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Seokguram: A temple experienceStunning Mt. Halla hike leads to enlightening day at Buddhist temple
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승인 2011.03.11  19:29:29
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▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
After driving for 10 minutes along a steep winding road from Shin Jeju, I arrived at the parking lot for Seokguram Temple. Built in the 1950s, this Buddhist temple is a popular destination for those who want a short hike while still enjoying the natural scenery around Mt. Halla.

As I prepared to go up the 1.5 km trail, I was struck by something odd. There were two piles of bags on the left and the right side of the trailhead. I learned that one pile is for items that have been brought down the mountain and one pile for items that need to be brought up to the temple. Anybody can volunteer their time to help. As if on cue, a man hurried down the trail and dropped off an empty gas tank in front of me.

Cold and barren at the bottom of the trail, things began to look up as I reached the upper areas close to the temple. Three woman just ahead of me were trudging their way to the top, which was surrounded by beautiful red pines bathed in golden early morning sunlight. It was a welcome contrast to the patches of snow and remnants of winter a few meters behind me.

A brand new walkway with shiny orange ropes welcomed me to Seokguram. Nestled in the breast of Halla mountain and surrounded by towering granite walls, it is a stunning location.

As I entered the temple I was greeted by a friendly woman who introduced herself and led me to the main room. Here I was met by an amazing array of sights, colors, and aromas: men and women praying on the floor, colorful fruit and figurines arranged on tables, smoking incense enveloping the room.

At 10 a.m. the Seunim, or priest, arrived at the room to perform her daily prayers. An imposing figure with piercing eyes, closely cropped hair, and an expansive smile, she sat down and immediately started her prayers. For more than two hours she preached, mixing traditional calls for good health and prosperity with modern concerns like passing exams, getting a good job, and success in business. It was an impressive performance.

As she left the room and walked down the hallway, light poured through the open windows and illuminated her. I quickly snapped a photo. A strong portrait of an equally strong-willed woman was the highlight of an enlightening day.

Douglas MacDonald is a Canadian-born English teacher and freelance photographer. He has spent 10 years documenting life and landscapes in Jeju and is a regular contributor to The Jeju Weekly. He won a “Fine Arts” prize in the 2010 Jeju UN World Heritage International photo contest. You can see more of his work at flickr.com/photos/dmacs_photos.

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