Urban development and green cover, often, have to compete with each other, in Seoul city. Although, hiking mountains might not top everyone’s weekend list; it’s always possible to find a patch of green, to take in fresh air and let the whir of city life — take a back seat. Abandoned railway tracks make for excellent parks; running for long stretches, joining neighbouring subway stations, and providing a pathway for lengthy uninterrupted walks. And some spaces of green can dominate the entire neighbourhood and make you forget — once you leave the main gate — an urban jungle awaits you on the outside.
The name ‘Seoul Forest‘ can be misleading. At least, it’s not what I imagine a forest to be. At roughly 1.16 million m², it is the third largest park in Seoul. The sprawling grounds of the park were once the former hunting grounds for royalty. After getting a facelift, the park was opened in 2002, and is segregated into 5 cluster parks. The Cultural Art Park, Ecological Forest, Nature Experience Study Field, Wetlands Ecological Field, and Han River Waterside Park provide plenty of options for exploration. We could cover a very small portion of the park, given the few hours that we had. You’d require a full day and a bike to cover significant ground.
After spending half a day immersed in cultural festivals, we decided to head towards Seoul Forest, for some quiet time. We hopped on (Green) Bus No 13, connecting Oksu subway station to the park, and entered one of the main gates. We made our way over the bridge, offering views of the park below, and high rises in the distance. The patch of green, below, was much like an oasis in a grey desert. On a Sunday evening, the park is teeming with kids, couples, and families. Almost every given spot had an activity in progress. I’d hoped for some quiet time, but didn’t have the energy to walk too far from the entrance.
With no plan in mind, we followed boards, or in hindsight, ignored them. There’s plenty to soothe the eye, if you keep your eyes peeled for beauty. It was the first week of May and every flower or tree tried to put on its best show. Strangely, most flowers didn’t have a characteristic fragrance. What the flowers lacked in fragrance was definitely made up in colour.
Art installations were displayed at regular intervals. For kids, there was plenty to have fun to be had. Monkey bars, rappelling, biking, exploring tunnels, and getting wet in the water were freely available — with or without parental guidance.
We never did make it to the woods. But, from what I saw, I was mildly disappointed. A forest, at least the ones we’ve visited in India, were always filled with abundant wildlife. Big cats were never easy to spot and the dark wooded corridors looked deceptively empty. But, never for a moment, did the feeling of being watched — leave us. When I looked around here, there were more people. It makes a happy picture. Smiling, happy people can cheer you. I won’t deny that. But, I sorely missed, some sign of animal life. To be fair, Seoul Forest, in reality, is a very big park.
By evening, most people started leaving and the park became quieter. I could hear a few bird calls and spot birds — hidden among the branches. Magpies mustered courage to walk around. And the turbid waters, of the lake, made known their secret. Few visitors ignored a signboard and started feeding fish, causing a frenzy below. We stood and peered in silence. The fish knew we were there. We knew, they were there. And yet, all of our interaction, was limited to a blind stare. It’s strange, how we could interact with each other and not speak at all. In the distance, a grey heron (my best guess) basked in the evening sun. It was comfortably secluded from all the fuss, on this side.
As we traced our steps towards the main gate, we tried holding onto, the last few fleeting moments of peace and solitude. We also knew, we’d have to come back.