The Story of…Jeongchwiam Hermitage

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A foggy summer day at Jeongchwiam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The entire purpose of visiting Jeongchwiam Hermitage in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do in the summer of 2012 was to see the beautiful Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) painting and enjoy the views of the valley down below. However, the adventure to get there, and what awaited us, quickly overshadowed expectations.

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The winding road, and wrong turn, that leads up to the hermitage.

Jeongchwiam Hermitage is a bit difficult to find, as it’s a bit off the beaten path. So I took the turn that I thought led into Jeongchwiam Hermitage. Boy was I wrong. Like most mountain roads, there’s only one way in and one way out, so it’s next to impossible to turn around. Most of the time, you just have to keep heading straight and hope that your destination lies somewhere further up the road. Unfortunately for this turn off, there was no ultimate destination; instead, the gravel road quickly turned into a mud bogging road. With the aid of my wife, I was finally able to turn the car around, but not before almost flipping it in the process.

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The welcoming committee at Jeongchwiam Hermitage.

Finally, with a few frayed nerves, we arrived at Jeongchwiam Hermitage. When we arrived, it was really foggy from a previous night’s rainfall. When we finally did start to explore the hermitage grounds, we were greeted by a Jindo pup. A Jindo dog originated on the island of Jindo in South Korea. It’s white in colour and it’s known for being both loyal and brave in nature. This puppy was extremely playful in nature. It seemed happy to see us.

As we continued to explore, the Jindo pup followed us around nipping at our heels (literally), as we explored the hermitage grounds. And when we attempted to visit the main hall, the Jindo attempted to follow us in. Perhaps this puppy does this on a regular basis with the monks at the hermitage, but it was strange for me, so I physically had to bar it from the main hall.

And then when we went on to explore the rest of the grounds, and as we carefully made our way up to the cliffside halls, the sure-footed Jindo nearly tripped me up on the rain soaked stairs. It was just so excited to see a visitor.

Finally, when it was time to go, this free-roaming puppy sat patiently in the parking lot to see us off as we left. But before we drove away, we said our good-byes. Strangely, it felt as though this puppy had been our tour guide, and was now sadly saying good-bye to us.

For more information on Jeongchwiam Hermitage, please follow this link.

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And a good-bye. Until next time…

Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The famous female Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) that resides at Daewonsa Temple in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Having seen the other major temples in the Jirisan National Park area; namely, Hwaeomsa Temple and Ssangyesa Temple, the last remaining major temple I had yet to see was Daewonsa Temple along the eastern borders of Jirisan National Park. And fortunately for me, I was able to remedy this over my summer vacation.

Daewonsa Temple (대원사) dates back to 548 A.D., when it was first constructed by Monk Yeongi. During the years, it’s been burnt to the ground a couple times. The first time, like a lot of temples in Korea, was during the Imjin War from 1592-98. The second fire occurred in 1948 during the Yeosu and Suncheon Revolt. Eventually, it was rebuilt in 1955 by Monk Beobil. Now, next to Unmunsa Temple, Sudeoksa Temple, and Seoknamsa Temple, it’s one of the major convents for nuns in Korea.

The road that leads up to Daewonsa Temple is one of the most picturesque that you’ll find at any Buddhist temple in Korea with the wandering and cascading stream that flows all the way up to the temple. Interestingly, it’s said that sometime in the past that a dragon resided in this stream for one hundred years. You’ll finally arrive at the temple and be greeted by a large front facade.

Walking up a wide set of stairs, you’ll be greeted by a twin pair of lions just before you enter the entrance gate at Daewonsa Temple. This appears to have once been where the Cheonwang (The Heavenly Kings) resided, but now it’s the temple’s gift shop. As for the second floor of this two storied structure, it’s the temple’s conference area. To the right of this entrance gate is a compact, yet colourfully painted, bell pavilion. As you pass through this gate, but before you enter the temple courtyard, look at the gate’s door handles. These bronze door handles are extremely refined and masterfully executed.

