The Story Of…Samneung Valley in Gyeongju

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 The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul up Samneung Valley.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sometimes, a temple adventure isn’t always amazing, or adventurous for that matter. However, Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju was both amazing and adventurous; but it was also something else: embarrassing.

I had been enjoying all the sites along the Samneung-gol Valley like the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue, the Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face, the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads, the Seated Stone Buddha, and Sangseonam Hermitage, where I was able to take a bit of a rest and enjoy the amazing views that Mt. Namsan offers.

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The Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face mid-way up Samneung Valley.

The final destination was the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul. I followed the trail that leads to the left of Sangseonam Hermitage, attempting to find perhaps the most important statue on Mt. Namsan. Somewhere along the way, I must have got lost because I ended up at Sangsaam Rock, which I knew was well past the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul; so either I had missed it completely, or it was well hidden.

Back-tracking down the mountain, I was finally able to spot the massive statue. However, everywhere I turned, it was roped off. I was finally able to figure out that the government ropes off the area in winter to protect hikers from the icy stairs. It must have been at this point that the Canadian in me kicked in, because I wasn’t going to let a little ice prevent me from hiking all that way and not see the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul.

So hopping the roped off area, and with the winter wind seeming a bit cooler, I finally saw the amazing Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul. It was everything I had imagined it to be and more.

Finally back at home, after an amazing tour of Mt. Namsan, and Samneung-gol Valley in particular, I realized I had torn the crotch of my pants. Not only had I torn my pants, but I had completely blown a hole in them. Seeing this, I finally realized why it felt that much colder after hopping the roped off fence. But what is most embarrassing is that I’m sure there must have been at least a dozen Korean hikers watching me with amazement with a huge hole in the crotch of my pants! Sometimes, I’m just so embarrassing…

For more on Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt. 1

For more on Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt. 2

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 Said pants…

Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt.2 – 삼릉골 (Gyeongju)

DSC_1262The view of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul from the neighbouring mountainside on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is part two of the extremely impressive Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju. And the only reason, which is a first for this blog, that this entry gets two parts is that there truly is so much to talk about. So with that being said, let’s continue with Samneung Valley. The first part, if you’re interested, can be seen here.

After visiting the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads, and making your way back to the main trail, you’ll have to walk an additional 180 metres up to the Seated Stone Buddha. Located half-way up the hike, and perched on a mountain plateau, appears a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) featuring the Touching the Earth mudra. This statue is placed upon a beautiful lotus pedestal. Formally, this striking statue was disfigured with the employment of haphazard cement being placed over the jaw area that had previously been damaged. Fortunately, in 2007 and 2008, this travesty was rectified. And now, the statue was returned to its former grace and serenity. It’s believed that this statue was built either in the 8th or 9th century.

Now, the final 500 metres of the hike are the steepest as you near the summit of the mountain. It’s about at this point that you should take a bit of a rest as you prepare yourself for the hardest part of the trail. But with that being said, it’s also the most beautiful part of the Samneung Valley.

Having rested, and made your way up a steep set of rock stairs, you’ll finally come to the only hermitage along the trail: Sangseonam Hermitage. Sangseonam Hermitage is a recently built hermitage that was built on the foundation of a former ancient Silla temple. When you first climb the zigzagging set of brown wooden stairs, you’ll first be greeted by the nuns’ dorms. Past the dorms, and slightly to the right, is the hermitage’s only hall. Out in front of this main hall, you’ll get a beautiful view of the Samseung Valley below and Badukbawi up above. Stepping inside this extremely compact main hall, perhaps the smallest I’ve ever been in, you’ll be greeted by walls filled with Buddhist paintings. Immediately to your left, as you enter, you’ll see a rather typical Korean Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) painting. Next to this painting is a far more vibrant Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. Sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) on one side and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on the other. Interestingly, there’s an extremely unique, and extremely feminine, statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right of the triad. To the left of the main altar, and on the same wall, is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the right, and on the right wall, is the Shinjung Taenghwa (the guardian mural).

