Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hiking to Togulam Hermitage in Apsan Park

Some of Apsan’s most popular trails lead to breathtaking mountaintop views, while others - like the path to Togulam Hermitage - allow you to travel back to a magical place untouched by time. This easy off-the-beaten trail will take you through a less-traveled side of Apsan, alongside old fortress walls, and to a secluded Buddhist hermitage hidden deep in the forest.
There are a couple ways to reach Togulam Hermitage, but wanting something a little more challenging, I chose one of the uphill trails. After climbing up a series of wooden steps and then a somewhat steep rocky incline, the trail soon leveled out. I followed the remains of an old stone fortress wall as it led me deeper into the woods.
About halfway through the trail, the stone wall split to reveal a path leading up to the ruins of a fortress. I continued straight ahead until the dirt trail intersected with a roughly paved road. The breeze picked up ever so slightly, the smell of wood and burning incense, combined with the sound of water trickling melodically down river rocks, drifting gently down the trail. I passed burial mounds, some made of earth and others entirely of rock, and followed a river bed adorned with balancing rocks. 
Perched above a flowering, vine-covered wall and through an arch decorated by brightly-colored paper lanterns blowing in the breeze, was the most idyllic storybook Buddhist complex I have seen. It felt as if I had walked into another world, long since forgotten by time..  
Golden Buddhas peered down benevolently from high above, their presence instantly creating a sense of peace and calm to an already beautiful natural setting. I heard the hushed whispers of people talking and, not wanting to disturb anyone, I tiptoed around the hermitage and continued up the mountain on the path to the left. A few steps onto the trail, I realized how truly special this place was. From this vantage point, I could see a beautiful hidden grotto illuminated by dozens of flickering candles. I could only imagine how much more magical the hermitage would feel at night, glowing brightly against the backdrop of shadowy trees and midnight blue skies. 
After pausing for some time to reflect upon my surroundings, I emerged from this mystical world and returned once more to reality. 

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Trail Description: Under 5km round-trip, easy-to-moderate difficulty, depending on which direction you go. Hike uphill and continue following the stone wall on the left-hand side until the trail intersects with a paved road. Once at the paved road, you should see a sign for Togulam Hermitage. To get back, you can either return the way you came, or follow the signs for Gosangol Office until you loop back around to the start of the trail. Alternately, for a much easier and shorter (though less scenic) hike, you can hike the trail in reverse, starting from the Gosangol Office entrance.

Directions: The trail is accessed just outside the Gosangol park entrance. The entrance to the trail, as described above, is on the street that leads up to the actual park - if you have reached the path lined with trees and restaurants, you have gone too far! Follow the street to the Gosangol entrance, and there will be a break in the stone wall on the left (see above photo) with signs for the fortress, etc. Parking can be found at the Gosangol parking lot or on the street. The start of the trail begins roughly in the area indicated in the map below.

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