Hello Again Everyone!!
Having been unable to find it the first time, and after a misguided highway run by the GPS, I decided I would try and find Gyewonsa Temple again. Fortunately, I thought I had caught a glimpse of a sign leading to it the week previous, so I started where I had left off.
To get to Gyewonsa Temple, you first have to go through a tunnel that lies beneath Highway 1 that runs up to Gyeongju. After passing through this tunnel, and up a sleep dirt road, that was mud because of the previous nights’ rainfall, I finally arrived at Gyewonsa Temple. And the first building to greet you at the temple is the monks’ dorms. This natural wood and newly built building is beautiful. To the far right and up the embankment is an area that houses a granite statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This statue is backed by a large moss covered stone wall. And from this vantage point, and through the multi-coloured paper lanterns, you get a scenic view of Yangsan.
Behind the monks’ dorms, and to the left of the stone statue area, is an elegantly designed three storied pagoda. While stout in design, it reflects the simplistic eloquence of Korean stone pagodas. To the left of this stone pagoda is a shrine set up for Yongwang (The Dragon King). The mural is one of the best and most refined paintings of this shaman deity.
Up a steep set of stairs, you’ll find the diminutive main hall at Gyewonsa Temple. The exterior of the main hall is only adorned with floral murals. Inside the main hall, and on the right side near the entrance, is a very old looking guardian painting. At the foot of this painting, and keeping the mural company, is a small bronze bell. Sitting on the main altar, in the centre, is what looks to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul) to the left. This triad of statues is flanked to the left by an older looking mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Both this mural and the guardian mural are rather impressive older looking Buddhist paintings. The wooden altar pieces have colourful paintings adorning the surface of each one. Interestingly, the overall theme is a frog in several different locations and positions on the wooden panels of the wooden altar.
To the right rear of the main hall, and up another set of stairs, is the oldest building at Gyewonsa Temple: the Samseong-gak shrine hall. The exterior of this low-ceilinged shaman shrine hall is largely unadorned except for a handful of fading decorative paintings. When you enter the hall, you’ll be greeted by the most popular triad of shaman deities found at Buddhist temples. In the centre is a rather plain looking Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting. This painting is flanked by an equally conventional painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit) to the left and Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right.
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Gyewonsa Temple, you’ll first have to take a subway to the end of line 2 and get off at Yangsan Subway Station #243. From the subway station, you can take a taxi for a five minute ride, 1.8 kilometres, where they’ll drop you off just outside the entrance to the underpass that runs under Highway 1. The ride shouldn’t cost you anymore than 3,000 won. From where the taxi will drop you off, it’s another 500 metre walk up the mountain to the temple.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While this temple isn’t the easiest to get to, and can be quite difficult to gain access to, it is worth the effort. The scenic views of Yangsan from the heights of the temple are beautiful. In combination with the older looking guardian paintings, Jijang-bosal painting, and Yongwang painting, and this temple makes for a nice morning excursion out in the country.