Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autumn splendor in the grass




Mount Mindung in Gangwon hosts the 15th Mindung Mountain Eulalia Festival through the end of the month. [JoongAng Ilbo]

After endless rain and typhoons, the summer heat is finally behind us and a season of trips and adventures awaits. Trips to mountains painted with red and yellow leaves such as Mount Seorak, Mount Naejang, Mount Chiak and Mount Odae are popular at this time of year, but autumn is also a good season for walks through fields decorated with acres of eulailia grass (otherwise known as flame grass or silver grass). One place to experience this seasonal pleasure is at Mount Mindung.

Mount Mindung is located in Jeongseon County in Gangwon Province (not to be confused with the other Mount Mindung in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province). There are various ways to get to this scenic place, but to really feel the changing seasons, the best way to go is by train. The train takes passengers directly to Mindungsan Station, which is a perfect place to embark on a journey through the area.

Mindung, which literally means “nothing on top” in Korean, is an apt name for the mountain because there are no trees at the peak. Instead, the spine of the mountain trail is home to a stretch of eulalia fields that look like waves of silver against the soft winds of fall.

The journey up the mountain, which is 1,120 meters (3,675 feet) above sea level, starts at Jeungsan Elementary School. Here you can go up 800 meters to Balgudeok Village and ascend a little more to the eulalia trails. At this point, you can choose to go up steep slopes or up a more gradual incline to the top. Between the two, there isn’t much difference in distance, so the path you take depends on the kind of challenge you are looking for.

Around November, the grasses reach to the height of an average grown-up. For 30 or so minutes, hikers on the gradual trail must wrestle with these tall grasses to get to the top. After climbing to the peak, visitors pass through Bulam Temple and descend along the streams of Hwaam. Hwaam mineral water is well known for its medicinal effect on skin diseases, stomach problems and anemia. Also, these grounds are part of what is called the “Hwaam pal gyeong,” or the eight most scenic places in the Hwaam area.

One way to climb down is through Balgudeok Village to Jeungsan Village. The other is to pass through the colony of eulailia and head for Mount Jieog to the North. The descending trail through Jeungsan Village is about nine kilometers in length and takes about four hours. The trail that passes through the attractive sites of Hwaam is approximately 14 kilometers and takes about five hours. If you are not looking for a lengthy journey, go to the entrance of Balgudeok Village by car and hike up the mountain from there. This takes about two and a half hours.

Local cuisine

A good trip is never without good food. This is also true of any trip through the Mindung Mountains. There are plenty of simple snacks available at Mindungsan Station, as well as restaurants varying from Chinese food to other specialties.

However, the real delicacies are a little further away. On the way to the entrance of Mount Mindung from the station, a visit to Sangolhyanggi is a must. Located near Jeungsan Elementary School, the restaurant’s size is small compared to its reputation for great food. The menu is also very compact and includes only four items: bibimbap (steamed rice with mixed vegetables and spicy sauce), haejangguk (a light soup said to be good for hangovers), haemul pajeon (seafood green onion pancakes) and makgeolli (unrefined rice wine). The interior is decorated with cute sculptures and other ornaments that make it feel like an artist’s living quarters. The most popular dishes are the bibimbap and haejangguk. The haejangguk in particular includes nutritious ingredients, such as dried radish grass and Korean beef. This is stewed with bean paste, which is made to perfection by the owner without any preservatives.

Hungry hikers can also return to Sangolhyanggi to quench their thirst with some rice wine. The renowned makgeolli of this area accompanied by a plate of pajeon is the perfect finish to a healthy workout. For more information on Sangolhyanggi, call (033) 592-9933.

Rail bikes and a fall festival
Rail biking in Jeongseon is a popular activity in the area.
For those who want a little something more from the area, there is an assortment of things to do.

The Jeongseon rail bike is perhaps the most well known and most enjoyable. The track stretches for 7.2 kilometers from Kujolri Station to the Aura area. Rail bikers pedal along the train tracks for a unique view of the area’s natural beauty. At Kujolri Station, visitors can also enjoy tea and accommodations at a cafe shaped like a grasshopper that was fashioned from two old passenger trains.

Jeongseon also hosts a fall festival. The 15th Mindung Mountain Eulalia Festival, held from Oct. 1 until 31, features performances by the Youngwolseokjeong Girls’ High School marching band, singing contests and celebrity visits.

During the festival, visitors are also invited to send postcards from the top of the mountain, participate in mountain climbing competitions and more.

Transport and accommodations

To get to the Jeongseon County area, take a train from Cheongnyangni Station in Seoul and get off at Mindungsan Station. Buses from Dong Seoul Terminal to Jeongseon run 10 times each day and the travel time is three and a half hours.

Lodging is available at various locations, including Skywind, (033) 592-5235, www.skywind.co.kr; Eulalia Lodgings: (033) 592-3308; and Sonamu Pension, (033) 5910-1159, www.sonamupension.com.

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