Monday, 27 July 2009

The Pug-ak Mountain in Seoul: The history, the view, the fortress

It was a bright sunny Saturday when a group of foreigners from the Philippines (ehem), Brazil, Bolivia, U. S., India, Italy, Hong Kong, China and Canada, met up at the Seoul City Hall for the bus ride to the starting point of the tour, near the mouth of the Samcheong Tunnel in Seongbuk-dong.
Pug-ak-san, or Pug-ak Mountain, one of the mountains lying around the city, is on the northern side and is only 342 meters high. There are actually several trails along the mountain, but the organizers chose the easiest one for us, thinking that it should be an enjoyable hike, and not a cardiovascular workout. The hike around the mountain is monitored and controlled, requiring hikers to make a reservation and submit proper identification beforehand. Why? Close by is Cheong Wa Dae, or the Presidential Residence. So, the military tightly secures the area to make sure the incident of 1968 does not happen again
The trail around the mountain runs alongside the ancient fortress walls built by King Taejo of the Chosun Dynasty in the 14th century. The original length of the fortress was about 18.2 kilometers, but today, only 10.5 kilometers remain. I learned that most of the fortress walls’ destruction was done by the Japanese during their occupation of the country, and of the remaining length, 4.3 kilometers, aptly named the Pug-ak Fortress, run the trail around Pug-ak-san. But even with the destruction, King Taejo still would have been proud of his achievement as the fortress walls snaking around the mountain, which look like a mini-Great Wall to me, still stand strong and solid like the indomitable Korean spirit. The Fortress has gates, the Sukcheong-mun and Chang-ui-mun, through which hikers pass through.
At the highest point, we were able to enjoy the amazing view of Seoul. Though the day was a bit muggy, we were able to identify the downtown buildings and avenues, Nam-san and its pine-needle landmark, and even the structures south of the Han River. Had the day been clearer, the daily class struggle would have been conspicuous as well.
The mountain also has its violent history. A pine tree along the trail still bears the bullet holes from the exchange of gunfire between the authorities and North Korean assassins who, on January 21, 1968, made their way through the mountain to kill, though unsuccessfully, then sitting president Park Chung-Hee. A monument for the policeman who died during that gunfight can been seen near the Chang-ui-mun Center.

Pug-ak-san was actually closed to the public for about four decades but was recently opened in April 2007. And I am glad I was one of the lucky ones to have enjoyed the trail, the history, and most of all, its view!

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