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Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the PLZ (DMZ)
Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the PLZ (DMZ)
A journey to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) can be a tense yet unique and exciting adventure. Unlike other romantic or relaxing sightseeing destinations, this is a place where one is reminded of the atrocities of war and observers become more ardent in their prayers for a peaceful world. Our journey to the “forbidden land” felt rather solemn, slowed down by a heavy rain shower that poured down all day. When we arrived at the DMZ, however, I realized that regardless of the traces of human atrocities, life continued on this land of man-made atrocities, and the rain seemed to be doing good for the living beings in this zone.

A unique DMZ experience program was offered to foreign students studying in Korean universities. It turned out to be a large event that was met with an enthusiastic response from the foreign student community. Though our nationalities differed, we shared one thing in common, we were all from countries that had participated in the Korean War. Perhaps, because of this historic connection, the students were curious and excited yet serious about the prospect of walking on the “forbidden land.”

The Peace and Life Zone (PLZ) refers to the area on the Korean peninsula that is close to the border with North Korea. It includes the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) and the Civilian Control Line (CCL). Running through the PLZ is a specially designed tour course that takes visitors to various spots of historical interest and natural beauty, which for years have been hidden from the public eye because of their close location to the DMZ. The tour course is divided into seven sections and stretches for 545km. The second and third sections of the zone are in Yanggu and Hwacheon counties, and this is where we were headed on our tour. These areas have particularly well-preserved eco-systems, which ironically is because of the sad history and political situation in the area. Do not be fooled by the long silence of the living things in this area. Lay a footstep in the midst of this pure form of nature, and you will realize that all forms of life desire a peaceful earth. Read on to discover the spectacular beauty of this land.

1. Yanggu: Traces of War Blend with the Budding of Life (PLZ Section 2)
Yanggu is a basin surrounded by high mountains on all sides. The tour bus left Seoul in the morning only to arrive at Yanggu in time for lunch. We had lunch at the only hotel built in Yanggu, the KCP Resort Hotel. We had a long way to go, so after lunch, we got right back on the bus. The bus continued on its journey, climbing up and down and round the contours of the mountain, further slowed down by the foggy weather. The weather seemed to be a premonition of the tough road ahead of us, crossing the PLZ (DMZ).
Eulji Observatory
Eulji ObservatoryAfter circling round and up the mountain, the bus dropped us at the Eulji Observatory. The area was completely covered in fog. We were unlucky not to see May’s typical green foliages that freshen up with some rain, yet this area was peculiarly tranquil and dreamy, like stepping on clouds. Students began taking small and large group photographs, excited at the mere sight of soldiers in their uniform. Because of the foggy weather, the barbed wires over the border and the sight of North Korean soldiers rotating their duties had to be watched on film. The faces of the students seemed more serious than the solider explaining the video. The fog seemed to remain for a long time, embracing the entire border region of Yanggu, blurring the distinction between North and South Korea and obscuring the lines that have separated the two countries since the war.
Dosolsan Mountain
Dosolsan Mountain
The bus wound its way down the mountain more slowly than before, and after passing a few small villages, we arrived at Dosolsan Mountain. Dosolsan Mountain is where the fiercest battle took place during the Korean War. We could still see traces of burnt trees, which stand together solemnly as if to witness the blazes of the battle. However, a larger number of trees surrounding them actually were alive and were sprouting new leaves. We were able to tie our “hope for peace” on the branches of these trees. The prayers for peace were sincere and ardent, despite the heavy rain that continued to shower down.

