Haveli in India refers to a large historical mansion built by a wealthy merchant over a century ago. Designed to impress both the residents and outside spectators, these buildings usually come with ornate carvings, beautiful frescoes, intricate window screens, and an airy courtyard or lightwell. While many have been fallen into disrepair over the years, some havelis have survived into modern times and become valuable heritage buildings. Rajasthan has some of the most famous and well preserved havelis in India, and some of which have been converted into museums or hotels. Situated in the old city near the Gulab Sagar Reservoir and Clock Tower Market, the beautiful Pal Haveli was our hotel in Jodhpur. Owned by the Pal Family, the two-hundred-year-old haveli was the place where we first experienced the historical sense and beauty of the Medieval Jodhpur. Antique housewares, paintings, textiles and furniture offered a charming ambience. From the rooftop restaurant, views of the busy Clock Tower Market and the majestic Mehrangart Fort were breathtaking. Outside the hotel, the market streets and square near the Clock Tower dominated the street scenes.
Just a stone throw away stood a simple omelette shop that has been frequented by foreign tourists ever since Lonely Planet named the local eatery as the famous “Omelette Shop” in 1999. Since then, this simple eatery has been elevated into legendary status among foreign tourists. The life of Ramkishan Gawlani the owner has been completely transformed ever since. According to an interview with Reuters, Ramkishan Gawlani was used to be poor and drank all day. For 24 years he cooked meat, rice, lentils and sometimes omelette. After Lonely Planet’s listing however, his business boomed dramatically with tourists all over the world come to him for omelettes. He gave up the other options in his menu and became an omelette specialist. Just a decade after the listing, he was cracking 1000 eggs a day and earned much respect in the city of Jodhpur. Interestingly, the famous omelette man is in fact a vegan and has not eaten an egg for years. His story reflects an interesting phenomenon about the tourist and guidebook industry. According to Reuters, Lonely Planet has sold over a million guidebooks on India from 1981 to 2007, and has inevitably bringing tourists to the same hotels and restaurants throughout the years, and has created tension and jealousy among businesses, such as the hostile feelings of the other omelette shop owners towards Ramkishan Gawlani. For us, we did visit the famous Omelette Shop for our first meal in Rajasthan because of its convenient location. While not as legendary one might imagine, Ramkishan Gawlani ‘s omelettes were indeed delightful and convenient for us.
We arrived at Pal Haveli hotel straight from the airport in early afternoon.
Through the grand entrance, we entered into the main arrival courtyard of the hotel.
On the roof, Indique Restaurant is a well known establishment with good food and great views of the old Jodhpur.
The hotel reception lobby is situated right at the courtyard.
Despite its modest size, the reception lobby of Pal Haveli is decently decorated with traditional furniture and antiques.
Even the light switches reflect the long history of the building.
Our room was located right by the courtyard.
Inside the room, walls were decorated with traditional miniature paintings.
Just a stone throw away, the legendary Omelette Shop was busy serving foreign tourists.
Stacks of eggs and signs of “Lonely Planet” and “Tripadvisor” suggested we had come to the “right” place, but not one of the imitated ones.
Ramkishan Gawlaniwas busy making omelettes at the stove.
Made with several eggs, mayo, cheese, spices and bread, we tried the tasty Alibaba Omelette.
Near the Omelette Shop was the entrance into the Sardar Market or the Clock Tower Market.
Across the street from the Omelette Shop, we could see the side facade of our hotel Pal Haveli.
Dozens of tuk tuks or auto rickshaws await for tourists at the heart of the old city across the street from the Omelette Shop.
After a few rounds of bargaining, we hired one of the passing auto rickshaw for Mehrangarh Fort, the single most iconic sight of the city of Jodhpur.
DAY 10 (2/2): FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山), Tokyo (東京), Japan, 2018.06.03
While Oedo Market offers customers things that are meant to be kept for a long long time, the Farmer’s Market at United Nations University (UNU) is all about enjoying the moment with fresh local produces and food products. Held every Saturday and Sunday at the convenient location between Shibuya and Omotesando metro station, the UNU Farmer’s Market offered us an opportunity to sample the freshest local ingredients and snacks right at the trendy fashion district of Tokyo. Good coffee, refreshing apple juice, tasty roast pork, beef stew, juicy tomatoes, and fresh vegetables left a lovely final remark in the memories of our Japan trip 2018, a journey that brought us onto the Alpine trails of Kamikochi, into milky onsens of Shirahone, fairy-tale villages of Gokayama and Shirakawa-go, lovely cities of Matsumoto, Takayama and Kanazawa, and then back to the lively metropolis of Tokyo.
