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North Korea - Off the beaten track


Paekdusan straddles the Korean-Chinese border in the far north. At 2744m (9070ft) this extinct volcano is the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula. It is surrounded by a vast wilderness, and the main peak is covered year-round by whitish pumice and snow; the name means 'White Head Mountain'. A huge crater lake called Chonji ('Lake of Heaven') lies at the summit, surrounded by bare rocky crags. It is one of the deepest alpine lakes in the world, and although it's fed by two hot springs, it is also one of the coldest.

Paekdusan is sacred to all Koreans, because according to Korean mythology it is where the 'Son of the Lord of Heaven' descended to earth and the first Korean kingdom began. North Korea's current history books also claim that the Dear Leader established his headquarters here in the 1920s and defeated the Japanese from there. Although no history books outside of North Korea claim the region was a battlefield during WWII, plenty of revolutionary and anti-imperialist slogans have been carved on the trees. Many more of these 'slogan-bearing trees' are being discovered every year, and most are so well preserved that you'd think they were carved yesterday, if you didn't know any better. Paekdusan is 350km (217mi) north-east of P'yongyang.

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