Wednesday, July 20, 2016

All Alone On Biseulsan

A few weeks ago I took advantage of a fortunate gap in my work schedule to head down to Biseulsan in the far south of Daegu. I was just looking for something to do and maybe a chance to get some Daegu City Stamp Trail stamps. But I lucked into what turned out to be a rare, surprisingly pleasant day. It just unrolled that way, and I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. I’ll try to relay some of the highlights.

It started in the morning at Dongdaegu Station as I boarded the Daegu City Tour Bus for its Biseulsan Course. It runs only on Tuesdays and Fridays, but as I said, a window opened in my work schedule, and I seized upon the chance to take the bus tour. The bus went to Dodong-seowon first, then skipped the Daegu National Science Museum on a whim, disappointing several passengers. But the upside was that we’d be spending more time at Biseulsan, the last stop, so okay.
So first things first, the bus stopped near some trail heads at the base of Biseulsan, and nearby was a little restaurant. It was around lunchtime, so I went into one for a bite to eat. Their specialty was cheonggukjang (청국장) with a variety of veggie side dishes (반찬) and rice. Cheonggukjang is a stinkier but tastier cousin of doenjang (된장) – weapons-grade doenjang, basically. But I love it, and I love side dishes too, so I applauded my luck at finding this place.

And they had a nice little doggie outside.
Directly behind the restaurant, terraced rice fields went down Biseulsan’s slopes like muddy stairs. I stood and watched a farmer walk along the narrow edges of each paddy. Flooding rice paddies to make the rice grow makes no sense to me and seems fascinatingly difficult, and I wanted to pick his brain. But he seemed to have his hands full, so I turned toward Biseulsan.
The other passengers on the tour bus, decked out in neon hiking garb, piled into an electric-powered shuttle bus which took them directly to the top of the mountain. Full of cheonggukjang and rice, I declined the opportunity to join them, keeping the 8,000-won fee and going off in a contrary direction. I wanted to go to the park administration office and get my stamp.
And I got the stamp after a 20-minute walk up and down some hills. I had the road to myself, as it is closed to most traffic and it was Tuesday anyway. I took my time, stopping to admire the azaleas, Biseulsan’s most famous attraction, and the bees hard at work collecting nectar.
And then the day’s charms really blossomed. Now, I’m a nice guy and I enjoy living in cities. But I was raised in the countryside, in the hills of West Virginia. I thrill to find myself alone in the thick of rustling trees and birdsong; it’s my native habitat. And Biseulsan happily obliged!

I saw a couple of workers at the administration office, but after that I didn’t see a soul for over an hour, which in Korea is quite a rarity even in a large mountain park (or especially in a large mountain park!). It was just me, countless magpies and cuckoo birds and woodpeckers, and the most wonderfully landscaped footpaths I’ve seen in this area.
Actually, I came to this very part of Biseulsan years ago, when I first arrived in Daegu and worked at a small elementary in nearby Bansong-ri. The school was small (35 students in all – yes, total), so the school took frequent trips to Biseulsan just because. The valley would be alive with kids chattering and running around, and it was very nice then too. I never imagine I would have the run of the place all to myself! What a difference!
A stream flows down along the footpath, and along its course are tables for picnics and a maybe a nap. But the afternoon was a bit hot for mid-spring, and I was wearing plastic sandals anyway, so naturally I kicked off the sandals and walked right in. There was a plastic water bottle caught in a small whirlpool. It was the only piece of trash I had seen there, and I felt inclined to go get it. And I wanted to torment the minnows darting about.
Time was running out and I had to walk back to the parking lot, so reluctantly I had to go back. But something caught my eye, and I had to detour slightly to check it out. It was just a temple, not terribly different from any other you’re likely to see in Korea. But I was in a whimsical mood, so I figured why not have a look.

I tend to tip-toe a bit when I go to a temple; it’s my way of being deferential in such an austere place, I guess. But as I went across the grass among the buildings I came to notice there were no people. Anywhere. Inside or out. The doors of the temple and its shrines were thoughtfully left open, but I didn’t hear a single peep from anyone. Except the birds, of course. Another rarity! A colorful, serene temple all to myself. Lucky guy, I thought. I snooped around for about 20 minutes before prying myself away to catch the bus.
There’s no way to guarantee you would have the same good fortune as I had on my trip to Biseulsan. It was an odd stroke of luck, I think, and I’m certainly aware of the fact. It was such a great day, full of pleasant and natural beauty.

But certainly make an effort to visit Biseulsan when and if you can. It’s not as frequented as Apsan or as popular as Palgongsan, but anyone willing to make the trip all the way down there will find that that is the key to its charm.

The easiest way to Biseulsan is to take the City Tour Bus, as I did. It only goes to Biseulsan on Tuesdays and Fridays, but for 5,000 won the ticket is worth the speed and convenience! Otherwise, there are a few city buses to take (the 600, and a couple of rapid buses), but they take literally hours in some cases. Of course, driving there is always possible.

And if you’re up to it, hike your way back from Biseulsan to Apsan. It’s only about 22km and 8 or 10 hours of hiking! I did it once, and it was great, but never again!

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