This region is strictly protected and for civilians access is restricted. This is for military reasons and also to protect the ecology. We had to wait for the gates to be unlocked before we could start hiking up the mountain track toward the peak of the mountain. We followed the track covered with red soil, and the sight of rugged mountains began to unfold before our eyes. Owing to the fortress-like formation of this steep mountain, this was an area where both armies shed much blood in a vicious cycle of attack and retreat. Today this mountain is one of the most peacefully preserved grounds, serving as a tranquil resting ground for its families of wild life.
The Dutayeon Pond
The Dutayeon Pond There is yet another spot where we struck by the breathtaking beauty. This is Dutayeon Pond, which can be reached in little over an hour’s drive from Dosolsan Mountain. Signposts here and there warn us not to go beyond the artificial tracks, as the entire region is dotted with land mines. These signposts reminded us that North Korea was extremely close by. However, our group became oblivious to the tension created by these signposts the minute we encountered the scenic Dutayeon Pond. Exclamations over its beauty were heard from all parts of the group. The water coming down from the Geumgangsan Mountains was so clear, and the waterfall pouring down into the pond was breath-taking. The beauty was such that one could lose track of time and spend all day here. I felt the urge to stroll around to explore the beauty of the area a little more, but it was dusk soon. Many students crowded around the tour guide to ask about the procedure for getting a re-entry permit and the permitted hours to stay around the pond area. To visit the Dutayeon Pond, a special army permission is required and visits are allowed only once a day in the company of a designated public servant hired by the Yanggu-gun Office. The splendor of the pond was such that we did not want to leave this place. I turned away from the place, feeling a sense of loss, and I listed it on the "must-visit places" in my heart.
* More info
☞ Yanggu Tourist Information Website: (KOR, ENG, JAP, CHI)
* Tourist Information: +82-33-1330 (KOR, ENG, JAP, CHI)
2. Hwacheon: A Place of Dynamic Natural Life and Fresh Water (PLZ Section 3)
When we got up on our second day of our PLZ (DMZ) tour, we were greeted with sunlight and fresh air. Hwacheon, which is a famous destination for fresh water and beautiful nature, seemed freshened up by the rain that had showered down the day before. For Koreans, Hwacheon is known as the location of the Hwacheon Sancheoneo (Mountain Trout) Festival that takes place every January. The festival is so well-known nationwide, that even those who have not have the chance to visit it, have at least heard about the exciting experience of catching the mountain trout with your bare hands or drilling a hole through the ice for rod fishing. Although it was not wintertime, we still wanted to get a glimpse of Hwacheon’s famous mountain trout.
Hwacheon Dam and Sancheoneo Theme Park
Hwacheon Dam and Sancheoneo Theme Park
When we arrived at the Hwacheon Dam, the first thing we saw was a unique looking monorail. This is actually an artificial route so the fish can make their way over the obstacle of the dam and reach the lake above it. The way this so-called monorail for fish works is that once a certain number of fish have gathered, they are transported up through a rail car and released at the top in the reservoir. This unique sight attracts many foreign visitors to the dam.

In the Sancheoneo Theme Park, created around the reservoir, an even more interesting and exciting experience awaits visitors. One popular activity that is a highlight of the festival is catching mountain trout with your bare hands! Our group screamed for joy and quickly changed into the T-shirts and shorts that participants can rent for free on the spot. We dashed into the water. The mountain trouts move so quickly that it is not easy to catch them using only our bare hands. If they are caught, they slip right back out. Foreign visitors taking part in the experience seemed full of exitement and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. There were big smiles of triumph in the faces of those who successfully caught a mountain trout and many cameras flashed. The fish that were caught were cut up into small bites to be eaten as sashimi or fried. Even though it wasn’t long since our breakfast, the soft and chewy taste of freshly caught fish that almost melted in the mouth, impressed all those who tried it. Mountain Trouts are high in nutrition and don’t have a fishy smell. They are considered a local delicacy of Hwacheon.
Experience Military Life
Experience Military Life
The unique experience programs continued on until lunch time, because our group visited the 7th Division of the Training Batallion for Newly Enrolled Soliders. This is basically a boot camp, the initial place of training for newly enrolled soldiers. For the first five weeks, they receive training here before being allocated to different army camps around the country. Our group, which consisted mainly of foreign students, seemed excited at the unique sight of a Korean military camp. Cameras flashed here and there, especially inside the soldiers’ living quarters. Places exhibiting weaponry, such as guns and canons, attracted the attention of all the visitors, who tried to get a close look at the items. The group had lunch in the army cafeteria, experiencing what the soliders eat inside the strictly controlled fences of a military camp in this border region.
From the Peace Dam to the Andong Bridge
From the Peace Dam to the Andong Bridge
The bus left the boot camp and arrived at the Paroho Quay. This is actually an artificial lake, which was created by the construction of the Paroho reservoir. After taking a ferry along the lake for an hour and a half, we arrived at the Peace Dam. Next to the reservoir is Bell Park, whose spaces have been designed under different themes. There is the Wall of Separation, Wounds of War, Spaces of Peace, and Spaces of Life among others. Behind the park and closer to the reservoir, a colossal buddhist temple bell stood before us. The bell is 3m in diameter, 4.7m in height, and weighs over 37.5tons. It was made from used bullets collected from some 30 battle fields across the world, which had been melted down. The reverberating sound from this bell seemed to embrace the pain of war and echoed the prayer for peace from people from all over the world. Photographs of winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were posted along the walls along with their heartfelt messages for peace.

The bus came down the north side of the Peace Dam and passed through another barbed wire fence of a military camp. This was where we began our hike to the Andong Bridge that crosses the Nakdonggang River. The entire area was surrounded by absolute silence, so quiet that we could hear our own footsteps. When we arrived at the Andong Bridge, they explained that this was the furthest north we could go. Only otters, which are known to live only in the cleanest of water, travel all the way up to North Korea, following the river under the bridge. Upon arriving at the final destination of our PLZ (DMZ) experience program, all the participants seemed to offer up prayers for a peaceful world for the sake of all lives that breathe under heaven, and we reminded ourselves of the beautiful ecosystems we had witnessed on our tour.
* More info
☞ Website of Hwacheon: (KOR, ENG, JAP, CHI)
*Tourist Information +82-33-1330 (KOR, ENG, JAP, CHI)
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Date   07/14/2009

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