Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Wandering Korean Mountains

   One day, after we'd packed up our little life in Japan and sent our things to sail home to us, we got onto a boat ourselves, and washed up in Korea.  I mentioned in yesterday's post that we have a habit of getting lost on mountain tops when we go travelling, and in Korea this happened more than ever.  It's true that we should have studied Hangul before we arrived, but I don't think it would have made much of a difference.  In the centre of even the biggest cities of Korea there are huge forested mountains jutting out of the centre, waiting to capture people who mix fast walking and lingering over diversions.  For that is the perfect formula for going too far and staying there too late, and we are masters in this field. 

   For this the second day of my reminiscing over old journeys, I am in the awkward position of not having a photo of the exact place I am thinking of, or even a specific name.  Worse luck, as it is a place that my mind finds its way back to rather often.  I will have to make do with supplementary photos and details to paint a picture of the place for you.  

    We spent two days walking on and around Namsan, a mountain near the city of Gyeongju which has a wealth of history strewn across it.  It seems that around every bend in the path (if you find a path), or deep in the most impassable thicket, there is a Buddhist relief carving on some rocks jutting out of the mountain, or a sculpture, tombs, or the ruins of an old Silla temple or palace.  This mountain, though you can walk on it all day without meeting another person, once you are really out in the woods, is unbelievably full.

  It was August almost four years ago when we took this walk and it was very hot.  Walking uphill all day in the sun, watching our share of water dwindle, only seemed to make the heat more intense.  Just as we came to the top of a particularly steep bit of a path, we were surprised to find ourselves in the midst of a small convent.  A woman came over to us and showed us their well so we could refill our bottle, and then motioned for us to sit.  In a moment she had returned with some red bean sweet that some other nuns had been making.  It was a paradise.  A shady wooden building perched on high were the breeze lived.  I don't really know how well we would have got on without more water either, so it was more of that perfect luck that sometimes happens on travels.  

   As I said, I don't have a photo.  But it looked a little like this other convent we found up on the hill. Both convents had the same style of buildings, though the one in the photos is not perched right on the side of a steep incline, it is in a clearing and has gardens, and the buildings are less open and more ornate, and seem far less lived in.  All the same, there is a resemblance.

(click any image to enlarge)

When I was younger, sometimes I used to dream of life in a convent or hermitage.  Perhaps this is a common thing to think about, perhaps not.  It seemed to me wonderful to live off in a wild lonely place, where I could paint maybe.  Though I am sure that this is only my dream of how this sort of life would be, sometimes I still find myself dreaming.


  1. what a miraculous place! i can't imagine wandering through such thick woods and stumbling upon statues like that, it would seem like a portal to another universe. and then that magical meeting with the convent!
    on a small side note--those red bean sweets *are* divinity. now i'm hungry :D

  2. In the unlikely event of ever been turned into a statue ;) I'd like to think I'd end up looking out from the side of a tranquil green mountain*!*