If there is one thing that attracts me to Asia, it’s the seemingly infinite amount of temples and shrines on offer. If there is one thing that working in a bar, or taking a keen interest in wildlife conservation as taught me, it’s that I really, really dislike the human race. So it’s of no surprise that my favourite things aside from the natural world, tend to revolve around inanimate objects and architecture.
In Korea, I have so far discovered a few wee treasures here and there. All of which have succeeded in manifesting themselves into their surrounding without causing the usual detrimental affects us humans are experts at achieving. Simple yet elegant, beautiful yet humble. A place where worship without the medieval attitudes can exist, where the local monks live of the land through their seemingly self-sustaining way of life.
I’ve actually begun to develop a soft spot for Buddhism, even if I still have relatively little understanding of it. Even for an atheist, a temple can instil a sense of peace and perspective, and that is absolutely not a bad thing indeed.
It may be worth pointing out that Buddhism isn’t technically a religion either, it doesn’t demand worship or blind faith towards a supernatural being. Instead confidence is based on knowledge of how to find one’s own purification. In layman terms, Buddhists seek to make themselves better people and don’t rely on the promise (or fear in many instances) that they will face retribution if they fail. Their temples appear to exist as places for reflection and guidance, not so much for merciful kneeling and asking for forgiveness, it’s a nice way of doing things.
All these temples, as you have probably guessed, also make for some rather splendid pictures…
One temple that has thus far stood out as a favourite is near the base of Mt. Palgongsan. Sometimes it does the mind wonders to travel back in time, sampling an outstanding piece of heritage whilst inflating the lungs with some much needed fresh air. No trip would be complete in today’s world however, without intoxicating that sense of time-travel with our endless need to whip out our very own slave master, (a phone to you and me).
Following the mini temple tour it was onwards and upwards toward Gwanbong Peak. A site where a rather fashionable Buddha named ‘Gwanbong Seokjoyeoraejwasang’ sits comfortably, overlooking the mountainous landscape that spills out for miles and miles around. Not only is he a pilgrimage and a half away, Gwanbong Seok…we can call him Gatbawi actually, is well known for his rather fetching hat that rests upon his noggin like a well-balanced oversized stone Frisbee. This fashionable slab represents a traditional hat worn in Korea known as a Gat (갓) and may be the only Buddha that adorns such an accessory. In short, he is one cool looking Buddha!
It is said that everyone who visits this statue are granted a single wish each. I did briefly consider wishing for Scotland to qualify for the next world cup but then again, best not to waste a good wish huh…
With the peak in sight, I continued soaking up the ambience like a human sponge, the gentle waft of the incense clinging to the air, the solitary sound of a Buddhist monk drifting from afar, I felt as if I had been whisked away from modern times faster than a tornado in Kansas.
What was funny to me after climbing hundreds upon hundreds of metres, like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill seeking out the legendary master Pai Mei, was the conveniently placed vending machine that was prominently placed just past the final few gruelling steps, patiently waiting my arrival. Above hung a loudspeaker, the bellowing source of the Buddhist monk I had been tuned into for the past half hour or so. Thump! That’ll be me back in Kansas I guess.
From a 360° inside one of the temple buildings, to a panorama at the top of Gwanbong Peak, some 850 metres up Mt. Palgongsan, it’s almost ironic that we can’t go back in time without our modern day valuables. The thought of exploring the heady heights of Machu Picchu or delving into the deep dusty underbelly of a pyramid without so much as a Go Pro strapped to your forehead is almost unthinkable nowadays. (I now wish I’d had one in Egypt).
I’ve been considering an overnight temple stay in the near future, heaven forbid I may have to spend some time without cappuccino vending machines or worse still, Facebook’s steady stream of nonsense.
Come to think of it, I wonder if they do temple retirements?