ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “hike

LOVE VALLEY, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

2006.05.07

A short hike to the east from Goreme brought us to the Love Valley, a little valley with  bizarre fairy chimneys – rock pillars capped with dark basalt.  Compared to the ones in Goreme, the fairy chimneys in the valley are much slenderer.  We pretty much had the valley all by ourselves, except a few occasional hikers.  There wasn’t much signage so we had to find our way on our own.  Back then, there weren’t any smartphone with us too.  We ended up reaching the White Valley and the village of Uchisar towards the end of our walk.

love valley 1It was impressive to see all these fairy chimneys in the Love Valley.

love valley 2The trail first took us to a higher ground to appreciate the rock pillars.

love valley 3It isn’t hard to figure out why the place is called Love Valley.

love valley 4Despite the somehow arid climate in the area, the valley was quite green at certain places.

love valley 5It was hard to imagine from the first glance that the pillars were carved out from eroding the surrounding ground, instead of extruding out from earth.

near love valley 2As we walked to other areas, rock formations changed gradually.

near love valley 3There are actually numerous valleys around Goreme that we could visit: Love Valley, Rose Valley, White Valley, Red Valley, Pigeon Valley, etc.

near love valley 4Thick clouds gathered in the valley as we approached the village of Uchisar.

06ME17-29Equally stunning, the rock formations of the White Valley resemble a sea of white waves.

 


LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK, Ella, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.13

Day 9 (1 of 4).

On our final day in Ella, we get up early as usual.  We had a car arranged to leave town at 10:30am.  Before leaving Ella, we decided to do a bit more hiking.  Our plan was to head east to the summit of Little Adam’s Peak, then descend to the north to visit the iconic Nine Arches Bridge, and walk back to Ella via the railway track.  This is a popular tourist route for anyone who has 2-3 hours to spare in Ella.

With a shape resembling the much higher sacred Adam’s Peak (2243m) near Nuwara Eliya, Little Adam’s Peak (1141m) offers a much easier hike for everyone.  Climbing Little Adam’s Peak took us no more than an hour from the trailhead.  The scenery was pleasant at the top and there were only a family up at the peak when we reached the top.  Despite short, the hike was a great activity to start the day.

01To ensure we had plenty of time to walk around Ella in our last morning, we got up at dawn.

02After we put on our hiking boots and packed our water bottle, we stopped by our hotel terrace to enjoy the sunrise scenery of the Ella Rock.

03From the main intersection of Ella, we headed east on Ella Passara Road towards The One Ella guesthouse, where the trailhead of the short walk up to Little Adam’s Peak is located.

04On our way to the trailhead, we bumped into three familiar faces: an European couple and their baby boy, the friendly family that we kept on bumping into at different towns and attractions since our first encounter at the Quadrangle of Polonnaruwa.

05The short hike began from a small tea plantation.

06As soon as we arrived at an open area, Ella Rock immediately dominated the view.

07We passed by a tea farm in the first part of the hike.

08The last bit of the hike is a set of steps that go all the way to the top.

09At the top of Little Adam’s Peak, the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains was breathtaking.

10The iconic Ella Rock was right across the valley in front of us.

11The highend villas of the 98 Acres Resort seem to blend in perfect harmony with the surrounding natural landscape.

12A small Buddha statue marks the summit of the Little Adam’s Peak.

13Just below the peak of Little Adam’s Peak, Flying Ravana Mega Zipline established a range of recreational facilities including zipline and archery.

14Instead of returning to the trailhead, we continued our walk through a tea farm towards the resort ground of 98 Acres.

15The huts of 98 Acres across the valley from Little Adam’s Peak are probably one of the most luxurious accommodation in and around Ella.

16Beyond the compound of 98 Acres, we found our way towards the most well known attraction of Ella, the Nine Arches Bridge.


MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.19

Day 5 (2/3).

After a few hours of sleep, we returned to Lake Mashu to seek for another way to enjoy the crater lake and its surrounding landscape.  This time, we took the 14.4km trail along the crater rim up to the top of Mount Mashu or Mashu-dake (857m) in a 4-6 hour walk.  We read from guidebooks and online research that the scenery of Lake Mashu from the top of Mount Mashu would be very promising.  At the onsen village of Mashu, we stopped by a bento takeout restaurant (ほかほか弁当) to order two rice dishes for breakfast, then headed over to Lake Mashu’s Viewpoint 1 to begin our hike.

IMG_9435A terrain model at the visitor centre of Viewpoint 1 gave us a rough idea of the hike, from the trailhead at the south of the crater lake to the peak of Mount Mashu east of the lake.

IMG_9437Soon after the trailhead, we reached the first open lookout of Lake Mashu.

DSC_5431The trail took us along the crater lake on one side, and open plains and distant volcanic landscape on the other.

DSC_5445Most of the trail ran along the rim of the crater lake with little shades.

IMG_9439From time to time, wooden signage indicated how far we were from our destination.

DSC_5456There was pretty much only one trail for most of the time.  It was almost impossible to get lost.

DSC_5477Near the peak, we could fully appreciate the volcanic landscape of the area, including the lush green forest in a caldera next to Lake Mashu.

DSC_5464After the steepest section of the trail, we finally reached the summit of Mount Mashu, a small lookout that offered wonderful panoramas of the area’s volcanic scenery.

IMG_9471From the top, the volcanic scenery of Lake Mashu area was fantastic.

DSC_5474Looking west, the ridge of Mount Mashu led to the eastern edge of Lake Mashu.

IMG_9483Clouds were getting in with the wind but we still had blue sky for most of the day.

IMG_9488Looking north, we could see the eastern tip of Lake Mashu.

DSC_5504With a circumference of about 20km, Lake Mashu is one of the most famous lakes in Hokkaido.  We stayed for 20 minutes or so at the summit all by ourselves, and began the descending journey when another couple followed our footsteps and replaced us at the peak.

DSC_5512Claimed as the clearest water in the world, the beautiful blue colour of Lake Mashu was simply stunning when viewed from above.

DSC_5523The wind was mild and the air was dry, such a perfect day for us to hike at Eastern Hokkaido.

DSC_5527From afar, the tiny island in the middle of Lake Mashu looked funny.

DSC_5529The hike would offer a different scenery if we were to visit in the autumn.

IMG_9512The beauty of Lake Mashu never cease to impress us, despite we were a little tired near the end of the hike.

DSC_5540Finally back to Viewpoint 1, the colour of Lake Mashu had changed due to the constantly moving clouds.  From dawn to mid afternoon, we had fully experienced the sheer beauty of the famous caldera lake.  After about 5 hours of walking, we returned to Viewpoint 1 and treated ourselves with local chocolate milk and a slide of Yubari melon (夕張メロン) , the king of Hokkaido fruit which just broke the record in May 2019 with a pair fetching 5,000,000 JPY (47,000 USD) in auction.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)

 


MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.18

Day 4 (1/2).

It was the fourth day since we arrived in Shiretoko.  Finally we woke up to a fine morning.  Clouds gathered atop the Shiretoko Mountain Range northwest of Rausu.  We had made reservations for an afternoon whale watching cruise.  Our plan for the morning was to head up to Shiretoko Pass, and do a bit of hiking near Rausu Lake.  It would be quite unfortunate if we were to leave Shiretoko without seeing Mount Rausu (羅臼岳).

At 1661m in height, Mount Rausu is an active stratovolcano that sits above Shiretoko Pass, the highest point on Road 334 between the villages of Utoro and Rausu.  Also known as the Fuji of Shiretoko, Mount Rausu is one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains.  Hiking up the volcano takes 6-8 hours round trip, but given our limited time and lack of snow crampons, we would have to leave the hike for another time.

IMG_9085Driving Road 334 up to Shiretoko Pass, we could see the mountains were still covered in clouds.

IMG_9111On our way up, we passed by several covered road sections.

DSC_4457It was a disappointment again when we arrived at Shiretoko Pass (知床峠) and saw Mount Rausu covered in thick clouds.

IMG_9122Though the weather looked quite promising down at coast of Rausu.  We hoped that the fine weather would stay for several more hours so that we could embark on our whale watching cruise in the afternoon.

DSC_4480It was 2.3km from Shiretoko Pass to the trailhead of Lake Rausu Trail.  About five minutes after we walked down the road from the parking lot of Shiretoko Pass, the clouds began to disperse over Mount Rausu.  We could finally see the beautiful volcano right behind us.

DSC_4497Some hikers would prefer taking the bus to cover the 2.3km journey to the trailhead, but there are only four buses per day on the route.

DSC_4495Looking down from the trailhead, the trail began at a marsh area.

DSC_4498We followed a narrow path down to the trailhead of Rausu Lake Trail.

IMG_9146The return trip of Rausu Lake Trail would take about 3-4 hours.  Unfortunately our time was restricted by the afternoon whale watching cruise.  We decided to do a shorter hike by turning back at Marsh 3.