Finally standing in the temple courtyard, you’ll see a multitude of temple buildings. To your immediate right are the nuns’ dorms. And to your immediate left is the temple kitchen, halls, and whatever else a nun in Korea might need. Straight ahead is the large sized main hall that rests on an elevated terrace above you. Sitting on the main altar is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the left wall, inside this colourfully painted main hall, are two murals. The first, on the far left, is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural and on the right is the Dokseong (The Recluse) mural. And on the right side of the main hall is an extremely simplistic guardian mural, which seems to be in stark contrast to the rest of the splendour inside of this hall. And on the back side of the main hall is a stunning red mural with Seokgamoni-bul sitting in the centre of this well populated mural. Surrounding the exterior walls of the main hall are quickly fading Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

To the right of this hall is a vacant lot where the former Samseong-gak stood. Up the embankment, and unfortunately off-limits to the general public, is a nine-tier pagoda that dates back to the origins of the temple.

To the left of the main hall is the Gwaneum-jeon. This hall is beautifully adorned with various murals, including a white-clad Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) wrapped around its exterior walls. As for the main altar inside this hall, is a serenely seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. She sits inside a semi-enclosed altar with a white shrouded mural of herself at her back. To the left is a much more beautiful guardian mural than the one that sits inside the main hall. And behind the altar, and accessible through a backdoor entrance, is a multi-armed and eyed mural of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Next to the Gwaneum-jeon are two more buildings off-limits to the general public. The first is a teaching hall for the novice nuns at the temple and the other is the temple stay building at Daewonsa Temple. The final shrine hall on the lower courtyard is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Sitting on the main altar is a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with a golden staff in his hands. And he’s joined in this colourful, yet compact hall, by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

One of the true highlights to this temple sits on the upper terrace of the temple. As though it’s crowning the temple heights, and just before the temple fades away into the neighbouring forest, is the San shin-gak. What’s truly unique about this shaman shrine hall, and like a couple other temples in the Mt. Jirisan area, is that Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is female. Sitting in front of the San shin mural is a female Sanshin statue with a white tiger at her side. As for the mural itself, the female San shin looks graceful in her appearance.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Busan, you can get a bus from the Seoubu Bus Terminal in Sasang, subway stop #227, directly to Daewonsa Temple. This bus only leaves once a day at 2:10 p.m., and the ride lasts three and a half hours. This bus costs 12,300 won. This will get you to the temple rather late, so you’d probably have to stay the night and explore it the following day. Another way you can get to Daewonsa Temple, which won’t take you two days to travel and explore, is by travelling to Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal from the Seobu Bus Terminal in Busan. The first bus from Busan departs at 5:40 a.m., and they leave every 15 to 20 minutes afterwards until 8:30 p.m. The bus ride takes you about 90 minutes, and it costs 7,300 won one way. From the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll then have to catch a connecting bus to Daewonsa Temple. The bus to Daewonsa Temple leaves every hour, and it runs from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. In total, the bus ride from Jinju to Daewonsa Temple lasts about 70 to 80 minutes (depending on traffic). The trip, one way, should cost you about 5,000 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Daewonsa Temple is an active nunnery with a large population of nuns, so be on your best behaviour. In saying that, the definitive highlight to this temple is the female San shin that sits inside the San shin-gak. The other highlights are the nine-tier pagoda and the murals that reside inside both the main hall and the Gwaneum-jeon. Make sure you take your time and have a look around the main altars to see a pair of beautiful, and large sized, murals in both the main hall and the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, respectively.

