In all probability you wouldn’t have considered South Korea as a tourist destination, even a few years ago. Nestled between China, North Korea and Japan, this is a country often overlooked by travellers. But this tiny peninsula has a lot more to offer than just their world-famous cosmetics and a skincare regime sworn by women all over the globe. With due thanks to the rising popularity of K-pop, K-dramas and Korean cosmetics, people around the world now have their sights set on this tiny nation. Seoul is a megalopolis, where history and modernity co-exist. Stepping into Seoul is like taking a trip back into the past as well as peeking into the future. Even through fleeting glimpses of this sprawling city, the juxtaposition of the old and the new becomes starkly visible to the first-time visitor.
Cradling the past
The Gyeongbokgung Palace, the biggest of the five grand palaces of Seoul, is an imposing structure. While a huge chunk of it was destroyed during Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910, and what remains today, stands as a testament to the rich cultural history of the country. Walking in through the main gate, you instantly feel like you’ve been teleported back to the ancient days and tourists wearing the Korean traditional dress, Hanbok (which gives you free entry into the palace), makes you feel that way, even more so. Once inside, make sure to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony, with the guards dressed in traditional Korean attire. The palace grounds are also home to two museums – The National Folk Museum of Korea and The National Palace Museum of Korea, which are replete with interesting artefacts from the Joseon dynasty.
We woke up every morning to a splendid view of the Changdeokgung Palace, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. With a stroke of luck, we visited it on the last Wednesday of the month, which is observed as a Culture Day at such tourist places. What made this palace special and beloved for the kings was the Secret Garden situated in the heart of the palace grounds.
On a bright sunny morning, we arrived at the Bukchon Hanok Village, a quaint, old, winding lane, offering a slice of Korean history and culture right in the middle of the bustling city. It is lined on both sides by traditional Korean houses, known as Hanok. Being constantly inundated with tourists from dusk till dawn, don’t be surprised to find Korean volunteers, usually old ladies, holding up placards asking visitors to maintain silence, since most of the hanoks are still home for many families.
A lot of Buddhist temples in Korea can be found nestled in the mountains. The Jogyesa temple in Seoul is an exception – being the only Buddhist temple located in an urban setting. Originally established in the year 1395, it was moved and reconstructed at its current location in 1936. The temple ground is home to a centuries-old tree and offers a sense of calm and peace, amid the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Source: Hindustan Times