31 Aug 2016 20:21 IST

Demystifying DMZ and the enchanting Han River

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Follow the students of IIM-B explore Seoul's Han river

With our first five days in Seoul abuzz with activities, we students welcomed an off day. We used this break to explore the famous Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea in the first half of the day.

Our tour began at 7 am and the tour bus had people of five different nationalities. The best part of the journey was the company of our tour guide, a short man with astounding fitness and infectious enthusiasm. He surprised us with his knowledge and flawless English.

Deciphering the DMZ

The DMZ is an area between the North and South Korea, spread across two kilometres on either sides of the military demarcation line. It doesn’t have any army personnel from either of the countries stationed. However, beyond this is one of the world’s most heavily guarded areas, with troops from the US, South Korea and North Korea deployed.

Our first stop was Imjingak, where we saw the famous Freedom Bridge which served as a passage for prisoners of war and other soldiers to cross over to South Korea from North Korea. The sight of that frail wooden bridge, which served as a symbol of survival, made us grateful for the kind of lives we lead.

Next, we were informed about the Unification village situated within the DMZ, towards the north of the civilian area in South Korea. The village, which is mostly occupied by the veterans from South Korea, survives by producing Ginseng, a Korean herb.

The bitter rivalry between the two countries was very evident in our visit to the next destination: the DMZ History Museum. The history of the war, the North Korean army’s atrocities on South Korean soldiers and the history of the signing of the truce agreement in 1953 presented a clear picture of the war.

Following that, we visited the third Infiltration Tunnel, which were dug in South Korea by the North Korean army. Four of these were discovered in 1970s. The tunnels are of strategic significance as they enable the North Korean army to reach Seoul unnoticed within a very short span of time. The tunnels are located less than 60 kilometres from Seoul.

The third tunnel, which is 600 metres long, is at an inclination of 11 degrees, so going in and coming back felt like a trek.

The Dora Observatory was next on our list. The observatory allows a clear view of the North Korean region near the DMZ with the help of binoculars. The view shows how beautiful the country is.

The three major places that are visible are the Industrial Township, Propaganda Village and the North Korean Flagpole. Interestingly, the Propaganda Village is a fake village built by North Korea to make it seem like people are living there, thus preventing retaliation from South Korea in case of war. The Observatory serves as reminder of peace and harmony with the tag line ‘End of separation and beginning of unification’.

We then moved on to the Dorasan Railway Station, which is a symbol of optimism for South Koreans when it comes to the unification of the warring nations. “The station would serve as a gateway to the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. The unification would lead to direct access to Europe via rail network and Dorasan would serve as the key link,” our guide explained.

We felt fortunate to have been able to experience this unique nation and learn about its historical events.

Experiencing India in the heart of Korea

After this enriching experience, we were desperate for some good food. The bus dropped us off at the Seoul City Station. We walked across a few blocks to reach Gwanghaemun, where we were pleasantly surprised to find an Indian restaurant called Om. The taste of India outside India seemed heavenly and we savoured each morsel. Naan, biryani, raita and butter chicken tasted absolutely delicious.

The surprise didn’t end with the food. The manager, a young Korean lady, came to inquire about the food and spoke to us in Hindi. Then, as the conversation progressed, we learnt that she spoke Bengali as well! It turned out that she had spent four years in Kolkata studying hotel management and absolutely loved India.

The miracle on River Han

The evening was even better with our visit to the Hangang Riverside Park, where we were blown away by the beauty of the river Han. The soothing breeze and relaxed atmosphere made the park seem like an oasis amidst a busy city.

Teenagers skateboarding, couples enjoying the evening and local singers performing for the crowd only added to our experience at the park. The sound of the Han river lapping against the the shores relaxed us all and the ferry ride on the river was an enchanting experience. It reminded us of Chaupati in Mumbai and the ferry ride could rival the one on the Hoogly near the Howrah bridge in Kolkata.

The city of Seoul has won us over in the few days that we have been here.

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