DSC_4528As warned at the trailhead, the early section of the Rausu Lake Trail was flooded like a swamp.  Rubber boots could be rented at the Rausu Visitor Centre.

DSC_4525We soon reached Marsh 2 after a short walk in the flooded path, but there wasn’t much water in the marsh.

IMG_9148Snow was still visible at certain parts of the trail.

DSC_4502After about half an hour from the trailhead, we reached Marsh 3, the destination of our short hike.

DSC_4505Mount Rausu and its reflection at Marsh 3 was the biggest highlight of the hike.  While most hikers would continue on towards Rausu Lake, we had to turn back in order to make back to Rausu on time for our whale watching cruise.

IMG_9170Back to Shiretoko Pass, more clouds were visible over Nemuro Strait and the Russian controlled Kunashir Island.  We were a little worried about the overcast conditions ahead of our whale watching cruise.  After 2.5 days of rainy weather, even few patches of clouds would make us nervous.

 

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)

 

 


FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.16

Day 2 (3/3).

The weather fluctuated throughout the afternoon.  After lunch, we headed back up to Shiretoko National Park from Utoro to check out Shiretoko Nature Centre, the visitor centre near the park entrance.  The centre houses a large screen theatre showing films of the park, service counters for hikers to obtain trail information, a cafe serving excellent coffee and ice-cream, and a shop selling all kinds of outdoor outfits and souvenir.  After watching a film about a family of Ezo Red Fox at the theatre, we decided to do a short hike.

IMG_6477Only 20 minute of easy walk would bring us to coast of Sea of Okhotsk, where the The Virgin’s Tears or the Furepe Waterfall awaited us.

DSC_4374In the past few decades, efforts had been made to reforest the area after years of pioneer development.

DSC_4382Weather was changing quickly.  At one moment, clouds and mist were moving away from the Shiretoko Mountain Range.

DSC_4383At Furepe Falls, we could only admire the cliff of the waterfall from the opposite side.

DSC_4385A small group of seabirds gathered at the tip of the rock cliff.

DSC_4389From the opposite side, we could see the top part of the Furepe Falls.  The waterfall originates from ground water surfaced near the top.

DSC_4393A wooden pavilion was built across the cove from Furepe Falls as a lookout.

IMG_8828Despite the sun was out at Furepe Falls, clouds and mist continued to cover most of Shiretoko Mountain Range.

IMG_8831We slowly walked back to Shiretoko Nature Centre.

IMG_8850Back at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse, we had another tasty dinner after a pleasant bath at the inhouse onsen.  That evening, we were served with local salmon ruibe.  It had a delicate texture and would melt in the mouth.

IMG_6480Each of us was served with lamb nabe, herring with sea urchin miso, dried flounder, butter scallops, steamed razor clams, etc.

IMG_6487(Foreground) Ruibe, translates as “melted food”, is half-frozen sashimi. It is an Ainu culinary specialty from Hokkaido.  Fresh fish was traditionally stored under snow during winter and eaten without defrost.   (Background) Kichiji is a local fish with red skin and big eyes.  We tasted the deep dried kichiji which was crispy and delicious.

IMG_6488Steamed razor clams were full of aroma of local sake.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)


SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.16

Day 2 (1/3).

Shiretoko Goko (知床五湖) or Shiretoko Five Lakes is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in the Shiretoko Peninsula, and the most accessible area in Shiretoko National Park.  Formed by prehistoric volcanic activities of Mount Io (硫黄山), the five small lakes in the dense forest below the series of Shiretoko Mountains has become the icon of the UNESCO World Heritage site.  The Shiretoko Five Lakes can be enjoyed from a 800m elevated boardwalk or by a short hike in the forest.  Shiretoko National Park is a natural haven for a diverse range of wildlife: Steller’s Sea Eagle, White-tailed Sea Eagle, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Sika Deer, Ezo Red Fox, etc, but the most famous of all is undoubtedly the Brown Bears.  Shiretoko has the highest concentration of Brown Bears in Japan.  During the bear mating season from May to July, only guided hikes are allowed in the forest trails.  That was the reason why we had arranged a guided tour weeks before our actually arrival in Hokkaido.  We picked the day and time suitable for our vacation plan, selected a guide that could speak some English, and found a guesthouse in nearby Utoro to minimize transportation hassle.  Unfortunately we couldn’t predict the weather.

IMG_6334It wasn’t the brightest start for a hiking day.  Rain kept on pouring down when we get up for breakfast at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse.

IMG_8689To battle the wet and cool weather, a hearty breakfast was essential.

IMG_6343After half an hour of driving up the mountains in rainy conditions, we arrived at the Field House of Shiretoko Five Lakes, where we were to meet with our guide Mr. Suzuki.

IMG_8694At the Field House, a preserved specimen of a small bear reminds visitors “a fed bear is a dead bear”.  When a bear is being fed by visitors and loses its fear of humans, it would repeatedly enter human settlements, leading to its eventual death in human hands to prevent fatal attacks on humans.

IMG_6345A board at the Field House allowed tour guides to introduce themselves.

IMG_8704We put on waterproofed pants, jackets, boots and grooves provided by our guide Mr. Suzuki, and were led into a hall to watch a a short film introducing the national park and information on bear encounter.  Soon, three other visitors and us followed Suzuki out to the hiking trails in the rain.

IMG_8713We were excited to hike at the Shiretoko Five Lakes despite the poor weather.  Mr. Suzuki kept on reminding us a close encounter with a bear would lead to termination of the hike.  Though within our hearts we wished for a magical encounter with the iconic bears of Shiretoko.

IMG_6357The 2.5 hour hike basically took us to pass by the five lakes of Shiretoko under the Shiretoko Mountain Range.

IMG_8717Unfortunately, due to the poor weather we weren’t able to see the scenic mountains during our hike.

IMG_8716On his iPad, Mr. Suzuki showed us the same scenery in fine weather.

IMG_8725The Shiretoko Five Lakes reminded us of the wetland scenery in Ontario, Canada.

IMG_8731Throughout the hike, we spotted bear droppings a number of times.

IMG_8733According to Suzuki, the roots of these plants are popular food for the bears.  We could see many of these plants being pulled out by bears.

IMG_8739Sika deer were peacefully resting in the forest while we hiked out of the trail.

DSC_4325Sika deer is the most commonly seen animal in Shiretoko.

DSC_4333The last part of the hike led us to the elevated boardwalk that connected back to the Field House.

DSC_4344Too bad the weather didn’t allow us to witness the beautiful scenery of Shiretoko Five Lakes, though we did have an enjoyable morning of peaceful hiking.

IMG_8781The elevated walkway allowed us to enjoy the wetland scenery without damaging the vegetation of the fragile landscape.

IMG_8776Our guided tour ended at the boardwalk.  We slowly followed the elevated walkway back to the Field House to return the waterproofed outfit.

 

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)


YUEN TSUEN ANCIENT TRAIL (元荃古道), Tseun Wan (荃灣), Hong Kong

Linking the village of Yuen Long (元朗) and Tseun Wan (荃灣), the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail was once a major route for farmers from Yuen Long to bring out their produces to the market in Tseun Wan.  Today, it is a pleasant hiking trail that leads visitors to enjoy the scenery of Tai Lam Country Park (大欖郊野公園), former villages such as Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘) and two of the city’s longest bridges: Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).

DSC_6198Our hike began from Tsuen Wan West Station and passed by Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital to reach the trailhead.

DSC_6220Soon the trail led us up the hill of Ha Fa Shan (下花山).  The path was well paved with stones.

DSC_6222The narrow Rambler Channel (藍巴勒海峽) between the island of Tsing Yi (青衣) and Tsuen Wan (荃灣)/ Kwai Chung (葵涌).

DSC_6216Known as one of the world’s busiest port, Hong Kong’s container port is located right at the channel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther down the road the trail led us further west where we were treated with great views of Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋), two of the city’s most important bridges connecting the metropolis with its international airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother highlight of the trail came as we arrived at the former village of Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘).  The village used to be a 200-year old Hakka village of the Fu clan.  Today, most villagers had moved to the new village at Sham Tseng (深井), about 45 minutes form their former home.

DSC_6252In 2002, a family of former villagers returned and set up a farm called Parent Farm (喜香農莊) at Tsing Fai Tong.  Many hikers stopped at the farm to enjoy their seasonal flowers and beautiful lily pond.

DSC_6272We came at the perfect moment of the year to enjoy the waterlilies.

DSC_6280While hikers enjoyed the waterlilies, their pets got a chance to have some fun at the farm.

DSC_6289From Tsing Fai Tong, we chose to end our hike at Sham Tseng (深井) right in front of Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).

DSC_6292Under the shadow of the busy highway Tuen Mun Road, the village of Sham Tseng (深井) is a well known village in Hong Kong.

DSC_6297Other than its view of Tsing Ma Bridge, Sham Tseng (深井) has been famous for roast goose for decades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe couldn’t resist but to end our day with the famous Sham Tseng roast goose for dinner.