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The entrance gate/giftshop/conference hall at Daewonsa Temple.
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The beautiful main hall at the temple.
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Just one from the collection of paintings from the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.
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A rather unique dragon’s head adorning the main hall walls.
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The altar inside the main hall. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
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The Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural inside the main hall.
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The painting on the backside of the main altar. Have a look because it’s rather impressive.
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A look across the front of the main hall at all the neighbouring shrine halls.
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The beautiful pink tree that was in bloom in front of the neighbouring nuns’ quarters.
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 A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall at the main altar. Inside is this rather impressive main altar with a stunning painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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To the left of the main altar is this equally stunning guardian mural.
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Once more, there’s this amazing mural behind the main altar inside the Gwaneeum-jeon of the multi-armed and headed Gwanseeum-bosal.
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Adorning the exterior walls of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this white-clad painting of Gwanseeum-bosal.
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A look at the Myeonbu-jeon Judgment Hall at the temple.
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The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Judgment Hall.
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Some of the off-limit buildings at the temple strictly for the nuns practicing at the temple.
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The view from the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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A look up at the very unique San shin-gak.
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A look inside the San shin-gak at the female statue and painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
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A closer look at the female San shin’s face.
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The beautiful view of the temple grounds from the San shin-gak with the ancient nine-tier pagoda in the centre of it all.
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A rose was in bloom, so I thought I would play a bit with the camera.

Naewonsa Temple – 내원사 (Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The temple grounds and surrounding mountains at Naewonsa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’ve long wanted to visit a host of temples in and around the Jirisan National Park area. And it just so happens that Naewonsa Temple, on the east side of Mt. Jirisan, is one of these temples.

Naewonsa Temple, which means “Inner House Temple” in English, was established in 657 A.D. It was reconstructed by National Master Muyeom-guksa (801-888). Originally, the name of the temple was Deoksansa Temple, but later changed its name to Naewonsa Temple during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). However, like a lot of others Buddhist temples during the Confucian practiced Joseon Dynasty, Naewonsa Temple fell into disrepair. And it was later laid to ruin by the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Naewonsa Temple was further damaged during the Korean War. It wasn’t until 1959, under the guidance of monk Hong Won Jong, that the temple was reestablished in its present incarnation as a small temple.

Presently, the temple is under even more renovation, with a bridge being installed on the south side of the temple, so it’s probably best to enter from the east. A creek flows to the left of the temple grounds, and it acts as a guide leading you towards the temple grounds. As you step into the temple courtyard, and to your immediate left, are a set of buildings such as the visitors’ centre. And to your immediate right are the monks’ dorms.

Straight ahead, and under a rounded mountain top, are a set of three buildings. In front of these three buildings, and one of the highlights to the temple, is a pagoda that dates back to 657 A.D. to the left of the main hall. The three storied pagoda is typical in its Silla design. During the 1950’s, the pagoda was damaged by treasure robbers. More recently, and fortunately for us, it was restored to its past glory by head-monk Hong Jin-Sik. The finial no longer exists, and the top of the body of the pagoda is damaged, but its splendour still stands.

Behind this pagoda is the main hall at Naewonsa Temple. The exterior of the hall is surrounded by a handful of fading Shimu-do murals and an assortment of other paintings that are fading just as fast as the Ox-Herding murals. As for the interior of this extremely compact main hall, and sitting on the main hall, is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by both Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). All three sit on a narrow, yet extremely vibrant, main altar. To the left of this triad is an equally colourful Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) mural. What’s interesting about this mural, and extremely unique, are the scenes of judgment at the base of the mural. And the final mural inside of the main hall is the guardian mural that is no less vibrant than the other murals inside the main hall. The guardian mural is well populated and energetically executed.

To the left of the main hall is the newest of the three shrine halls. The exterior is unadorned all but for the dancheong patterns that enliven its walls. As for interior of this hall, and the second major highlight to this temple, is the Seated Stone Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) Statue of Seoknamam Hermitage. While the features have faded through weathering, it appears as though the statue dates back to 756 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty. It stands just over a metre in height and was built from granite. Additionally, it’s the oldest example of the Wisdom Fist mudra in Korea with the left hand fingers being surrounded by the right hand. It’s a fine example of Korean ancient artwork at its finest.

