Great Wall at Ningwu Guan (Ningwu Pass)

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Ningwu Guan is actually the most accessible of the Outer Wall garrisons (which include Pian Guan and Yanmen Guan). The best way to get there is to take a long distance bus from Taiyuan to Xinzhou (Xīnzhōu, 忻州), a two hour trip that should not cost more than RMB 60. From Xinzhou there are minivans, touts and tourist buses that will take you to the Great Wall at Ningwu Guan for RMB 40-50 per person in a four-person car or roughly RMB 200 for a round trip car ride. You can negotiate. Another way to do it, if money is not an option, is top rent a car in Taiyuan from your hotel or from around the bus/train stations and take a day trip out. This could costs as much as RMB 500 round trip. If you have your own motorcycle or bike, then you can handle the logistics yourself.

The Ningwu Guan (Níngwǔ Guān, 宁武关) garrison in central Shanxi Province, just north of Taiyuan, was a vital defensive linchpin in the Great Wall of China. Along with Pian Guan Gate, which flanked it to the west, and Yanmen Guan Gate to the east, Ningwu Guan was part of one of the most heavily fortified sections of the Great Wall.

The garrison was built up during the Ming Dynasty and protected the southern heartland until 1644, when the Ming Dynasty fell to rebels and Manchu forces from the north. Ningwu Guan played an important role in the fall of the Ming: Farmers and laborers who settled in the area were dissatisfied with life along the dangerous northern border and rebelled under the leadership of Li Zicheng. The rebel army stormed the garrison and then marched on the capital.

They took Beijing and distracted the Ming forces enough to allow the Manchu armies to penetrate the Wall at Shanhaiguan far the east on the coast of the Yellow Sea. The pressure from east and west led to the downfall of the Ming and ushered in the Qing dynasty, which ruled China for the next 300 years.

Ningwu Guan is located in the middle of nowhere, two hours north of Xinzhou (Xīnzhōu, 忻州), itself roughly two hours north of Taiyuan. The most visible remainder of the wall here is the drum tower in Ningwu County, the heart of the garrison. The actual Wall has been mostly swallowed by the desert and only isolated, crumbling towers remain.

Ningwu Guan is part of the Inner Great Wall running through Shanxi Province, which looped under the border with Inner Mongolia and then returned southwest to meet the Great Wall marching west through Hebei Province. The inner and outer walls are mostly Ming Dynasty renovations of dozens of different walls, many dating back to the Warring States period when Shanxi was the focal point for the unification wars initiated by the Qin Dynasty.

This section of the Great Wall is great for treks, camping and camel/motorbike trips. The tourism business has yet to take off in northern Shanxi, so it is entirely possible (and mostly necessary) to handle this section DIY style.

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