Animals, Hiking, Korea, Mountains
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Temple Dogs on Buddha-Mother Mountain

Mrs Kim, our deputy principal, had told me the weekend was looking very good, weather-wise, but it wasn’t till I left my room, quite late at 8:00 on Saturday, that I discovered just how good it was going to be. My windows have these weird metal barriers fitted over them, you see, and although they admit light, they seal out all but a hint of view.

The cold hit me right away, but it was that invigorating let’s walk cold, and the sky was a cloudless dome of pure, pulsating blue. The sun was just working its way down the Jangyu apartment blocks clustered about the river…

..when I grabbed another hideous take-away coffee, pure evil in liquid form, and bounded upstream, forcing down the putrid brew for its hike-enhancing caffeine, fantasising about the opportunities in this town for a canny coffee entrepreneur.

I’d been part of the way up this narrow mountain road the weekend before on one of my first expeditions in my new surroundings. The Jangyu Cascades are up here (sometime soon I’ll get around to posting that story), and soon I was bounding past them.

I had no maps and only the vaguest idea of what might be ahead. But I knew there was a mountain called Bulmo, a place called Jangyu-sa, and I knew that the sa meant “temple”.

The road steepened; there was no traffic but the odd truck groaning uphill bearing gravel or bitumen, and two poor fellows, as though embodying futility in an old fable, parked miles from anywhere sweeping autumn leaves from the verges with tiny dustpans and brooms.

I chose to interpret this graffiti as “You will kick arse in 2012″…

..and this one required no interpretation — somebody is quite fond of someone else:

By God, that road got steep. I loved it, though. The trees were bare, there was birdsong in the branches, and here and there some icicles or the frozen spouting from a spring gleamed through the brown drifts of leaves or over the embankments.

And through it all that revivifying blue.

For a while there was another hiker behind me, but half an hour after I thought I’d left him behind he emerged from the woods just beside me, having taken a path up the mountainside I hadn’t even noticed.

He looked crestfallen to see he still hadn’t beaten me. I was caffeinated, fuelled by undiluted freedom. My $60 Asics felt like Mercury’s sandals.

Almost there:

The parking area was almost empty, but now I saw where those trucks had been going. They were resurfacing the temple entrance — an atmosphere killer, to be sure, but once inside I forgot all about them.

As in the Buddhist temples in Japan, you pass through an ornate gate…

..flanked on either side by these fearsome temple guardians on the left…

..and these on the right:

I watched visitors bow, palms clapped together, to the figures on each side, before proceeding.

Here’s an explanation of the symbolism from a Korean website:

They hold a sword, a dragon, a wish-fulfilling jewel, a trident, a stupa, and a lute in their many hands. Each king watches over one cardinal direction and they protect all beings from evil. At their command are legions of supernatural beings to protect the Dharma and they are tasked to trample the evil demons which symbolize ignorance, hatred and greed. Visitors show reverence and ask for protection from harboring selfish thoughts and committing acts of wrong-doing.

I entered a spacious gravel courtyard where I was greeted by two more benign-looking temple guardians. This splendid pair of affectionate dogs, unlike most mutts I encounter on my walks, meant me no harm and actually wanted to hang out with me:

They followed me around for much of the hour or more I spent at Jangyu-sa, even rummaging through my camera bag for non-existent treats. The priest wandered about, watching the progress of the roadworks out front, and nodded hello as he passed.

It was very peaceful and soothing just being there, despite the mechanised noise, and I was impressed by the ambience and tastefulness exhibited — I’ve been in countless Japanese temples where all hint of atmosphere is trampelled underfoot by tourist crowds and loudspeaker onslaughts and tacky signage, but this place was something special.

Here’s the temple drum…

..and the eaves of the main pavilion…

..and it seems even temples (there was a residence behind this one) have their ranks of kimchi-dok — the earthen jars used to store the famed Korean fermented-vegetable staple:

While I explored, a few more visitors, mostly women, turned up:

I loved this wandering, half-crazed-looking mendicant so much I’ve added him to my sidebar:

I climbed those stairs…

..for a view of the temple complex…

..and found these fallen leaves temporarily entombed in an icy puddle:

Up another set of stairs, some ancient history in stone…

..which I’ll let this convenient sign explain:

A line of ornamental figurines ranging from mock-gold Buddhas to these more playful fellows looked on…

..while I dawdled, sneaking shots when I could…

….but stashing the camera when a visitor, usually an elderly woman, came up to pray at the stupa while circling its enclosure several times.

While I lingered at the rail, the priest began chanting, loudly and interminably, accompanied by a jumpy drum rhythm. I went down for a last shot down the valley, through the morning haze, towards Jangyu… close, and so utterly removed from the world up here — the place I call home for the time being.

Then I farewelled my two fluffy friends, and headed up the path behind the temple, marked Yongji-bong (bong means “peak”)…

..and past this placid fellow, there where the hiking trail began, who’d somehow escaped my attention:

I was climbing a peak called Bulmo-San — a name I now know means “Buddha-Mother Mountain”…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



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