the Rooster-Dragon Mountain
one of Korea's most sacred areas
Shindo-an was Gyeryong-san's traditionally-most-sacred area, the large valley at the
southern foot of Heavenly-King Summit (see map below), was initially favored for the
site of the capital city of the Goryeo Dynasty in 935 CE (and so Gaetae-sa Temple was
built just to the south) and was briefly chosen by pungsu-jiri geomancers as the site of
the capital city of the Joseon Dynasty in 1390 CE (foundation stones were laid just before
Founding-King Taejo Yi changed his mind and made Hanyang/Seoul his new capital, following the
advice of geomancy-master-monk Muhak-daesa, who based it on his new interpretation of the
advice/prophescy of Doseon-guksa). This holy southern valley was taken over as the
headquarters base of the Korean Army in the late 1970s, and is closed to the public.
For that reason the main peak, which has military and civilian communications-towers
on it, was not usually open; it is more accessible these days.
the modern monument on
Gwaneum-bong [Bodhisattva of
Compassion Peak], 816 meters
|MAP of the Gyeryong-san Region:
Gyeryong-san has been one of Korea's most sacred mountains since ancient times.
It was the central holy mountain of the Baekje Kingdom, the Western Peak of the
O-ak system of the Unified Shilla and Goryeo Dynasties, and the Central Peak of
the Sam-ak system of the Joseon Dynasty. It's not very high at all -- the summit is
Cheonhwang-bong [Heavenly-King Peak] at only 848 meters -- but it stands out
prominently on the West Coast flatlands where few mountains top 1000 m. It has
a half-dozen other main peaks, mostly with classical Buddhist names.
The name means "Rooster-Dragon Mountain", given because of the way it looks --
the main ridge winds around like a dragon's body, and the 20 or so sharp peaks
along it resemble a cockscomb when viewed from a distance. Both the Rooster and
the Dragon are members of the Twelve Symbolic Animals of the Oriental Zodiac,
and thus the name has deeper resonant meanings. That "gye" can also be read as
"phoenix" -- the firebird that serves as mythical-heavenly-animal counterpart to the Blue
Dragon -- and then the "Dragon-Phoenix Mountain" has a profound Yin-Yang meaning.
Several dynasties have planned or attempted to build their capital here,
and it has always attracted a wide variety of religious enthusiasm to its slopes.
Gyeryong-san is now the most-heavily-visited attraction in South Chungcheong Province,
located just west of Daejeon City (a few km southwest of the famous Yuseong Hot Spings District) and
easily accessible from the expressways. In 1968 it became the second area designated as a
National Park, with 61 square kilometers of territory. It features three main ancient Buddhist
temples -- Gap-sa (one of the oldest existing temples in Korea), Donghak-sa (the secondary main
study-temple for the nation's female monks) and Shinwon-sa (featuring the largest & fanciest pre-modern
Sanshin-gak in Korea) -- and dozens of fascinating hermitages and shamanic shrines.
The rest of the park is crisscrossed with a dozen main hiking trails, often crowded. Three
fine waterfalls grace the valleys, one in the center, one in the south (closed to the public)
and the other on the Northwest. The scenery here, combined with profound cultural
treasures, make it one of the best places in Korea to explore. The regions surrounding the
park in every direction are unusually rich with traditional cultural sites for the traveler to enjoy.
The name "Gyeryong" may have been derived from the myth of Alyeong,
the first queen of the Shilla Kingdom, as told in the Samguk Yusa.
When Founding-King Bak Hyeok-geose was born (hatched from a giant egg
found next to the Na-jeong Well on sacred Mt. Nam-san, in Saro village-valley
that became Gyeongju), the elders decided that a suitable wife needed to be
found. On that day, in Saryang village there appeared a strange creature that
was a cross between a rooster and a dragon, called a gye-ryong [Korean
pronunciation of chinese characters for "chicken" and "dragon"). From its
left side a girl was born (similar to the myth of Sakyamuni Buddha being
born from his mother's right side; and similar also to the Jewish myth of Eve?).
She was a beautiful child, but she had the beak of a chicken. When she was
taken to be bathed, however, the beak fell off. The child took her name from
the Alyeong well next to which she was born, and she was married to Bak
Hyeok-geose when she reached the age of thirteen.
|Sambul-bong the Three Buddhas Peaks as seen from Gap-sa Temple to their northwest, in September 2012
|From Left, Shinseon-bong [Spirit-Immortal Peak], the triple Sambul-bong and Sujeong-bong peaks, as seen from Gap-sa Temple
to their northwest, in September 2012. Gwaneum-bong [Bodhisattva of Compassion Peak] is hidden behind Sujeong, in this shot.
|Hiking MAP of Gyeryong-san, seen from the East: