|Baemsa-gol Scenic Valley and Samdo-bong Peak:
our May 2006 hike 뱀사골 & 삼도봉
in the Northwest Sector of Jiri-san (below Banya-bong Peak)
|Baemsa-gol or Python Valley is
famed for its beauty, with 1000
waterfalls and several legends.
Baemsa-gol runs south-to-north from the the main ridge of Jiri-san National Park, just east of Samdo-
bong Peak, nine kilometers straight down to the remote inner-NW sector, where it meets the Mansu-
cheon Stream and a mountain-road providing a trailhead at Banseon Village. The trail is excellent, a
good road for the first two km (until it turns east up to the hamlet of Waun, where there are a few minbak and
restaurants; the folk-art in the center above is in Waun-ri); the hike takes about four hours one-way. It's rare
geography leaves it extremely frozen over a long winter, and unusually cool in Summer. Baemsa-gol is
visited by few tourists and hikers compared to it's more-famous brothers on the southern slopes of
these mountains, but those who do walk up it often proclaim it the most beautiful and charming of all.
The vast slopes above the gorge to the east and west appear to be unspoiled wilderness, visited by
none but herb-gatherers and ginseng-hunters. There are not now any Buddhist temples or Shamanic
shrine-buildings in Baemsa-gol or at its mouth, which is pretty unusual -- but records indicate that in the
Unified Shilla Dynasty there was a small monastery named Songrim-sa [Pine-Forest Temple] in or
close to Banseon Village across from where the valley begins, although no traces of it remain today.
The Cheonnyeon Song-namu [Millenium Pine-tree] stands dramatically
above Waun Village, and serves as its guardian deity. it is rumored to
have been growing here since the launch of the Goryeo Dynasty (935).
|(painting is from a National
Park info-sign at this site)
However, the story goes on to say that the new leaders of Songrim-sa were too greedy to enjoy the
fame brought to them by this event, and so developed a custom whereby an exemplary virtuous
monk was selected every summer, and sent up into the valley on Chilseok [the Seventh Day of the
Seventh Moon, a traditional folk-holiday] to fervently chant, in hopes of also becoming a Shinseon or
even a Sanshin. They had the selected monks conduct this ritual not at the sacred Cheseung-dae
rock higher up in the valley, however, but at the lower Shinseon-dae [Spirit-Immortal Platform] rock
next to Yongso Pool (pictured below with my friend Shawn), a site with powers more shamanic than
Buddhist. The selected monk never returned to the temple at any rate, and so people believed that
he had indeed achieved immortality. Therefore, this event grew in reputation over the centuries,
becoming a kind of festival that attracted a fair number of people, offering plentiful donations.
During the reign of King Seonjo of the Joseon Dynasty (late 1500s) the great meditation-master Seosan-
daesa visited here and heard this story. He thought that it could not be true, as it would be too easy of a way
for people to achieve perfection and bliss, becoming godlike, without going through the usual Buddhist path of
many years of focused meditation in auspicious places. So, he decided to expose what he suspected was
really going on. When that year's virtuous monk had been selected, Seosan-daesa personally congratulated
him, and managed to slip of pouch of powerful poison into that monk's robes unnoticed. When that monk
hiked up to the Sinseondae-seok to do his chanting, Seosan followed him and hid nearby to watch him.
After midnight, there was a great roiling in the Yongso Pool and a huge python rose out of it, attacking and
swallowing the unfortunate monk. However, the pouch in the monk's robes ruptured and the powerful poison
killed the python. Seosan returned to the festival in Songrim-sa and announced to everyone that the temple
had deceived the people and sacrificed good monks to the python for 900 years, out of greed. The next
morning, the outraged people hiked up to Sinseondae-seok and found the monk and python lying dead.
Ever since then Koreans have called this entire long gorge Baemsa-gol [Python Valley]. Songrim-sa was
abolished due to the ignorant evil that had been committed there, and the area was renamed Banseon-ri
[Half-Immortal Village], referring to the sincere monks who had tried to become Mountain-spirits in the wrong
location, only to fall prey to the python.
Samdo-bong [Three Provinces Peak]
(1499 meters altitude) is where the border of South
Gyeongsang meets with those of North and South
Jeolla. It's a short but steep climb up from where
the Baemsa-gol trail crests the main ridge of Jiri-san.
The older name of this peak, still on some maps, is Nallari-
bong. A nal-la-li was a woodwind instrument shaped like a
clarinet, but with a trumpet-like sound, known all across Asia
as a Zurna, ancestor of the European Shawm.
Although Baemsa-gol is so pretty, its name comes from a dark, gory and meaningful legend.
As said, there probably was there was a small monastery named Songrim-sa [Pine-Forest Temple] in or close
to Banseon Village across from where the valley begins about 1300 years ago. It is said that a great senior
monk named Cheongjin used to sit in deep meditation on a flat rock in the upper narrows of this deep long gorge,
strenuously chanting for the salvation and enlightenment of all beings. The local people believed that this practice
had great spiritual power and beneficial effects, and so highly respected Cheongjin. One night he disappeared
from this mortal realm, becoming a Shinseon or even a Sanshin (this really means achieving spiritual immortality
and powers), a great honor among Buddhists. Monks and common people ever since have called this rock
(photos & painting below) Cheseung-dae [Platform for Monastic Ritual] and regarded it as a holy place.