We arrived at the Farmer’s Market at UNU at around 11:30.
Local honey, fruit jam, and apple juice were sold at the first few market stalls that we encountered.
At one end of the market, a small seating area was set up for customers who bought the snacks or drinks from the vendors or fast food vans.
Depending on the season, Japan is one of the best places in the world to sample high quality fruits.
The fresh green peppercorns reminded us of the peppercorn fields we visited years ago in Cambodia.
Lavender is widely available in Japan in the summer.
The roast pork of Kome Shiru Na is a must-try at the market.
The high quality roasted pork definitely worth the waiting time.
The roasted pork became the first dish of our lunch at the market.
Local apple juice and fresh ice coffee, perfect for the sunny afternoon.
Too bad we couldn’t bring any flowers back to Hong Kong.
On the other side of the market, clothing and handcrafts could also be found.
The van of books was a cute feature at the market. We sat down at a table for some beef stew. The air was relaxing but we knew it was about time for us to call it a day and return to our hotel to pick up our backpacks for the airport. Our amazing ten-day journey in Central Honshu was coming to an end.
DAY 7 (5/7): LIGHTHOUSE, CHOCOLATE & SAMURAI HOMES, Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Branded as Little Kyoto, Kanazawa is famed for its century old neighborhoods and buildings. With only a fraction of Kyoto’s tourists, Kanazawa is a great place to appreciate the machiya, or the old Japanese timber townhouses from the Edo Period, and neighborhoods of geisha and samurai. Close to the castle hill, Nagamachi (長町) is the most famous samurai neighborhood in the city with well preserved samurai residences. From Kenroku-en and Kanazawa castle park, It is about 15-20 minutes of walk to Nagamachi. On our way, we made a detour to Oyama Shrine (尾山神社). Moved to its present location in 1872, the shrine is the most prominent shrine complex in Kanazawa, especially the iconic west facing gate structure standing proudly with a mixed style of Japanese, European and Chinese influences. As soon as we stepped in the shrine complex, we saw groups of people setting up art installations in the temple garden. Perhaps the artworks were set up for the upcoming Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり). We strolled around the complex and finally came to the unique front gate. Designed by a Dutch architect, the gate is consisted of three levels. The first level presents design features from Japanese and Chinese influences, and the upper levels are inspired by European styles, including the famous stained glass window at the top tier which was once served as a lighthouse.
Exited Oyama Shrine from its front gate, we continued to walk west into the Nagamachi (長町), the tranquil neighborhood famous for its samurai residences. Sitting just a stone throw away from Kanazawa Castle, Nagamachi had a high concentration of samurai residences in the Edo Period. Today, the water canals, narrow lanes, earthen walls, old trees, and traditional gateways still exist. Some houses are still occupied by families of former samurai. Before visiting one of the former samurai residence, the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we couldn’t resist the temptation and stopped by a chocolate patisserie shop called Saint Nicolas.
The Oyama Shrine is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the Kaga Domain.
While we were there, local communities were busy setting up art installations in the temple ground.
Some of the art installations were made of materials that we could hardly imagine. This piece set up laser disks (LD) in an arrangement that resembled a lily pond.
A glassy pavilion seemed like a brand new addition to the shrine complex. It might well become an information centre soon.
We exited the Oyama Shrine through its main gate. Once served as a lighthouse, the top level of the gate features a colourful stained glass window.
During daytime, it is difficult to see the real colours of the stained glass window.
Outside of the gate, a small procession route led us west towards Nagamachi, the neighborhood famous for its samurai residences.
Before going into the lanes of samurai residences, we reached a small street flanked by a small water channel and stopped by Saint Nicolas, a delightful patisserie and chocolate shop.
Saint Nicolas offers a wide range of chocolate, ice-cream and patisserie.
We decided to sit down for a tea break before ending our day with a visit of the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家).
Finding our way to Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we wandered around the small lanes of Nagamachi.
Unlike the historical districts in Kyoto, Nagamachi of Kanazawa to us was much more peaceful and saw far less tourists.
For 280 years, many top and middle class samurais lived in Nagamachi near the Kanazawa Castle. Although most mud walls were reconstructed in modern days, the charm of the old samurai era remained.
The Onosho Canal is the oldest waterway in Kanazawa. In the old days, it was a means to carry goods from the harbour to the castle town.
