ABOVE: Playing Changgi, the Korean chess, is a popular pastime for men while their wives are hiking. unique perspective on this metropolis of ten million people. You will hear plenty of Korean in the forest, as older hikers like to listen to small radios as they walk. Lighting fires is forbidden throughout the park, but that does not stop many from enjoying cold picnics and refreshments alongside lovely streams. Another common sight is hikers washing their socks in streams while cooling their tired feet in the water. The locals fill their water bottles from these brooks, but the occasional visitor to Seoul who has not built up a resistance to the local bugs should bring bottled water. The forest-covered mountains are a treasure trove for those interested in botany, as they are home to about 1,300 plant species. Accompanying your footsteps may be the rapping of woodpeckers mingling with monks' drums and chanting from distant temples. A squirrel may peek at you, and those who understand Korean can read about the area's biodiversity on many signs, while others can admire the gorgeous pictures of plants and their real counterparts in this spectacular natural area. FORTRESS MOUNTAINS Taejo, first king of the Joseon dynasty, chose the Hanyang valley as the site of his capital in 1394. Now the valley is called Seoul. The main criteria for the location was the Han River which flows through the valley and represents Yin, and the mountains around it, which represented Yang and made it easier to defend the site. Fortification walls were built into the surrounding mountains. These included Namhansan to the south and to the north Baekundae, which is now part of Bukhansan National Park. The fortifications were guarded by Buddhist monks, who were in those days more stalwart soldiers than pacifists. Trekkers can still admire these fortress walls, for instance in Namhansanseong Provincial Park, 20 kilometres south-east of Seoul. Built in the 1620s, the defensive wall ranges in height from three to 7.5 metres. Extensive sections of it remain, some nearly ten kilometres long. Studded with mountain peaks, Bukhansan National Park covers more than 13 per cent of the metropolitan area and serves as the city's lungs. Although the park is just a stone's throw from city streets and underground stations, OCTOBER 2008 BLUE WINGS 23
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