The cherry blossoms have faded away, trees have got new leaves, and warm days are around the corner. This period opens a fantastic gateway to exploring Korean mountains. Last year, a heat wave swept across the country (like many other parts of Asia) making it extremely difficult to hike or even travel. That’s when, you look forward to those cloudy days and forecasts of rain to break the jinx. The popular mountains are always crowded over the weekends or public holidays. Inwangsan, at 338m, doesn’t top every hiker’s list and is perfect for a summer hike or to find solitude in its rocky outcrops.
We chose the trail that starts from Dongnimmun Station (subway line number 3, exit 1). It’s a little confusing from here. It makes sense to take a cab — if you’re in a hurry. We crossed the street, following the peak of the mountain and couldn’t find an entry path. After a few enquiries, we crossed the street again and found the signboard pointing towards Tongil Street — a back-alleyway.
On a Sunday morning, most of the shops were shut, and the narrow lanes wore a deserted look. We kept following the path without a clue of where it would take us. After 10 minutes, we reached a dead end of sorts. The owner of a coffee shop prodded us to climb a narrow flight of stairs. The path becomes more evident from here.
The path curves and rises steeply as you reach the entrance of Inwangsan Temple. Few cars were parked and we could hear the soothing sounds of prayer.
Beautiful painted murals adorn the walls leading up the path of steps. Guksadong, a small shrine, was shifted from Namsan to Inwangsan during Japanese rule. This shrine is the seat of Shamanistic Rituals.
It’s rare to witness a near deserted hiking trail in Korea. Occasionally, bird sounds would break the chants of prayer gongs or we’d see a cat staring at us. We climbed toward Seonbawi (Meditating Rock), also known as Gijaam, believed to have the unique ability to grant the wish of bearing a child. By now, the sun had come out and the skies started to clear.
The trail narrows to a couple of sketchy carvings on the rocky face of the mountain. If you have a fear of heights: this can be your moment of truth. There’s a lone rock that juts out and it takes some grit to stand on it (the first picture above). So far, I was happy to cling to any piece of tree or stone.
From thereon, you’re kind of on your fours to climb up or if you’re like me — it would seem like the only way to move forward. A couple, probably in their sixties, were descending down this trail and I was amazed by their grit. I wouldn’t want to descend a trail that gives me an idea of the depth below.
It was good to reach a point where the trail flattened out. There’s another rocky outcrop, from where you can get a bird’s eye view of Seoul below. This time, I mustered some courage, and tried to face my worst nightmare — to stand on top of a rock with no support. And, there was a moment, when I felt, that I wouldn’t stand up from the crouching position. I think, it’s like tearing off a band-aid; once you’ve done it, you think you can do anything. Eventually, the adrenaline will make believe that you rule the world. I wish Basil had got some regal shots of me, like the one I took (above) of him. Since, he wanted to capture the true reality of the situation; I’d have to let your imagination take over instead.
I thought we’d reached the summit. But, there was lots more to go and the Ancient City Wall hadn’t even shown up yet. I think, we may have got a bit lost at this point. We followed the bare path and couldn’t find a route. Meanwhile, in the background, the clouds were taking over the clear skies. The route (up) lead to a defence transmitter and the other — towards a small shrine. A lady (at the shrine) spotted us and shouted to keep to the trail –hidden beneath trees and rocks. We finally made it to the wooden walkway and saw other hikers descending.
The wooden walkway joins an observation point and a series of stairs running parallel along the Fortress Wall (Seoul City Wall) or Hanyangdoseong. The Seoul City Wall runs along the ridge of four guardian mountains namely: Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. With this hike, we had completed the city wall trail along all four mountains.
The view of Hanyangdoseong or the Seoul City Wall — from above — looked stunning. As we climbed towards the top; the city slowly faded below. A section of the wall is patrolled by guards and although you won’t require passports; it’s best to follow the rules and not click pictures from this section of the trail. It might be tempting to click the stunning view of Gyeongbokgung Palace below; but, believe me, the guards are watching every movement of yours.
As you approach the summit, the trail gets a little tricky. En route, hikers greeted us — making the climb more enjoyable. At the summit, an elderly Korean man offered us some traditional sweets made by his wife. We chatted and laughed for a bit. Experiences like these — make hiking in Korea — truly worth every drop of sweat you’d drip. The views were spectacular and by this point — I didn’t feel anxious of the height.
We began our descent and the trail took us under huge rocks and lead us to the ancient Fortress Wall again. It felt great to get an idea of how far above we’d been.
Once you hit the trail of wooden stairs; it’s pretty simple. We followed the signboard and kept walking in the direction of Changuimun. On exiting the trail, we crossed the street and walked into a recreational park. At the end of the green space, we reached the area that lead to Changuimun — the starting point of the Bugaksan Trail. I vaguely remembered this section, from our earlier hike, and we boarded a bus to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
We stepped-off at Sejong Village Food Street and followed Korean post-hike traditions by eating Pajeon (Korean onion pancake) and drinking Makgeolli (traditional rice wine) to celebrate our hike.