DAY 7 (2/7): A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Since the old days in the Edo Period, the Omicho Market (近江町市場) has been the biggest market in Kanazawa (金沢) for over 280 years. With 170 shops, Omicho Market is very popular among both the locals and tourists. Anyone who is interested to get a taste of the fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan will never be disappointed with the market. Depending on the season, Omicho Market is always a seafood paradise: snow crabs, shrimps, oysters, squids, sea urchins, and all kinds of fish from the Sea of Japan near Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), with Noto beef (能登牛) and Kaga vegetables (加賀野菜) from the region as delightful bonus. In fact, the Sea of Japan just off the Ishikawa Prefecture is where the warm Tsushima current and the cold Liman current intersect, resulted in an abundance of nutrients and large concentrations of fishing ground for a diversity of fish and shellfish. Being the largest market in the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, it is obvious why Omicho Market is one of the best places to sample seafood in Japan. Most tourists will either sample fresh seafood or seafood snacks from the market stall directly, or walk into (often after certain amount of queuing time) one of the small seafood eateries near the market entrances or on the 2nd floor. After dropping off our backpacks at Pacific Hotel, we quickly walked over to the market for a short stroll. It soon turned out such a stroll in the market would happen at least twice per day during our stay in Kanazawa.
Spanning across several covered lanes, Omicho Market is one of the largest markets in Japan.
Noto beef (能登牛) refers to the high qualify strain of Japanese black cattle with their longest and final breeding process held in Ishikawa Prefecture. Every year, there is only about 700 cattle shipped, making this rare wagyu beef almost exclusive to the region.
Many shops in the market specialize in regional fruits, produces or snacks.
Traditional Japanese sweets are also available in a number of shops, including this one that sell traditional sweet rice cakes made with sticky rice and red bean paste.
Thought of course the main draw for visitors to the Omicho is always the seafood.
For seafood, a winter visit would have an advantage with snow crab season.
Oysters from the region are also popular among tourists.
Outside of winter, crabs from the Ishikawa Prefecture are still available.
The crabs are sold in a range of prices depending on size.
Crustaceans remain the most eye-catching items in the market.
Without tasting them, even looking at the crabs was a feast for our eyes.
At last we couldn’t resist but ordered some oysters and a prawn.
Both the local oysters and prawns were super fresh and sweet.
Before taking a bus a few blocks south of Omicho Market where the city’s main tourist attractions could be found, we stopped by Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe for a quick lunch.
With fantastic reviews on the Internet, our coffee didn’t disappoint us.
The hummus, bread and soup were also more than satisfying.
DAY 6 (1/6): MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30
Before leaving Takayama we made a brief visit to the Miyagawa Morning Market. Everyday from 6:30am to noon, market stalls selling farm produces, local crafts, snacks, and souvenirs will be set up at the Jinya-mae Market in front of Takayama Jinya and Miyagawa Market along the Miyagawa River. These two morning markets have become popular tourist attractions. We arrived at Miyagawa River at around 6:15am, while a number of vendors were setting up their stalls. We took our time strolling along the river, and were delighted to see a few rows of koinobori (鯉のぼり), the colourful carp windsocks, over the water to celebrate the Children’s Day (子供の日) on 5th of May. They were meant to bring good health and bright future for children. As more vendors got their stalls ready, we turned to the delicious snacks for breakfast. Steady rain began soon after we had our first snacks. We hastily finished them and got ourselves a few local products (miso, dried mushrooms, spices, etc). After returning to our guesthouse to pick up our backpacks, we made it just in time to catch the 8:25am bus for Shirakawa-go, our destination of the day before moving on to stay the night at Ainokura of Gokayama.
The sky was grey and Miyagawa River (宮川) was calm as always. We thought the market stalls wouldn’t be up and running right at 6am so we took our time to stroll along the river.
It was delightful to start the day with a close encounter with a wooden Daikokuten or the God of Luck near the Kaji Bashi Bridge.
Colourful koinobori (鯉のぼり) or carp windsocks were set up (probably for a few weeks around the Children’s Day on 5th of May) over the Miyagawa River (宮川).
Originally the windsocks were used by samurai warriors during battles. In modern times, koinobori or the carp windsocks are meant to bring strength, good health and courage to children.
It was a pleasant scene to have a few rows of colourful koinobori over the calm water of Miyagawa River (宮川).
Some signs said the market opened at 6am and some said 6:30am. Even at 6:30am, not all stalls were set up and visitors were scarce. The grey weather and rainy forecast just made things worse.