The final building in the set of three is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Like the other buildings at Naewonsa Temple, this shaman shrine hall is quite original. At one point, according to the ever knowledgeable David Mason, the Samseong-gak use to be divided into three separate rooms with each shaman deity occupying a room with its own signboard over its respective entrance. However, in 2007, these walls were taken down for a more open feel in the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Now, the configuration has changed a bit with a few more occupants inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall. When you first enter the hall, you’re greeted by an older looking, yet no less amazing, mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a stone statue of Cheonwang-bosalnim, who is better known as Cheonwang-bong Seongmo-halmae. To the right of Cheonwang-bosalnim is a bronze statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Next to Gwanseeum-bosal is a vibrant painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). This painting is unique for the mudra that the attendant is making to the right of Dokseong. The next painting in the row is the abstract painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). The final painting along the main altar is a common enough looking Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural. This Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is packed and perhaps one of the most original in Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: The best, and easiest way, to get to Naewonsa Temple is from the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal. So first, from wherever you are in Korea, you’ll have to get to Jinju. From the bus terminal, you’ll have to catch the bus that reads, “Daewonsa Hang,” which means “Towards Daewonsa.” This bus comes every 40 minutes. And from this bus, you’ll have to get off at “Daepo.” From the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal to Daepo, it’ll take you about an hour. From Daepo to Naewonsa Temple, you’ll have to walk about 2.6 kilometres to the temple, but the signs leading you to Naewonsa Temple are well placed and acted as a good guide.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. There are numerous highlights at this smaller sized temple. Two definite highlights are the Silla-aged pagoda and Birojana-bul granite statue. But a surprising highlight, which I was completely unprepared for, was the Samseong-gak with its folk-like San shin mural, its original Dokseong and Chilseong mural, and the extremely rare Cheonwang-bosalnim statue. While not as obvious as a temple like Ssangyesa Temple, Naewonsa Temple has a lot of treasures to offer the temple adventurer!

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The crane that welcomes you to the side entrance of the temple. Yes, the temple is under construction.
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The triad of shrine halls at Naewonsa Temple.
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To the left of the main hall is this ancient three-tier pagoda that dates back to 657 A.D.
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A look inside the main hall at the main altar and Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who sits in the centre of the triad of statues. To his left and right are Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
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To the left of the main altar is this unique painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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And to the right is this rather interesting guardian mural.
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Surrounding the exterior walls of the main hall are these fast fading Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.
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Another look at the Silla pagoda with a newer looking shrine hall dedicated to the stone statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) in the background.
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The statue of Birojana-bul inside of the hall that dates back to 756 A.D.
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The view from the Birojana-bul Hall over at the main hall and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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A closer look at the Samseong-gak.
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The extremely unique pagoda that sits out in front of the Samseong-gak.
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And a mural of one of the Shinseon (Daoist Immortals) that adorns the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.
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The older looking Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural that first welcomes you into the Samseong-gak.
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The extremely rare statue of Cheonwang-bosalnim that sits in the centre of shaman statues and murals.
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The strange statue and simple mural of Dokseong (The Recluse).
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The folkish looking San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural.
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And the rather customary looking Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural at the end of the row of murals and statues.
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And one last look at the main hall before it was time to head home.

Jeongchwiam Hermitage – 정취암 (Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A view of the Nahan-jeon through the twisted red pines at Jeongchwiam Hermitage in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Recently I checked out a few temples online that I would like to explore, and one of those temples near the top of the list was Jeongchwiam Hermitage on the outskirts of Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do. So with a full tank of gas, and a really early morning wake-up call, I headed out to the western part of Gyeongnam Province.

Shrouded in a veil of fog, and twisting and turning up a winding road, I finally arrived along the outskirts of the diminutive Jeongchwiam Hermitage (정취암). Jeongchwiam Hermitage was first established in 686 A.D. by the great master Uisang-daesa, which was during the reign of King Shinmun. And it rests on the slopes of Mt. Daeseongsan just north of Jirisan National Park.

Clouded in a haze of fog, I was first greeted at the temple by a white puppy. He was extremely playful and followed me all around the hermitage grounds. Occasionally, he would nibble at my feet and he even followed me into the main hall. He was a nice little companion to have throughout the temple grounds on a rainy and foggy day.

