The winds in Yeosu warranted a weather alert, yesterday. These winds and the plummeting temperature mean that winter is now upon us. As we huddle for warmth in our apartments on the southern coast of South Korea, we look back on this country’s most stunning season: Fall.
A few weeks ago and before the changing season erased all color from the tree tops, we took a weekend trip to the city of Gurye. This city is located at the foot of Jirisan National Park and, as you can see from the photos, was a perfect location for witnessing Korea’s yearly transformation. We had hiked in Jirisan before from chance to see the eastern side, so this was a chance to see the other side of the park.
While in Gurye, we visited a Buddhist temple and a Buddhist hermitage located at the foothills of this beautiful park.
This temple in Gurye has an extensive complex of buildings that gently climb the mountains to the rear as you venture further into the grounds. Many of the structures lack paint and show another side to the beauty of Korean temples. With exposed wood, these regularly ornate walls take on another, equally beautiful, life. With some temples buildings showing exposed wood and others painted colorfully, this temple mirrored the changing seasons with its varying colors.
We wandered the grounds for a fair amount of time, watching monks take their tea and enjoying the fall colors. At the base of Jirisan National Park and easily accessible from Gurye on Highway 18, Hwaeommsa is a truly beautiful temple that perfectly complemented the autumn colors with its own varying color schemes.
Next, we ventured to the south of Gurye to mount Osan where we found Saseongam Hermitage. In the Korean language, “-sa” denotes a temple (Hwaeomsa) whereas “-am” indicates being a hermitage (Saseongam). Temples, historically, were locations designated for the study and practice of Buddhism. Hermitages, on the other hand, served as an escape into nature for monks who desired secluded practice of their faith. Today, temples and hermitages are similar in more ways than they are different; their often spectacular locations being the only real difference to be found in hermitages. Both often offer many of the same events and possible overnight temple experiences for people wanting a better understanding of this faith.
This one was quite high on the mountain side, the path to Saseongam is passable in two ways: hiking or by taxi. At the base of the mountain is a parking lot that is busy with taxi cabs ferrying people up and down the restricted road that was under construction. The drive up was winding and taken at an uncomfortable pace by our driver, but we soon had paid and were standing in awe of this mountainside hermitage.
Buildings are stuffed onto every available ledge and flat spot the monks who had come before were able to carve out. What results from this improbable location is a stunning sight that reminded me of Yeonjuam on Gwanaksan in Seoul. Both being located on balance defying cliff faces, these hermitages are spectacularly serene despite their balanced predicaments.
With fall heavily littering itself upon Gurye, these hermitages and temples came to life in a way that only happens once a year. South Korea is a beautiful country that shines in most seasons. That being said: there’s something spectacular about Korean mountain temples once the leaves put on their final performance.
Farewell, fall. We look forward to chasing you again in 2015.