SHARP PEAK (蚺蛇尖), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation.  At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers.  The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong.  At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination.  During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak.  Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.

DSC_6774Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).

DSC_6776After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began.  A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.

DSC_6782Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.

DSC_6783Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.

DSC_6791The trail was exposed with hardly any shade.  Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.

DSC_6824It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.

DSC_6829Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.

DSC_6832There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.

DSC_6857After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak.  The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.

DSC_6835 From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.

DSC_6841Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).

DSC_6875Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣).  The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.

DSC_6850.JPGThe descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.

DSC_6892The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.

DSC_6894Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).

DSC_6895The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.

DSC_6912Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山),  a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.

DSC_6925After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.

DSC_6938The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.

DSC_6942Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.

DSC_6969There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.

DSC_6987Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.

DSC_6996The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.

DSC_6998Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).

DSC_6999At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.

DSC_7009Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.

DSC_7022Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most.  The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.

DSC_7040In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus.  We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.


DAY 4 (1/3): TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.28

Kamikochi Valley and Hida Mountains or Northern Japanese Alps are the results from a series of geological processes that began 2.6 million years ago, when the Azusa River carved out a deep valley while the adjacent mountains rose abruptly.  Further volcanic and sedimentary activities continued to transform the Kamikochi Valley until recently.  Nowhere can illustrate the dramatic transformations of Kamikochi more evidently than the Taishoike or Taisho Pond (大正池), when the eruption of Mount Yake (焼岳) in 1915 dammed the Azusa River to form the beautiful Taisho Pond.  Today, the tranquil turquoise pond right by the foot of Mount Yake has become the most popular destination in Kamikochi.

After two nights at Kamikochi, it was time for us to move on to Shirahone Onsen for a dip in its famous milky hotspring.  Before leaving Kamikochi by the 8:25am bus, we opted for our last hike to visit Taisho Pond before breakfast. We headed out at 5am.  The sky was grey compared to our previous two days.

DSC_6669Time was still early and the sun had yet risen beyond the mountains, though the air was fresh and filled with a sense of tranquility.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail to Taisho Pond soon led us into a forest.  Bear sighting was an unlikely possibility.  The last time someone saw a bear in the area was three weeks prior to our visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail led us passing through some wet and shaded forest area before reaching a wetland right by Azusa River.

DSC_6683It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Taisho Pond.  Mount Yake (焼岳), the volcano whose eruption in 1915 caused the formation of the famous pond, stood right behind the turquoise water.

DSC_6688Unfortunately, the sky was grey and the early sunlight was still weak.  The colour of Taisho Pond was not as vivid as we hoped.

DSC_6699Nonetheless, the peaceful scenery and the pleasant colour palette of Taisho Pond still looked magnificent.

DSC_6702The beautiful reflections on the mirror like water revealed how peaceful the Taisho Pond was.

DSC_6722Taisho Pond is the ideal place to admire the scenery of Mount Yake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaisho Pond seemed to provide a desirable habitat for wild ducks.

DSC_6738Fallen logs in the water dated back to the last eruption of Mount Yake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA long boardwalk provides convenient access to the lookout of Taisho Pond.

DSC_6746On our return journey to Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge, we passed by a lush green wetland.

DSC_6747A small detour from the main path led us to the picturesque Tashiro Pond (田代池), a peaceful wetland with crystal clear water.

DSC_6762Along the way, we passed by a stubborn duck that refused to step aside from the middle of the main path.

DSC_6790Back to Nishi-itoya Mountains Lodge we had a close encounter with two Japanese macaque monkeys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter two hours of hiking, we felt total satisfied for devouring the fantastic breakfast.

IMG_8232After two nights of delightful stay, it was time for us to check out of Nishi-itoya Mountain Lodge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made it just in time to catch the 8:25am bus to Sawando (沢渡) where we would make a transfer for Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉).

* * *

CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Introduction

Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE

Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)

Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)

Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)

Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)

Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)

Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)

Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)

Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)


DAY 3 (2/2): DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.27

After consulting a staff at the Visitor Centre, we decided to take the Dakesawa hike instead of climbing the Mount Yake (焼岳).  According to the national park staff, snow could be an issue even on the Dakesawa (岳沢) trail as we didn’t have snow crampons with us.  Anyhow the Dakesawa trail was still the better bet for us in comparison with Mount Yake.  We decided to go as far as the trail conditions allowed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Kappa Bridge, we walked northeast in the direction of Myojin Pond (明神池).  Soon we reached the picturesque Dakesawa Marsh (岳沢湿原), where a small path led us towards the trailhead of Dakesawa Trail.

DSC_6492At the trailhead, a sign post indicated that it would take us 2 hours to reach Dakesawa Hut.  Without snow crampons, Dakesawa Hut would probably be our destination of the hike.  From July and September, the Dakesawa Trail would be busy with hikers aiming for Mount Mae-Hodaka (前穂高岳) and Mount Oku-Hotaka (奥穂高岳).

DSC_6508The first hour of the hike was a steady uphill walk in the forest.  At midway, we reached a spot called “Wind Cavern (風穴)”, where chilly wind from uphill came down via a gully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOut of the forest, we reached an open and rocky ravine flanked both sides by high peaks of Mount Hodaka.

DSC_6523We rested upon a pile of rocks.  The environment was perfect to devour a can of local tomato juice.

DSC_6543Down below, we could see the Kamikochi Valley, the turquoise Taisho Pond (大正池) and the Akandanayama (アカンダナ山).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the last half hour, snow began to appear on the trail.  The snow was slippery but we managed to climb up step by step.

DSC_6576We met several groups of hikers along the way, including a group of visually impaired hikers and their attentive guides.

DSC_6585Finally, after rough 670m of elevation gain, we arrived at Dakesawa Hut.  At 2,216m above sea level, the hut was the highest point for our hike.  Nested in the embrace of the Hodaka peaks, the hut enjoyed fine views of the surrounding mountains and Kamikochi Valley down below.  A few staff were making repairs here and there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe notice board at Dakesawa Hut provided information on trail conditions and other useful notes for hikers.  From Dakesawa Hut, it would be another 4 hours of steep hiking towards the junction of Mount Mae-Hodaka (前穂高岳) and Oku-Hotaka (奥穂高岳).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInside the hut, there was a small eatery and souvenir shop.

DSC_6590We gratefully sat down and ordered curry for lunch.  The menu was simple and slightly pricey, due to the fact that all food up here were transported by helicopter from down below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the desk, chairs and benches offered hikers a lovely spot for rest.

DSC_6605The helipad nearby was essential as most provisions at the hut were transported by helicopter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABehind the hut, reaching the peaks of Mount Hotaka would take another 4 hours of hiking at least.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took the same route for the descend.

DSC_6639Too bad we didn’t encounter any wildlife during the hike.  With the lovely scenery and pleasant hiking experience, Dakesawa trail offered us a decent introduction to the magnificent alpine scenery at Kamikochi.

DSC_6652It took us less time returning to the trailhead at Dakesawa Marsh (岳沢湿原).

DSC_6659A zigzagging boardwalk took us to a small deck at Dakesawa Marsh (岳沢湿原).  We sat down at the edge of the deck to admire the alpine scenery.  A leisure stroll took us back to Nishi-ito-ya Mountain Lodge, where the refreshing hot bath awaited for our return.

* * *

CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Introduction

Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE

Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)

Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)

Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)

Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)

Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)

Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)

Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)

Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)


DAY 3 (1/2): MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.27

Dawn came before 5am.  Taking a walk in Kamikochi before most tourists came out was a charming experience.  Walking southwest along the serene Azusa River before reaching Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル), a small metal plaque at a small water pond reminded us the early mountaineering history in Kamikochi back in the late 19th century.  Known as the Weston Memorial, the bronze plaque was made in honour of Walter Weston, whom many referred to as the “Father of Mountaineer in Japan.”

Before the late 19th century, the Japanese Alps was largely unknown to the Western world, and climbing mountains just for fun was a non-existence.  Employed by the Meiji government, English surveyor William Gowland became the first foreigner to summit Mount Yari (槍ヶ岳) of the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈) in 1878.  His adventure started a trend of mountaineering in Japan and was the first person to coin the term “Japanese Alps (日本アルプス)”.  In 1891, English missionary Walter Weston also climbed Mount Yari.  Sometimes referred as the “Father of Mountaineer in Japan”, Walter Weston wrote about his experiences and published “Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japan Alps”, an important travel literature that promoted this part of Japan to the Western world.  He continued to adopt also Gowland’s term “Japanese Alps” in his publications, and established the first Japanese Alpine Club in 1905.  Each year, the Weston Memorial Festival takes place in Kamikochi to commemorate Walter Weston.

DSC_6392Walking at 5am along Azusa River was a lovely experience.  The charming scenery under the early morning sun gave us an uplifting spirit.

DSC_6394The turquoise water of Azusa River led us southwest towards the volcano Mount Yake.

DSC_6403It seemed that our fortune with perfect weather continued.

DSC_6407The rising sun was behind us as we moved along the river in a leisure pace.

