ZOOLOGICAL & BOTANICAL GARDENS (兵頭花園), Central (中環), Hong Kong
Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.
Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.
Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.
DAY 3 (1/6): TOSHOGU SHRINE (東照宮), Nikko (日光), Japan, 2017.06.16
140km north of Tokyo, Nikko (日光) is one of the most popular excursion destination out of the Japanese capital. Dotted with onsen villages, ancient cedar forests, scenic waterfalls, turquoise lakes and lush green mountains, the magnificent piece of landscape is also the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the founding shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate from 1600 until Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Shinto mausoleums of Tokugawa Iayasu and his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光) in Nikko are part of “Shrines and Temples of Nikkō” inscribed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1999. These historical sites draw huge crowds of visitors daily to the otherwise sleepy hilltown of Nikko.
There were so much to do and see in Nikko but we could only do a very long day trip this time. We booked the earliest direct train, Tobu Railway’s Revaty Limited Express leaving Tokyo’s Asakusa Station at 06:30, and the last return train leaving Nikko at 19:18, leaving us about 11 hours in Nikko. We also got the Nikko All Area Pass, which covered our local bus fares in the Nikko and Chuzenji Lake area and discount on the Tobu train tickets. We planned to check out the shrines and temples in the morning, and then visit the scenic Chuzenji Lake (中禅寺湖) and Kegon no taki (華厳の滝, Kegon Waterfall) in the afternoon. As soon as the Revaty train pulled into Nikko Station at around 08:20, we were excited to see the beautiful weather.
Our journey to Nikko began from Tobu Asakusa Station (浅草駅), a monumental terminal building constructed in 1931.
In order to take the 6:30 Revaty Limited Express, we had no choice but to get up early and left Shibuya at about 5:30.
The train arrived in Nikko at around 08:20. We hopped onto a Tobu bus in front of Nikko Station for the nearby temple and shrine area. Attempting to avoid the crowds later in the day, we decided to first visit Toshogu Shrine (東照宮), the single most popular attraction in Nikko.
Toshogu Shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years until Meiji Restoration in 1867. Because of its historical significance, the shrine is highly popular among local Japanese. After a short walk along the procession route, we entered through Ishidorii (Stone Torii Gate), a beautiful timber gateway erected by the powerful feudal lord Kuroda Nagamasa, into the shrine complex.
Despite our early arrival, the Toshogu Shrine was already full of student groups and tourists. We passed by a group of students below the Gojunoto (Five-Story Pagoda) as we entered the complex.
We entered the central complex through Omotemon Gate (Front Gate) or Nio Gate that is guarded by a pair of Nio (仁王) guardians.
Once entered the forecourt, we could already appreciate the meticulous relief carvings and vivid architecture features on the Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses). Toshogu presents quite a contrast compared with most other Shinto shrines that are usually minimalist in design and natural in colour tones.
At the forecourt, the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, houses a real horse. This comes from the tradition made by early emperors who would donate to the Kibune Shrine in Kyoto either a white horse to stop the rain in a rainy year, or a black horse to welcome the rain in a dry year.
The front facade of the Shinkyu-Sha, the sacred horse stable, featues the Sanzaru (Three Wise Monkeys) on eight frieze panels depicting ordinary lives of people. The most famous panel is undoubtedly the adorable “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil”.
Beyond a large tori and a flight of steps is the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門), the gate of setting sunlight.
With 500 beautiful wooden carvings, the Yomeimon Gate (陽明門) is considered by many the most impressive gate in Japan.
The impressive Yomeimon Gate represents the Main Gate of the Imperial Court in the entire complex.
As far as the legend goes, Yomeimon Gate is also called the “Gate of the Setting Sun” because visitor can gaze upon it all day without getting tired.
Impressive decorations at the gate includes a golden lion housed in a niche.
And a lot more that depict anecdotes, legends, wise people, sages, etc.
Another famous feature at Toshogu is Nemurineko, the tiny carving of the sleeping cat on the beam of a hallway. A work by master carver Hidari Jingorou, the napping cat under the warm sun is a depiction “Nikko”, which literally means “sunlight”. It marks the entry point of the path that ultimately leads to the final resting place of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) on the hill.
Taking the earliest direct train from Tokyo and came to Toshogu immediately upon arrival, we thought we could enjoy a bit of peaceful time at the highly popular shrine before the tourist groups came. That totally didn’t happen as the shrine was already full of student groups when we arrived. Walking up to visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康) was not a peaceful journey at all.
Just a few minutes of short walk led us to the hill platform of the mausoleum. Compared to the shrine buildings downhill, the mausoleum carries a more harmonic relationship with the natural surroundings.
The bronze urn on the hill contains the remains of Tokugawa Iayasu (徳川家康), the most powerful shogun of Japan before the modern era.
The calligraphic sign Tōshō Dai-Gongen (東照大権現) near the mausoleum is attributed to Emperor Go-Mizunoo (後水尾天皇) from the 17th century.
The curved archway of Karamon Gate (唐門) symbolizes the authority of the Gohonsha Main Shrine Hall behind. Despite the renovation scaffolding, we were able to enter the hall as a group to have a peek of the space where events and festivals would be held annually.
