Sunday, February 10, 2008

RIP: Namdaemun

RIP, Namdaemun is all i can say. Honestly it disgusts me that such a wonderful building which took ages to build, should be so callously neglected by the Government.

Is this how you take care of National Treasure #1? Shame.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Namdaemun Gate

Close to the city Hall, is the Namdaemun Gate, one of Seoul's ancient Gates. Built during the Joseon Dynasty reign, its name means "Southern Gate". Officially it is called as Sungneymun or "The Gate of the Exalted Ceremonies". Made of wood, this 2-Tiered Structure was meant to greet foreign emissaries and keep out Korean tigers( now an extinct species). Damaged during the Japanese occupation and Korean war, the Gate was restored to it's status in 1962 and designated as Korea's National Treasure #1.

The Gate itself is a wonderful specimen of Korean architecture with intricately covered carvings, and wooden pavilions.

Yeah and you can also go back in time, to get yourself photographed with a Korean Guard. The gate has a changing of Guard ceremony at Noon.

Namdaemun Market close by reminded me of the bazaars in Good Ole India, crowded, noisy, with peddlers selling everything from antiques to medicinal herbs. Particularly the Ginseng section.

N.Seoul Tower

The trip which started with Seoul City Hall, Namdaemun Gate and continued with Tower 63 finally came to an end in the evening with N.Seoul Tower at Myeong Dong located on the Namsan Mountain. You could either drive up the mountain, hike up the stairs or take the cable car. Since me and Mallik had been roaming around all day, our legs were in no position to climb up and so we took the cable car. This tower also popularly called as Namsan Tower, is 774 ft high and is located at an altitude of 1574 ft.

If you do want the best view of Seoul, i would strongly recommend this tower. And i would advise you to visit it during the evening time. Unfortunately our camera was not good enough to capture the view, but its magical in a word. We first took the cable car to the base of the tower. As the cable car moved across the wooded hills and hikers climbing up the steps, was reminded of Where Eagles Dare.

By the time we reached the tower base, it had begun to drizzle. We took out our umbrellas, and had a good night view of Seoul. But it was the next that really was enthralling. We took the elevator up to the top of the tower, and there was an observation Gallery. It was evening 8 PM and as we saw the lights of Seoul, the view was just magical.

63 Tower and the Han River Park

After the morning visit of Seoul City Hall and Namdaemun Gate, me and my friend Mallik, decided to hit it to the famous 63 Tower. Though not the tallest building in Seoul, it has more or less come to represent Seoul's skyline the way the Empire State Building has done for New York or the Sears Tower for Chicago. It is located in Yeoido Dong, which is an island on the Han River. The Yeoinaru station is remarkable, in the fact that it's built under the Han River, and is located at a depth of 90.4 feet below sea level.
As we get out of the station, there is this lovely park by the side of the Han River. Most of my views on the Han River, were from the train, but this was the first time, i was seeing it up close. The park itself was quite beautiful.
After relaxing for some time on the park, we finally hit it to the famed 63 Tower. The official name of this building is the Daehan Life Insurance Building, but every one refers to this as 63 building. The lower floor here contains an Imax Theater and an Aquarium. But this one was not as good as the COEX Mall Aquarium.

And then we took the ride up the Sky Deck to the top most floor. Some of the views were really dizzying.
There is an observation deck on the top from where one can have a great view of Seoul, as also a photo gallery, where you can shoot your pics.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Seokguram Grotto

4 km east of the Bulguksa temple on the same mountain ranges, lies the Seokguram Grotto. Apart from the Buddhist temple, this grotto, lying 750 m above sea level, offers a very clear view of the Sea of Japan in the distance. Many people visit this place to get a spectacular view of the sunrise over the sea, as well as the beautiful countryside. Unlike India and China, which came up with the concept of carving Buddha icons in caves and stone walls, the hard granite facade of the Korean hills makes it difficult to carve any images. In this aspect Seokguram Grotto is unique as it was totally carved from granite. The grotto is believed to be a symbol of the final journey into Nirvana. The main Buddha statue is around 3.5 m in height and sits on a lotus pedestal. The Sakyamuni form of Buddha is one representing the phase of enlightenment.

The Buddhist sculpture here has a heavy Indian influence, including the drapery of the folds, suggesting exchanges between India and Korea in the past. Among the statues surrounding the main Buddha are also the two Hindu gods Brahma and Indra. Like Hinduism, Korean Buddhism also has the concept of the Guardian Deities of the 8 directions. Buddhism however annoints the 4 main Guardian spirits or Lokapala( Cheonwang in Korean). The Korean names are Damun Cheonwang( Kubera) in the North, Jeungjang Cheonwang (Vir┼źdaka) in South, Jiguk Cheonwang(Dhatarastra) in East and Gwangmok Cheonwang( Virupaksa) in the West.

Bulguksa Temple

One of the 7 National Treasures of Korea, it also is the site of 2 more national treasures, the Dabotap and Seogkatap stone pagodas. It has also been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and is currently one of main temples of the Jogyesa order, which is the main form of Buddhism in Korea. Located on the slopes of the Tohamsan mountain, the entrance to the temple itself has been designated as a National Treasure. Called as Sokgyemun, this consists of two bridges Cheongungyo and Baegungyo. This in turn leads to the Stairway to Heaven, that consists of 33 steps, representing the 33 steps to enlightement. Inside the temple we have the two afore mentioned pagodas.
The Seokgatap Pagoda is also called as Sakyamuni Pagoda. Standing at a height of 8.2 m, the pagoda has basically a very simple design, and is one of the more prominent landmarks in Korea. The Dabotap Pagoda standing at a height of 10.4 m, is very ornately decorated, unlike other Buddhist pagodas. The roof of the pagoda is octagonal shaped, and it has a staircase on each of it's 4 sides. The Dabotap and Seogkatap pagodas together represent the physical and the spiritual world. The main shrine Gwaneumjeon houses the Avalokiteshvara incarnation of the Buddha, while the Geuknakjeon shrine houses the famous gilt-bronze Buddha.

Silla Tombs

One of the most famous sites in Gyeongju are the famous Silla Tombs. Like the Pyramids, these tombs are the burial mounds for famous emperors and nobility. Most of these tombs are shaped like small hillocks. The shape of the Tombs is due to the Korean belief, that when a person dies he returns to the womb of the earth. Hence the distinctive womb like shape. The size of the tombs varies based on the rank of the person. One of the interesting tombs we visited was the Heavenly Horse Tomb, which is for an unknown king of the Silla Dynasty. Also called as Cheonmachong, this tomb contains many precious items like gold crowns, girdles, jade beads etc.