Hiking trail behind Blue House re-opens
The verdant fang named Mount Bukak, which rises behind Gyeongbok Palace and the Blue House, was once a favorite hiking route for Seoul residents. But ever since North Korean commandos snuck over it to attack the presidential mansion in 1968, it has been closed off for national security. Hikers were only allowed to climb to Palgakjeong, a pagoda halfway up the mountain, which is scattered with sentry posts and soldiers.
President Roh Moo-hyun was immediately enticed by Mount Bukak when he first hiked up it last month, and he decided to re-open the hiking trail to the summit.
“I decided to open [Bukak] to citizens, because I felt very sorry that I have monopolized the beauty of such a great mountain,” the president said in his official announcement.
Before the official opening in April, a group of reporters were taken on a hike by officials from the Cultural Heritage Administration last weekend.
A new wooden staircase, still smelling of fresh plywood, has been built along the first 500 meters (547 yards) of the trail so hikers won’t get lost in the woods. Signposts and new fences have also been installed.
Just 10 minutes up from Hongryeon Temple in Samcheong-dong, the first attraction that came in sight was Sukjeongmun, or the Great North Gate.
Unlike the two other remaining old gates of Seoul ― the Great South Gate (Namdaemun) and the Great East Gate (Dongdaemun) ― this gate was left untouched during the off-limit years. Although a few photographs of this rocky ancient gate had been publicized, the actual sight of it drew loud exclamations from the hikers.
The grand doors to Sukjeongmun were wide open for the visitor to enter and climb the stone steps to the roof of the gate.
“These doors used to stay firmly shut during the Joseon Dynasty because people believed energy from the north would make housewives unfaithful to their husbands,” said an official from the Cultural Heritage Administration, explaining the principles of feng shui that old Seoul was built upon. Apparently people were afraid to go near Sukjeongmun gate centuries before it became associated with the North Koreans lurking in the woods. Many of the hikers included married couples, but none seemed to care about the old superstitions, as they busily took pictures in front of it.
The next 20-minutes past the gate was a stone-tiled route along the remaining sections of old wall that used to encircle ancient Seoul. Much of it has disappeared, but 2.3 kilometers of it remains in pretty good shape on the ridges of Mount Bukak and neighboring Mount Inwang.
Soon we reached a site called Chotdae Bawui, or candlestick rock, which resembles a melting candlestick. A previous Korean government cutely placed a flame-shaped cement dollop on its tip.
After another 10 minutes, we were finally at the top.
The view was amazing ―?with downtown Seoul sprawling out below us. According to the cultural officials, this was how the old kings of Korea wanted the capital to appear, with Mount Inwang (near Jongno) to the right and Mount Nak (near Daehangno) to the left.
We’ve gotten used to an upside-down version of the cityscape viewed from Namsan tower, which stands on the southern side of the ancient city, the officials explained.
“I used to climb Mount Bukak until I went to college,” said Yoo Hong-jun, the head of the Cultural Heritage Administration. “I was surprised to find out that the entrance to this mountain was closed when I came back from the army.”
“All these years, I have lived in Seoul but I never got to come here,” said Yoo In-chon, head of the Seoul Cultural Foundation who also participated in the hike. “This is an exciting experience.”
by Lee Min-a
Initially, the government will limit the number of hikes on Mount Bukak to three a day, but only as far as Chotdae Bawui until October. Visitors must sign up at: www.cha.go.kr. Although the route will eventually open entirely, the government has yet to decide how to build hiking paths between the candlestick rock and the summit (sentry posts and barb-wired still hinder the path). Because of the military facilities, photography may also be restricted.