South Korea // Gyeongsang //

Golgulsa and Girimsa

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On the way to see King Munmu and his watery grave, and easily combined as part of a day-trip, you’ll pass a rural spur road leading to two out-of-the-way temples that inhabit a wonderfully unspoilt valley east of Gyeongju. Golgulsa (골굴사) is the nearer of the two, and famed as a centre of seonmudo, a Zen-based martial art. From the bus stop near the village of Andong-ni (#150, the same bus that heads to Munmu), it’s just under 1km to the temple turn-off on the left. It’s all uphill from here, with the track heading past a teahouse before rising into the small complex, from where it becomes even steeper. Backing the complex is a sixth-century Buddha, carved into a cliff navigable on some short but precipitous paths. Though now protected by a monstrous modern structure, a clamber up to the Buddha is essential for the picture-perfect view alone; there are barriers to stop you from going over the edge. Those of an even steelier disposition may like to stay at the temple for some martial arts practice; visit http://www.golgulsa.com for more information.

Five kilometres further down the spur road is Girimsa (기림사), a temple that receives few visitors on account of its location. There are sometimes direct buses from Gyeongju – ask at the tourist office – but it’s quite possible to make the long walk here from Golgulsa: allow at least an hour each way. The road sees little traffic, and the journey is its own reward, with farmland-backed views and the occasional man walking his pet bird of prey while the surrounding rice paddies reverberate to the sound of thousands of frogs. After such majestic countryside, the slightly drab grounds of the temple itself may come as something of a letdown, but it’s a quiet place rarely overrun with visitors. Notable are a couple of statues of the Goddess of Mercy, and a centuries-old Bodhi tree.