Monday, November 19, 2012

DMZ - Past Connecting Present

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, a poet, philosopher and cultural critic) The DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone is one of the few places where people are unable to go, so the natural flora and fauna is able to flourish. 

This place remains untouched and unharmed despite the fact that it is the most heavily guarded and militarized places in the world. The DMZ is also the site where Korean Peninsula is divided into two. 
During the Korean War, a stalemate occurred and a demarcation line was drawn along the 38th parallel north as part of the Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953. Owing to the fact that a Peace Treaty has yet to be signed, South Korea and North Korea are technically still at war

Landmines and many unexploded ordnances are scattered at the DMZ, making it uninhabitable. It is pitifully sad that after so many years, both nations, though similar in language and race, are nevertheless still tragically separated due only to differences in ideology. 

Inje (인제군)

This place is located in Gangwon Province. Due to its proximity to North Korea, Inje has the lowest population density in South Korea. Hence, unpolluted air combined with fresh clear water can be found in this underdeveloped area. 

This region provides a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. For drinkers, this is also the best place to enjoy the delicious traditional Makgeolli made from the freshest ingredients (Dang! I did not take any pics!).   
Getting There: A five-hour express bus ride from Daegu
Accommodation: 50,000 Won per night for double room or 80,000 won per night for 10-person dormitory 

Did you see my name?
Our lodging was a sparse, yet comfortable, Korea DMZ Peace-Life Valley Education and Training Center (한국DMZ평화생명동산교육마을). Long name huh? Located between two main tourist attraction sites, it is a strategic spot for further exploration of the area. 

Each meal is around 4,500 Won and most of the ingredients from the dishes are from the region or from the farm outside the center. The first place I visited was the Eulji Observation Platform.

Eulji Observation Platform (을지전망대)
Eulji Observation Platform
No GPS signal!
Entry Fee: 2,500 won per adult (Fee for Fourth Incursion Tunnel included) and registration at the Yanggu Unification Center is needed prior to visit. Visit for more info

This is the most tightly guarded area in this region. Positioned just over 1 km from the North Korean side, we had to pass through several military checkpoints. This platform was built on the ridge of Gachilbong Peak, which is over 1,049m above sea level. 

Directly beside it, is the “Punch Bowl”, a fertile valley aptly named as it resembles a punch bowl. Innocent as it may sound, this is the site where many lives were lost during the tragic Korean War.      

On a clear day, the North Korean army can be seen from here. Unfortunately, during my trip, the weather was very misty and visibility was extremely poor. I had to make do with listening to the video presentation followed by a brief explanation about the area. Telescopes are also available. 

Due to the relative isolation from the city, the air is cool and fresh as it is located at the peak of the mountain. The rules there are simple—no photographing and strict adherence to guidelines stipulated by the army. It was an exhilarating   experience for me to be in the DMZ zone.

Fourth Incursion tunnel (제4땅굴)

This tunnel was discovered on the 3rd of March 1990. It measures over 2km in length and is buried 145m below the ground. For the claustrophobics, this is not a place to venture because the tunnel at the end is very narrow. The height of the tunnel is a mere 1.7m high and it measures 1.7m in width. 

As it was raining outside, we were wet in the tunnel from droplets of water falling on our heads. After a walk in the tunnel, I decided to take a ride in a mini train as we approached the deeper end of the tunnel. My butt got wet sitting on the damp train.... wth...

An army personnel was assigned to guide our group. He explained the intention and strategic values behind the construction of the tunnel by the North Korean army. The tunnel was built manually, using spades and explosives to bore through the hard rocks. 

What is so astounding was that after so many years of blasting rocks on South Korean territory, a railway line was also built— unnoticed and undetected by South Korea! Outside the tunnel are relics left behind from the Korean War. 

There are tanks, armored personnel carriers and rusting reconnaissance planes, located side by side, as a reminder of the many lives lost during this tragic war. There, I posed for pictures, pretending to be a pilot, an army officer and tourist with crazy posing ideas.
Nice place for countryside experience...
Due to time constraints, we had to call it a day after the visit to both sites. The trip back was accompanied by military personnel who checked our cameras to ascertain whether we had taken any prohibited photos. We had dinner at the Korea DMZ Peace-Life Valley Education and Training Center

There was a joke among our group that as the DMZ is devoid of female presence, (No kidding!) it is therefore appropriate for soldiers, retirees and wild animals. I observed that the entertainment places for the army are PC rooms, restaurants and billiard centers.  

Dutayeon Falls (두타연)
Getting there: Since the pond is located north of the Civilian Control Line, application to the military authorities must be submitted two days ahead of your planned visit and requisite approval must be obtained. No personal trip is allowed and only a group of four persons or more can enter the site. Admission fee is 2,000 won per adult

Dutayeon Valley is said to be the area where freshwater lenok fish thrive in the crystal clear valley streams. Because of its isolation, the ecological habitat of its flora and fauna around the valley is well preserved. Duta means living in peace and self-control without worrying about daily affairs such as which clothes to wear, food to eat and other nitty-gritty issues. Therefore, the name fits very well with the beauty and serenity of this uncontaminated mountain valley. 
At the Dutayeon
Side Trip: Pyeonghwa (Peace) Dam
The Dutayeon Pond is fed by water from the Dutayeon Falls, a 10-meter high and 60-meter wide cascading waterfall that channels the water of the Suip Stream (수입천) into the pond. To reach the Dutayeon pond, I had to walk over a stream via the suspension bridge. It was a chilling experience as the bridge swung precariously with every step I took.

Inje is the perfect destination for adventure seekers, history enthusiasts and tourists seeking to escape the busy city life. I always believe life is full of uncertainties. As a foreigner, the DMZ is one of the places in Korea I yearned to go to for a long time. Hence I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had been to this place and witnessed the splendor of this historic location. It is my hope that the DMZ will always remain as it is— ecologically diverse, pristine and untainted. 

KNU Times!
(This was written for KNU Times, my university's English magazine. I am currently working since last semester there so life is pretty hectic at the moment. It was some sort of an achievement to me because I am the first foreigner since its first publication in 1963.)

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