DSC_6410The volcano Mount Yake in the distance was our intended hiking destination later in the day.

DSC_6424Before reaching Kamikochi Onsen Hotel, we came across the bronze plaque of Walter Weston.  The memorial could be reached via stepping stones in the pond.

DSC_6435Soon we reached a path that led to the trailhead of Mount Yake (焼岳).  The trail up to Mount Yake (焼岳) can be done in a 6 hour hike (round trip).  It was our intended destination for later today.  But our hotel manager said the snow conditions on the trail was not too convincing, and recommended us to do the day hike of Dakesawa (岳沢) instead.

DSC_6437Continuing south we reached the Tashiro Bridge (田代橋), where we had a fine view of Azusa River, Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル) and the mountains beyond.  Crossing the bridge, we began to turn back towards Kappa Bridge.

DSC_6454Along the riverside, there were occasional park benches and tables where hikers were enjoying outdoor breakfast.

IMG_6100On our way back, the rising sunlight finally reached the summits of Mount Hotaka (穂高岳).

DSC_6469Before the arrival of tour groups, hikers can enjoy a moment of tranquility in the early morning.

DSC_6476Looking at Mount Yake (焼岳) from Kappa Bridge, we decided to drop by the Visitor Centre to ask for their advice on the trail conditions of Mount Yake.

DSC_6477If the hike up Mount Yake was not possible, we would turn to the Dakesawa (岳沢) trail going up the slope towards Mount Hotaka (穂高岳).

DSC_6486At the Visitor Centre, the staff confirmed that the trail up Mount Yake was still quite snowy at the upper section.  Unless we had snow crampons they advised us not to go for the volcano.  They said even the Dakesawa trail could be covered by snow at the upper sections, so we could go as far as we could accordingly to the trail conditions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack at Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge, we enjoyed our scheduled breakfast at 7am.  It was a tasty and filling meal before we embarked onto the hike up to Dakesawa Hut.


Day 4 (1/3): KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.19

The closest thing to Tibetan pilgrimage that we experienced in Lhasa was our visit to Ganden Monastery (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺).  Slightly after 5am, we left the hotel and walked to the street intersection of Yutuo Road and Duosenge Road near the Jokhang Monastery.  Several locals had already gathered at the street corner waiting for the public buses designated for different monasteries around the city.  The bus for Ganden Monastery soon arrived and we were told to get on with the pilgrims.  Foreign tourists were not permitted to take these pilgrim buses.  As visitors from Hong Kong we were allowed to join the locals.  Before departure, a vendor get on the bus to sell prayer flags.  We picked a five-coloured one that costed 50 RMB.  Before leaving Lhasa, the bus stopped by a security checkpoint where all passengers were required to register with our identity cards, and a local bakery where the majority of the passengers including us went down to get some bread for breakfast.  Soon our bus left Lhasa into the countryside northeast of the city.  After a two-hour bus ride, our bus finally arrived at Ganden Monastery on Wangbur Mountain at about 8am.

Just like our Drepung visit, we decided to walk the kora pilgrim route around the monastery before visiting the actual buildings.  From the parking lot, we followed a sloped path heading up the hill behind the monastery.  After making a turn in front of a small security station, we soon arrived at the hilltop overlooking the monastery.  A pilgrim stood by an incense burner surrounded by myriad of prayer flags.  We took out our 5-colour prayer flags, tied it to the flag cluster, and made a wish for a smooth journey ahead of us.  We continued onto the winding kora path along the slope.  The path soon split into two: the upper and lower.  We followed the upper path and passed by a number of small shrines.  We took out the bread we bought and sat down beside the path for a brief rest.  Beyond the scenic valley of Lhasa River, layers of mountains extended as far as the eye could see.  Further down the slope there were more prayer flags, small shrines and probably a small platform for sky burials.  We followed several local pilgrims to finish the latter half of the kora and arrived at the monastery at its far end.

01We passed by the forecourt of Jokhang Monastery at around 5:30am.  Pilgrims were burning some sort of plants at the incense burners.

02After arriving at the parking lot Ganden Monastery, we walked uphill along a path heading to the trailhead of the kora pilgrim route.

03At the hilltop, the view of Ganden Monastery was spectacular.

04A local dog followed us from the parking lot all the way up to the hilltop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the hilltop, a local pilgrim was preparing offerings at the incense burner.

06We tied our 5-coloured prayer flags at the hilltop overlooking Ganden Monastery.

07The kora path continues beyond the prayer flags to the backside of the hill.

08We soon reached the first shrines along the kora path.

09Below the kora path, the Lhasa River passed through the valley behind the Ganden Monastery.

10Also known as Kyi River, Lhasa River is a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo River.

11Farming terraces occupy a valley below the Ganden Monastery.

12The kora path split into a few footpaths along the slope, connecting a series of pilgrim shrines.

13The kora offered us a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.

14There were many violet wild flowers on the green slope along the path.

15 Some pilgrims took the lower kora route along the green slope.

17Towards the end of the kora path, we once again passed under a series of prayer flags.

19After the prayer flags, a few more Buddhist shrines came to sight, as we approached the Ganden Monastery at its far side.

18At the incense burner near the end of the kora path, we could see the winding vehicular road that our bus first arrived.

20The winding road where our bus zigzagged up earlier in the morning looked wonderful from a distance.

DSC_0190We entered the monastery compound from its far end.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 

 


DAY 3 (3/6): TAKINO’O PATH & SACRED BRIDGE, Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16

Every visitor who comes to Nikko would be impressed by the century-old cedar forests surrounding the shrines and temples.  What looks like a natural forest is in fact partially orchestrated by people 400 years ago, creating what we now called the Cedar Avenue of Nikko (日光杉並木), a 35.41km tree-lined path with 13,000 Japanese Red Cedar. The Cryptomeria tree (Sugi), also known as Japanese Red Cedar, is the national tree of Japan.  We didn’t walk the Cedar Avenue of Nikko, the world’s longest tree lined avenue in Nikko, but instead, had our own close encounter with the magnificent cedar trees in a along the Takino’o Path.  We came across the Takino’o Path from online research.  For about an hour, the trail led us through its tranquil cedar forest and peaceful Shinto shrines.   We began our journey from the Futarasan Shrine, passed by the Takino Shrine (瀧尾神社) and ended at the Sacred Bridge of Nikko, the Shinkyo (神橋).

01The trail head of Takino Path was right beside the forecourt of Futarasan Shrine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail passed by the the Taiyuin and Futarasan Shrine.

03A few minutes later, we arrived at a small shrine by the path.  It reminded us of Kumano Kodo, where we enjoyed a few days of hiking on the Kii Mountains of Kansai.

04For a very long day hike, some visitors would climb the Mount Nyoho (女峰山, 2,465m).

05The cedar forest soon got denser.

06Along the trail, we could closely the centuries old Japanese Cedar.

12Along the way, many old cedar trees were very photogenic.

07After the crowded and relatively noisy experience at the Toshogu Shrine, only five minutes into the trail brought us to a completely opposite world of tranquility and lush green.

08After about half an hour of leisure walking, we were soon approaching the Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社) in the forest.

09After walking up the hill of Takino’o Shrine (瀧尾神社), we passed by a number of atmospheric small shrines.

DSC_7881Kaji Sadayoshi, a supporter of Tokugawa Iemitsu, built the Undameshi No Tori (運試しの鳥居).  Like many visitors, we tested our luck by throwing a pebble through the hole between the two horizontal members of the tori gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACertain parts of the trail were covered with historical paving stones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kodane Stone (子種石) behind an old tori gate near the Takino’o Shrine is believed to have the power of child birth.

13On our way back out of the forest towards Shinkyo (神橋), we passed by Kannon Do Shrine, the Shrine of Safe and Easy Delivery of Child or Kyosha-do (香車堂).

14After a little over half an hour, we returned to the main entrance of the World Heritage Shrine and Temple Park.

15Across the street from the UNESCO World Heritage plaque, we finally reached the Shinkyo (神橋), the Sacred Bridge of Nikko.

16We didn’t pay the admission fee to walk onto the Shinkyo (神橋).  We walked over to the nearby bus stop for a ride to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).  Beside the bus stop there was an interesting telephone booth made of a recycled gondola.

 


PILGRIMAGE JOURNEY ON LANTAU, Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) and Ngong Ping (昂坪), Lantau Island (大嶼山), Hong Kong

Not a particular fine day in Mid-December, but our souls yearned for a brief departure from the crowded streets and densely built-up neighborhoods of Central Hong Kong.  We picked the Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) on Lantau Island.  At 934m above sea level, Lantau Peak is the second highest peak in Hong Kong, and we expected there would be a considerable amount of steps to climb.  After less than an hour of ferry and a bus ride, we arrived at the trailhead at Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).  Known as Section 3 of the Lantau Trail (鳳凰徑), the 5.5km hike from Pak Kung Au up to Lantau Peak and then down to the Big Buddha of Ngong Ping would take about 4 hours.

