Monday, August 31, 2009

Namsan Area of Gyeongju

Looking down at Gyeongju.

Our first Sunday back from America, Min Gi and I decided to take advantage of our jet lag and go hiking. I proposed that we head off to Palgongsan, but Min Gi smartly suggested that we go to Gyeongju, where the kitties were "couchsurfing" with our friend Hayoung, and then collect the animals after we finished. I have been to the ancient Silla capital, Gyeongju, several times, and I love it. It's a very beautiful, historic city with two UNESCO World Heritage sites!

Creepy old trees that look like vines.

The Namsan area is a small mountain range to the south of Gyeongju with many Buddhist carvings and temples still intact from the time when it was the capital. Namsan, in conjunction with the downtown historic sites, is a designated UNESCO site.

Well-preserved Bodhisattva statue, with yogurt drink offerings in front of it.

One of the things that always strikes me about visiting temples and mountain historic sites in Asia is the fact that these ancient shrines are active, living places where people worship. They aren't just some old relics for tourists to look around. I always see people praying before the statues and hear monks chanting up in the mountain temples. I avoid photographing people engaged in active worship because it feels a little too voyeuristic for me, but it is so interesting to live in a culture where the ancient is so present in modern day. I guess growing up in America makes you feel rather disconnected from the idea that religion is both ancient and modern--something a large number of congregations in America could benefit from remembering before they use all the tithes to build a snazzy new church instead of provide homeless assistance or start a food bank...

Enjoying the beautiful weather.

All in all, Namsan was very scenic. The vegetation was some of the most varied I've seen on a single Korean mountain (from the twisty old forests above to pine trees to bamboo to a brilliantly green canopy). The idea of it being a "museum without walls" is both accurate and incomplete. And for someone now out of shape from failing to hike for awhile, it's a pretty tough hike. (Really, I'd rate it about medium for Korea--along the lines of Gatbawi--but like I said, I'm out of shape for hiking right now.) I was about to die at the end of it.

The most difficult parts are also the most fun!

I got lucky with the weather, which made for some gorgeous photography. Check out the full album:

Gyeongju's Namsan Area (경주 남산)

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