Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Day 21.  Oct. 1

After a mediocre breakfast in our tourist hotel, in a heavy fog we drove up a windy mountain way to the Seokguram Grotto with an ancient stone Buddha from the 8th century. We walked in the fog for a kilometer or two to the grotto. After a spiel by a somewhat strange local tour guide, we climbed up to a temple (a UNESCO site) with a beautiful stone carved Buddha that was behind glass.  Only members of the congregation could go behind the glass.  We were not allowed to take pictures.   Our guide Chris was incensed about the glass and the lack of accessibility.  He did not feel this was the way to manage a UNESCO site.  Chris turned the ear of a monk who listened to his arguments.

From this lovely place, we went to another amazing UNESCO world heritage Shilla site.  It was a stunning old Buddhist temple called Bulgoksa with two stone pagodas built in the 8th century; multiple small temples, a fish drum, a gong, a big drum, and here as in all the other temple complexes, a shrine to the pagan (shamanistic) gods of the mountains and sea.  The large temple, started in 751 AD and completed in 774 AD, had been damaged by a 5.3 earthquake a few days before, but not extensively.  The approach to the temple was beautiful with bridges, trees, a pond/river, and nice paths. The stone carvings on the pagodas and on the base of the temple made one aware of the skill of these ancient craftsmen who carved huge stones to fit together (reminiscent of the Inca carvers in Peru).

We had a delicious lunch in local restaurant.  The proprietess said she had never served a western foreigner before!

In the afternoon, we went to the park with the tombs of the Shilla royalty.  It was a big park with big grassy hills; tumuli with winding paths around and pretty trees (couldn’t figure out what they were) blossoming with fuschia flowers in the fall! Some of the younger people were all dressed up in traditional Korean garb which gave a nice atmosphere to the park. The final tumulus, Cheonmachong, was the tomb of the king with a chance to see the inside with a cross with a flying horse, golden and bronze artifacts, and a replica of the grave of the king in the place where it was found.  

Afterwards we walked to an old observatory which supposedly is the oldest in east Asia (built between 632-647) built during the reign of Queen Seondeok.   Not as impressive as it was described and maybe not the oldest one! Here Chris is translating a video presentation.

 We drove to Busan and checked into the Crown Harbor hotel, which was quite nice but inundated with hoards of people.  We elected to eat in the hotel (it was a holiday and the desk said there were no local restaurants open).  Truly awful food. And zillions of Chinese tourists.

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