Time was still quite early and there weren’t that many visitors around.
We would have to imagine if it was a little later in the day and with finer weather, the market would be much busier.
We would love to get some local produces but we just couldn’t bring them along with us for the rest of the trip.
An old man let us try the samples of the dried shiitake mushrooms. The sample tasted gorgeous and led us to buy a bag of the dried shiitake mushrooms. This bag of dried shiitake turned out to become the best dried shiitake we had ever had at home.
Seven-favored spices is a famous local product. We got a mini bag of spices from the old lady.
After 7am, more stalls were opened as well as the souvenir shops along the opposite side of the pedestrian walkway.
A few stalls were selling beautiful flowers and plants. We would soon found out that flowers were inseparable with village homes in the Japanese Alps area.
An old lady was selling all kinds of miso (味噌). We picked up a pack of Hoba Miso, a regional sweet miso wrapped in a dried hoba leaf (magnolia). Traditionally, the leaf was meant for wrapping the miso and cooking it over the fire.
Local honey vendor was about to open his stall.
Our first snack at the market was the takoyaki or octopus dumplings.
Watching how the takoyaki was made by the vendor was an interesting event in itself.
After takoyaki, we moved to the next stall for fish-shaped mini cakes with various sweet paste.
The takoyaki vendor recommended us to try the award-winning custard pudding at NOIX de COCO (ノアドココ). It was a fabulous suggestion. The vendor was friendly, the pudding delicious, and we got a chance to take a photo of the cute pikachu wearing a pudding hat!
Steady light rain continued and more visitors arrived at the market, but it was time for us to take the bus and move on to our next destination: the traditional gassho-zukuri village ares of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山).
Unless you are a vegetarian, almost all visitors who come to Takayama would sample the Hida beef (飛騨牛), the renowned wagyu beef (和牛) famous for its fine marbling, soft texture, juicy quality and rich aroma. Since winning the “Wagyu Olympics” in 2002, the reputation of Hida beef has risen on par with the legendary Kobe beef (神戸牛). First introduced in the 2nd century AD from China, Japanese cattle were raised mainly as working animals until Meiji Restoration in 1868, when foreign cattle were imported into Japan and cross-bred with the local cattle to produce the four main breeds of wagyu: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled. Out of the three strands of Japanese Black, the Tajima bloodline is probably the most well known. Only pure Tajima bred, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県) will be certified as the famous Kobe beef. In the 1980s and 1990s, Kobe beef was introduced to the world and made a huge impact for its exceptionally high quality. Yasufuku, a bull from Hyogo Prefecture was considered to be genetically ideal for creating offspring with high quality meat. It was introduced to the Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県) in the 1980s, and produced 39,000 offspring during its lifetime. Yasufuku is also known as the father of Hida beef (飛騨牛). Today, all cattle of the Hida beef are bred and raised in Gifu Prefecture. In Takayama, there are multiple ways to appreciate the Hida beef, from high-end steakhouse to takeaway beef sashimi.
Opened in 2001, French Restaurant Le Midi is one of the most elegant restaurant in the city to sample Hida beef.
A side store of Le Midi offers takeaway snacks.
Custard pudding topped with local honey is one of the shop’s signature dish.
Other than pudding, Le Midi’s Hida beef burger is also highly popular among tourists. The Hida beef hamburger and custard pudding were the first two snacks we tried in Takayama, and already we were quite impressed.
Across the street from Midi, we also picked up a Hida beef skewer from Kyoushi (梗絲), one of the restaurants in Takayama specialized in Hida beef sushi.
Even the imitation display of the Hida beef snacks looked mouth-watering.
In the historic Kamisannomachi Street, the Hida beef sushi from Hida Kotte ushi (飛驒牛壽司) is perhaps the most anticipated street snacks in Takayama. Visitors can choose to enjoy the sushi at the seating area in the souvenir shop behind the sushi counter.
Hida beef sushi combo on rice crackers were truly amazing. We finally got a taste of beef that would “melt” in the mouth.
Near the railway station, there are butcher shops such as Yamatake Shoten (山武商店) offering a comprehensive Hida beef experience from picking the meat to devouring the grilled meat all under one roof.
For dinner, we chose Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明) to have Hida beef yakiniku (焼肉).
At 7:15pm, we put down our names on the waiting list at Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明). In less than ten minutes a staff came out and removed the waiting list and put a sign at the front door to stop any newcomer.
After an half-hour wait, a staff led us into the yakiniku dining hall.
