This day’s adventure began at 7 am. I had committed myself to a hike with two of the fittest people in Geumchon, Jameson and Laurel, a couple from the United States. Let me just say, a fabulous, adventurous couple whose openess to people and kindness has been an inspiration. I was really nervous as a novice in the sport of hiking, and previous experience has taught me to take it easy, and not attempt hikes with adepts who tend to move at pace up steep inclines, whilst I pant and perspire at the foot of said incline and Laurel had in fact warned me that this would not be an easy hike. Bukhansan Mountain boasts being one of Korea’s most popular rock climbing and hiking destinations with many entrances and hikes to enjoy depending on your desired hike as well as length. And as so many journey’s begin, we asked a local hiker about which bus to take, not completely trusting our telephonic guide, and ended up on a bus to the wrong entrance of the Mountain, which claims a far easier hike, much to my happiness and Laurel and Jameson’s disappointment. However the mere fact we had arrived at the wrong entrance left me knowing a good adventure was underway – spontaneous and leaving it in the hands of the gods.
After a steep incline, we found a map and discussed our route options. It was a particularly beautiful day – the sun was out and visible, only partially covered by clouds and smog, leaving a pleasant hue above the trees. The temperature seemed perfect, slightly cool with the promise of warming up as the day wore on.
Our journey took us up many steep hills, all well set out for the hikers, hand rails and non slip rubber mats underfoot in more precarious places. The declines were somewhat trickier, and I often had to resort to going on all fours to make it down the rocks with my running shoes. The terrain was littered with purple flowers and white cherry blossoms, all signalling out from the green mass of trees engulfing the countryside. It was a spectacular scene after watching brown sentinels dispersed across the landscape, witnesses to the cold, barren winter before.
The sound of regulated knocking began to filter into my awareness and I knew at once a Buddhist Temple was nearby. It is a slow, rhythmic knock of wood on wood which aroused our curiosities. We ventured in the direction and came across the source, a Buddhist Temple set amongst the trees, right in the side of the mountain.
As I walked passed the entrance to the Temple, I caught sight of the 3 golden Buddhas set at the alter.
After peering further in, I noticed the seated Buddhist from which the knocking of the wooden instruments had originated. Completely unperturbed by our presence, he continued to chant and knock, silently wrapped in the blanket of his meditation, slowly and deliberately offering his devotion to the Buddha. I felt as if I had come across the most intimate of acts, a man and his God, his life surrendered to this divine being, and I was witnessing this secret ritual. But, the doors stood open, people passed by as if it was the most casual thing. I managed to muster enough courage to actually take a photo, blessing this sacred act, whilst I felt I was mocking it. After taking a few photos of the area, we set off again to yet another climb.
Upon reaching the top, and enjoying the sites from the massive granite peak beneath us and sharing some fruit, Jameson looked forward and upward to the next rise of mountain, and decided he wanted that peak some way ahead of us. This of course made me want to turn around and head back, feeling tired, but as I had committed myself bravely to this, I silenced myself and decided to trust my fellow hikers and continue.
We set forth again, up and over more rocks, passing hikers both children and adults alike. Korea certainly has a healthy minded society as some hikers looked well beyond the age of someone who should be hiking, yet there they were, decked out in their North Face best, matching track pants and jackets, gloves and boots. I may have even called it a fashion parade if I didn’t acknowledge how seriously they take their hiking.
About 2 hours, another Temple and some gimbap later, we came to a fortress wall that stretched out on either side. I stand corrected, but research tells me that the fortress is named Bukhansanseong Fortress was built to stop foreign invasion in the Joseon Era. The particular gate we encountered is called Daeseongmun – 대성문 – Bukhansan Fortress Gate.
What was amazing about this fortress was that it extended for miles upon the hill top of this peak, stretching as far I could see, drifting off into the distance amongst the trees. We walked along one side of the wall, ascending the hill further, watching as the view grew more and more expansive. The tree tops above us at this stage we stunning, arching over us, dispersing before us, the purple flowers distracting my gaze from the peak in the opposite direction and from the view before me.
From the top of the fortress wall I could see the Namsan Tower ahead of me, whilst the Han river snaked its way through the greenery and beyond. I don’t think I have ever seen such a panoramic view in Korea before, even though there was still some smog, it was considerably clearer than on most days. We continued down the stone stairs weaving its way alongside the fortress wall. Before us stood a magnificent granite rock. It looked perfectly oval like an egg standing on a ledge, waiting to fall off and crash to the surface below.
We stopped here, proud of our journey so far, proud of our progress, and mostly grateful for the spectacular views and delights nature had bestowed on us this day. I had not yet encountered such a beautiful hike as this in Korea so far. *