Friday, June 22, 2012

[News/Press Article] Hiking Palgongsan, the path to Gatbawi

If you live around Daegu, you have probably heard of Gatbawi before. It is a Buddhist statue on the top of Palgongsan. The reason it is so popular is that the Buddha was carved from a single piece of granite and has a giant stone hat on its head. The statue is 4 m tall, and it has inspired a great deal of folklore due it its huge size and remote location. If you want a taste of Korean hiking or want to see an amazing Buddhist statue without leaving Daegu, Gatbawi is the ideal spot.

Getting there is pretty easy, you can take a Daegu City Tour bus or a regular city bus. If you want a more relaxing trip, a bus that has set drop off and pick up times, or the chance to see many sights in one day, I recommend the Daegu City Tour. You can buy a day pass from the Tourist Information Center right outside of the Dongdaegu KTX Station, which is about 5,000 won. If you’re from out of own, this is the easiest way - just leave the train station and get a bus.

Your other choice is a city bus. The 401’s last stop will take you to the base of the trail, but it is often crowded. You should expect to stand on the bus because most people will take this option. It is only 1,200 won, which you pay on the bus. To head home, expect a long line of hikers waiting to take the bus down. I have had to wait for three of four buses to fill up before given a place to stand on the ride down. 

When you get off the bus, just follow the crowd. They will walk out of the parking lot and up to the sidewalk, which will lead to a trail. The beginning is a steep paved road, with little trees surrounded by stacked up stones.

As for the trail itself, it isn’t too strenuous. Compared to most climbing in Korea, it is fairly easy, but bear in mind that they use a lot of stone steps and steep inclines that have been paved over. You will want to make sure you’re wearing good shoes, but don’t let the hike discourage you! There are many places to stop and rest along the way. Most people, even those who do not hike, should be able to finish the walk up.

After 1.2 km, you will come to a beautiful temple. It is a great spot to rest, take some pictures, and enjoy the view. Oftentimes temples will be decorated throughout the year for different holidays, so each time you come, it may look a little different. Make sure you get some water from the temple fountains to fill up your water bottles!

From this temple, there are two trails. There is a longer, winding trail that I took up. It is less crowded, since the trail itself is wider. The other option is a steep staircase going straight up the mountain. It is much more narrow, and we took it going down. Choose wisely, but both will get you to the top eventually!

Finally, you will see Gatbawi. Expect a lot of Korean hikers to be performing rituals in front of the statue. I found it interesting to watch them doing the 108 bows and using the Buddhist prayer beads, but also needed to be careful to stay out of their way and not interfere for the sake of a picture. As crowded as the trails may be and as many tourists come just to see the statue, many are their to worship, mediate and reflect, which makes the sight even more memorable to me.

Find more information on the Daegu City Tour bus here:

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