Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The Enchanting Mt.Seorak(설악산 )
Finally,6 of us decided to set out for having a glimpse of true nature before the maple leaves withered away. It was the last week of October, 2009(Friday),and autumn was at its zenith. As it was peak season we couldn’t get the hotel reservation for more than a night but then we all decided that we go a day earlier so that we can enjoy spend more time at the much talked place of Korea. The enthusiasm made everybody forget the fact that we have no hotel reservation for that night. And it was peak season nothing could be foretold. Apart from being foreigners of 4 different nationalities, we have had not much of ‘field’ experience in Korean language. All we knew were the structured teachings and if people converse with us in out of syllabus stuff we always have the excuse of saying that ‘we haven’t learned that’. Anyhow we boarded the bus bound for Sokcho from Gangnam Express Bus Terminal, Seoul. Sokcho lies in the foothills of Seorak.We found out everything easily as the whole thing is well marked and it’s not much necessary to ask anything, which is unthinkable from the place I come. I wonder how foreigners go all by themselves in India. Around 3 hrs of relaxed ride in a deluxe coach and digging through few lengthy tunnels we finally reached the bus terminal and as we apprehended it was raining .Suddenly one lady (ajumma) approached us as soon as we off-loaded. She was God sent!! We got room for that night and that too cheap and well arranged. Plus it had the view of the sea. We all discussed about our hiking plan, although nobody knew anything. Without any good ending the lights went off.
Seoraksan is one of the most favored tourist destination in the Republic of Korea. Located in Gangwon province. It is bounded on the west by Gyeonggi province and to the north lays the province's North Korean counterpart, Kangwon province. Ask a Korean to name the most beautiful place in Korea and the person will no doubt say Mt. Seorak. It is arguably the place most adored by Koreans .Thus, the national park attracts many national and international tourists all year round, but the main season for Seoraksan national park is autumn. The autumn colors in the area are considered amongst the most beautiful in Korea. After being designated as natural monument in November 1965, Seorak became the 5th national park in March 1970. Because of its variety of plants and animals, it was selected as a conservation area (the only one in Korea) by UNESCO in 1982. It is also interesting to note the fact that Korean people are keen on hiking and it seems to be national past time especially amongst the aged and retired people.
Also referred to as Seolsan and Seolbongsan, the mountain was named Seorak because the snow would not melt for a long time keeping the rocks in a permanent state of white.A gorgeous park, which contains Daechoong-bong, the third highest peak in South Korea. Daecheongbong, Great Green Peak, is Mt. Seoraksan's main peak. It rises to 1,708 meters above sea level. Sinheungsa Temple and its Gyejoam Hermitage, the Ulsanbawi and Heundeulbawi rocks, Biseondae promontory, and Biryongpokpo waterfall are among the most popular sights. We chose the Ulsanbawi rock as it was also well-known and will consume less time in hiking.
