The gorgeously mountainous view from Baekunam Hermitage.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Baekunam Hermitage is one of the last hermitages I had yet to visit near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. And the reason it’s taken me so long to visit this hermitage, unlike all the others, is that it’s 1.2 kilometres up the side of Mt. Chiseosan. But with Wonhyoam Hermitage giving me confidence to climb, I thought I would try this hard to get to hermitage, as well.
Baekunam Hermitage (백운암), which means White Cloud Hermitage in English, dates back to 892 during the Silla Dynasty. It was later enlarged in 1970. This hermitage, because of its remote location, is well-known for a monk’s devotional practices. There are many stories of past monks attaining great virtue and spiritual awakening at this hermitage. This hermitage is also famous for the beautiful scenery. In fact, this hermitage is known as one of the eight most beautiful depictions of scenery on the Tongdosa Temple grounds alongside Anyangam Hermitage and Jajangam Hermitage. Another thing this temple is well known for is the mineral water, called Golden Water (Yak-su, in Korea), that pours forth from the mountain.
The hike up the side of Mt. Chiseosan is a long and arduous one and isn’t for the faint of heart. If you approach the hermitage around 10:30 in the morning, you’ll hear the monk’s voice echoing through the forest like a guide leading you to Baekunam Hermitage. But be careful as you climb the zigzagging trail, because it doesn’t always have the surest of places to plant your feet with the rolling rocks and tree roots.
When you finally get to the ledge that houses Baekunam Hermitage, the first thing to greet you is a bench, bathroom, and water fountain. Catch your breath and take advantage of all three because it’s been a long climb. A little further up the mountain, and to the right, is the hermitage kitchen. When I arrived, they were already preparing lunch. A bit further past the kitchen is the main hall. This compact main hall, and the hermitage itself, are reminiscent of the neighbouring Jajangam Hermitage. The hermitage is precariously perched on the ledge of Mt. Chiseosan. The main hall is situated on a narrow courtyard. The views of the valley below from the courtyard, and the multiple hermitages that surround Tongdosa Temple, can be seen from this vantage point. Take your time and take some of the most amazing pictures of the Korean countryside. On a clear day, the view can be breath-taking. Inside the main hall are uniquely painted murals that are quite beautiful. Sitting in the centre of the altar inside the main hall is a diminutive statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Behind him is a highly original painting of himself with rays of white light shooting forth from his head. Sharing the altar is a larger sized Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to his right. Equally as original to Amita-bul’s painting that stands behind him, is a painting of Jijang-bosal surrounded by gold and the Ten Kings of the Underworld. To the left of Jijang-bosal, and something that I’ve never seen before inside a main hall, are statues of the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). To the far right, and next to Amita-bul, is yet another highly original painting. This time, the cartoonesque guardian painting appears with a crowning three-sided head with light emanating from it at the top with a serenely smiling Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva Protector of the Buddha’s Teachings). The exterior of the main hall is void of murals. However, it does have a beautifully written wooden name plate just above the main doors for the main hall.
Next to the main hall is a shrine hall I’ve never seen in all of my time traveling to Korean temples. The entire hall is dedicated to Yongwang, the King of the Sea. Now, I’ve seen individual paintings of Yongwang inside the Samseong-gak Hall, like at Donghaksa Temple, but I’ve never seen an individual shrine hall dedicated to this god. The exterior of this, much like the main hall, is unadorned with murals. However, there is a cute three frog water fountain with a baby Buddha beside it. Inside this shrine hall is a seated granite statue of Yongwang surrounded by walls of jade lotus flowers. Uniquely, Yongwang is seated on top of a tank filled with mountain water that cycles through it.
Behind both the main hall and the Yongwang shrine hall is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three Shaman deities: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Recluse), and San shin (The Mountain spirit). Again, the exterior of the hall is unadorned with murals; however, the interior of the hall more than makes up for the naked exterior of the hall. Much like the paintings in the main hall, the Samseong-gak has unique and beautiful paintings dedicated to the three Shaman gods. In the centre of the altar is a statue of Chilseong with a painting of him at his back. To the left is an angry looking painting of San shin. And to the right is a statue of Dokseong with a painting of him at his back.
Across the bamboo bridge, and only after being invited by a nice monk, I walked over to see the monk’s dorms. Much like the main hall courtyard, the dorm area of the hermitage has beautiful views of the valley below. Up on the hill, overlooking the entire hermitage is the residence of the head-monk at Baekunam Hermitage.
HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes. Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner. The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops. Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds. Admission for adults is 3,000Won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road. Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading in that direction for 2.5 kilometres. The road forks to the left and right: left to Jajangam Hermitage and right to Baekunam Hermitage. Follow the fork that heads right. And when the road forks once: the left to Gukrakam Hermitage, the right to Biroam Hermitage, follow the 1.2 kilometres up the trail that leads straight ahead to your final destination of Baekunam Hermitage.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Much like the neighbouring Biroam Hermitage, Baekunam Hermitage has some of the most spectacular views of the Tongdosa Temple valley. However, because Baekunam Hermitage is a bit further up the mountain, the views are a little bit more impressive. In the same vein, the buildings at Baekunam Hermitage aren’t quite as nice or elaborate as the buildings at Biroam Hermitage. As a result, the two are a wash, and equal in comparison. Finally, you’ll need a lot of energy and to be careful when climbing to this hermitage, but the trip is worth it!