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Welcoming autumn on Korea’s Rivers [2] -- Nakdong River

Silvery waters glinting under a setting sun, marshy riverbanks strewn with weeds and wildflowers -- nature’s bounty is on full display on Korea’s Nakdong River. The longest of the country’s newly restored four major rivers, the over-500-kilometer long Nakdong also carries thousands of years of history and culture. Travelers heading to the area this autumn can choose from the following options to get a glimpse of some of the lesser-known natural and historical treasures in Korea’s southeastern basin.

At the Eulsukdo Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Busan, an ideal starting point for a trip along the Nakdong River, various species of migratory birds find food and make temporary homes in the island’s woody groves. Designated as Natural Monument No. 79, the bird sanctuary is a place where visitors can learn about efforts to restore and preserve the wetland ecosystem.

The Eulsukdo Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, located where the Nakdonggang River meets the South Sea, is a haven for migratory birds (photo: Gonggam Korea).

Also in Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang Province), Obongsan Mountain and its numerous clearings provide beautiful panoramic views of the Nakdong. A famous scene from the Korean film My Sassy Girl in which the long-haired heroine shouts out a tearful apology to her on-again, off-again boyfriend was filmed on one of the mountain’s peaks. Visitors to the mountain can also visit nearby reed marshes and lotus gardens or take advantage of the cultural festivals and farm-stay programs offered year-round in surrounding Yangsan City.

Yangsan is also home to the small village of Neulbat, so named because of the sprawling fields that surround its low stone walls (neul is the name of a kind of hardy plant and bat means field). Neulbat Village is located near Wondong Recreational Forests and can be reached by heading from Wondong Township towards Baenaegol Valley. A small temple and nearly hidden waterfalls can be seen on the way to the village, which will be recognized by its endearing handlaid stone walls (for more information, contact Yangsan City Office: 055-392-2540).

At Neulbat Village, located near the Nakdong River, residents take a walk along the village's trademark low stone wall. Daily life here seems to follow slower, steadier rhythms (photo: Gonggam Korea).

At Sinheungsa (055-384-0108), a large temple complex at the base of Yeongchuksan Mountain, also in Gyeongsangnam-do, visitors can get a taste for mid-Joseon period architecture as well as the distinct landscape of the southern province. When Sinheungsa was first built, the complex consisted of a total of 110 buildings. The main hall, Daegwangjeon, which houses an image of the Vairocana Buddha, has been designated as National Treasure No. 1120. The interior of the temple is carefully painted with dancheong, the traditional Korean decorative coloring that adorns many wooden buildings in Korea, both for aesthetic appeal and to protect the wooden surfaces.

Since the completion of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project last November, some of the more popular spots along the Nakdong River are the newly built weirs. Described as multi-purpose recreational spaces, the weirs include Changnyeong Haman Weir and Hapcheon Changnyeong Weir, significant as markers of the areas where the Ara Gaya and Bihwa Gaya city-states of the Gaya Confederacy stood during the Three Kingdoms Period.

Hapcheon Changnyeong Weir resembles the sacred ibis, a species of wading bird that inhabits surrounding Upo Wetland. Efforts to preserve Upo Wetland, South Korea’s largest continental wetland reserve, actually began as an initiative to save the endangered ibis. Estimated to have formed over 100 million years ago, Upo Wetland is also home to over 400 different species of plants, birds, and insects.

Upo Wetland, located in Changnyeong County in Gyeongsangnam-do, is the largest continental wetland in South Korea. The natural reserve is home to over 400 species of plants, birds, and other wildlife (photo: Gonggam Korea).

Not far from the wetlands, below Hwawangsan Mountain in Changnyeong County sits Gwanryongsa Temple, which is said to have been constructed during the Silla Kingdom. As one of the Silla Kingdom’s eight most important temples, Gwanryongsa Temple is said to have been visited by scholar-monk Wonhyo and his students.

A visit to the Nakdong River would not be complete without a tour of nearby monuments that date back to the Gaya period. The Jisandong Ancient Tombs, where the royal tombs of Gaya kings stretch along the southeastern ridge of Jusan Mountain, give visitors a better understanding of the culture of the period. The tombs number over a hundred, and the larger tombs have a circumference of up to 60 meters. The nearby Daegaya Museum also showcases various historical relics.

Over 100 tombs can be found at the grounds of the Jisandong Ancient Tombs in Goryeong County, where the kings of the various city-states of the Gaya Confederacy were buried during the Three Kingdoms Period (photo: Gonggam Korea).

Another important local landmark is Ureuk Museum, designed in the shape of the traditional stringed instrument known as the gayageum. The museum is named after Ureuk, a musician during the Gaya Confederacy who invented the gayageum and is recorded as having been commissioned by both King Gasil of Gaya, as well as King Jinheung of Silla. Visitors to the museum can see how the gayageum is made and also enjoy performances throughout the day.

Those looking for a hands-on experience can visit Gaesil Village in Goryeong County, also located close to the Nakdong River. Home to the descendants of Kim Jong-jik (pen name Jeompiljae), a prominent 15th century Confucian scholar, Gaesil Village has preserved its traditions for over 350 years. Village stay programs include overnight stays in traditional Hanok as well as activities such as making tofu and taffy, picking potatoes, peppers, and other seasonal plants, and also learning traditional etiquette.

At Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park in Gyeongsangnam-do, gates that were used by scholars, traders, and government officials passing through the area stand well-preserved to this day (photo: Gonggam Korea).

Another recommended destination is Mungyeong Saejae, a mountain pass on Joryeong mountain that used to link the capital city, then known as Hanyang, to the southern Gyeongsang region, during the Joseon Kingdom. The three gates that were used by scholars, traders, and government officials when passing through the area stand well-preserved in Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park.

More information on Korea’s four rivers, including the Nakdong River, can be found at http://www.riverguide.go.kr/eng/index.do.

Adapted from Gonggam Korea
By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer

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