From the hotel we stayed the Sokcho beach was juts few steps away. We went to the beach and spend some good time.Than, we checked in the hotel that we had actually reserved. It was 5 minutes drive from the place previous lodge we stayed. It was called “The House Hostel” and true to its name it was like a hostel. Though the rooms were small, it was calm and no usual smell of regular hotels or motels. The lobby was incredible with European style interior and simple wooden made chairs. Soothing rock and roll music played in the background in that room 24 hours. It was backpacker’s haven .One middle-aged man, Mr.Yoo Hyojun, was the owner and the caretaker. He spoke and understood English well and was very helpful and friendly. Unlike other hotels there are no strict rules with regard to check-in and check-outs. We introduced ourselves and Mr.Yoo was delighted to meet me as he said I was the first Indian to have stayed at his place. I was unsure whether he meant the “Indian” or whether he meant to say ‘me’. Anyway, it was not a big deal for I have been in such situation almost all the time. Mr.Yoo briefed us about Sokcho city and the hiking trails. It started raining again as we were about to leave for hiking. But we all decided firmly to set out for our objective. It was around 11 in the morning and took the bus up to the foothill and unexpectedly even in that weather there were hundreds of people. The downpour was also at its best. We bought plastic rainproof suits and started our trail as many people did. The mountain was covered with bronze colored maple leaves although some of the leaves were still clinging on to the trees. There are few peaks and plenty of huge rocks. The highest of the peak takes a good 6-7 hours for climbing so we decided to take the Ulsanbawi rock, which is also famed for its magnificent view. The paths were well assembled and thus there was not so much of difficulties.5 (the 6th one decide to take the cable car on the other route where a famous waterfall is located) of us would go together and would find out anything remarkable stuff we came by. Halfway we came across old Buddhist temples which were still in operation. I wonder how and why they built such huge structures up in the mountain. Dense fogs started to cover the mountain and the rain would halt in between and thus we had the opportunity to have snapshots. Most of the Koreans we met and conversed have one common and somewhat curious question and that happens to be our nationality. I think it’s one of the most general question often asked to the foreigners by the Koreans. It doesn’t matter where you come from, their hospitality is for everybody.
After crossing a huge barrier of elevated rock and few narrow paths we finally reached the top of the rock. It took around 3 and half hours to reach there (we did take many time off in between).The astonishing thing is that there are iron steps installed on the rocks and thus it’s very easy and comfortable for the climbers .The winds were very strong and it was freezing. Few people were already on top apart from few persons selling coffee. Amazingly the top of the rock is just around 3-4 sq meters wide. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any pictures as the winds were very strong. It was very risky to stand in that win. In spite of that few people will take risk for taking snaps. I envy them thinking about it, now. But it was worth as the view of mountains was fantastic and one can find complete tranquility. Reminded of Koubru mountain top! After resting and managing to take few pictures we all got down at a snail's pace straying away here and there. It was almost dark as we reached the foothill but still many people were still present nearby the huge Buddhist statue which is in the foothills. We reached the hostel and got fresh and Mr.Yoo referred as a good fish-barbeque restaurant nearby the coast. It was classic Korean restaurant. Customers flooded the restaurant but we somehow managed to find a place for our place. Couldn’t stop thinking about the taste of the barbecued fish for many weeks. Truly said about the taste of the fish.
We were to take the 5 O’clock bus for Seoul. It still showered and it seemed it was going to stop only after we depart .We had no special plan for that day but I suggested going and paying a visit at Sokcho city museum. Mr.Yoo was once again consulted and thus we got all the required information (although we took the wrong bus and had to walk for quite a long distance).Sokcho is a calm and serene City. It has some of the renowned spas in Korea .It is also famous for its fishery products. Apart from that there is a village of North Korean refugee, which in fact was not far from the Hostel. The museum had been moved to a new place lately, far-off from the main city. There were fewer visitors due to the bad weather. There was a remarkable replica of a Korean War refugee village. It was akin to our grandma’s village back home with mud floors and hearth. Dried corns were hanged on the roof as many communities do in our place. The main building of the museum had some of their remarkable artifacts showing the outstanding historical past of the place and Korea. But the most enchanting was the landscape seen from the tower which was on top of the building and specially built for the visitors. From there one can see the beautiful mountains covered in dense fogs and also the vast open fields. Although rain played spoilsport it also made the landscapes look marvelous. As they say everything has its positive and negative sides.
We were told that we had missed the enthralling Sokcho cultural festival held every October. We pacified ourselves saying we would be surely here next year. The trip was really fun, unexpectedly. We thanked Mr.Yoo for his assistance and promised that we will visit again if time permits .It took almost 6 hours to reach Seoul as there was heavy jam, 3 hours more than the original .I felt fortunate to conquer Seorak and to have a perfect view of the autumn leaves. Hope to go there again. Seorak is also famous for skiing in winter as it receives heavy snowfall compared to other places. Surprisingly it snowed at Seorak 2-3 days after we return back.