It’s not all work work work here in Korea for Tara and me. Today we had an adventure of another sort, a little old-fashioned sightseeing. To get a look at Korea’s spiritual heritage, we decided to visit the Gakwonsa Temple, home of a certain spectacular giant statue of the Buddha.
We took two buses to get there, for a journey that was probably about an hour and a half in duration. The temple is nestled up against some mountains, in a village area that has the feel of a skiing town. There didn’t seem to be a huge permanent population, but it was definitely primed for tourists.
Korea is a mostly mountainous country, so it comes as no surprise that most of its holy places are associated with mountains. It’s a very natural and appealing setting for a sanctuary. It also entails a great deal of climbing. We ascended an incredible series of stairs and had to pass a lovely island of trees before we finally caught a glimpse of Gakwonsa’s star attraction.
The giant Buddha of Gakwonsa is about 15 meters tall. As you can see from this long-distance shot, 15 is quite a lot of meters. It translates to about 50 feet, if you like your units traditional, and along from being very very big, it’s quite beautiful. The craftsmanship needed to create a work like this should be applauded forever.
To the Buddha’s left lies the temple complex itself, brightly painted and chiming with bells in the brisk wind. We came as tourists, but it is a very spiritual place, and we saw many people going about the act of worship. There were places where one could write prayers (for the price of a donation), either on paper or on larger, shingle-like tiles. And of course, many people would go inside the various temple buildings for prayer or meditation.
Tara and I proceeded cautiously, wishing to respect the temple and the people to whom it belongs. But we did go inside one briefly, to look at the golden statues inside and do a little quiet sitting. We took no pictures of the interior, of course, but to anyone willing to make the trip, I’d highly recommend a look. There are wonderful paintings of Buddhist history and myth, and the chamber is very peaceful.
There’s a hiking trail behind the temples, which we decided to try out. Without really meaning to, we found ourselves climbing very near to the summit of Mt. Taejo. We were pretty high up the mountain to begin with, and our path was only about 800 meters to the rest spot just below the peak. But it was a steep trail, and somewhat perilous with ice and loose rock. We each managed to slip and fall once, though I probably had the more hilarious landing.
The path split in three directions, two of which appeared to go in an upwards direction (though we were clearly near the top). Tired from the rugged climb, we decided to come back another day, perhaps when camp had made us a little fitter, and explore for more shrines or spots of significance.
It was cold and cloudy, but still a beautiful day. I’m glad we took this opportunity look upon something exceptional, exhausting as it may have been. We’re both looking forward to coming back, and seeing more such wonderful places.