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“Welcome to Mt. Taegi”: Wildflowers and Dongmak-gol

Posted September. 02, 2005 07:16,   


Jaetmallang-gol: A Haven of Wildflowers—

I discover a nameless valley while re-treading the contours of the mountain with a map in hand. It’s located just below Mt. Taegi’s Yanggudumi-jae (or Yanggudumi Pass), on national road no. 6 connecting Dunnae and Jangpyeong. A 40-minute climb brings me to the hiking trail stretching beneath the summit, and another 10 minutes on a set of stairs finds me looking right up at the summit, where a military base is located. I take the opportunity to name the valley “Jaetmallang-gol.” “Mallang” means “mountain ridge” in the dialect of Gangwon Province.

Brushing aside the tall thicket, I walk into the valley. The blazing sun has no strength here, a nook kept cool by deep shadows of trees and an icy stream. The blades of grass and the tree leaves are vibrant with life, and the air is as clean as can be. Although it’s past 9:00 a.m., the spider webs are still glistening with the morning dew.

The stream flows alongside a narrow woodsmen’s path. The thicket growing by this path is glorious with wildflowers in full bloom. The first flower to meet the eye is the touch-me-not, with its adorable funnel-shaped blossoms. Among the clusters of cinquefoil peek the small yellow buds of the patrinia and the agrimony.

Ascending the hiking trail, I look up the stairs branching off it to spot the military base at the mountaintop. Wildflowers grow by the stairs as well. Lured by their colors, I climb one step at a time. The skunk cabbage flower, with its fan-like petal wrapped around its body, sits with its back toward the path like a baby in a huff.

At last, I reach the ridgeline at the summit. A magnificent view stretches as far as Mt. Cheongtae in the distance. Against the backdrop of the hillsides, the meadow beneath my feet is a profusion of wildflowers, like the evening primrose, aster, Korean mint, and veronica rotunda. Standing out in long-stemmed dignity from this jumble of blossoms is the angelica.

Skirting around the military base, I descend along the ridge and come into Ongjang-gol (or Ongjang Valley). With rarely a soul to tread it down, the mountain path is as plush as a carpet. This valley is also hidden under a shade of trees that block out the summer heat. Coming across a spring around the midpoint of descent, I enjoy the luxury of a cool foot bath. This same water runs down Ongjang-gol to form the Jucheon River, then merges with the Pyeongchang River, becoming the West River and fusing with the East River to flow as the mighty South Han River.

Bongpyeong and Daehwa: Buckwheat Flowers in Bloom—

Mt. Taegi encompasses the three counties of Hoengseong, Hongcheon, and Pyeongchang. But descending toward Anheung-dong, overlooking Phoenix Park, you come to Bongpyeong. The name of the county immediately reminds one of the author Lee Hyo-seok, famed for his book “The Buckwheat Season.” Following road no. 6 down from Anheung-dong takes me by the house where he was born, to the left of the road.

The buckwheat field around the house becomes awash with white flowers in early September, when the Hyo-seok Cultural Festival is held. I take the road toward the Jangpyeong bus terminal and appease my hunger with a bowl of buckwheat noodles cooked in the style of Gangwon Province. Slices of boiled pork, a glass of soju, and a bowl of cold noodles make me as happy as a king at a feast.

The road from here to Pyeongchang is national road no. 31. The 320km stretch to Daehwa forms the setting for Lee Hyo-seok’s novel. This is the very path Mr. Heo and Dongi walked as they moved on from one market to the next, with the buckwheat blooming like glistening salt in the moonlight.

“Welcome to Dongmak-gol”—

Switching onto road no. 42 at Pyeongchang toward Jeongseon, I reach a three-way road from which local route 413 branches off. Taking this route, I soon come to a signpost announcing, “Welcome to the Dongmak-gol Film Set.”

There’s nothing around here but mountains. The set lies in an abandoned mine site reached by a narrow village road. I park my car in the parking lot and climb the mountain path for about 10 minutes. The set is a cluster of 10 shabby shingle-roofed houses in 1950s style.

The wooden benches where the villagers exchanged affectionate banter, the houses and rooms where the North, South, and UN forces sojourned in turn, the mill and the well, the model of a crashed fighter jet—everything is as it had been during the filming. The one sad sight is the tall tree at the village center, with its Styrofoam insides exposed to view and its branches mostly broken. It’s enough to extinguish the quiet nostalgia evoked by my memories of the film.

Visitors’ information—

1) Directions

Jaetmallang-gol: Yeongdong Expressway - Dunnae Nadeulmok - National Road No. 6 - Yangdugumi-jae

Dongmak-gol Set: Pyeongchang - National Road No. 42 (toward Jeongseon) - Mitan - Local Route No. 413 – Yulchi-ri

2) Eateries

Jangpyeong Makguksu (buckwheat noodles): Next to Jangpyeong Bus Terminal 033-332-0033

Package Trips—

1) Bongpyeong Buckwheat Festival + Dongmak-gol Set (day trip)

2) Wildflower Trekking to Jaetmallang-gol on Mt. Taegi + Bongpyeong Buckwheat Festival (day trip)

Both trips start on September 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 19. 33,000 won per ticket. Seung Woo Travel Service (www.swtour.co.kr) 02-720-8311.

Seung-Ha Cho summer@donga.com