October 5, 2011

Jirisan National Park (Hwaeomsa to Nogodan)

We left the Green Tea Fields, and went to Jirisan National Park. We took a bus to Gurye from Gwangju (since we were already there). If you're coming from another area, I recommend looking at this blog, Korea in the Clouds, for their bus information.

Once in Gurye, we got a bus to Hwaeomsa (temple). Everyone else on the bus took it all the way up to Nogodan, but we had planned on hiking the 6.5 km trail up.

The bus dropped us off outside of the tourist information center. We inquired about staying in a mountain shelter, but Nogodan's shelter needed a 3 day reservation. So, we dropped our extra clothing off in a minbak (towels and bedding provided, one night in a the spacious room for 40,000 won).

Walking up the road to Hwaeomsa, we noticed a handful of monks wearing interesting outfits. We soon figured out why..

A famous Buddhist monk had passed away, and they were holding a huge funeral for him. We waited with a huge crowd of Koreans for the service to start. It was something I never thought I would happen upon, but it was eye-opening to say the least. Men and women filed in carrying these banners and created a circle around the white circular building pictured below:

They were chanting in Korean.

They brought the body up and placed it in the circular white building.

The monks with the orange outer clothing made an interior circle and lit the circular building on fire. Here is a video of it, if you turn the sound up you should be able to hear some of the chanting as well.

It was without a doubt one of the most interesting experiences I've had in Korea so far.

Hwaeomsa is an awesome temple.

One unique feature of Hwaeomsa is the fact that some of the buildings are plain wood - none of the colorful paint typical in Korean-style Buddhist temples. At first, I assumed they were new buildings, waiting for the elaborate paint. Once I read the information available though, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a huge change from the norm, and the juxtaposition between the wood and painted buildings is stunning.

From Hwaeomsa, the trail to Nogodan Ridge is 6.5 km and is estimated to take around 3 hours. The trail is very easy and gradual at first. It is a very beautiful park.

Of course, it got rather steep and at times, strenuous. With about 2 km left, we reached a road. We walked to the right, which lead to the Nogodan rest area (bathrooms, the shelter, an area permitting cooking if you bring your own portable range, and a small stall selling basic food - ramen, canned food, candy, crackers, coffee, water). Mara and I walked past these, and hiked up the last .4 km to see the ridge.

It was getting dark by the time we reached the summit, but it was a beautiful sight. Luckily, we could take a bus down the mountain. We walked back towards the Nogodan shelter, then kept going on that road. After 3 km, we reached an area with an Angel-in-us Coffee, a hiking store, and some food vendors. We grabbed a quick snack and caught the last bus down the mountain at 6:20 pm.


  1. I always think it's interesting to see how different cultures celebrate/grieve death, especially Eastern cultures. It's a really unique insight into how passing is viewed and confronted.

    You are going to cross nature off your list so many times this year.

  2. Pat, I had to write a whole new list, with nature written about a hundred times off of it. I just keep thinking about David in Pittsburgh - "Why are we outside? I *hate* nature."

    And yes, the death ceremonies have always interested me, also. I was surprised that Korea's government allowed an open air cremation in a national park! As soon as a man stopped us and asked if we were their for the "burning," I knew we had to stay and see what it was.