The international spotlight today is on the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where hectic diplomatic parleys are going on between the leaders of the two Koreas to reduce tension in the peninsula. While the Cold War may be officially over, but millions are still grappling with its legacy to this day.
The DMZ, which separates North and South Korea, now remains the last vestige of that conflict. The DMZ is a buffer zone, which was established on July 27, 1953, when the armistice deal was signed between the two Koreas. Technically, the two nations are still at war with each other in the absence of a peace treaty.
The Joint Security Area (JSA), also known as the Panmunjom truce area, remains the most iconic image of the DMZ with its hawk-eyed guards and barbed wire fences. The bright blue Military Armistice Commission Conference Room, lies bang on the army’s demarcation line. Panmunjom is a tourist magnet from where one can see the frontline from close quarters. One can even enter North Korea for a fleeting moment by simply crossing over in the conference room!
Another top draw for visitors remains the Dora Observatory from where one gets a peek into North Korea. Near the observatory is the ‘third underground tunnel’, built by North Korea and discovered in 1978. The tunnel, which is over 200 ft below ground, stretches over 1.6km with a height and width of 2m, capable of mobilizing 30,000 troops in one hour. Footfalls to the tunnels started rising during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea, after which a shuttle service was constructed.
The last stop on this writer’s trip to the DMZ was the Dorasan Station, a railway station which is the northernmost stop on South Korea's railway line. The station was opened as a tourist attraction ahead of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. Many Koreans insist that it is not the last stop in South Korea, but it will be the “first station en route to North Korea”, if the two nations unite. If tensions continue to ease between the two nations, then Dorasan will certainly be the gateway to the Hermit Kingdom.
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