PIONEER OF ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND NATURE CONSERVATION, Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場), Hong Kong
On the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) at a place called Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) in the area of Lam Tsuen (林村), 148 hectare of organic farms, botanical gardens and mature forests terracing up to the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) reveal over half a century of efforts by the Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場). Established in 1956, Kadoorie Farm has always stood at the forefront of Hong Kong’s agriculture, experimenting on new techniques and providing agricultural aid to farmers in need of support. In 1951, the Kadoorie brothers (Horace and Lawrence) established the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) in an attempt to help the sudden influx of Mainland farmers into Hong Kong during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940’s. They picked Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) near Lam Tsuen (林村) to establish an agricultural facility engaging in experiments on profitable and effecting farming and animal breeding, and training the new farmers with their developed techniques. Today, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (嘉道理農場暨植物園) diversifies their effort to promote organic farming, sustainable living, nature conservation and education. They also run extensive rehabilitation program for wild animals in Hong Kong.
Linked by 9 km of roads and 8 km of trails, various highlights of the Kadoorie Farm spread over the slope of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山).
One of the big highlights at the lower section of Kadoorie Farm is the “Eco Garden” (生機園), exhibiting different types of self sufficient and compact farming in a community scale.
The garden presents natural and organic ways to maintain soil’s nutrients and insect control, and the best combination of vegetables for each season.
Other than its freshness and taste, the organic vegetables such as the purple cabbages are also beautiful.
Spherical bird scarers are hung over a cluster of rainbow chards in the Eco Garden.
A wavy fence separates the Eco Garden with the other terraced farms and botanic gardens.
Other than organic farming, more innovative planting techniques are also examined at the Eco Garden. Some farming techniques that requires less space or soil may suit urban living well.
At the Piers Jacobs Wildlife Sanctuary, native mammals such as a Barking Deer or Muntjac (麂) have been rescued as an orphan and raised in the sanctuary.
The wild boar is also another rescued orphan at the sanctuary. Both wild boars and barking deer can be found in the forests in and around Kadoorie Farm.
In the old days, pig breeding was an important work at the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA). Today a few Da Hua Bai Pigs (大花白豬) are kept at the farm for educational purposes.
Amphibians and reptiles are both vulnerable groups of wildlife in Hong Kong due to habitat loss. Kadoorie Farm has a few of the native species at the Amphibian and Reptile House and Reptile Garden.
Interesting pavilions and artworks are all over the farm, including a dragon boat pigeon house.
And also the fish mosaic at the Cascade Garden near the Chicken House.
As the farm terraces up the hillside of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), the view to the surrounding landscape becomes more spectacular.
The Butterfly Path winds up the hill through dense forests and open terraces, following part of an old trail which led the locals up the hill of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) for a religious blessing.
In order to preserve the natural feel, there is minimal modern safety infrastructure provided at the Butterfly Path.
9 km of roads circulate up and down the Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), going through some densely forested areas, the habitat for some native species in Hong Kong, such as the barking deer.
… and the wild boar.
At 550m above sea level, the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is the highest point in Kadoorie Farm. For centuries, farmers came up to the summit to seek blessings from the goddess of Kwun Yum.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) allows visitors to have fine view of the New Territories and even Shenzhen on a fine and clear day.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is at 1812 ft, or 550 m.
Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is sandwiched between Tai To Yan (大刀屻) to the north and Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) to the south.
Heading downhill, visitors can either take a shuttle bus or walk down a winding road.
Along the downhill road, sounds of monkeys can often be heard. Occasionally visitors may spot monkeys jumping from one tree to another.
DAY 10 (4 of 4) – RIO CLARO BOAT TOUR, PANTANAL, BRAZIL
Our first Pantanal activity was a boat tour in Rio Claro. Just like visiting the Amazon, a river tour is a must do at Pantanal. The three-hour boat ride gave us a good introduction to the diverse wild life in the Pantanal. Our guide also let us try fishing piranha. Our wildlife sightings include many water birds, capybaras, howling monkeys, river otters, a river-crossing tapir, and finally, a very very very long distant view of the majestic jaguar. On our way back, the full moon was already high up in the sky.
River crossing tapir
The moment when we saw a jaguar hidden under the shade of the bush. Can you spot it in this photo?
Here is the zoom-in view of the jaguar from the same photo above.
* * *
Read other posts on Pantanal, Brazil
Day 9.1 – Trail of Waterfalls, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 9.2 – Stone City, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 10.1 – Pantanal
Day 10.2 – Transpantaneria Highway, Pantanal
Day 10.3 – Pousada Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 10.4 – Rio Claro Boat Tour, Pantanal
Day 11.1 – Morning Safari and Forest Walk, Pantanal
Day 11.2 – Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 12.1 – Morning Walk, Pantanal
Day 12.2 – Pouso Alegre Lodge, Pantanal
Day 12.3 – Afternoon Walk and Evening Safari, Pananal
Day 12.4 – Night of Caimans
Day 13.1 – Farewell Pantanal, Brazil
* * *
South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought