CONTRIBUTED BY JANVIKA SHAH
Bored of hiking Apsan or desire a particular wish to come true? If so, consider hiking Mt. Palgongsan to one of the peaks, Gwanbong (850 meters above sea level.) Although there are several trails within Palgongsan National Park, the most popular ones lead you to Gwanbong peak to see the four-meter high famous Gatwabi Buddha.
The name Gatwabi comes from the word ‘gat,’ translating to a Korean hat and the word ‘bawi,’ to a flat rock. Carved from a single piece of granite rock in the 9th century during the United Silla period, Gatwabi is known for making your deepest single wish come true. That being said, Koreans from all over the nation make the pilgrimage to Gatwabi to either place a coin around the statue, offer prayers through repeated bowing or both.
Surprisingly, the trailhead wasn’t very crowded on April 18th when my friends and I decided to go. We left Daegu at around 9:30am from the subway station, Ayanggyo, on the 401 local bus to Donghwasa Temple. The ride was approximately 45 minutes there and back. We did have to stand on the way there but were granted seats on the return journey.
The climb wasn’t very strenuous and compared to Apsan’s two kilometer climb. Along the way, we were cheerfully greeted by Korean hikers and had the chance to buy roasted chestnuts or sesame candy. The trail forked at the top and to the right, there was a beautiful temple and an overlook point, offering a beautiful landscape dotted with pink azaleas.
After exploring the temple and a site with at least a hundred mini Buddha statues, we backtracked and followed the short ascent to pay our respects to the famous Gatwabi. Upon arrival, at least a hundred Korean hikers in their neon colored outfits were bowing repeatedly in an organized square to Gatwabi under a ceiling of multicolored paper lanterns.
After receiving a complimentary chunk of rice cake handed out at the foot of Gatwabi, we grabbed a nearby mat and began our bowing. It seemed like the right thing to do at that moment. I lost count of how many bows I did but felt my body flow and with this session, came floods of gratitude and peace. Bowing is completely optional. Others came to take pictures of the landscape below or the statue.
Gatwabi was indeed impressive, towering not in an ominous way but in a way that made you feel secure and at peace. After placing a coin for good luck, we started to head out just as the short burst of rain calmed down to a drizzle.
One of the trails pointed out a path to Daegu! I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take to hike from Gatwabi all the way to Daegu. Maybe one adventurous Saturday, I’ll find out. The park is adjacent to Daegu so the geography makes sense.
At the bottom, we sampled ‘Biji Jjgae’ that one of my friend’s students insisted we try at Palgongsan. Biji Jigae is a creamy stew consisting of soybean pulp or the remainders of another soybean dish. I do believe it’s an acquired taste and thought it smelled like old shoes. However, I was hungry and ate almost all of it. I can see it being a winter comfort food, especially fattened with some pork meat! To return to Daegu, we just hopped onto the 401 bus of which three were parked at the park entrance where we arrived that morning. All in all, Palgongsan was a quick yet satisfying hike outside of Daegu with plenty to see along the way.