DSC_4247With our back facing Hong Kong’s 3rd highest peak, the Sunset Peak (大東山, 869m), we followed the signs to begin the climb of Lantau Peak.

DSC_4250The climb took us less than two hours, on a mostly exposed mountain trail winding on mountain ridges until reaching the final portion of the hike which was largely uneven steps.

DSC_4254Camellia (茶花) is quite a common sight when hiking in during the winter months in Hong Kong.

DSC_4280The air of Hong Kong during the winter months could be quite hazy.

DSC_4284On our way up, despite the haze and smog from China, we could still faintly see the beaches, Tung Chung New Town and Hong Kong International Airport below.

DSC_4287The steps seemed never ended, but we pushed ourselves to go for the final assault for the summit.

DSC_4290The air was much cooler as we approached the last bit of the uphill climb.

DSC_4301The mountainous landscape down below was quite scenic.

DSC_4316Up on the summit it was foggy, windy and cool.

DSC_4317At the top platform, there was a simple shelter for wind protection, a wooden plague stating the height of the mountain, and lots of visitors taking pictures.

DSC_4321_01The wooden plague stating the summit of Lantau Peak at 934m.

DSC_4332It was windy up there and we didn’t stay for long on the summit.

DSC_4347The downhill hike towards Ngong Ping (昂坪) was uneven steps all the way down.  Facing Shek Pik Reservoir (石壁水塘) in a distance, we took our time for the descend.

DSC_4354The stepped trail then switched north towards Ngong Ping.  We could recognize the silhouette of Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛), Po Lin Buddhist Monastery (寶蓮禪寺), and the sea beyond where construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was almost completed.

DSC_4359Although we could see our destination, there was still quite a long way of steep steps to go before reaching Ngong Ping.

DSC_4370The Buddha was getting bigger as we gradually walked closer to Ngong Ping.

DSC_4391Reaching the gateway of “Sunrise on Lantau Peak” signified that we had reached Ngong Ping.

DSC_4388After about 3 hours on the trail and just a stone throw away from Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, we reached a unique landscape feature known as the Wisdom Path (心經簡林).

DSC_4393The Wisdom Path is consisted of large wooden columns set up in the pattern of an infinity symbol (8).  On each column, text from the Heart Sutra (心經) or Mahayana Sutraare inscribed onto the wood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally we reached Tian Tan Buddha.  Up on the upper platform where the Buddha sat, here were six angle-like statues handing offerings to the Buddha known as “The Offering of the Six Devas”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstalled in 1993, Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛) is a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABelow the Buddha, Ngong Ping (昂坪) has been developed by the government as a tourist corridor with retail, restaurants, and entertainment businesses.  We didn’t check out any of the shops.  All we wanted was to catch a bus for Tung Chung, where where we could switch to the MTR (Hong Kong’s reliable metro system) for our journey home.


NATURAL vs. MAN-MADE WONDER, High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Completed in 1978, High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) is the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of volume.  Situated at the southeastern end of Sai Kung Peninsula, High Island Reservoir is surrounded by some of the city’s most scenic country parks and pristine beaches.  Designated as an UNESCO geopark, the coastal areas near the East Dam (東壩) of the High Island Reservoir is filled with hexagonal volcanic columns unseen anywhere else in Hong Kong.  140 million years ago, catastrophic volcanic eruption covered much of the area in layers of tuff.  The tuff cooled throughout time and gradually solidified to form rock.  The hexagonal columns were formed from contraction during the cooling.  Today, remnants from the highly active volcanic era become one of the most spectacular natural sights in the city.  Equally impressive at the East Dam are the concrete dolosse blocks at one side of the Dam along the coast.  Each dolos block weights up to 20 tons.  They are used as wave breakers to protect the dam against the rough sea.  To complete the beautiful picture, there are also sea caves and stack islands dotted around the coast, and the azure sky and boundless South China Sea.

01From Sai Kung Town, the taxi ride to the East Dam, the furthest point of High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), takes about 45 minutes.

02The spectacular High Island Reservoir East Dam separates the buffer lake of the reservoir and the boundless South China Sea.  Known as Po Pin Chau (破邊洲), the magnificent stack island outside of the East Dam is famous for its tall volcanic columns on one side of its cliff.

03The concrete East Dam structure that separates the two sides of blue water is really photogenic.

04The dolosse blocks pile up on the seaward side of the East Dam, creating a chaotic yet beautiful barrier.  Walking on the dam, we could hear the waves but weren’t be able to find an open view of the sea unless we climbed on the dolosse blocks.

07Once we climbed on the dolosse blocks, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the powerful waves hitting against the coastal volcanic hexagonal columns.

05We climbed down the dam, sat on one of the step and had a quick picnic lunch.

06Looking inland, we could see the inner East Dam that separating the buffer pool with the main reservoir above.  The massive dam structure looked to us as if merged with the adjacent natural landscape.

08Sea caves are common features near the East Dam.

09At the East Dam, natural volcanic hexagonal columns appear side by side with the manmade dolosse blocks.

10To explore a bit of the surrounding coastal landscape, we decided to walk further into the trail heading to Fa Shan (花山) and Pak Lap (白臘).  The trail was not very well defined, but we managed to find our way in the hill of shrubs reaching waist height.

10aOur goal was to at least to have a closer look at the cliff of volcanic columns of the stack island of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

11The coastal landscape in the area was truly spectacular.  Some like to explore the area by sea kayaking.

12Passing by the stone beach of Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘), we saw a few hikers watching the powerful waves.

13Some visitors didn’t mind to get wet and chose to explore by boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, we reached the closest lookout overlooking the magnificent Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

14The stone columns of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) appeared like a gigantic church organ.

16We then found our way down to the Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) to get a even closer look and even touch of the volcanic columns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll cliff sides at Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) were covered with stone columns.

17After the hike out to Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) and Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣), it was already late afternoon by the time we returned to the East Dam.

18.JPGInstead of calling a taxi, we decided to walk back out to the main road where we could take a public bus.  The route led us to go along a little over half the perimeter of High Island Reservoir and took about two hours.

19Beyond the haze we could see the Sharp Peak or Nam She Tsim (蚺蛇尖) in a distance, a popular challenge for hikers in Hong Kong.

20Soon the full moon was up over the tranquil water of High Island Reservoir.

21The scenery of High Island Reservoir was serene and calm.

22We enjoyed a few minutes of perfect sunset when we reached the West Dam (西壩).  Beyond the West Dam was Port Shelter Sea (牛尾海) and a series of islands.  The closest island was Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲).

23As the sun gradually set, we picked up our pace of walking.  Known as the Maclehose Trail Section 1, the trail surrounding High Island Reservoir was long but relative flat and easy.  By the time we reached the bus stop at Tai Mong Tsai Road it was almost dark.


DAY 5 (1/3): FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.07

For several years the famous Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) has been voted as the favorite tourist attraction in Kyoto on a number of travel websites.  The images of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates) winding up the Mount Inari (233m) and the clusters of miniature shrines and private graves hidden in the woods certainly nourish the public imagination of a mysterious old Japan.  We thought of visiting the shrine in late afternoon or early evening when the twilight was gradually fading away, shifting the tone of everything from orange to violet and then blue.  Somehow that wasn’t realized, and instead we chose to explore this highly popular and spiritual place early in the morning of our last day of the trip.  To beat the crowds, getting up before sunrise was crucial.  It was only a short JR train ride from Kyoto Station to Inari Station.  By the time we set foot at the entrance route of the Taisha it was a little before 7:30am.

01To make the most out of the last day in Kyoto, we get up before dawn and carried our backpack and luggage to Kyoto Station.  At daybreak, we bid farewell to the tranquil Shirakawa River in our Higashiyama neighborhood.

02At Kyoto Station, we stored our belongings at one of the many lockers and hopped onto a Nara-bounded train for Inari Station.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ride to the peaceful Inari Station took only a few minutes, and the entrance route of Fushimi Inari Taisha was just right across the road.

***

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) was first established in the 8th century dedicated to Inari (稲荷大神), the God of Rice and Sake.  In the agricultural nation, the God of Rice was a powerful figure who governed the fortune of lives.  In the modern age, the power of Inari had been shifted to offer blessing on the prosperity of businesses and people’s lives in general.

04A large torii gate led us towards the Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate).

05The Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate) was a donation in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), the famous daimyō (大名, feudal warlord) who unified a large part of the country.

06There were only a few visitors at the Worship Hall in front of the Honden (Main Building).  After paying our respects, we couldn’t wait longer to begin the hike up to the peak of Mount Inari via the remarkable Senbon Torii.

***

On Mount Inari, two features stood out.  First was of course the vermilion torii gates.  Donated by individuals and business companies, there were over 5000 torii gates guiding our way up the Mount Inari.  The second feature was the kitsune (fox).  Uncounted statues of foxes appeared along the trail, usually came in pairs standing in front of the Shinto shrines.  Foxes were believed to be the Kenzoku, the messenger of god.

