Sure, in Gyeongju Mt. Namsan (남산) has the lion’s share of ancient Shilla (신라) statues and carvings, so it’s well worth taking the time to explore if you can. But the truth is, most of the surrounding mountains have atl east one ancient Buddha that’s pretty cool. Plus the other mountains aren’t crawling with hiking clubs and bus tours on the weekend, like Namsan. Some places, you might not see a single other soul.
Just 5 km south west of the Gyeongju bus station, is the ancient Buddha triad of Dudae-ri (두대리), nestled between the two northern ridges of Mt. Byeokdosan (벽도산). The weather was good this last Sunday (good enough for November anyhow), so some friends and I hopped on our bikes to check it out. I’d been out there a twice before and it’s not the easiest to find, but it’s well worth the hour’s trek.
After passing through the little farm village of Dudae-ri (두대리), at the far end of the valley, almost at the ridge line, is the little hermitage of Sungju-am (성주암). On the rocks just above Sungju-am is a beautiful carved Buddha triad. The 12 foot tall middle Buddha is a fine example of the Amit’abul (아미타불), or Buddha of the Western Paradise, flanked by the Gwanseum Bosal (관세음), or Bodhisattva of Mercy, and the Taesaji Bosal (Bodhisattva of Power). Not much is known about the carving or who carved, other than it dates from before the 9th century. It was probably carved as a form of Buddhist meditation practice, as was typical of most Buddhist carvings of the time.
The little hermitage of Sungju-am (성주암) hermitage has a lot of charm as well. It’s built in the traditional wood and plaster style and the care takers have planted rose bushes and flowering trees around it and along the path up. It’s quite lovely in the summer. Weren’t but a few flowers left this last Sunday, but we did run into a couple from Busan making their monthly pilgrimage to the hermitage. They were nice enough to share their rice treats and pumpkin candies (chewy but good).
Cycling Route: From the bus station, take the bridge west over the Hyeongsan river towards Chunghyo-dong. Just across the river, take a left at the light and follow the bike path along National Road 4 (35) for a few minutes until you get to the train underpass. Just before the train tracks, turn left onto a farm road, and then take an immediate right. Follow this road straight for about 15 minutes as it winds through a few farm villages. It then curves around back under the train tracks and meets back up with N.R. 4 (35).
Turn left on N.R. 4 (35) and follow it across the Daecheon river. Continue right at the “Y” intersection. Take your first left at the bus stop and follow the brown signs across the train tracks, under Highway 1 and up into a little valley. From here you can follow the brown signs through the village, up to the far end of the valley to a little parking lot. The hermitage and Buddhas are just a 5 minute walk up the trail. All told, it’s about 2 to 3 hours out and back from the bus station.
View Cycling Route: Buddha Triad of Dudaeri (두대리마애석불입상) in a larger map