Bukdaeam Hermitage – 북대암 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Unmunsa Temple from the Heights of Bukdaeam Hermitage in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hermitage History

Bukdaeam Hermitage is located on the Unmunsa Temple grounds in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Both Bukdaeam Hermitage and Unmunsa Temple are situated to the north of a cauldron of mountains that includes Mt. Unmunsan (1,188 m) and Mt. Gajisan (1,240.9 m). Purportedly, Bukdaeam Hermitage is the first temple or hermitage built on Mt. Unmunsan. However, the exact date of its founding is unknown, but it’s speculated that it was first built in 557 A.D. The hermitage was later reconstructed in 1851 and continues to be repaired and rebuilt to the present day. As for the name of the hermitage, Bukdaeam Hermitage, it gets its name from being built so high up on the mountain like a swallow’s nest.

Hermitage Layout

You first approach Bukdaeam Hermitage up a long, winding mountain road that eventually becomes a steep and winding trail. After a few hundred metres up the mountain trail, you’ll come to the hermitage’s grounds. The first things to greet you are a wall of hermitage buildings that include the nuns’ living quarters and kitchen. To the right, and a little further along the trail, you’ll notice a beautiful hall on a mountain ledge. This colourful hall is the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak Hall. Climbing up the very steep stairs, you’ll find an image dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a wispy, white beard and a ferocious tiger at his side. Sanshin is joined by an older image dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And it’s from this shaman shrine hall that you get amazing views of the valley below.

Beneath the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak Hall, you’ll find a much broader ledge. It’s here that you’ll find the main hall. The exterior walls of the Geukrak-jeon Hall are adorned in a beautiful collection of Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). Stepping inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll find a central triad on the main altar. This triad consists of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the left of this triad is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal, while to the left is a modern Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

Out in front of the Geukrak-jeon Hall is a solitary stone lantern. It’s from this vantage point that you get an amazing view of Unmunsa Temple down in the valley below. Unfortunately, there are several black power lines that interfere with the view. To the left of the main hall are some more nuns’ quarters. And behind the Geukrak-jeon Hall sits the hermitage’s Chilseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall is an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

It should be noted that both Unmunsa Temple and Bukdaeam Hermitage are best visited in the fall when the leaves are changing colours. They are probably two of the better locations to enjoy fall in Korea.

How To Get There

To get to Bukdaeam Hermitage, you first need to get to Unmunsa Temple. And to get to Unmunsa Temple, you’ll need to get to the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to catch the bus that runs to Unmunsa Temple. This bus runs eight times a day. The first bus leaves at 7:40 a.m., and the last bus leaves at 7:30 p.m. Then from Unmunsa Temple’s front gate, you’ll need to walk 300 metres to a stone marker that points you in the direction of Bukdaeam Hermitage. After turning left at the stone marker that reads “북대암,” you’ll need to hike up the road that eventually becomes a trail. In total, the strenuous hike lasts about 700 metres.

Overall Rating: 6/10

The views alone make a trip to Bukdaeam Hermitage well worth it. In addition to all of this natural beauty, you can also enjoy all the shaman murals at the hermitage like the original mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) or the older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And if you’re at Bukdaeam Hermitage, you’ll most likely visit Unmunsa Temple, as well. Together they make for a very pleasant day trip to the countryside.

The trail leading up to Bukdaeam Hermitage.
The Geukrak-jeon Hall at the hermitage.
One of the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals) that adorns the exterior of the main hall.
A look inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall at the main altar.
The solitary seokdeung (stone lantern) out in front of the Geukrak-jeon Hall.
The Chilseong-gak Hall at Bukdaeam Hermitage.
The mural dedicated to the Seven Stars inside the Chilseong-gak Hall.
The view from the Chilseong-gak Hall overtop the Geukrak-jeon Hall.
A look towards the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak Hall.
An older mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
And joined by this equally older mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
A look down on Unmunsa Temple.
With a closer look at the amazing temple.

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