07We walked past the first pair of bronze fox statues right after the visit of the main shrine.  Many fox statues here carried a key in their mouth (to the rice granary).

08Our hike up the 4km trail began at this cluster of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates).

09Only a handful of visitors were there, such a blessing given this place is also famous for big visitor crowds throughout the day.  The record was 2.69 million during the 3 days of New Year period in 2006.

10Soon we arrived at the trailhead of the dual route.  Both route would ultimately converge back to a single path.  We picked the left route.

11From one direction, the Senbon Torii appeared clean and minimal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking back we could see columns of dates and donor’s names along the path as far as the eye could see.

14We stopped at most of the sub shrine along the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a while, the trail gradually turned steeper with stone steps.

18Half way through the ascend, the view from the Yotsutsuji Intersection was amazing in a clear morning.  Many tourists would turn back from here.

19We continued on the uphill journey, and stopped by a number of miniature shrines and grave clusters.  Mini fox statues, mini vermilion torii gates and candles were often seen as offerings.

20We often made detours from the trail into groups of mini shrines and graves.  We bumped into this what looked like a shrine guardian cat.

21The cat came from behind the shrine and jumped from a a stone stele to another, and finally stayed on a small tablet under the morning sun… just for a few seconds.

22A pair of stone lions and foxes were on guard by the small shrine of God of Rain.

23The early morning sun was nice and warm, and cast a magical highlight onto the torii gates.

24Fallen autumn leaves added an extra sense of solitude to the quiet trail.

26While at certain spots the autumn leaves gave a vivid background to the otherwise greyish setting of stones steles and statues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we reached “Second Peak” we knew we were just minutes away from the peak.

27At around 9:15 we reached the top of Mount Inari, after about an hour and 45 minutes of hike.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 6: ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh, India

Before the trip, we thought of doing the Markha Valley Trek, but then gave up the idea because of the lack of time.  On our last day at Ladakh, the hotel manager suggested us to make a short hike to Zingchen Gorge, where many travelers started their Markha Valley Trek.  Tashi again was our driver of the day.  We left the hotel at around 7am.  Our car headed south, passed the Spituk Gompa and continued our journey until Tashi pulled over on a country road where a lady sat below a tree.  Tashi told us to get a ticket from the lady for the admission of Hemis National Park, where Zingchen Gorge was located.  Soon our car drove into a desert valley of the gorge.  Tashi dropped us off at the end of the road.  We then crossed a bridge and entered a natural portal flanked by majestic stone cliffs to begin our half-day hike through the Zingchen Gorge.

We had no particular destination in mind, but aiming to walk as far as we could in a few hours of time.  We walked leisurely on a stony road at the bottom of a rocky valley for about half an hour until reaching a local home where two donkeys were resting under a tree.  From then on we walked for another hour or so on a mountain trail in the Zingchen Gorge towards the Village of Rumbak.  During the hike, we crossed the river a few times via wooden bridges.  After about two hours on the trail, we finally had a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains beyond the gorge.  After we exited the gorge, we reached a small pile of stones and goat skulls that signified the gorge’s mouth.  Further down the trail at an open area we sat by a large round pile of mani stones where we had our lunch break.  After the break, we decided to head back into Zingchen Gorge to meet up with our driver Tashi.  We took our time to hike back to the entrance of the gorge, and walked further down the main road until we saw Tashi and his car at Zingchen Village.

Despite short, at the last two days of our stay we had a good taste of hiking in the mountains near Leh.  Hopefully in the future we would have an opportunity to do a multi-day trek in Ladakh to really experience the natural beauty of this region.

DSC_5983.JPGThe natural rock portal formed a perfect entrance to the Zingchen Gorge.

dsc_5993For the first half hour we were walking on a valley road.

dsc_6004The arid landscape and the greenery down at the river valley.

dsc_6013The surrounding landscape was extremely dry.

dsc_6024We met two donkey at the end of the road.

DSC_6028.JPGThe path get narrower beyond the end of road.

dsc_6058Just like the other days we experienced in Ladakh, the weather in the morning and early afternoon was always sunny.

dsc_6077White khatas, prayer flags and mani stones were common at rest stops.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter two hours of hike, we had our first glimpse of the snow-capped mountains beyond the gorge.

dsc_6137At the end of the gorge.

dsc_6141The pile of stones and goat skull.

dsc_6149The round pile of mani stones where we had our lunch break by the river.

dsc_6175Heading back into the gorge for our return journey.

dsc_6180Impressive rock formations and wild flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocals and their donkeys.

dsc_6278Wild flowers close to the gorge entrance.

dsc_6287We planned to stay for only half day in Hemis National Park. We walked as far as we could and then returned to the gorge entrance on the same route.  Despite the same route, the views and experience were never the same at different times of the day.  On our return, we were attracted by the rock patterns of a mountain near the gorge entrance, something that we didn’t take notice when we entered the gorge earlier in the morning.

dsc_6331We were attracted by interesting rock formations during the hike.

dsc_6342The landscape was always dry and rocky.

dsc_6357After 5 hours of hiking in Hemis National Park, we returned to the park entrance to meet up with our driver Tashi.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 5: PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh, India

Our driver Tashi dropped us off at a bridge at the highest point of Phyang Village.  He suggested us to walk further downhill to first visit the tiny Guru Gompa atop a rocky mount and met us at the Phyang Gompa downhill.  We walked leisurely along the main road into Phyang, the village famous for the Phyang Gompa under the majestic backdrop of Mount Stok Kangri.  The glacial Phyang Nullah carved a narrow river valley into the rocky landscape, extended from the highlands where we just visited down to the village.  Along the nullah were terrace fields of barley, corn, rapeseed flowers, wheat and local vegetables.  Occasionally the lush green fields in the middle of the valley were used as pasture plains for livestock.

We passed by several local homes and reached an open area where several stupas stood.  We climbed the pathway beside the stupas up to a rocky mount where a small Buddhist shrine stood.  We figured it should be the Guru Gompa.  In front of Guru Gompa, there were a few dried goat horns and a colourful prayer flag.  The door was locked locked and no one was around.  From Guru Gompa we had a clear view of Phyang Village, Phyang Gompa and the mountain range beyond.  After a quiet moment on the rocky mount, we headed back down to the main road and continued walking downhill towards Phyang Gompa.  Founded in the 16th century, Phyang Gompa is one of the two monasteries in Ladakh belonged to the School of Drikung Kagyu.  The lamas opened the doors of one of the prayer halls for us.  We spent a short while wandering around the monastery and checked out the colourful stupas in front of the monastery.  By the time we were done visiting Phyang Gompa, Tashi was already at the main parking lot waiting for us.

dsc_5755Water channel led the glacial water of Phyang Nullah downhill to irrigate the farm fields of Phyang.

dsc_5774Terrace fields of rapeseed flowers offered a peaceful utopian setting for Phyang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking down the main road of Phyang Village.

dsc_5779A village school at Phyang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHigh up on a rocky mount stood the Guru Gompa.

dsc_5800Dried goat horn by the entrance of Guru Gompa.

dsc_5791From Guru Gompa we had a clear view of the village down below and the river valley upstream.

dsc_5830Further downhill from Guru Gompa stood the famous Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5839Local shepherd and livestock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeveral green fields were used as pasture lands.

dsc_5845Stupas in front of the Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5892Lamas resting after lunch break at Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5900Young lama at a prayer wheel in Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5906The Phyang Gompa viewed from the stupa cluster.

dsc_5907A cluster of colourful stupas outside of Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5917View of the village from Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5921The Stok Mountain Range viewed from Phyang Gompa.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 5: SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh, India

Originally our last two full days in Ladakh was planned for a two-day tour to the Nubra Valley on the opposite side of Khardung La Pass, one of the world’s highest pass that can be reached by car at 5,359m.  Unfortunately, in the evening before our departure, we were told by the manager of Ladakh Greens Hotel that out trip to the Nubra was no longer possible.  In order to visit the region near the disputed border between India and China, all travelers are required to apply for a permit.  Since we were born in Hong Kong, our application was rejected by the local authorities.  As a result, we had no choice but to figure something else to do for the two days.  The hotel manager made a few suggested alternatives, and we picked two short hikes near Leh.  Trekking is big in Ladakh but we didn’t have enough time to do a decent trek.  Day hikes around Leh at least gave us a brief taste of hiking in Ladakh.

In the morning, Tashi picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Phyang, a village about 15km west of Leh.  The hotel manager suggested us to start our hike at a village called Dokla, but Tashi had trouble finding the way.  Instead he drove us further uphill from Phyang and stopped at a village where a few houses stood and a series of farming terraces were constructed overlooking the Stok Mountain Range.  Leaving Tashi behind, we get off the car, walked through a gateway of prayer flags, and headed up a small path towards the mountains behind Phyang.  We were told that the path would ultimately reach Nubra Valley in a few days’ time, where we were denied access to in the first place.  We hiked past a white stupa and followed a man-made irrigation channel uphill until we saw the clear running water of a mountain stream of melted water from mountain glaciers.  On a rocky mount dotted with wild flowers we sat down and had some quick snacks that the hotel chef prepared for us.  Across from where we sat a few tiny singing birds flew around piles of small pebbles.  After a brief stop we continued to walk uphill in the highlands near Phyang until we saw a small herd of grazing cattle from a distance upstream.

