The Korean Dragon Temple
Coiled around a mountain on the edge of the small village of Chilpo-ri, in South Korea, there is a dragon that eats more people than all the sharks in the world combined. This dragon lies in wait, mouth agape, waiting for anyone to walk inside. The locals call it Daewonsa, and it is the best Korean temple we’ve been to. Korea has thousands of temples studding the mountainous countryside. Each of them seems to have learned a bit about architecture from the last. While they’re all beautiful they have a tendency to run into one another. When we found the Daewonsa Dragon Temple that all changed.
Tawny and I were out on one of our usual motorcycle quests while living in Korea. As we came up over the bend on highway 20 we never expected that we’d see a dragon coiled around the hump of a sharp mountain.
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The temple is interesting, not only because it’s a dragon, but because it is a walking museum that tells the story of the Buddha. Once you enter the dragon’s maw you are swallowed up into a massive antechamber with a thousand golden Buddhas. You can make your prayers here before you ascend a winding staircase that snakes its way through the belly of the dragon. As you go, the way is strewn with paintings and small altars that slowly and deliberately unfold the history of Siddhārtha Gautama, the man who became the Buddha.
All along the dragon, hung in the middle of its belly are lanterns filled with hand written prayers and hopes. As you go the twists of the dragon and the small tables with incense grab you and beseech you to take note. It doesn’t take long to arrive at the tail of the dragon, which houses a very small chamber with a prayer mat and the final effigy of the Buddha. You can pay your respects and then rush back out into the world. You erupt from the dragon’s mouth and come across the small bridge, back into the pastoral setting of Chilpo.
While we’ve seen a lot of beautiful temples in Korea, the Korean Dragon Temple takes the cake. Hell, it can take whatever it wants.
What would you have done if you’d seen a dragon on the hillside?