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Monday, August 31, 2009

Busan: Beomeosa Temple

Korea is filled with Buddhist temples and after having visited quite a few of them, I'm ready to call Busan's Beomeosa Temple the most stunning. With the backdrop of forest-draped mountains, the site is tranquil and gorgeous.

The temple has ancient origins:

"There is a well on the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan and the water of that well is gold. The golden fish in the well rode the colorful clouds and came down from the sky. This is why the mountain is named Geumsaem (gold well) and the temple is named 'fish from heaven'."

Founded in 678, the original temple was destroyed but the present buildings date from the 18th century and are constantly undergoing restoration. I actually preferred the un-restored, faded paintings and buildings to the newer and brighter sections.

During the Joseon Dynasty, Korean Buddhism was suppressed and many temples were established in remote regions to hide away from authorities, hence the reason so many places of worship are located in mountains and forests.

Beomeosa was filled with worshippers and I'm never quite sure what proper etiquette is when visiting as a tourist. There were certainly other people toting cameras wandering around, so I knew it was okay to be there and take pictures, but I never know what the "rules" are.

For instance, I was photographing prayer slabs when the woman inscribing them yelled something out in Korean and waved with a smile. I couldn't tell whether she was telling me not to take photographs or if she was just saying "hello."

Lonely Planet calls Beomeosa Busan's only must-see sight and I agree. It's easy to reach from the subway and a quick bus ride, and if you're a hiker, there are a plethora of trails that begin at the temple. A quiet place for reflection, visiting Beomoesa is a requirement if you're in Busan.

Tomorrow: Haeundae Beach, Korea's most popular beach

Do you ever feel unsure visiting religious sites that aren't your own?