On our way back to Phyang we once again passed by the point where stream water was diverted for the irrigation system downstream.  Before reaching Tashi’s car, we passed by the white stupa once again.  A few people were putting fresh white paint on the stupa.  We exchanged some smiles and greetings with the friendly locals before heading back to Tashi’s car.  After a fine morning of hiking, Tashi suggested us to take a little break in the car while he drove us downhill to Phyang, where we could walk around the village and visit Phyang Gompa.  We gladly took his suggestion.

dsc_5521A tiny village uphill from Phyang where we started our hike.  The majestic Stok Kangri and the Stok Range offered a magnificent backdrop.

dsc_5517Gateway of prayer flags marked the exit of the village.

dsc_5522Many farming fields in the area were enclosed with low stone walls.

dsc_5530The white stupa overlooking the village.

dsc_5542The Stok Range in a distance.

dsc_5544Local agriculture is well organized by stone walls and irrigation channels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the rocky mount where we had a quick snack time.

dsc_5602Wild highland flowers stay low near the ground to avoid strong wind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe kept walking uphill to follow the stream.

dsc_5603The river valley continued winding through the mountains uphill.

dsc_5640We reached a point where stream water was diverted into a small channel that fed the irrigation system downhill.

dsc_5608Further uphill we saw a small herd of grazing cattle.

dsc_5664Pile of stones left by perhaps hikers or local shepherd.

dsc_5680Strange earth formation beyond the stone walls

dsc_5709Cheerful locals doing maintenance work at the white stupa.

dsc_5719Once again we passed by the gateway of prayer flags on our return.

dsc_5726Close up of a prayer flag.

dsc_5731On a low wall someone left a book of local text.

dsc_5507Not all farmlands were planted with crops, but for the ones that had they looked healthy and green despite the arid climate.

dsc_5748Tashi drove us downhill to Phyang and dropped us off at a bridge.  We planned to wander around the village and met Tashi at the Phyang Gompa.

* * *

Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi

 


WAYLLABAMBA TO PACAMAYO, Inca Trail, Peru

After spending the night at Wayllabamba, we began hiking after an early breakfast outside of our tents, where the staff of Peru Treks set up a long table and plates of pancakes.  After breakfast, one by one we picked up our day packs and left Wayllabamba behind.  We were told that the second day of Inca Trail would be the toughest, as we would reach the highest point of the entire trek, Warmiwanusqa or the Dead Woman’s Pass.  Before reaching the pass, we would need to go through four stages of uphill hike, with a total of about 1,100m of ascend in one morning.

Not sure when did we find ourselves followed by a friendly dog from Wayllabamba.  We went through the first stage of ascend without much troubles.  A 15-minute break with snacks and drinks was the reward after completing the first uphill hike.  The second stage of the ascend took us through a dense forest and hundreds of uneven steps, some of which belonged to the original Inca Trail where the Incas traveled hundreds of years ago.  The second stage of uphill hike ended at an open valley, where dense forest gave way to grasslands and alpine tundra.  A long table was already set up by our guides and porters at the valley, where we enjoyed our second breakfast of the day.  Soon we were on our way on the third stage of the uphill hike.  It was a nice walk through a highland valley, in the embrace of mountains and glaciers.  In the valley, a wild llama walked alongside us with its head up.

At the end of the valley, the last stage of ascend was made up of sloped path and steps leading all the way up to Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass).  At 4,200m, reaching the Dead Woman’s Pass has always been one of the the most daring feat of the Classic Inca Trail.  Luck was on our side.  It was clear, warm and sunny when we reached Dead Woman Pass, which is usually foggy and windy.  We were among the first ones in our trekking group arriving at the pass.  Fog approached Dead Woman Pass as we waited for our group.  After everyone arrived, Freddie led us up a rocky slope where each of us placed a piece of stone which we picked up from our camp site at Wayllabamba onto a large rock, forming a small vertical pile of stones. He and another porter took out a bottle of rum, and we held a small ritual paying respect to the “pachamama” (Mother Earth).

After the small sip of rum, one by one we descended the other side of Dead Woman Pass. It was a 600m downhill hike to our camp site at Pacamayo (Pakaymayu).  At the camp site, Freddie gathered all the cooks and porters and introduced them to us one by one.  It started raining after we arrived at Pacamayo, and the rain lasted all night.  We were just so lucky of not suffering from a drop of rain while we hiked.

5090385044_f268fa33eb_o_01Early morning breakfast at our camp site at Wayllabamba.

01Farewell to the sleepy village of Wayllabamba.

02We rested and snacked below an exotic tree.

04The second stage of ascend took us into dense forest.

05Steps were uneven throughout most of the second stage ascend.

07Second breakfast was awaiting us by the time we reached the open valley.

08A wild llama walked alongside our shoulders for a bit as we walked through the valley.

09Halfway up the last stage of ascend to Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass) took us face to face with splendid mountain scenery.

12Almost reaching the Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass).

14After 1,100m of ascend, we finally reached Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass) just after noontime.

15After some snacks and a sip of rum, our descend began at the other side of the Dead Woman’s Pass.

13It was a 600m descend to the campsite at Pakaymayu.

17At Pakaymayu, our guide Freddie (front right) introduced us to each of the fantastic cooks and porters.  Without their support, our trek would simply be impossible.

* * *

Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


ANCIENT REEF AND ESCARPMENT, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

Continuing on the accounts of our experiences at parks in Southern Ontario, this time we would write about the Bruce Peninsular National Park.  At Bruce Peninsular that separates the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron, Bruce Peninsular National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park are popular among hikers, adventurers, and tourists.  From Tobermory at the tip of Bruce Peninsular, regular tour boats take visitors out to Flower Pot Island to appreciate its unique rock formations, and Cove Island for its romantic lighthouse.  Adventure seekers also regard the Fathom Five National Marine Park, the area south of Cove Island, as a paradise for shipwreck scuba-diving.  Back on the shore of mainland, Tobermory is a hub for all activities in the area.  Regular ferry also departs from here to Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world.  Near Tobermory, the Bruce Peninsular National Park offers a well maintained natural reserve for nature lovers and hikers who either begin or end the 700km Bruce Trail that connects Tobermory to Niagara.

450 millions years ago during the Silurian era, a shallow warm sea covered a vast area of Northeastern United States and the Province of Ontario in Canada within a depression in the Earth crust known as Michigan Basin.  Known as the Niagara Escarpment, the northern edge of Michigan Basin is still visible today.  The Niagara Escarpment runs like an arch from the western edge of Lake Michigan up along the southern edge of Manitoulin Island, and from the Bruce Peninsular all the way down to the New York State, cutting through Southern Ontario between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie where the Niagara River makes the famous 50m drop at Niagara Falls.  For 700km from Niagara-on-the Lake to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail runs almost in alignment with the Niagara Escarpment.  It is the longest and oldest marked hiking trail in Canada.  Before hitting its terminus at Tobermory, the trail enters the Bruce Peninsula National Park where we visited twice in 2007 and 2011.

The first time we visited Tobermory, we spent a long time on the beaches at Burnt Point.  We were fascinated by the crystal clear water in gradient tones of turquoise.  The rocks at the beaches were light grey in colour, and were covered with small holes as if bombarded with rounds of shelling.  These unique grey rocks eroded by wave actions and layers of flat stone platforms in the turquoise water were fossil evidences of the prehistoric past at the Bruce Peninsula, when the tropical sea of Michigan Basin was full of marine life and coral reefs.  It was hard to imagine that the cool temperate Bruce Peninsular was once a tropical reef similar to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  During our second visit of the park we spent a little more time visiting its unique grotto and stone beaches, and walking its network of hiking trails where from time to time thousand-year old cedar trees and prehistoric reef fossils revealed the ever-changing natural landscape of our planet.

1In Tobermory, boat tour is popular from May to October.  Most boats depart from the Little Tub Harbour, where a cluster of bars and restaurants gather to serve the tourists.

2 big tub lighthouseThe Big Tub Lighthouse was declared a recognized heritage building since the early 1990s.  A major restoration to the the Big Tub Lighthouse was made in 1987 after a fierce winter storm washed away its shingle sidings and part of the foundation.

3]Near the Visitor Centre, there is a 20m tower structure which gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the park.

4Beyond the furthest point of the loop trail lies the beaches of Burnt Point.

5At Burnt Point, the turquoise water was beautiful especially under the warm sun. The light grey rocks were quite comfortable to sit on, which make a perfect spot for a short break after the hike.

6At Burnt Point, the water was so clean that the flat rock platforms under water could be seen clearly from above.  When the wind brew over the peaceful bay, the rippled image of the rocks produced a poetic Impressionist painting on the water surface.

