As we'd already done a day trip to the Badaling Section of the Great Wall during our first visit to China, we were intrigued by the thought of an unusual evening tour of the illuminated Gubei Water Town and the Simatai Great Wall, a tour which not many tour companies offered.
Our Hotel pick up was in the afternoon and we were directly driven to Gubei Water Town, which is a fair distance from Beijing. En route Lili regaled us with many stories of the Great Wall, its history, the dynasties that kept it up and standing, the significance it had for Chairman Mao, etc. By the time we reached our destination, it was late afternoon.
Gubei Water Town which is ensconed in the shadow of the Simatai section of the Great Wall and surrounded by mountains, hills, resorts and luxury apartment complexes, is a man made wonder, made to resemble an ancient town, with authentic houses and boats, canals and bridges, street vendors, stores selling local merchandise, restaurants and cafes that look as if they've tumbled out of history books.
The moat surrounding the town was mostly frozen when we arrived, the canals and lakes in the town were also in a similar condition, which made it seem like a fairy tale place. The cafes, stores and vendors were setting up as we strolled through the streets of this magical town. We sampled street food and visited a few stores as well. Lili recommeded we go to the Church located at the highest point of the town so we could have a view of the sun set over the mountains and watch the town light up in stages. The sight was truly beautiful, just as she said it would be. Down went the sun behind the mountains and the town was all lit up like a birthday cake.
As we descended, there was something to be enjoyed around every corner. Lanterns, elaborate light displays, street lamps, colourful lit up reindeers, unique statues in different poses, colourful strings of lights, lit up bridges, cafes, homes- we didn't know where to look and wished we had compound eyes like flies do, so we could take in all the wonder, all at once!
Lili gradually directed us towards the Cable Car Station which was our ride up to and down from the Simatai Section of the Great Wall. The view from the Cable Car was of the magnificent Wall coming closer and the town lights getting further and further away. Up in the air, there was only serenity and silence.
The walk from the Cable Car Station to the Wall is at least 20 minutes each way and unpaved, but well lit with sweeping views of the Gubei Water Town and it's environs. The Simatai Section of the Wall is a small section. One way leads up and one leads down. The area available to visitors when we arrived was between 2 guard stations. The way up to the higher guard station had rough and uneven steps and uneven sections, only those with a sense of adventure, good physical fitness and hikers, I feel would be able to ace the climb. My family and I chose the much easier and smoother lower guard station. Walking on it, felt amazing. Reflecting on the Wall's history with Lili, taking in the views and many photos, made it an immersive unforgettable experience. The darkness and golden light bouncing off the stones of the Wall made everything feel ethereal,
Later it was down with the Cable Car, the Simatai Great Wall Section getting smaller and further away and the Gubei Water Town coming into focus-fully lit and glittering by now. Lili took us to see a spectacular water fountain show held in a square of the town, next to a statue of an enormous Dragon Head, resembling a beast from the famous Game of Thrones series.
On the way to dinner we saw more of the town and ditto after dinner. We would have stayed all night amidst all the beauty if we had a chance.
The most memorable sights were seeing the lit up section of the Simatai Great Wall from the Town and seeing the Town from the Wall all lit up as well. Another unforgettable sight was seeing the roofs of the Town's traditional boats all tied up and huddled together at night time, bobbing about in the water.
In a word this Tour offers so much beauty that it makes your jaw drop. It's perfect for romantic couples and families alike. I also think it was the wonderful Lili, who like Tinkerbell, added the necessary extra magic to our experience! So when you book this Tour, ask for her so you can feel the magic too!
~Felicia Variava Albert, Managing Director, Blaze Tours & Travels Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India