By Jeongnam Kim
(Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education·Culture·Society, World Korean News advisor)
Born around the year of 701 AD, Hyecho of Silla, a Buddhist monk, moved to Guangjawu of China at the tender age of 16, and met an esoteric Buddhist monk from Cheonchuk, or India, named Keum Kang-ji, and took him as a teacher and got to learn for the first time of the esoteric Buddhism.
The trip was so tough so that people used to say, "some one hundred people hit the road on their way to Chonchuk, or India, persuaded by their teacher, but none of them returned alive." He left Kwangjeowu (phonetic) in the year 723 AD, arrived at Eastern India by sea and made a rough travel of many a regions of the Westland despite the hardship of all sorts, and returned to T'ang four years later.
He vividly recounted in his "Travelogue of India" what he had seen and heard during his trip to the strange land. In 1908, Paul Pelliot, a French scholar of the Oriental Studies, accidentally found a book of scroll with both ends torn away at Cave No. 17, or known as the Cave of Secret Bibliotheca, in the city of Tunhuan, China. It even did not have the name of the writer.
Most of the records in the book was of his own eyewitness, but some of them was of stories he had heard during the trip, and most of the records were classified by the nation but some of them was described generally on the particulars of an individual region. In the book, he described the travel time and the direction from the starting point to the destination, the location of a royal castle, the status of reign, foreign affairs, the climate and topography, the produce and foods, costume and customs, language, religion, and in particular, he gave a brief overview of Buddhism in each of the countries he had visited.
He made the historic trip by a sea route from Guangjeou (phonetic) in China and landed on East India, and then got on a pilgrim to the four sacred pagodas located in the Garden of Wild Deer, known as a place where Buddha had passed and where he gave his first sermon. Afterwards he went through the East India and West India before he arrived at Jalandara, the capital of North India. From here he ventured out on a trip to Gandara and Kashmire, and then to Towhara, or Afghanistan to the Northeast.
Then afterwards, he journey all the way to Persia, a trip most daring adventure to explore the world of the Arabs. On the way back he passed through the Thorax region and over the steep mountains of Hidukushi (phonetic) and Pamir Heights before he returned to T'ang. This rugged trip took as long as four years. This has earned him the title of the first Korean cosmopolitan.
Hecho's "Travelogue to India, is known as one of the world's four important travelogues, including The Travels of Marco Polo, The Travels to the East by Oderic, and Ibin Battutah's Travelogue. In his travelogue, Hecho left five pieces of 5-word poems, and people praise his book a lyrical travelogue.
Looking over the road to my homeland
Under the bright Moonlight,
The clouds are turning around, flying.
My country is located to the edge of Northern sky.
Who would fly to the Gyerim (Silla)
and delvery my words.