t have a window. (It is the only thing wrong with it, as the people keep it very clean and for the price we hadn’t expected that!)