Jungangtap and Guinsa

Last weekend was a stay at home weekend, no treks to Seoul or its environs. The weather forecast was mixed so I decided to go with the flow. FOBY was visiting from Cheonan and so I had flagged up the possibility of driving to Guinsa Temple near Danyang on Sunday, Saturday maybe a local cycle ride (weather permitting) to the East and South of Chungju, a local lunch (maybe by Hoamji Lake) and J & S in the evening.

The weather was fine as I trundled out on Saturday morning, heading first downtown and then up the hill to Daewonsa, the Seated Black Iron Buddha Temple. They were preparing for HIS birthday and the lanterns had been prepared and hung. The main hall was busy with elderly patrons and  as I surveyed the view across downtown, a local monk stopped to chat.  This temple only has female monks, her English was pretty good as she offered me green tea and an invite back to see the lit lanterns at night.  This temple was established in 1929 but a large-scale fire in 1994 damaged parts of the sanctuary and a canopy enshrining the Cheonbuljwasang (seated iron Buddha). The Muryangsujeon (Hall of Amitayus) was a recent addition. The seated Amitabha Buddha is the main statue in the sanctuary and Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva are also enshrined. A thousand Buddha statues (Sinjungtaenghwa) and a bronze bell are also located here. The Geukrakjeon (Hall of Bliss) houses the  Chungju Cheolbuljwasang (seated iron Buddha). The Buddha dates from the Goryeo period when Chungju was the leading producer of iron in the province.

From here I cycled over to Homaji Lake; it had become a blissful morning, sunny but with a slight cooling breeze. I settle by the lake for a while as I watched fishermen extract fish of minuscule proportions. Cycling down the edge of the dam I crossed through the rice  fields passing a church hosting its second “World Camp” and a  host of elderly farm hands, many preparing the apple trees expecting a bumper harvest this autumn. Emerging at Konkuk University entrance I had 5 minutes more cycling before I arrived at Danhosa Temple, the host temple for another famous Iron Buddha. This is a favourite stop-off point for me when cycling South of Chungju as it has a crystal clear spring providing free refreshment.

This Seated Iron Buddha is kept in the Daeungjeon Hall.  This temple’s founding year has not been identified, but it was called Yaksa Temple after it was rebuilt under the ruling of King Sukjong in Joseon times; it was renamed Danhosa Temple in 1954. It is my favourite temple locally because of the freshwater spring and it always seems to be actively used for worship. Saturday it was getting a new paint job in preparation for HIS birthday next Friday (a holiday, Whoaaaa). At least 8 people  were beavering on the main hall and other sat painting new beading in gold leaf under the shade of the unctuous Korean Pine tree and the gleaming standing Golden Buddha. The outdoor gym had been replaced by a pot plant garden!

I cycled back retracing my original journey and then later, when FOBY arrived, we went back to the periphery of Hoamji Lake  for a Pork Cutlet lunch. After that the Adidas sale beckoned for Mr. FOBY and against his better judgment, relating to style and taste. he bought two pairs!!!

From downtown we drove to Jungangtap Park where the 2013 World Rowing Championships will be held (yes the real ones). There was a provincial rowing event taking place and whilst the families of the competitors were giving ample support the local Chunguese showed little or no interest in the proceedings.

In the evening I became chef with my first attempted Andong Chicken, pretty decent attempt I thought. Later Jazz ands Sanjo beckoned for a chilled evening of good beer and Jazz in its inimitable eclectic setting.

On Sunday the weather once again proved the forecasters wrong and we (FOBY, Michelle D and I) headed off, via Jecheon, to Guinsa Temple near Danyang. Guinsa is the headquarters of the Cheontae school of Buddhism which is the Korean version of China’s Tiantai teachings which were brought to Korea and firmly established during the time of Uicheon. He was a Korean Buddhist monk who was the son of Emperor Munjong of Goryeo. The schools heyday was during the Goryeo Dynasty but then it lost popularity and disappeared before being re-established in 1945 by Sangwol Wongak, it has around two million followers in Korea. The original buildings built in 1945 were burnt down during the Korean war and were rebuilt in 1966, the complex has expanded ever since.

Before arriving at Guinsa we took a slight detour to introduce Michelle D to Bakdal Jae Pass and the legend of two thwarted lovers. Their love is celebrated by a rage of phallic carvings that if nothing provoke thoughts of “poor girl”. Apparently size mattered then just as it does now! Continuing our journey through the Korean countryside was relaxing, in the space of two weeks the barren, raw, brown mountains have turned emerald green and they have a richness and scale that warms the spirit. Guinsa is built in a valley and follows that valley up the mountain. It’s a decent hike of 1.3km before you reach the temple proper, and without stops it will take you around an hour to reach the top.  Unlike most Buddhist temples, where buildings are only one or two stories high, at Guinsa they are large, modern, multi-story, and are connected by walkways and lifts.

As you exit the lift there is an awe-inspiring statue with dragons curling around the base. The temple at the top is impressive and sits resplendent at the head of huge open plaza for prayers and celebrations. Inside is a statue of the founding monk Sangwol Wongak. This is strangely grotesque, to see a statue of a Korean man where Buddha usually is. The three tiered pavilion shimmered in the afternoon sun. On the plaza magnificent lanterns graced the stage, there were Chinese Zodiac lanterns, elephants, grotesque looking guards and of course thousands of beautifully crafted smaller lanterns. This must be the best time to visit Guinsa as the Koreans go to town for Buddha’s birthday.  Also the journey doesn’t end here. To the right of the main temple is a small path that continues up the mountain, at the top is a small shrine.

We descended an veered of the main path stopping to view the magnificent dragon lanterns. At the bottom we enjoyed some Bibimbap before driving back to Chungers.  A visit to Guinsa can be combined, in a day, with a trip to Gosu Caves which are about 30 minutes drive away on the other side of Danyang.

We concluded a great Sunday with an evening at the Hoamji “Rock Garden” pub….pity I don’t know its name!

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