Wintering birds, and the haunting scars of war

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Wintering birds, and the haunting scars of war

The fluttering sound of migrant geese breaks the silence of the serene Togyo Reservoir near the Demilitarized Zone in Cheolwon, Gangwon province. The fierce flapping of their wings overwhelms the place in the morning twilight, creating a sound similar to bamboo trees rustling in the wind as they beat the air in preparation to search for food.
Even though these birds have flown hundreds of kilometers, all the way from Siberia with apparent ease, it is still a wonder to watch them overcome gravity as they take off to cover vast areas in their ceaseless quest for the means of survival. Every day the migratory birds, here for the winter, repeat the cycle following their instinctive drive that is the basic motivating force of their lives. This instinct allows observers to see one of the wonders of nature in the “V” formation the birds adopt in flight, with the strongest geese leading and the weaker ones trailing as if being dragged along by the sheer force of the leader.
This is just one of the awesome, natural attractions for people to see at Cheolwon, which is the winter home to several species of migratory birds. There are a number of rare birds, including common and white-naped cranes and eagles, which also migrate to Korea from Siberia during this time of the year.
Once, the majestic cranes could be found in rice paddies and fields futher south, around the Han River, but these days they have moved to Cheolwon, which has vast open areas, famous for rice and other grain crops. The land is rich in grain that has been left behind after harvesting ― about 1,600 tons, more than enough to keep the thousands of birds well fed during their sojourn.
Eagles, whose outspread wings easily exceed 3 meters (about 10 feet), dominate the skies as they soar, looking for prey and giving off an aura of imminent death. Although partial to fresh kills, they will eat dead meat; the Cheolwon county office places meat from dead cows and pigs in the area to keep their numbers up.
If you’re not so much into bird watching, you can check out the Hantan River, Korea’s first designated rafting area. Cheonwon county is known for its cold winter temperatures, which freeze parts of the river, creating spectacular scenery for rafters. Jiktang Waterfall is noted as being the widest such marvel in the country, at 80 meters, with a 3-meter drop. On one side of the river stands a pavilion called Goseokjeong, built to allow people to view the 20-meter-high rock, Goseokam, situated in the middle of the river. On top of the rock stand several pine trees, a sight that’s too precious to just pass by. To visit the pavilion, however, you need to first check with the county government.
Other sights to see in Cheolwon are situated in the DMZ area, where the scars from the war between the two Koreas are readily apparent. One of Korea’s most famous pop musicians, Seo Tai-ji, filmed a 1994 music video in the ruins of the Labor Party building here; since the video’s release, the desolate remains have enjoyed fame as a place to learn about the division of the Koreas. In the 1990s, the army checkpoint moved behind the ruins, making access for civilians easier.
Passing through a myriad of checkpoints, visitors can also see Baekma Fortress, with its infiltration tunnels dug by North Koreans; it was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the war.

by Choi Hyeon-chul

As all areas are within the civilian restriction area of the DMZ, visitors must check in with the management office at (033) 450-5558. Cars must be parked at the Goseokjeong pavilion on the Hantan River, where a shuttle bus is available four times a day. The tour takes about an hour and a half and costs 5,000 won ($4). Tickets are available up to 10 minutes before departure.
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