CHANGBAI, China - The spiritual birthplace of the Korean people is a volcano steeped in myth and legend. But with the peninsula divided for decades, South Koreans longing to see it must first travel to China.
The peak - known as Changbai in Chinese and Paektu in Korean - and its spectacular crater lake straddle the China-North Korea border.
Small tour buses screech around hairpin curves before unloading South Korean tourists for a short walk to the rim to catch sight of the forbiddenNorth - and dream of a future as one.
"Unification!" shouted a South Korean man at the site, one of the tens of thousands who make the pilgrimage every year.
According to Korean myth Dangun, who founded the nation's first kingdom in 2333 BC, was born on the mountain to a mother who was transformed from a bearinto a woman.
The local tourism bureau says there were about 137,000 overseas visitors in 2013, with more than half said to be South Koreans.
"This place is so sacred," said Choi Byung-Eui, who had journeyed with his father from the South Korean city of Gyeongju.
He paused among the heavy, sustained gusts of wind at the crater's edge that occasionally opened up the thick cloud to allow glimpses of the crater.
"I'm so disappointed and so sad because a lot of people are divided because of the (Korean) war," he said. "Our Korea must be one."