By Bradley Weiss
March brings not only the start of spring, but also the beginning to a new season of GIC Tour. We kick off 2016 with a visit to Gurye, a picturesque rural area nestled between Jiri Mountain and the Seomjin River. Our visit coincides with the peak season for viewing sansuyu, or cornus fruit, blossoms. Koreans from all over the country flock to this region in the spring for the striking vistas and the sea of yellow blossom-covered trees which Gurye affords.
The aim of the first stop on our tour, though, will be to immerse ourselves in the depths of Korean history and culture at Hwaeom temple, just outside of town. With a history of nearly a millennium and a half, having been established in 544 CE, Hwaeom Temple is one of the head temples of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and home to a number of national treasures, including the largest stone lantern of any Korean temple as well as the exquisite granite four-lion three-story pagoda. Our pre-lunch activities, led by resident monks, will include a meditative tea drinking experience in addition to making beaded bracelets, which participants will be able to take home as a physical reminder of what promises to be a spiritually enriching experience. A vegetarian lunch will also be provided by Hwaeom Temple, after which participants will be free to wander the considerable grounds to take in the atmosphere at their leisure.
In the town of Gurye stands Unjoru, our next stop and one of the few still-remaining houses belonging to yangban, or noble families. Built by a high ranking government official in 1776, a total of 73 of the original 99 rooms still survive. The historic edifice still serves as residence to an elderly descendent of the original owners. Unjoru is steeped not only in history, but also in legend. Participants will hear stories of gold rings falling from heaven, the talking tiger origins of the bones that formerly hung above the gate, and the turtle-shaped rock that was discovered underground during the original construction, verifying the perfect, propitious nature of the locale, according to pung-su, or Korean geomantic principles. Our time there will be much more active than just hearing fantastic tales. After a brief tour of the structure, participants will experience dressing in the austere hanbok, or traditional clothing, formerly worn by Joseon Dynasty era scholars. They can also test their skills with a traditional archery experience.
After tallying up the number of bullseyes on the archery range and doffing our scholar’s hanbok, our bus will sweep us off to one of the surrounding rural villages where we will take some time to appreciate the aforementioned yellow vistas of all the sansuyu trees in bright bloom. A raised, covered platform in the village offers a convenient place to rest, take in the view and enjoy some refreshments, including partaking of some locally-produced sansuyu-infused beverages. For more adventurous and energetic participants, a trail can be followed which leads up and out from the village to a higher vantage point for a more sweeping view.
A mix of the natural beauty that spring in Korea has to offer, experiencing one of the most prominent temples in the country, and some entertaining activities at a rare historic home – all this and more await the participants of the inaugural tour for 2016. If this has your interest piqued, sign up and help us get the new season off to an auspicious start!