Day 2 (08/09/04): Mt. Myohyang
On day 2 we got up early and took of for a 3 hour journey to Mt. Myohyang, 150 km north-west from Pyongyang. We had to pass multiple road blocks on the way. We also saw thousands of workers digging a kilometres long canal by hand parallel to the road. The first destination was the international friendship exhibition, the holiest of all tourist sites in North Korea. Next we had lunch and an afternoon nap in the beautiful Pyramid shaped Hyangsan hotel. After our nap we visited the 11th century Buddhist Pohyon temple. Day 2 ended with a long climb off the Piro Peak route on Mt. Myohyang.
Major attraction: The international Friendship exhibition
The International Friendship exhibition is the holy shrine of the Kim cult, a visit is the high mass of the DRPK religion. It was build in 1978 to convince DRPK citizens and tourist alike that the whole world regards the great president Kim Il Sung and the dear general Kim Il Jung as global respected world leaders. Somehow the exhibition had a totally different effect on us. The International Friendship exhibition is divided in two building one for Kim Il Sung and one for Kim Jung Il both packed with gifts they received from foreign countries. There are more than 150 rooms in both buildings covering 70.000 square meters. Displayed are a part of the collection of over 168.00 gifts from 170 countries to Kim Il Sung and 45.000 gifts from 150 countries to Kim Jung Il. The collection is arranged according the country of origin of the gifts. We were asked to open on off the enormous bronze doors to enter the Kim Il Sung building.
Inside we had to wear special carpet slippers. The first room is filled with expensive and sometimes even tasteful artefacts. Most rooms however are filled with cheap kitsch from dubious countries. It is clear that statesman like Gahdafi, Saddam Hussein, Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Mugabe and so on where Kim Il Sung’s best friends. Gifts in the European room are mainly from Warsaw Pact countries received during the cold war era. There were also some from western European countries but they were certainly not from leading figures. There was a 5 Euro vase from the "Norwegian Communist Youth League", an ashtray from the Portuguese "study group of the Juche idea" and a plate from "friends from the GDR" to name a view. These gifts and many more are presented as gifts from Norway, Portugal and Germany and so on. There was one gift from the USA, a basketball brought by Madeleine Albright during here visit in 2000. We asked the guide if there was a gift from the Netherlands, it turned out there was a photo of flowers send by an unknown in- and export firm. We had some tea at the terrace on the roof of the exhibition building a really relax place. After finishing the tour our Exhibition guide triumphantly asked us "and...... seeing is believing??". We had to dig deep but answered diplomatic: "yes very impressing indeed".
Accommodation: The Hyangsan Hotel
The Hyangsan hotel a beautiful pyramid shaped building (1986) in a serene area. Inside the hotel the fountains were switched on when we entered the lobby, at the same time the lights in the restaurant went out. Later we went for lunch and the fountain was switched of and the lights in the restaurant went back on, a good example of DPRK energy management. We had a look in the (closed) revolving restaurant but could only film the view on the front end of the hotel. The small village on the other side apparently does not reflect the image that we can show the people at home. There were many well dressed and fed children in the hotel, obviously children form party officials.
Ancient history: The Pohyon temple
The Pohyon temple complex lies 1.6km away from the Hyangsan hotel. It is a well-kept and peaceful Buddhist complex including pagodas, halls and temples, with wind bells and gardens, dating to the 11th century. Much of the complex was destroyed during the Korean war and was rebuilt over the last decades. One building includes a rare collection of 80,000 wooden blocks (the Tripitaka ) that comprise the complete collection of Buddhist scriptures. The North Korean state co-opted Buddhism between 1945 and the end of the Korean War in 1953 to get support for their cause. Official attitudes toward organized religion changed in the seventies when the support of religion was no longer required. Many churches and temples have been taken over by the state and converted to secular use. Buddhist temples, such as Pohyon are considered "national treasures," however, and have been preserved and restored. This action is in accord with the church’s principle that the creative energies of the Korean people in the past must be appreciated. A limited revival of Buddhism is apparently taking place. This includes the establishment of an academy for Buddhist studies and the publication of a twenty-five-volume translation of the Korean Tripitaka, kept at the temple at Pohyon. A few Buddhist temples conduct religious services.
Outdoor activity: The Piro mountaineering route
The Piro peak mountaineering route is a 4 km climb to the Piro peak , the highest peak of Mount Myohyang. The start is 4.6 km from the Hyangsan hotel. There are great views during the climb on the Manphok valley. We met soldiers on our way, they have to complete the climb with full battle dress and heavy load as a training exercise. Cold springs and waterfalls offer nice refreshment during the hot and heavy climb. Some pavilions can be found on the route. Most famous are the Habiro Hermitage (Buddhist) and Chillsong pavilion, devoted to local religions that believe in the great bear.
Brief history: Korea’s sacred mountains
Mountain worshipping is an ancient and wide spread tradition in Korea, it is still very much alive today in both the South and the North. It is the centre in a complex web of religious forms like Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Christianity. Mountains cover 65% of the peninsula. Koreans see them as though they were human beings. For them, the Baekdudaygan mountain range is their spine running down from Mt. Baekdusan in the north to Mt. Jirisan in the south. Mountains also play a central role in the myth building around Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il. Mount Paektu is the most sacred mountain in North Korea, it is depicted on monuments, paintings, stamps, postcards and much more. The North Koreans are taught that Kim Jung Il was born in a log cabin at his father’s guerrilla base on Mt. Paektu from where he fought the Japanese in February 1942. Kim Jung Il was actually born in a Russian military camp near Khabarovsk . Other sacred mountains in North Korea are: Mt. Myohyang, Mt. Kuwol, Mt. Kumgang, Mt. Chilbo and Mt. Jongbang.