Now we’re off to Seoraksan! Or Mt. Seorak, for the English speakers.
Mt. Seorak (설악산) is the tallest mountain in the Taebaek Mountain Range (태백산맥), which is a long range of mountains that stretch all the way from mid-North Korea to south-South Korea. The tallest peak, Daechongbong Peak (대청봉), stands at 1,708 metres (or 5,603 feet), and though we didn’t go all the way up there (you have to be really serious about mountaineering to do that), the view from Gwongeumseong (which is where the cable car took us) was fantastic.
And off we go! The ascent was very brief, but we didn’t really go that high up. The cable car only took us till about 700m, which is less than half of the way up to the peak of the mountain, but everything on the ground seemed so itty bitty from up there. See that tiny greenish-tinted Buddha statue at the bottom of the photo? I’ll show you guys how big it really is later, but it looks so small right now!
After we got off the cable car, we walked a few minutes up a rubber-tiled walkway, until we reached Gwongeumseong. According to a plaque at the site, Gwongeumseong was named after two men (Mr. Gwon and Mr. Geum), who built a castle overnight at this site to fend off Mongol invaders in the year 1254. I’m not sure I completely believe the “building a castle overnight” bit, but the rest of the plaque was completely correct in saying that the location has a “good command of the scenery including Baekdudaegan, East Sea, and Sokcho City.”
There was so much snow and ice that we could hardly walk around without grasping onto the thick rope that was tied around the mountain. I managed to get quite high up before my poorly equipped attire refused to let me up further, and then I got stuck trying to get down. In the end, I had to slide my way down to the bottom using my bum. It was cold, but kind of like sledding, so lots of fun.
A lovely view of Sokcho City from the mountain! The weather was nice enough to let us see all the individual buildings and little bridges that dotted the area.
More photos of the picturesque snowy landscape. And then it was time to take the cable car down the mountain.
We then decided to visit Sinheungsa Temple (신흥사) which was located right next to the foot of the mountains. A relatively small and inconspicuous temple, it is nevertheless important because it is the Head Temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. I’m not too familiar with the different branches of Buddhism myself, but I believe the Jogye Order is approximately 1,200 years old, and this temple is the oldest Zen temple in the world! First built in 653, it was burnt down, built up, and burnt down several times over, and the version you see before us now is the version built in 1648. That’s a lot of construction.
And here is the bronze Buddha statue. Not sure when it was built, but it is called the “Great Unification Buddha”, and it was built with donations collected from hundreds of thousands of anonymous donors over the span of more than a decade. It is said to represent the wish for reunification in the Korean peninsula and the official end of the Korean War. And apparently, inside the hollow bit of the statue are three pieces of Gaudama Buddha’s sari from after he was cremated.
The rest of my Korea trip was all family-related stuff. New Years feast with some relatives, and whatnot.
Next time, we’ll be in New York! See you then!