South Korea // Chungcheong //


Shoehorned into a tranquil valley northeast of Danyang is GUINSA (구인사), one of Korea’s more remarkable temple complexes. A great divider among Koreans, it’s viewed by many as the most un-Korean temple, which is emphatically true – the colours and building styles are hard to find anywhere else in the country, and the usual elegant restraint of the traditional layouts has been replaced by a desire to show off. On the other hand, numbers alone bear witness to its importance – well over one thousand monks may reside here at any one time, and the kitchens can dish up food for twice that number on any given day. Guinsa is the headquarters of the Buddhist Cheontae sect; once the most powerful in the country, it declined to near-extinction by the 1940s, but was given a second lease of life in 1945 by Songwol Wongak, a monk who put his overseas studies to good use by creating an altogether different temple. Here, the usual black slate of Korean temple roofing has occasionally been eschewed for a glazed orange finish reminiscent of that in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and some buildings show hints of Lhasa’s Potala Palace with their use of height and vertical lines. Buildings swarm up the valley and connect in unlikely ways, with alleys and bridges crisscrossing like the dragons depicted around the complex; you’ll often wander up a path, and on looking back discover three or four routes that could have brought you to the same place. Despite being infested with an almost plague-like number of dragonflies in late summer, it’s one of the most scenic places in the country.

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