Hyangiram Hermitage – 향일암 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Hyangiram Hermitage in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do on a rainy day.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the very southern tip of Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, and perched in and around the crags and crevices of Mt. Geumosan, is Hyangiram Hermitage. The hermitage was first founded in 644 A.D. by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa. It was here that Wonhyo-daesa had a vision of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Originally, the temple was known as Wontongam Hermitage, until the High Priest Yun Pil changed the name of the hermitage to Geumoam Hermitage in 950 A.D. while studying there. In 1592, the entire hermitage was burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War. In 1715, the hermitage was rebuilt by the monk Inmuk-daesa. It was also at this time that the hermitage was renamed with its present name of Hyangiram Hermitage, which means “Looking Out at the Sun Hermitage,” in English. On December 20th, 2009, the main hall at the hermitage, as well as the bell tower, was completely destroyed by fire. Fortunately, the rest of the hermitage was spared from this fire, and both the main hall and the bell tower have been rebuilt in recent years. Hyangiram Hermitage, alongside three other hermitages like neighbouring Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, are four holy sites for the worship of Gwanseeum-bosal.

You first approach the hermitage grounds past a large collection of stores and restaurants. About half way up the mountain, you’ll come to the hermitage’s admission booth. After paying your 2,000 won entry fee, you can either head left towards the stately Iljumun Gate and large turtle-based stele, or you can head right up the road that monks use for their vehicles at the hermitage. I would suggest the much more beautiful, and scenic, left pathway.

The aforementioned trail will zig-and-zag its way up the mountain, until you arrive at the outskirts of the hermitage grounds. Just outside the temple grounds, once again, you can either head right towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall or head left towards the main hall. Again, I would recommend heading left and making your way through a narrow opening in the rocks and up a flight of stairs sculpted from the mountain’s rock face.

It’s only after appearing on the other side of these naturally occurring obstacles that you get a great view of the South Sea from the hermitage’s main courtyard. You also get to see some islands that dot the horizon, as well as a neighbouring harbour.

Behind you stands the newly rebuilt Daeung-jeon main hall at Hyangiram Hermitage. Lining the exterior walls are a set of Palsang-do murals, as well as a collection of phoenixes and zodiac animals that line the eaves of the hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall, and up a set of stone stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Again, and from this elevated vantage point, you get an amazing view of the South Sea. Inside the main hall are a pair of haunting murals dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). As for the exterior walls, there are a pair of tigers, one of which has its ferocious mouth wide open.

To the left of the main hall, and past the newly rebuilt bell pavilion, are a set of stairs that lead you to the rear of the Daeung-jeon. It’s through an opening in the mountain’s face, and up a set of stairs situated in a crevice on the mountain, that you’ll finally come to the Gwaneeum-jeon. Sitting all alone on the main altar, and backed by a simplistic black mural, is a rather small seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of this hall stands a three metre tall stone statue dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Yet another great view of the seaside landscape awaits you from the heights of the Gwaneeum-jeon. It’s also from this vantage point, and if you look down towards the greenery that lies at your feet past the arm rail, you’ll notice a rock outcropping with the name of Wonhyo-daesa written on it. It’s from here that Wonhyo-daesa also enjoyed the amazing view way back in the 7th century.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hyangiram Hermitage from Yeosu and back, it will probably take you the better part of the day to do. From the Yeosu Bus Terminal, you’ll need to cross the road and take either Bus #111 or Bus #113 to get to the Impo bus stop (임포 향일암). The bus ride should take about an hour and a half to do. From the bus stop, go 100 metres up the road with the ocean to your left. At the GS 25 convenience store, turn right and start the ascent up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll come to the entry gate where you have to pay. After that, just follow the signs the rest of the way towards Hyangiram Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. For the view alone, this hermitage rates as high as it does. But when you add into the mix the narrow crevices and cracks that link all the halls together, as well as the beautiful artwork all around Hyangiram Hermitage, and you know why this remote hermitage is a must see for any temple adventure seeker.

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The stairs that lead up to Hyangiram Hermitage.

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A large stele along the way.

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A closer look at the Iljumun Gate as the rain continues to fall.

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One of the crevices you’ll have to pass through on your way up to the hermitage courtyard.

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A flight of stairs and you’ll finally see all that Hyangiram Hermitage has to offer.

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The foggy view of the South Sea with an obscured island off in the distance.

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A foggy harbour down below.

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A look up towards the Daeung-jeon and Mt. Geumosan.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.

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As well as some amazing eaves’ work on the Daeung-jeon.

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Both the bell pavilion and Daeung-jeon roof close together.

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A cave entryway at the hermitage.

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The flight of stairs that lead through another large crevice and up towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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A look at the Gwaneeum-jeon through the rain.

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The front facade of the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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The meditative stone that Wonhyo-daesa prayed upon, as well as a foggy South Sea off in the distance.

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A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon at the main altar inside.

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To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

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And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Hyangiram Hermitage.

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The obscured view from the rolling fog from the Samseong-gak towards the Daeung-jeon.

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A decorative, and ferociously posed, tiger on one of the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.

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The view from the Samseong-gak.

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The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.

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And a look out onto the rain from the shaman shrine hall.

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