We ordered a highest grade Hida beef (最とび飛騨牛) and a A5 Hida beef sirloin. The yakiniku dinner was basically a DIY barbecue experience.
The highest grade Hida beef (最とび飛騨牛) was full of marbling.
A5 Hida beef sirloin.
At the restaurant entrance, photos of Hida beef breeders were displayed on the wall.
Bar codes of the Hida beef for the night were also on display.
Certifications and newspaper articles about Hida beef breeders were displayed at the shopfront of Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明).
Surrounded by mountains in the Gifu Prefecture, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山) or simply Takayama (高山) is a delightful destination for all tourists who have make the effort coming to the central mountainous region of Honshu. Takayama serves well as the base for travelers to visit the surrounding attractions, from Kamikochi and the Japanese Alps to the east, to the gassho-zukuri villages of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) to the north. Takayama is best known for its morning market at Miyagawa River (宮川), high quality sake and world famous Hida beef, but the most remarkable thing for most visitors is how well the historic Sanmachi Suji District (三町筋) has been preserved. Wandering in the historic heart of Takayama makes us felt like going back in time to the Edo Period (1600-1868, 江戸時代), when the city was a wealthy and prosperous merchant city. On the other hand, a visit to the castle ruins at Shiroyama Park (城山公園) on the mountain next to the historical centre reminded us the city’s shogunate past in the Sengoku Period (1467-1568, 戦国時代).
We arrived at Takayama from Shirahone Onsen at around 12:30pm. Our hotel J-Hoppers Guesthouse was just a few minutes away from the railway station.
Our tatami room was simple and clean, with a window overlooking the city’s post office across the street.
Just a short walk from J-Hoppers brought us to Sanmachi Suji (三町筋), the historic district that most tourists linger when they come to Takayama. Most tourists wandered around Sannomachi Street, the atmospheric street flanked by old timber houses.
In the charming historic district, even the street gutter can provide a lovely picture.
One of the most enjoyable activities to wander around Sanmachi Suji District is to sample the diverse local snacks, from beef croquettes to mochi. The rice cracker of Senbeidou (手焼煎餅堂) on Sannomachi Street is also popular with tourists.
At Sanmachi Suji, one of the most popular shop we encountered was Ohnoya Paste Shop (大のや醸造). Ohnoya had been around in Takayama for the past 250 years selling soy sauce (醤油) and miso paste (味噌).
At Ohnoya, we bought a bag of aka miso (red miso 赤味噌), a bottle of yonen (4 years) shoyu, a soy sauce made from aka miso, and a bottle of kibiki shoyu, a special soy sauce made with a traditional recipe.
A poster on a shopfront reminded us the famous Takayama Matsuri or Takayama Festival. Held annually in spring and autumn, Takayama Festival (高山祭) is often considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals.
During the Takayama Festival, the city’s splendid festival floats (yatai) would be paraded throughout the historic streets. Throughout the year, the floats are stored in special storehouses scattered across the old town.
On Sannomachi Street, we walked by the beautiful gate of Fujii Folk Museum, a small museum with exhibits of artefacts and local art pieces.
Before heading up to the Shiroyama Park (城山公園), we stopped by a sweet bun shop.
The sweet buns looked pretty and tasted delicious.
While wandering the historic centre, we passed by the interesting Takayama Shōwa-kan Museum (高山昭和館). Named as one of Takayama’s top attractions in Lonely Planet, the museum showcased objects dated back from the mid 1950’s to 1960’s Japan.
What looked like an antique shop across from Takayama Shōwa-kan Museum (高山昭和館) was in fact a hairdresser (バーバー文助) decorated in a vintage look.
On our way to Shiroyama Park (城山公園), we passed by another old miso shop (丸五味噌(醤油)屋).
After our walk up the Shiroyama Park and Higashiyama Walking Course (東山遊歩道), we finally reached the beautiful Miyagawa River (宮川).
The hotel staff at J-Hoppers recommended us to check out the 1200-year-old ginkgo tree (銀杏) at Kokubunji Temple.
The 37m tree is a designated natural treasure.
Hida Kokubunji Temple (飛騨国分寺) was originally built in 764 AD by Emperor Shoumu. Over the years, the structures had been reconstructed. The three-storey pagoda was rebuilt in 1821 to replace the earlier five-storey pagoda that was itself a replacement of the original seven-storey pagoda.
Together with the pagoda, the bell tower at Kokubunji Temple is also a fascinating old timber structure.