After passing Wonhyo’s Enlightenment Place, the trail changed from a broad, gently sloping, paved avenue to a narrow, winding path punctuated by steep flights of wooden stairs that hugged the mountainside. As my lack of conditioning began to make itself felt, I encountered Moksha’s Gate, which marked the entrance to the Jajaeam Temple precincts. A small brass bell hung from its apex, and the local folklore holds that sweethearts who stand within the gate and ring the bell will enjoy eternal love. Since my own sweetheart wasn’t along with me on this trip, I pressed on.
After a few more ups and downs and a lot more stairs, I finally entered the temple plaza, a cluster of buildings that included two shrines, one freestanding, the other built into the mountain. Like the gentleman in this photo, I aligned my camera lens with a gap in the latticework of the outer shrine to capture the impressive altar within. Click on the photos for larger images.
Jajaeam is a working temple with a resident community of monks. I didn’t see any of them around the temple this particular day, but several were engaged in maintenance and restoration of the trails and structures further down the mountain. You can see stacks of cushions and prayer books used by the monks in their daily rituals on the left. The door’s lattice was backed with plexiglas, which caused some reflections in the photo, but the focus on the altar itself is reasonably sharp in the full-size image.
After viewing the remarkable collection of gilded buddhas in the first shrine, I turned my attention to the unobtrusive door set into the mountain a few steps beyond. It was flanked by a bank of candles, a pair of guardian statues, and a little niche with an assortment of buddha dolls, beads, and other knick-knacks.
Like the other shrine, it was what lay beyond the door that was most striking. Instead of the dark grotto I expected, inside was a kaleidoscope of light and color, from the candlelit altar to the ceiling draped in glowing paper lanterns in rainbow hues.
Topping it all off was another pretty waterfall that fluttered down the mountainside into a pool below the temple. The burble of falling water formed a pleasant background to the scenery, and I spent a while just watching and listening. It was a place meant for lingering.
Dusk was approaching, and I had no more time to explore beyond Jajaeam Temple. I was determined to return the next day and try for the summit of Soyosan Mountain.