Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gugok Pokpo (Waterfall)

Today is National Foundation Day, the day when Dangun is said to have founded the Gojoseon Dynasty in 2333 BC. Documentation for this belief is in the famous Samguk Yusa, the book which translates as Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms. And since this day is a national holiday, the roads are crowded with families taking children somewhere or subways packed with the car-less escaping city routines. On this day, it's an act of desperation to go east, south or west out of Seoul - the roads are just too crowded. But now that the subway connects Chuncheon and the mountains to the north, escaping Seoul on the holiday, and in a timely non-road-congested manner is possible. And what a lovely day for ESCAPE!

Gugok Pokpo (Waterfall) also has its own subway stop now. The place looked very different than when I used to visit by bus. I haven't been here for several years, and wow, I was rather surprised. And BTW, for those planning to meet at Gangchon Station, the train station and the subway station are in no way connected. My friend and I almost made that mistake by taking different transportations to meet in Gangchon. The distance is probably a 20 minute walk.

From the subway station, which is newer and built higher into the mountains, the hike up to the waterfall takes about 30 minutes. The quiet little street is now getting built up with minbak (cheap rooms to rent in someone's home) and fast food shops. We did pass some yin-yang totems and another area of stones stacked upon another, the stacking symbolizing the creating and making of one's wishes for them to come true. The former trail had been widened with wooden steps built. I felt that the natural picturesqueness of the mountain setting had been corrupted by all the modern appearance of a structured road and the large platform for looking at the waterfall. The new platform I liked least because formerly a person could sit on huge boulders at the base of the waterfall, but now everything is so contained. Conservation, I know, so that justifies the loss of beauty.

There's a village above the waterfall and years ago, there was quite the babble about the "newly discovered" traditional village above the falls. Anthropologists were supposed to have been fascinated with the village, (this was in the very early 1990s) and when I got a chance to go there in the late 1990s and there was a trail weaving its narrow way up a steep wooden mountain, I thought how lovely but how impossible to have been "hidden" and remained remote for so long because the trail though narrow and steep only took another 30 or 40 minutes or so. Sure enough. I found out by later asking students that the babble had been started to get tourism up on their mountain. Haha, it worked. By the time I went there in the late 1990s, there were a few restaurants and the small lake emptying its bowels over the cliff was nicely contained. Tourism had definitely worked! This time there were a lot more restaurants, particularly those catering to large groups, and the former wide garden trails had been widened and paved. Wouldn't want any of the tourists getting muddy shoes, now would we? But it was very pleasant and if I had been alone, I would have sat for hours in the sun on a grassy slope and read because it felt so peacefully remote from the cement and bustle of Seoul!
The hiking, and now biking, trails around Gugok Waterfall.
By the way, Gugok Waterfall is a great place for people to visit in cold winters because ice climbers in rather large numbers are double-lining their way to the top. It's quite the sight to see!

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