One of my biggest anticipations for this trip was our trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); however, this morning we got to know that the Joint Security Area (JSA) tour was cancelled due to a miscommunication with the travelling agency, which we were pretty upset to say the least.
Heavily patrolled and possibly the most tensions area in the planet, the DMZ is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula. It was established at the end of the Korean War to serve as a buffer zone between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The DMZ is a border barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half. It was created by agreement between North Korea, China and the United Nations in 1953. The DMZ is 250 kilometres long, and about 4 kilometres wide. The area now has become one of the world best natural habitats as the wide strip of land that runs along the whole country which no one is allowed to live in so is now inhabited by wild birds and animals, occasionally blowing themselves up by land mines.
Within the DMZ is a meeting-point between the two nations in the small JSA near the western end of the zone, where negotiations take place. There have been various incidents in and around the DMZ, with military and civilian casualties on both sides. Several tunnels are claimed to have been built as an invasion route for the North Koreans.
We headed with Steve Kim to the Imjingak Pavilion this morning. The pavilion, now at the forefront of tourism related to the Korean War, was built-in 1972 with the hope that someday unification would be possible. Within the Imjingak Pavilion, there are a few landmarks, including the emotionally powerful steam locomotive. It used to go to Sinuiju before separation. Since being bombed and derailed during the Korean War, the steam locomotive has remained in the same spot for more than 60 years. According to former conductor Han Jun-ki, who was in charge of the locomotive, it was on its way to Pyongyang from Gaeseong, transporting military supplies. However, when it encountered Chinese troops, Han decided to go into reverse and to head back to Hanpo Station in Hwanghe-do, now in North Korea. When the train arrived at Jangdan Station, now in Paju, it broke down. The old rusty locomotive has more than 1,000 bullet holes and the wheels are tilted.
After exploring Imjingak Pavilion, we headed to Dorasan station. The railway station situated on the Gyeongui Line, which once connected North Korea and South Korea. Dorasan station is currently served by four daily trains from Seoul, which are used mostly by tourists but hopefully will be open in the near future as a connection point with North Korea and the rest of the world.We further went to Dora’s Observatory. The observatory looks across the Demilitarized Zone and it is the part of South Korea closest to the North. We could catch a rare glimpse of the reclusive North Korean state through binoculars. The surreal experince actually sunk in when observing the North Korean flag situated in the middle of its propaganda village, a remnant of the old prosperity of the North.
Next stop was the 3rd infiltration tunnel. Scarily enough, around the time that the North and South were having peace talks, North Korea began digging underground tunnels to infiltrate the South. They were never completed, but were discovered in 1984. The 3rd tunnel is one of 4 known tunnels under the border between North Korea and South Korea. Initially, North Korea denied building the tunnel. North Korea then declared it was part of a coal mine, the tunnel having been blackened by construction explosions. Signs in the tunnel claim that there is no geological likelihood of coal being in the area. It is estimated that approximately 30,000 soldiers could move through the tunnel per hour. The scale is similar to the 2nd Tunnel, but it was thought to be more threatening as an invasion tool than the 1st and 2nd Tunnels.
Overall, it was really interesting seeing this area in which scarily enough could it be broken into war and with that millions of lives could be taken away. Partaking in the DMZ tour allowed myself to gain much more depth on a humanitarian crisis that the world does not know enough about. Still a bit disappointed on not being able to visit the JSA and technically stepping in North Korea, but at least I managed to have a glimpse of North Korea.