Haeinsa Temple Stay – An inner journey in the journey
Guamseowon Hanok Guesthouse
Waking up in a room that is not my own always feels somehow special. For a few moments I sharp my senses to discover again the new space, its colour, its smell. I slowly start forgetting about the dreams I just had and remembering where I am and how I ended-up there. I am sleeping in an Hanok, an old traditional Korean house. All the windows are closed and the lightly barely passes through the curtains. Gianni is still sleeping by my side on the futon we have been sharing. While I wait for him to wake up I leave the room to go exploring the house. I try not to make any noise, but the wooden floor keeps squeaking under my weight. The room gives out to a patio that has access to other guests’ rooms. From here the front garden is visible as well as the gated entrance. It’s an amazing sunny day, the air is chilly and from the garden you can barely hear any noise from the streets outside. I use this time to wash my clothes at the water fountain in the garden. I wonder how many other travellers have done the same before me. When Gianniwakes up he reaches me by the laundry. We talk and then we have breakfast on the patio with some fruit and a cold coffee we bought the night before in a small 24 hours grocery shop. Our host is a Korean lady that doesn’t speak any English. We have been communicating mainly by signs and with google translate, including loads of laughs and kind smiles. Before we leave she offers us some red tea with some sweet dumplings and takes a picture of us with the home as background. We are now ready to start packing to leave Daegu and head to the temple.
From Daegu to Haeinsa – riding into the Gayasan Park
To reach the Haeinsa temple in the Gayasan national park we first head to the Daegu West Bus Terminal [서부터미널]. Most of the visitors of the temple start their journey here, where it’s possible to buy a bus ticket to reach Haeinsa in an hour and a half with just two stops. The journey to the temple has to be experienced with eyes wide open. As I get away from the city to slowly access the Gayasan natural park, the landscape becomes more and more magical. The human presence starts dissipating, almost disappearing completely. When I get off the bus I feel like entering in a different dimension. We start climbing the crowded path to the temple. Due to the Chuseok many families are headed to this sacred destination. On our way up there are stalls where women are selling roots, vegetables and sweets. There is only a modern building in the area, a coffee shop selling traditional biscuits and sweets.
A staircase with a ceiling of trees
The Haeinsa temple has been created in a never-ending quest of reaching a tranquil mind, leaving all delusions and illusions aside. Its reclusiveness makes this space alien to the chaos of the modern world. Climbing the stairs, you drop your usual self and get ready to enter a dimension where time flows at a different speed. When we reach the temple, we head to the templestayarea on the right side of the building. A team of volunteers help us by showing us the room we will be sharing with other guests and by giving us our futon and uniform. We are left with a leaflet with timetables for meals and ceremonies as well as some notes and suggested actions to follow without risking to disrespect the monks and the temple rules.
It now begins an experience that relies more on visual than words. Where the sound of the wind resonates stronger than the voice of all the people staying at the temple. We assist the rituals of the monks, feeling blessed for having the luck to witness so closely to this ceremony. People visiting the temple might have different believes but we are now all grouped together to pray, to reflect or just to find inner peace. The meals are consumed in a communal room, even here silence must be kept at all time. When there are no activities, Gianni and I walk around the temple. When the sun is settings, the temple also falls in the darkness.
Drums resonating far in the night
The templestay experience allows visitors to join the ceremonies as well as prayers. There are two every day. The first one is performed just before the sunset and the second one takes place just before a new dawn. It’s a celebration of the cycle of life. The evening ceremony is also attended by worshippers and visitors stopping over the temple just for the day. The early morning one is only shared with the guests staying overnight and is somehow more private and mystical. At 3am Gianni and I wake up. Just in time to throw on a jacket and head to the main courtyard. The wind is cold but invigorating, and all around us the smell of the forest is strong. At the main courtyard we find a few other guests standing still, while the monks get ready to initiate the rite. One of the monk begins by playing the giant drum with an incredible dexterity. He moves the arms by the musical instrument as if he was dancing. The sound and the vibrations of the drum resonate through my body and through Gayasan. The monk keeps playing the instrument, like casting a spell on the temple. They play and sing until the sun start appearing on the horizon behind the thick bushes and trees. The ceremony ends with the monks playing the bell pavilion – a sound that people believed would reach even Daegu. The ritual ends in one of the temple rooms, where the monks pray before starting their day. When all is over, we slowly wake up from a status almost close to a hypnosis. Not ready to go back to society Gianni and I go exploring the natural park.
Gaysan is a park that mesmerize for its trees, its river but also for the temples and the statues that naturally blends into the landscape, without overwhelming the nature. We walk by the river until we reach a hermitage built up on a mountain, as a nest. Here the majesty of the forest is displayed in all its power. When we go back to the temple we stop by the modern cafe for coffee and dried sweet potatoes, slowly transitioning back into the modern world. We make friends with a ginger cat, pack our bags with a lighter heart and leave the temple and park, heading to Busan - but this is another story. Deneb