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South Korea: Seokguram Grotto

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Seokguram Grotto > South Korea > Asia

[Visited: December 2008]

After visiting the overwhelming richness of Bulguksa, I decided to take advantage of the fine winter weather and started walking up the road to Seokguram. Very soon, I got very warm, so I stopped and took off my coat and sweater, and continued walking in just a T-shirt, even though the temperature was just above freezing. The sun was strong enough to make me warm; apart from that, walking up at a high speed made me warm all my myself. While Bulguksa had been full of visitors, the path up to Seokguram was virtually empty. Until I reached the parking lot, that is: most people decide to take a car, taxi or bus to cover most of the way up. From there, it is an easy few hundreds metres more to reach Seokguram itself.

Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Looking towards the East Sea from Seokguram

The path ended at a plaza in the forest on the slopes of Mount Tohamsan, allowing for a great view of the landscape lying up to 700 metres below, all the way until the East Sea. A souvenir shop and a fountain with plastic mugs allowing the thirsty visitor to replenish liquids lost on the ascent of the climb are on the plaza; a little higher up, you can see some old remains of the original structures at the site. The star of Seokguram is the sculpted image of the Sakyamuni Buddha. To reach it, you have to climb the stairs until you come to the wooden entrance, behind which you can already discern the grotto. In fact, this grotto was man-made in the 8th century, using granite blocks taken up the mountain all the way to the present location.

Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Part of the climb to Seokguram Grotto

The idea of the Seokguram Grotto was to make the pilgrim walk up the mountain of Tohamsan, holy to the Silla, have him drink some of the ice cold water that can still be found, and then make him leave every day life and walk the final steps up to the shrine holding the holy image of the Buddha, guarded by heavenly kings, guardian deities, bodhisattvas, ancient Indian gods, and statues along the wall. The rotunda holding the Buddha symbolizes Nirvana. The small size of the grotto, especially compared to the vast complex of Bulguksa, suggests that this shrine was intended for the royals of the Silla period. Nowadays, the huge statue is unfortunately protected by glass that reflects an awful lot of what is behind the visitor, instead of allowing a good view; photography is strictly forbidden. The location is superb, unfortunately, seeing and enjoying the statue itself is made particularly difficult by the setting. Walking back to Bulguksa is an easy downhill walk of just over three kilometres through the woods of Mount Tohamsan.

Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Seokguram Grotto seen from up front
Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Stone finds near Seokguram Grotto
Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Outside view of Seokguram Grotto hiding the enormous Buddha image
Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Buddhist temple close to Seokguram
Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Colourful temple and view from Seokguram
Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Golden Buddha inside sanctuary near Seokguram Grotto
Picture of Seokguram Grotto (South Korea): Stone path leading up to Seokguram Grotto

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