Although I don’t have a religious bone in my body, I do enjoy a good temple, as regular readers might have guessed. I don’t go to them in search of anything profound. I just enjoy their architecture and landscaping, and the glimpses they provide of an older Korea (or Japan, for that matter).
What I love about Korean temples is that so many are hidden in the hills and mountains; they can still be a real mission to get to. Their relative isolation enhances the refuge they provide from noise and crowds and crass modernity — well, outside of special holidays at least. And I’m a big fan of any places where there’s a delicious eeriness, a character revealed over centuries of weather and wear.
One of my obsessions for many, many years has been the places and ways humans interact or connect with the natural world. That really found a productive form during the gardening and permaculture obsession that flourished in my twenties and thirties, as I sought a quieter retreat from the rock’n’roll circus that had long hogged the centre of my world.
Since becoming something of a professional drifter, I’ve had to confine the gardening to pot plants (I left about 50 with my parents to come here, where the indoor garden is strictly limited to four specimens; I already fret about what I’ll do with them when I go).
Hiking, or walking in any of its incarnations, is how my obsession plays out these days…
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Mireuk-Sa is my favourite temple so far. I got there after deviating from the fortress path near this monumental drinking fountain…
..and heading down a dark and misty — and very leafy — pathway.
Worn-out lanterns dangled here and there from oaks…
..and after 20 minutes or so of mud and mist the rhythmic drone of temple drumming told me I was close.
This hiker passed me just before Mireuk-Sa. Temples are often situated near natural springs and streams, and it’s common to see walkers filling up their bottles to take some of this clean — and for some, surely, blessed — water home with them:
Going left down these stairs would take you to the conventional access point further down the mountain. I’d come by rather an eccentric route; eccentric routes are my favourite kind.
The temple was just up that final set of stairs…
..very high-quality stuff indeed for an atmosphere junkie like me:
The sacred peak Mireuk-Bong, 712m, forms the backdrop — indeed, the back wall — of this spectacularly sited temple. An information board here informed me that the original temple dated from 678, when it was known as Mireuk-Am, am usually being translated as hermitage.
These fantastic steps lead up the rock face to a small shrine building dedicated to Dokseong, a peculiarly Korean figure who apparently has one foot in shamanism and one in Buddhism.
I rate temples largely on their atmosphere, style and tranquility. Weather can play a big part, of course, and I couldn’t have asked for better here. Crowds and loudspeakers, which have impaired my enjoyment of numerous Japanese temples, are thankfully rarely an issue in those I’ve seen in Korea — except on the Buddha’s Birthday weekend a few months back.
I also like my temples simple, slightly decrepit, mossy, dark, moist, and not overly cluttered with statues and ornaments and monuments. An absence of souvenir shops and noodle joints at the entrance is a bonus. I’m a tough judge in the temple talent shows.
Mireuk-Sa scores highly in all departments.
After sating my appetite for moody temple shots, and finishing the paper cup of (wretched, as always) instant coffee — the only thing available for sale during my visit (extra points) — and with sweaty hikers trickling in from the main stairway-path, I retreated back to the fortress trail and climbed Godan-Bong, at 801m the highpoint of Geumjeong-San.
It was my second time up here. Cloud swathed the summit and views were non-existent:
It’s a protracted descent to Beumeo-Sa…
..and when I finally emerged from the woods into the lush hill farms surrounding the famous temple complex…
..I was tired and in no mood for the crowds and commerce attending this far more accessible landmark.
I kept right on walking for another hour, down into Busan proper via winding mountain roads, pausing to enjoy this canine miscreant cheerfully demolishing somebody’s potato patch:
For more detailed information about Mireuk-Sa, and some fog-free winter photos which reveal an entirely different side of the place — including views — Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures is recommended.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote