On Not Visiting the Great Wall.

Well sacrilege to many people, but after we’d booked the driver and as the day wore on, I could feel reluctance turning to regret. Look, I’m sure it’s a great wall as walls go but I’ve seen it in a million photos and I learnt my lesson last time I felt compelled to visit something one is expected to go and see.

We drove for three hours each way from Delhi to see the Taj Mahal. Like the Eiffel Tower I couldn’t care less if I never saw it, but I loathed Delhi and this would at least be a day out of it. What the million photos of the Taj Mahal don’t show is the squalor you have to wade through before you get to it. Agra is dirty and chaotic and you have to run the usual gauntlet of people hassling you to buy stuff. Was it worth it though, once we entered and saw the great mausoleum? Not really. I was tired, it was 37 degrees, and we had a tedious guide who droned on and on with his much rehearsed spiel. I took photos but they looked like the million photos I’d seen before. Like the Beatles, it just didn’t do it for me.

If I had any doubts about foregoing the obligatory trip to the Wall, my resolve was firmed by re-reading what Patrick Holland (Brisbane author and my masters supervisor) wrote about it in his book “Riding the Trains in Japan”:

I had first seen the Wall as a student in Beijing and been underwhelmed as one often is at famous and over-photographed sites that no longer have a use apart from their value as tourist draw cards…That day I could easily imagine that the Wall was fake–that it had been set up on the back of a legend to part tourists with their money.

So after farewelling my husband to do the obligatory for both of us, I made my way to a lovely cafe to do some writing and to practice my paltry Mandarin (with limited success). Then I visited the ancient Drum Tower down the road. The tower was once the official time-keeper for the city. It was originally built in 1272 but burnt down and was rebuilt in 1420.

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