A Quick-Fix Trip for City Stress

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A Quick-Fix Trip for City Stress

Mountains, Temples and Views Are Just a Subway Ride Away

Pukhansan National Park is a rare gem - a national park situated partly in Seoul. As fall gives way to winter, it isn't too late to see mountainside trees shedding their last leaves. And in less than a month, it may be possible to scale the peaks in the winter snow.

The park boasts many natural attractions and historic sites. Its rugged peaks, deep valleys and thick forests attract more than 5 million people each year, according to the Korean National Parks Authority.

Pukhansan National Park is riddled with hiking trails, some of which are less than two hours away from downtown Seoul. Hikers can choose between leisurely walks and more rigorous challenges, with steep areas equipped with metal cables and stairways.

Some of the best hiking courses are on Tobong Mountain in the northern section of the park. The western area of the park is noted for views of the Yellow Sea from some of the ridges. Trails in this area pass by waterfalls and through forests.

Designated as the country's 15th national park in 1983, it covers about 78.5 square kilometers and extends from Seoul to Kyonggi Province. The park area contains two major mountains - Tobong Mountain and Pukhan Mountain - divided by Uiryong Ridge. For those looking for more than a simple hike, Pukhan National Park also offers rock climbing at Soninbong and Insubong Peak. Ice ridge climbing is available by Gucheoneun Waterfall.

Perhaps the most famous natural site is Samgak ("Three Horns") Mountain. Three peaks - Paegundae Peak (836 meters above sea level), Insubong Peak (810 meters) and Mangyongdae Peak (799 meters) - form a triangle. On a clear day, the Yellow Sea and even North Korea can be seen from Paegundae.

To the west of Samgak Mountain, the summits of Obong ("Five Peaks") rise 660 meters above sea level.

Also nestled in the mountains are historic sites, from Pukansansong to Buddhist temples such as Mangwul Temple, Sungga Temple and Hwagae Temple.

Cultural Sights

While nowhere near as large as China's Great Wall, Pukhansansong, a military fortress, once served the same purpose - to keep enemies at bay. Dongjangdae ("Command Center") was positioned so enemy movements could be easily detected. On a clear day, visitors can observe the landscape of Seoul and as far as neighboring Kyonggi Province.

The construction of Pukhansansong began in the year 132, during King Kaeru's reign in the Paekche Kingdom. After invasions from Japan and China during the Imjin (1592) and Pyongja (1636) wars, the fortress was expanded to its current size.

Pine and maple trees surround Chunchook Temple, which exudes an air of serenity.

Hwagae Temple features architecture typical of the late Chosun Dynasty. It was built on Samgak Mountain in 1870, during the reign of King Kojong.

Mangwul Temple has produced a line of prominent monks, from Hyegeo and Yeongseo in the Koryo Dynasty to Chunbong and Youngwol in the Chosun Dynasty. Founded in 639, Mangwul is the largest temple in the Tobong Mountain area. It houses old records and artifacts, including Buddhist scriptures and sculptures. Puram and Surak mountains can be seen in the distance.

The view from Munsu Temple, on Paegundae Peak, the highest spot in the national park, is panoramic. The temple was built in 1109 by Tanyun, a Buddhist priest.

Sungga Temple, built in 756, was named after a monk from India revered as a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, an enlightened being who remained on earth rather than entering nirvana out of compassion for humanity. According to popular lore, kings would frequent Sungga to pray for Buddha's protection during times of national crisis. Services were held in front of a Buddhist relief behind the temple atop a steep stone staircase on the mountainside. The temple lay in ruins during the beginning of the 20th century, and was restored by the monks Towon and Sangnyun.

Legend has it that those who pray at Tosun Temple are healed of illness and depression. The temple, located in Ui-dong, is home to pilgrims attending a meditation retreat center. There's also a Buddhist academy with a library and a counseling center. The temple is named after the monk attributed with introducing astrology to Korea.

The city government recommends three hiking courses. The first one covers 12.5 kilometers and takes about five hours. From Suyu subway station (line 4), take a cab or bus to Ui-dong City Bus Terminal. From Kohyangsanchon restaurant, the course takes you past Tosun Temple, Kaltakgogae Pass, Paegun Shelter, Paegundae Peak, Yongammun Gate, Taedongmun Gate, Popungmun Gate, Taenammun Gate and Munsu Temple to Kugi-dong.

The second course covers 11.5 kilometers and takes about four and a half hours. From Kupabal or Pulgwang subway stations (both line 3), take a cab or bus to Pukhansan Elementary School. The course takes you from Taesomun Gate past Pungmun Gate, Paegundae Peak, Yongammun Gate, Taedongmun Gate, Pogungmun Gate and Chongnung Valley, ending at Chongnung Swimming Pool.

The third course is 11 kilometers and takes about three and a half hours. From Tobongsan subway station (line 1 or 7) or Mangwulsa station (line 1), look for Tobong-dong City Bus Terminal. From the nearby Tobong Shelter, the course takes you pass Chunchook Temple, Mangwul Temple, Changsuwon Village and to Mangwul subway station.

The charge for staying overnight in the shelters is usually about 3,000 won ($2.60).

by Joe Yong-hee

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