To the left of the main hall, and between the nuns’ dorms, is a sign that leads you to the top of the mountain and the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). During the winter, and unfortunate for me, this area is sectioned off. But fortunate for me, and my long legs, I was able to jump the rope that prevents access to this area. After climbing a small set of stairs, you’ll be welcomed by the large seven metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul. It faces the north with its serene features. As for its body, its right hand is spread to the front, while it’s left hand rests on its seated lap. The body isn’t as masterfully carved as its face, but this is still the crowning achievement to the valley, and it contributes to the mastery of the Silla Dynasty when it was created.

A little further up the mountain, and finally at the peak, you get beautiful views of Gyeongju below and the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul off to the side. In fact, you can get some of the best pictures of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul from these heights.

The final part of this tour of the Samneung Valley is the Sangsaam Rock. Around a bit of a bend in the rocks at the peak is Sangsaam Rock that sits on a bit of a plateau. Sangsaam Rock is a bit gnarly and craggy looking, and it measures a rather large 13 metres in height and 25 metres long. This rock is said to cure love-sickness, as well as granting the wishes of women that want a baby boy. Interestingly, there’s a shrine on the east side of the rock. A stone Buddha, with its head missing, rests beside the altar. It’s less than a metre tall and a lot of the sculpture’s detailing have faded with the passage of time. But what can be seen, however faint, are a pair of hands held towards its chest, as well as monks clothing. In addition to Sangsaam Rock, the views from Badukbawi really are second to none with the jetting rocks, blue sky above, and the west side of Gyeongju down below.

For the Story of Samneung Valley.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Samneung Valley, on Mt. Namsan, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. Once in Gyeongju, and at the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch either bus #502 or #504 across from the terminal. Just make sure with the driver that they’re heading in that direction. So simply ask, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” in Korean. You can either take the bus or you can get a taxi to take you. Again, simply say, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” and the driver will do the rest. In total, the trip should cost you about 8,000 won. From where both the bus or the taxi drops you off, the large trail head opposite the parking lot for Samneung Valley should be obvious.

View Samneung Valley, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Mt. Namsan has earned its nicknamed as the “outdoor museum.” And nowhere is this better suited than with the Samneung Valley and its multiple statues, shrines, and hermitage. In combination, it’s really hard to beat. There’s little else to say about this part of Gyeongju then to say, that unless you’ve visited Mt. Namsan, you really haven’t visited Gyeongju at all.

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The next site along the Samneung Valley is the Seated Stone Buddha.
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A different look at the Seated Stone Buddha.
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And a final, but much closer, look at the beautiful statue.
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A look up at Sangseonam Hermitage as you approach it.
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The main altar inside the main hall at Sangseonam Hermitage with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre.
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A look at the unique statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the main altar.
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The feminine looking painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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A look down at Sangseonam Hermitage as you continue your climb.
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The next site to greet you is the spectacular Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul.
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A closer look at the sculpture.
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And an even closer look at the face of serenity.
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A look down at Gyeongju from Badukbawi.
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A look through the trees from the peak.
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A clear view down at Gyeongju with a gorgeous blue sky up above.
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Along the ridge line of Mt. Namsan is Sangsaam Rock.
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A closer look at the altar at  Sangsaam Rock.
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And one last look before the descent.

Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt.1 – 삼릉골 (Gyeongju)

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The Headless Mireuk-bul Statue in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had long wanted to visit Mt. Namsan, in Gyeongju, for many, many years, but for whatever reason never got around to it in ten years. Well, I was finally able to rectify that short-coming when I visited this past week.

The Samneung Valley, which means “Three Tombs’ Valley,” in English, is situated on the western side of Mt. Namsan. From the parking lot (which has bathroom and a visitors’ centre with maps), to the top, it’s about 1.5 kilometres, and it takes about an hour to travel. During this time, you’ll see plenty of shrines, statues, and even a hermitage, along the way. The trail starts off rather easy, and it gets more and more steep as you near the summit.

The first thing you’ll see along the way, and just 250 metres in, are three burial mounds for which the valley gets its name: Samneung Valley. Slightly to the right, and a little off the trail, you’ll see the three burial mounds fenced off through a forest of red pines. The first mound of the three houses the earthly remains of King Adalla (r. 154 A.D. to 184 A.D.) during the Silla Kingdom. During his reign, Silla continued to expand. The second burial mound belongs to King Sindeok, who reigned from 912 A.D. to 917 A.D. King Sindeok, during his reign, was constantly at war with his western neighbours. In addition, King Sindeok’s burial mound is the largest of the three with a circumference of 61 metres and a height of 5.8 metres. The final burial mound is that of King Gyeongmyeong (r. 917 A.D. to 924 A.D.), and he was the third last king of the Silla Kingdom.

