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Suwon‘s 5.74 Km UNESCO World Heritage Hwaseong Fortress — within its stony confines — offers a glimpse into Korea’s royal past. As with most world heritage sites, the town around the wall hasn’t stopped for time. The whirr of motorised vehicles and rush of everyday traffic dominate the scene, leaving behind nuggets of the old world, in a state of confusion, in-between the crossroads of time. After surrendering to the heat and covering more than half the wall on the Hwaseong Train, we reached the Archery Training Grounds. Continuing from where I left off in my last post…
Traditional Korean Archery
Many excited tourists were queuing to try their luck with the bow, not Basil though. He didn’t seem to be the least bit interested in the event. And I’ve never been known for my sporting/athletic/target skills. So, we sat for a while, turned spectators, and watched tourists double up as participants and test out their skills with the target. A coach instructed participants to hold the bow and arrow, and aim for the target in front of them (probably, half way through the length of the field). It was refreshing to see men and women compete together, on the same platform, and for a woman to emerge as the winner in this informal competition of sorts.
Interestingly, this was the second archery field that we’d seen in Korea; the first being located in Namsam Park (Seoul). And it’s fascinating how an ancient form of warfare has successfully morphed into a sporting activity — widely practiced in Korea and the world. Incidentally, our visit to Suwon coincided with the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Weeks later, not surprisingly, the Korean Archery Team would swipe ‘Gold’ for archery.
Walking Along the Wall
Having feeling sufficiently rested, under the shade, of the tourist shop and with the sun taking a temporary break behind the clouds; we decided to put our feet to good use, to complete the rest of the wall. At a significant elevation from the archery field below, the wall offered vantage views of the burgeoning city, beyond its brick confines, and wide expanse of green within the archery field. Unlike the earlier section of the wall, this part was largely flat, without many undulations, making it easy: to enjoy a walk under the blue sky above, cool wind in our hair, vast patch of green space in front of us, and a sneak peek into Korea’s distant past.
Dongjangdae Command Post (Eastern Command Post)
Back in the day, the eastern command post of Hwaseong Fortress, (the other being Seojangdae Command Post), served as the vantage viewing point for guards to keep a watchful eye on the interior of the fortress and doubled as a training ground for practicing martial arts.
This eastern command post lit up under the light of the afternoon sun. Like most Korean royal rooftops, we’d seen earlier, the side underneath the rooftop tiles was a melange of colours — with cooler hues of blue dominating the ceiling. A group of Chinese tourists, dressed in matching clothes, mixed their rest times with group selfies. Their personal guide explained the significance of this post. While Basil tried to get the shots, he’d be proud of, I let my mind escape into a void. The cold stone brick that we sat on and the wide expanse in front of me — was all that I needed.
We continued walking towards the next outpost. Unlike our morning train ride, which covered the outer section of the wall, our walk gave us a fleeting glimpse of what ‘life’ must have been like on the ‘inside’ of the stony confines of the fortress. It wasn’t hard to see, two worlds existed: one within the wall; the other — on the outside — in which time had passed at a frighteningly fast pace into the future. Clearly, walls ‘cut’ off more than they can bridge.
Dongbukgongsimdon (Observation Tower)
Gongsimdon or observation point was one of the new features to be introduced, for the first time, at Hwaseong fortress.
And probably what I love about these outposts, is that, it gives a traveller a glimpse into the life of a guard, trying to fight off: sleep, the cold, or (in our case) the heat, whilst trying to keep a lookout for attackers — lurking beyond the woods. Takes me back to my childhood, when we played toy soldiers, and battles didn’t seem so bad. However, in the real world, now that I see things as a ‘grown-up’, I realise how difficult war can be.
As we walked across the length of the wall and covered the wide expanse of the archery field, we saw modernity make an appearance, in the form of a busy tarred road. From this point, it was easy to get a bird’s eye view of the old and the new — at a distance.
Dongbuknodae Crossbow platform
Built at an a slight elevation above the rest of the wall, the Crossbow Platform, enabled archers to fire arrows in the event of an attack. The stony tiled walls prove to be quite an excellent primary defence for the guards defending the fortress.
Next on the list, was the eastern gate on Hwaseong, Changnyongmun. The tower of this gate was destroyed during the Korean War, but was subsequently restored. Etched on the inner face of the defence gate — are the names of the original builders.
The Rest of the Wall
It was nearing 1 pm and the sun came out of the cloud cover. The heat was beginning to take a toll on us. Fortunately, the rest of the walk, was dotted by temporary shade — under the rooftops — of Sentry Posts and Bastions. The city, on the left, was growing closer, and we knew: it wouldn’t be long before we’d have left the old world.
Basil made a slight detour away from the wall, into the quaint village below. Art exhibits lined bushes and benches were calling out to us. It was tempting to take a small break. But we carried on.
After passing the Bongdon Beacon Mound, Basil shut his camera, and put it away. I guess, the heat eventually caught up.
As we walked passed Dongnamgaknu Pavilion (the last outpost on the eastern side of wall) and walked down the stairs; before us, we could see how the wall snakes out and continues to the other end (our starting point).
We took a break to watch a grey heron (best guess) enjoy the warmth of the sun, as we enjoyed our moderate success at completing the walk along the wall.
As we exited the wall, into the city, we traced our steps back to Jidong Market. It was nearing 1 pm and we had, both, worked up an appetite. However from the outer edges of the market, it looked more like a meat market (scary visuals of severed animal heads dissuaded me from exploring further) with very few eateries inside. So, we gave it a miss.
A narrow flight of stairs lead us towards an exhibition of clay works by some really talented local artists.
The narrow street from Jidong Market joins Paldalmun Market ahead. Paldalmun Market reminded me of Gwangjang Market in Seoul. It was tempting to get lost in the maze of clothes, dried fish, and whiff of food. Most of the stalls were crowded with little or no place to sit. A lady from one of the stalls called out to us. She gave us a taste of local desert bread and Basil was sold out instantly. We packed some for later and entered Daiso.
Daiso is the point where three eastern giants meet and try to keep their checkered history — a thing of the past. Daiso is a global Japanese brand, loved by Koreans (or anyone living in Korea, including me), and has an overwhelming number of its products made in China.
We head back to the street of the Tourism Information Centre and were happy to choose from a plethora of dining options. After a good meal and some rest, we tried to figure the route, to the next stop of the day — our hotel.