Travels of Hyecho

Hyecho (704-787 CE) - was a Korean Buddhist monk from Silla, one of the three Korean kingdoms of the period. Hyecho studied esoteric Buddhism in Tang Dynasty China, initially under Subhakarasimha and then under the famous Indian monk Vajrabodhi who praised Hyecho as "one of six living persons who were well-trained in the five sections of the Buddhist canon."

On the advice of his Indian teachers in China, he set out for India in 723 CE to acquaint himself with the language and culture of the land of the Buddha. In his Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Indian Kingdoms, Hyecho described his personal observations and experiences as well as local tales and legends that he heard while traveling some 40 countries and regions over four years.

He was the first Asian to travel across the Asian continent, from China to Arabia, by sea and land and to record his journey. The five Indian kingdoms in the work refer to West, East, North, South and Central India, but it also contains information about the Byzantine Empire (Greater Fu-lin), the Arabs, Persia and several Central Asian states. His 20,000 kilometer-long march took four years.

His record is regarded as one of the most valuable works of travel literature in the world, along with Great Tang Records on the Western Regions written by the seventh century Chinese dharma master Xuanzang, The Travels of Marco Polo of the 13th century, and The Journey by the 14th-century Muslim traveler Ibn Batutta.

(Source of information: Wikipedia and Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (CHA))

Connected Sites

Site Rationale Link
Bamiyan Valley "A month later, Hyeocho arrives in Gandhara, where Buddhist art reached brilliant heights. He goes north from there, passing through Oddiyana, and then west, to Afghanistan. He visits Bamyan and then heads to Tokhara." - Northeast Asian History Foundation
Ellora Caves "I have arrived to the place where the Southern Indian King resides. His territory is very broad: the South extends to the Southern sea, the East to the Eastern sea, the West to the Western sea, and the north adjoins the borders of central, west and east India. The King, the chiefs, and the common people highly revere the Three Jewels. There are many monasteries and monks. Both Mahayana and Hinayana are practised. In the mountains there is a large monastery which was constructed by the Yaksas under order from the Bodhisattva Nagarjuna and not built by human beings. Moreover, the pillars were cut from rocks of the mountain and built in three stories. The monastery is over three hundred paces in circumference. During the days when Nagarjuna was alive, the monastery had over three thousand monks. But at present the monastery is ruined and there are no monks. Seven hundred years after Nagarjuna this place began to decay." - From the diary of Hyecho
Gyeongju "Hyecho was born in Gyeongju, the capital of the Shilla Dynasty, in 704. At age 15, he went to China to study esoteric Buddhism in 719 and after turning 19, he set out for India for further study of Buddhism in 723." -
Lumbini "The Four Great Stupas of Central India ... The third one is situated in Kapilavastu, the city where the Buddha was born. The Asoka tree is still there but the city is already ruined. There is a stupa but no monks or inhabitants. The city is situated at the northernmost part of the country. The forests are mostly deserted and there are many bandits on the road. It is very difficult for those on pilgrimage to go safely." - From the diary of Hyecho
Mahabodhi Temple Complex "I arrived at the Mahabohdi monastery. I was very happy as my long cherished dream had been fulfilled. I expressed my humble wishes in a five-word poem: Untroubled by the long distance to Mahabohdi Unafraid that the deer park is far, Only the dangerous path worries me. Not caring how the evil wind blows. To visit the eight stupas is truly not easy. All places were burnt. How then could ones desire be fulfilled? With my eyes I saw it this very day." - From the diary of Hyecho
Mogao Caves "The travelogue was lost for many years until a fragment of it was rediscovered by Paul Pelliot in the Dunhuang grotto in China in 1908 and was subsequently translated into different languages over the years; the original version of Wang ocheonchukguk jeon. The original fragment is now in France." - Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (CHA) Korean Heritage Summer Webzine 2011 (Vol.4.No.2)
Mount Wutai "After completing his journey across India, Central Asia and China, Hyecho returned to Changan early in the eleventh month of 727. Thereafter, he devoted himself to scriptural study and translation along with his teacher. In the fifth month of 780 he entered nirvana at Qinyuan Puti Temple on Mount Wutai in China." - Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (CHA) Korean Heritage Summer Webzine 2011 (Vol.4.No.2)
Samarkand While most of the nominated monuments did not exist during Hyecho's time, the Afrosiab archaeological area was highly developed. It is also mentioned in the nomination file that Arab rulers turned ancient temples into mosques. "Only in Samarkand is there one monastery and monk, who does not know how to revere the 'Three Jewels'. In these countries of the Hu people, both the beard and hair are cut. People like to wear white caps made of cotton." - From the Diary of Hyecho
Silk Roads Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor "Hyecho was a monk who came to Tang from Xinluo (a state of North Korea) at his young age and later went on an oceanic route of pilgrimage to Sindhu from 723 to 727. He completed his work after he traveled east, central, south, west and north India and returned Chang'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty, via the Central Asia." - Nomination File
Taxila Travelling from Western India, "After three months, he reaches Punjab in the upper reaches of the Indus River. In a month's time, he passes through Taxila (in present-day Pakistan) and then enters Kashmir." - Northeast Asian History Foundation


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