Continuing up the trail, which includes a wooden boardwalk in part, and you’ll next come to the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue. From the tombs to the statue, it takes about 15 minutes, or 400 metres. This statue use to be buried in the valley, but was later placed in its present location. It stands 1.6 metres tall and is missing both its head and hands. The most impressive feature about this statue are the finely sculpted details of the monks’ clothes that he’s wearing. This statue is datable to the Unified Silla Period.

Next to this statue, and up the mountain to the left, is the Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face. Only 50 metres away from the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue, it’s hard to miss. This image stands 1.55 metres tall and is slightly elevated off the ground. The right hand of Gwanseeum-bosal is raised, while the left is holding a bottle. And on her head, she wears a beautiful crown. What is most interesting about this statue, and through the natural colours of the stone that it’s carved from, is that its mouth is coloured red. While it isn’t exactly known when this sculpture was carved, it’s estimated to be from the Unified Silla Period.

Getting back to the main trail, and walking up it an additional 200 metres, you’ll next come to the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads. The triad to the left, and the one you’ll first see when you first arrive at these carvings, is four metres tall and wide. The central figure is standing on a lotus base with his right hand raised, while his left hand is placed over his stomach. The two accompanying Bodhisattvas are kneeling, appearing as though they serve the central Buddha. It appears as though these two Bodhisattva statues are holding up flowers to the Buddha. And the statue to the right is slightly larger than the one to the left with the dimensions of four metres tall and seven metres wide; however, this triad doesn’t seem to have weathered the passage of time quite as well. The central Buddha image appears to be Amita-bul based on his mudra, and he is surrounded by a halo of light, as he sits on a lotus. The two accompanying Bodhisattvas, which appear to be Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal, stand firmly by Amita-bul’s side.

The second part of Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan will appear next week.

For the Story of Samneung Valley.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Samneung Valley, on Mt. Namsan, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. Once in Gyeongju, and at the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch either bus #502 or #504 across from the terminal. Just make sure with the driver that they’re heading in that direction. So simply ask, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” in Korean. You can either take the bus or you can get a taxi to take you. Again, simply say, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” and the driver will do the rest. In total, the trip should cost you about 8,000 won. From where both the bus or the taxi drops you off, the large trail head opposite the parking lot for Samneung Valley should be obvious.

View Samneung Valley, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Mt. Namsan has earned its nicknamed as the “outdoor museum.” And nowhere is this better suited than with the Samneung Valley and its multiple statues, shrines, and hermitage. In combination, it’s really hard to beat. There’s little else to say about this part of Gyeongju then to say, that unless you’ve visited Mt. Namsan, you really haven’t visited Gyeongju at all.

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The view from the parking lot at Samneung Valley up at Mt. Namsan.
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A look at the three tombs at the trail head for which the valley gets its name: Samneung-gol.
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And a look through a pair of twisted pines before I was off again on my hike through the valley.
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And for a small portion of the hike, you even get a bit of a boardwalk.
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The second site up the trail is the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue.
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Whether it was damaged by the Japanese or Korean Neo-Confucianists is unclear.
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To the left of the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue is this Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face.
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A better look at Gwanseeum-bosal with a bottle in her left hand and her right hand held towards her chest.
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A closer look at the pink lipped Bodhisattva.
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The fourth site along this trail are these pair of rocks that display the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads. This can be a bit hard to see, but with a bit better look, you can see the masterful sculptures.
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A look to the left reveals a standing Buddha with a pair of Bodhisattvas at his side.
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A closer look at one of the flower offering Bodhisattvas. To the left of his head you can see his arms and the flowers he is offering.
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The triad of carvings to the right. In the centre is a seated Amita-bul with a pair of standing Bodhisattvas at his side.
DSC_1140A closer look at Amita-bul that sits in the centre of the triad to the right.