Approaching the temple grounds, besides the white dog that might greet you at the entrance to Jeongchwiam Hermitage, you’ll first see the kitchen and visitors centre to your left as you approach the main hall. Next to the kitchen and the visitors’ centre is the smaller sized main hall. Wrapped around the main hall are the Palsang-do set of murals that are simple, yet, beautiful in their composition. As you enter the main hall, you’ll first be greeted by a fairly modest guardian mural. Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a single statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The smaller sized main altar statue sits on a red satin pillow and it’s made of wood. And while there is no clear sign of when it was created, it is Gyeongnam Province Material Treasure #314. To the left of this smaller sized golden statue is a mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This beautiful mural is fronted by a statue of the same Bodhisattva, Jijang-bosal. Of note, the ceiling of the main hall is beautifully decorated with pink and golden paper lotus lanterns.

To the right of the main hall is nothing more than the monks quarters; however, out in front of the main hall, on a fog-clear day, are some beautiful views of the mountainside. Between the hermitage’s kitchen and the main hall, as the dog led, are a set of stairs that lead to a set of upper courtyard shrines and shrine halls.

The first shrine to greet you, after you’ve ascended the set of stairs, is a stone sculpture dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal as well as a collection of Buddhist themed figurines left behind by hermitage visitors. To the left of this shrine is a hall dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Around the exterior of this hall are various landscape murals and murals dedicated to the Nahan. As for the interior of the Nahan-jeon, there’s a elegant statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting alone on the main altar. He’s surrounded by equally elegant statues of the various Nahan. And the Nahan statues are backed by two separate murals dedicated to the various Nahan.

To the right of the Gwanseeum-bosal stone statue shrine, and up a set of natural rock stairs, is the crown jewel, in my humble opinion, of Jeongchwiam Hermitage. Through the opening, and next to a beautifully twisted pair of red pines, is the San shin-gak/Samseong-gak. I know, it’s a bit of a strange name for the shaman shrine hall, but they are the names of the two name plates that hang above the entrance to the single hall. If you decide to enter this hall, you’ll be greeted by the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural to the left and the Dokseong (The Recluse) mural hanging on the far right wall. Slightly askew, and to the right, is a window that looks out onto a shrine dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit). On top of the mountain rests a striking statue dedicated to San shin; however, it’s the painting below it that makes this hermitage truly stand out. The painting, which is also dedicated to San shin, dates back to 1833; and while I know there are a handful of older paintings dedicated to San shin, this is the oldest mural of this shaman deity that I’ve seen in person. It truly is something to behold.

The other thing that you can enjoy from this shaman shrine hall are the scenic views of the valley below and the winding road that you drove up on to get to the hermitage.

Admission to the hermitage is free.

For more on Jeongchwiam Hermitage, follow this link.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Habdong Bus Terminal in Sancheong. From this bus terminal, you’ll have to take a taxi to Jeongchwiam Hermitage. The ride should cost about 10,000 won and take around 25 minutes (or 12 kilometres in distance). Just make sure your taxi driver hangs around after dropping you off; otherwise, it might be a pretty long walk back to the terminal.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. The highlights to this temple is the golden wooden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the main hall, and for me personally, the San shin mural that dates back to 1833. However, the sheer location of the hermitage during a foggy day, the views, and the elegance of the Nahan-jeon make this hermitage a must if you’re in the western part of Gyeongnam Province.

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The temple courtyard as you approach it. In the centre is the diminutive main hall.
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The playful white dog that may follow you around the hermitage grounds.
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A look inside the main hall.
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The historic, yet small, Gwanseeum-bosal that sits on the main altar.
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The Jijang-bosal statue and mural to the left of the main altar inside the main hall.
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The simplistic guardian mural to the right of the main altar.
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The Gwanseeum-bosal shrine as you ascend the stone stairs to the upper courtyard at the hermitage.
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A look over at the Nahan-jeon through a cluster of trees.
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon and the statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) that sits on the main altar.
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A look up at the San shin-gak and past the Gwanseeum-bosal shrine.
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Through the twisted red pines, you’ll be able to see the lower courtyard from the San shin-gak.
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Finally, a look at the San shin (The Mountain Spirit) shrine at Jeongchwiam Hermitage.
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And a look at the mural of San shin that dates back to 1833.
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The darkened view from the San shin-gak.
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And a look over at the twisting road that leads you home.