7At Burnt Point, a large rock revealed its unique perforated surface above water.

8At Burnt Point, the soft-looking moss on rocks was actually very hard and rough.

9The orange moss added a little accent colour to the grayish-white rock at Burnt Point.

10At Burnt Point, erosion on the rock revealed interesting patterns.

11“Someone was here” – A visitor built an Inukshuk structure to mark his/her presence at Tobermory.

12Indian Head Cove Beach (background).  Many visitors love to explore the Grotto near the beach. The Grotto (foreground) can be reached on foot from the beach but it requires some simple rock climbing skills.

13Swimmer who chose to different route to enter the Grotto.

14The entrance to the Grotto (foreground) and Indian Head Cove Beach (background). Visitors have to climb down from the cliff top to reach the Grotto on foot. It isn’t an easy direct route but it still attract many visitors. Swimming from the Indian Head Cove Beach is another popular option to access the Grotto if the water is warm enough for a comfortable swim.

15Approaching the Grotto.  There were many visitors gathered around the entrance into the Grotto.

16 Inside the Grotto lies a pool of glowing  turquoise water. There is an opening through the rocks in the water that leads to the lake beyond.

17A view from the Grotto looking out.

* * *

Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


WHEN MOOSE MEETS BEAVER, Algonquin, Ontario, Canada (3/3)

The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007.  After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal.  We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water.  Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects.  Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem.  We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos.  As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead.  It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes.  It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose.  It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond.  Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America.  The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century.   Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.

We saw beavers several times in Algonquin.  Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water.  But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond.  Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World.  Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975.  In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home.  As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber.  Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds.  A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish.  It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators.  The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.

Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park.  The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes.  Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north.  Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat.  Many birds frequent the bog,  and so as moose which come to feed and drink.   Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area.  A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair.  By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.

00Moose sighting is popular on Highway 60, especially in early spring when the animals gather at the highway ditches to indulge  in a feast of road salt from melted snow.

1The coniferous forest (ie. spruce) and deciduous forest (ie. maple) are two of the five major types of habitat in Algonquin.

07AL02-03Rivers and lakes represent another major habitat in the park.

2Reflection of autumn foliage in a beaver pond.

3BA small beaver dam made of timber, rocks and mud is a highlight at the Beaver Pond Trail.

4Many species, such as some waterlilies, frogs and birds, thrive in the ecosystem of a beaver pond.

5Spruce bog is the other major habitat at Algonquin.

6Life and death of spruce trees mark the boundary of a spruce bog.

8Reflection of spruce forest in the bog water.

07AL03-05Spruce bog near our moose sighting location in early morning (First visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007).

7Remnants of once a thriving spruce grove at the spruce bog near our moose sighting location in late afternoon (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

9Spruce bog near our moose sighting location in late afternoon (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

DSC_2160Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).  That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.

11Young moose gazed upon us curiously (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012)..

12This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us.  The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us.    (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

DSC_2202-2_01Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them.  (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

13After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


A TALE OF ROCKS AND MAPLES, Algonquin, Ontario, Canada (2/3)

Two billions years has passed since volcanic lava hardened into rock formations that stretched as far as the horizon, covering over half the size of what we now know as Canada.  Millions of years of rain and snow gradually sculpted off the high peaks and odd spires, leaving behind a low relief of undulating rocky terrain mainly made of volcanic igneous rocks.  Being as some of the oldest rock formations on this planet, the Canadian Shield or the Laurentian Plateau is far older than any myths or tales being told in North America.  10,000 years ago, the last Ice Age came to an end, and the retreating glaciers carved out valleys, scraped away sediment and soil, and left behind thousands of lakes and rivers and bogs that make up the majority of Canadian landscape.  Part of the southern tip of the Canadian Shield is exposed with visible ridges and low plateaus.  Along with the myriad of lakes and rivers and bogs spreading over this tip of the rocky shield, and the relatively young forests of spruces, birch and maple, people found a charming beauty from this piece of ancient land.  Native people once resided here a few thousands years ago, then came the Europeans, then came loggers and the railway, tourists and the highway.  This is how the tale of Algonquin Park unfolds.

The Acer saccharum or Sugar Maple, from maple syrup to autumn foliage, is a major contributor that shapes the identity of Ontario, Quebec and Northern US.  Despite its vast distribution across much of the Northern Hemisphere, the maple and its leaves are commonly associated with Canada and the Canadian flag.  First being adopted as an emblem by a group of French Canadians in the 18th century, the maple leaf was then included in the coat of arms of Ontario and Quebec and later of the entire nation.  As a symbol of strength and endurance, the maple leaf was finally chosen and became the Canadian national flag in 1965.  Appearing on a number of Tom Thomson’s paintings, the sugar maples in the Algonquin emerged as the visual focus in this Canadian landscape every autumn.  Seeing the fire crimson maple crowns stand out against a backdrop of dark evergreen and golden birch trees reflected in the serene lake water has become an annual ritual for many, attracting uncounted numbers of tourists every October entering the gate of Algonquin and hiking one of the interpretative trails along the Highway 60 Corridor.  This is the moment when the unforgiving nature appears to be the tamest and easiest for human appreciation.  This is how the maple story intertwines with the tale of the mighty ancient rocks of Algonquin.

1Autumn foliage of sugar maple tree.

2Other than crimson maples, the golden birch trees and evergreen complete the colour palette of Algonquin autumn.

3We may not be lucky enough to have caught the peak of fall colour every year but we still enjoy every moments in Algonquin Park when the fallen leaves with various tones of red and orange pave the trail.

4We enjoy hiking in the fall without the hassles from mosquitoes or black flies; so we can focus on the natural beauty around us.

5Moss and roots and fallen leaves.

6At the lookout of Booth’s Rock trail, distant maple hills and the peaceful Rock Lake make up the stunning scenery of Algonquin. It was the most rewarding moment to reach the lookout overlooking the river from a high point.

7Rock Lake and the maple hills.

8Standing on the rock ridge overlooking the forests and lakes of Algonquin, observing the cloud shadow sweeping across the landscape, is remarkable.

9Stone cairns by the shore of Rock Lake.

10Fire red maples in contrast with the evergreen at the background.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario


LAND OF WATER AND FOREST, Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada (1/3)

From now on, not only will we continue to write about our current travel experiences, we are also going to revisit some of our past adventures and share them on the blog.  We hope that Blue Lapis Road will become a more comprehensive collection of our magnificent moments in life, at which we opened our hearts to see, listen and feel the world around us.  Before winter creeps in, we grew a little nostalgic here and decided to write about the Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, a place that we frequented a few years ago for its vivid autumn colours, pristine bog scenery, elusive wildlife, and the sense of escape from busy urban life.

Located about 300km north of Toronto and 260km west of Ottawa, Algonquin has long been a tourist destination in the Province of Ontario since late 19th century.  Today, visitors go to Algonquin for all kinds of outdoor activities, including canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, wildlife watching, horseback riding, mountain biking, etc.  Established as a provincial park since 1893, Algonquin has remained as a 7,600+ sq.km natural paradise in a transitional zone between northern coniferous and southern deciduous forests.  With over 2,400 lakes and 1,200km of waterways, Algonquin is truly a splendid land of waters and forests.

At dawn, the vivid skies project crystal clear reflections in the cold and tranquil water of Algonquin.  The rising mist and silhouette of spruce forest mark the distant horizon, separating the sky and the peaceful water.  Waterlilies float in the water like tiny brush strokes of an oil painting.  The sound of water made by the sudden movement of frogs, fishes or beavers occasionally break the silence.  As the sun rises, the vivid colour palette of the Canadian landscape emerges while the frost on timber boardwalk slowly disappears.  The haunting beauty of Algonquin’s misty landscape is so powerful that it lured us to get up early in the morning and ventured out there in freezing temperature with our cameras every time we visited the park.  The same dramatic scenery has touched the heart of many visitors, including famous painter Tom Thomson back in the 1910s, when he decided to move into the park to paint and lead a life of solitude after a few visits in 1912.  He resided in the park for five years and finished some of his most important works before drowning to death at Canoe Lake in Algonquin.

2Spruce Bog, a wetland system with accumulating peat and decaying moss, is a common scene in Algonquin.

3In many cases, spruce bog is submerged in water a few metres deep.

4Dawn at Spruce Bog Boardwalk in Algonquin Park.

5The Spruce Bog Boardwalk is a 1.5 km loop trail easily accessible from Hwy 60.

6Mist rises from the mirror-like lake in early morning.

7Much of the soil in Algonquin is saturated with water, allowing bogs and lakes to flourish.

8Early morning canoeing is popular in Algonquin.

9When driving along Hwy 60, the misty spruce bogs appear as occasional openings between dense woodlands.

10Perfect reflection of an utility pole in bog water.

11Dense spruce forest and peaceful misty water at Lake of Two Rivers in Algonquin.

12Vivid fall foliage at Lake of Two Rivers won’t disappoint any visitor.

13The peak moments for the fall colours are almost over.

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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario