ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “pilgrimage

DAY 5 (3/3): SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

We returned to Pushkar Lake just before sunset, hoping to witness any form of religious ceremonies that might be performed.  If we arrived two weeks earlier during the Pushkar Camel Fair, we would probably see large scale aarti and deepdan ceremonies by the ghats.  At the ghats, the air was peaceful and a little cooler than earlier.  We sat down on the steps to enjoy the sunset over the sacred lake.

DSC_1596Sunset was a great time to absorb the peaceful atmosphere of the ghats in Pushkar.

DSC_1597Maybe the presence of fish signify the improvement of water quality?

DSC_1599Deity worshiping might happen anywhere around the lake shore.

IMG_0156Buildings were covered in an orange glow as the sun set.

IMG_2426Nag Pahar (Snake Mountain) and Ratnagiri Hill were highly visible from Pushkar Lake.

IMG_2429Watching the sunset over Pushkar Lake was one of the loveliest moment in our journey.

DSC_1610Given the beauty of the sunset, the number of tourists lingering at the ghats were surprisingly few.

DSC_1615In just a blink of eye the sun sank beyond the buildings on the horizon.

IMG_0194Even the cow enjoyed the beauty of the sunset.

IMG_0214_01A small group of pilgrims and temple staff performed evening prayers at Varaha Ghat.

IMG_0222Candles were lit and flower petals were scattered into the water during the ceremony.

IMG_0220Although short, the prayer ceremony generated a spiritual ambience no words could fully describe.

IMG_0235The last pilgrim prayed to the twilight as all other worshipers returned into the temple.

DSC_1628Pilgrims and temple priests finishing their last bit of prayers at the ghat.

DSC_1629As light faded, we decided to call it a day.

DSC_1639We left Pushkar Lake from the entrance of mVaraha Ghat.

IMG_0245The market streets behind the ghats were much more lively than the waterfront.

IMG_0248On our way back to Inn Seventh Heaven, we passed by the old Rangji Temple.

DSC_1640At the hotel, we once again headed up to Sixth Sense, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for a vegetarian meal.

IMG_0264To finish the night, we ordered a Rajasthan vegetarian thali.

 

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Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi


DAY 5 (2/3): 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

Beyond the vibrant streets of souvenir shops, cafes, and guesthouses, 52 bathing ghats follow the sloping topography, descending down to the sacred water of Pushkar Lake.  Throughout centuries, Hindu pilgrims came to bathe in the sacred water to cleanse their sins and skin diseases, and worship in one of the 500 temples dotted around the lake.  Earliest record of the lake’s existence dated back to the 2nd century BC.  Site modifications over generations, including a dam built across the headwaters of the Luni River in the 12th century, had transformed Pushkar Lake into today’s artificial appearance.  In the Mughal era, religious activities had came to a brief halt and temples were destroyed.  Since then, pilgrims had returned, and temples and ghats had been restored by local rulers.

Today, the government is making effort to improve the water quality of the lake, after pollution and deforestation reduced the water level and killed off most of the fish.  Pushkar is still attracting large numbers of pilgrims, and so as foreign tourists who either come here for the colourful camel fair, or take a break in their Indian tour as they got fatigue of the noises and bustling activities in the cities.  Visitors come to this vegetarian-only and car-free town for its spiritual ambience, or a chance encounter with an insightful guru, or a peaceful rooftop to chill out during sunset, or a few days of yoga classes, or an evening aarti ceremony at a historical ghat, or to simply do nothing and sort out their inner souls while meditating by the water.

IMG_0035It was only a short walk from Inn Seventh Heaven to Varah Ghat.  We took off our shoes compulsorily and walked down the ghat towards the sacred lake.

DSC_1447It was a magical experience to walk from one ghat to another.

DSC_1451Each ghat is unique despite all leading to the waterfront of Pushkar Lake.

DSC_1452Pushkar Camel Fair, one of the largest livestock fair and cultural event in India that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, was over just a week or two ago.  After the year’s biggest event, Pushkar looked a little sleepy when we arrived.

IMG_0050Rajasthani pilgrims in their vivid sarees walked by the sacred lake in the afternoon sun.

DSC_1469We had a good time wandering from one ghat to another along the lake’s north shore

DSC_1472No shoes were allowed at the ghats.  It took us a while to get used to walking in barefoot along with the free roaming cows, dogs and pigeons.

DSC_1473Layers of balustrades, stepped plazas, terraces, and bathing pools provide a rich palette of textures to the scenery.

DSC_1504We decided to do nothing for the rest of the day other than strolling along the lakefront.

DSC_1507The shrine on a raised platform at the northwest end of the lake was painted in vivid orange and was visible from all over the lake.

IMG_0057Pigeons and more pigeons.  Bird or animal feeding is considered a good deed to improve a person’s karma according to Hindu beliefs.

DSC_1509The ghats were photogenic under the afternoon sun.

IMG_0122Reflections of passing people on the bathing pools were beautiful.

DSC_1523Especially with the vivid colours of the local sarees.

DSC_1529Local Indians are curious and friendly and love to take pictures with foreign tourists.

DSC_1532It was a delight to see the free roaming cows around Pushkar Lake.

DSC_1559Pigeons were everywhere.

DSC_1562And so as some larger water birds.

DSC_1564Hotel Pushkar Palace has one of the best view in town.

DSC_1569We ended our first ghat walk in mid afternoon and decided to return for the sunset.

 

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Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi

 


DAY 3 (3/4): JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.26

We returned to the Jain temples at around 11:30.  We took off our shoes and placed them near the entrance before entering the temple forecourt.  Just like our earlier visit of Chandraprabhu and Rikhabdev Temple (and possibly the other smaller temples interconnected in the maze-like network), we soon lose track of where we had been or which parts we had yet seen during our visit of Shantinath and Kunthunath Temple.  Again temple buildings were interconnected at more than one level.  For outsiders like us, it was impossible to differentiate the statues and temple chambers from one another.  Except the marble statues of tirthankaras, almost everything were carved in the local yellow sandstone.  Temple interiors were filled with grotto like shrines, narrow passageways, exquisite statues, and wonderful dome ceilings of sculpted apsaras (celestial nymphs).  On the outside, toranas (ceremonial gateways) and shikharas (towers) packed the forecourt.  The rich visual experience was coherent throughout the entire visit as we meandered through the temple complex. Given their compact sizes, it was surprising that we had spent the entire morning just to linger around the seven interconnected Jain temples until lunchtime.

IMG_9095Opening time varies for non-worshipers.  We had to wait till 11:30 to enter the Shantinath and Kunthunath temple.

DSC_0909Built in 1536, the Shantinath and Kunthunath were equally impressive to the ones we saw earlier in the morning.

DSC_0819We didn’t come to worship so we stayed outside of the temple altar.

IMG_9164From the torana gate to the inner shrine, everywhere in the temple complex was full of details.

DSC_0827From up close, we could admire the sculpted base of the shikharas (towers).

DSC_0836At one end of the temple, we entered a shrine hall where locals were assisted by a holy man to perform certain worshiping rituals.

DSC_0835The outer facade of the hall was beautifully sculpted with what looked like to be symbols depicting religious stories.

IMG_9189The locals left the hall after they finished their worshiping rituals.

IMG_9190Soon we were all by ourselves to admire the dome ceiling of sculpted apsaras (celestial nymphs) and the other statues in the shrine hall.

IMG_9201Some shrines and their sculpted ceilings were not as well restored.

DSC_0849On the upper level, we came to a quiet area.  We had the upper level pretty much all by ourselves.

DSC_0853We took our time to check out the different statues on the upper level.

DSC_0866There were a wide range of statues from human sized figures to the very small ones.

IMG_9212Before we left, fellow visitors finally found their way up to the upper level.

IMG_9210At the upper level, we also encountered a interesting footprint carving on a stone counter.

DSC_0890At the lower level, we spent some time examining the statues of dancing girls with large hoop earrings.

IMG_9271Back out to the temple forecourt, we passed by the exquisite torana one last time.  Toranas are sacred gateways common in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples.

IMG_9093Back out at the street, we had one final look at the screened balcony connecting the upper level of the two temples.  Near the end of our temple visit, we spent quite some time resting on the balcony seat.

 

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Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi


DAY 1 (8/9): EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After sunset, the Shwedagon Pagoda transformed into a mysterious world of flickering candles and shimmering golden ornaments.  We stayed at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery for a little while after dusk.  We then wandered around the central stupa, where people were lighting up candles around the stupa base.  We saw a constant flow of people arriving at the main terrace from one of its four main stairways.  It seemed there were actually more visitors at compound after dark.  At the compound, some people were worshipping and chanting, while others were chatting and taking photographs of themselves with the glittering background of the pagoda.  At the end of our visit, we decided to walk down one of the grand covered stairways to descend the Singuttara Hill.

DSC_3202The view of the central stupa from the Photo Gallery was gorgeous no matter what time of the day it was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the northwest open space in front of the Photo Gallery, worshippers gathered to offer incenses, candles and other religious items in prayers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the nearby prayer hall, the large Buddha in golden robes looked peaceful under the soft lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe golden prayer halls and chapels looked even more surreal in the evening.

DSC_3249The locals enjoyed posing for photographs at some of the golden worship halls.

DSC_3231At the base of the central stupa, the continuous ring of candles appeared like a stream of sparking fire flickering in the wind.

DSC_3241Just as daytime, the planetary posts were still one of the popular worshipping spots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe covered stairway, or zaungdans, are often occupied by merchants selling all kinds of religious items from flowers to different kinds of offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter sunset, the main terrace around the central stupa is still adequately lit up.

DSC_3257From the north gate, the central pagoda stood perfectly at the terminus of the perspective axis.

DSC_3260Some visitors preferred to stay away from the busy actions surrounding the central stupa.

DSC_3275At the outer perimeter of the worship terrace, the sacred Bodhi tree was highlighted with flood lights.

DSC_3292Colourful electronic lights are commonly used to create the halo ring for each Buddha statue.

DSC_3297Statues of the Buddha were everywhere in the ompound.

DSC_3305After the candles were lighted up, many people came to the ring of candles to pray and worship.

DSC_3315Some monks were meditating inside the small Buddhist shrines.

DSC_3323Same as worshipping in daytime, pilgrims came up to the planetary post and clean the altar with water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the visit, we took the covered stairway at the east gate to walk down the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe east stairway is flanked both sides by shops selling souvenirs and religious items.

DSC_3343Back to the main east gate, we picked up our shoes and looked for a taxi to return to Downtown Yangon.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (7/9): A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

As the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is also one of the liveliest venue where the Burmese gather not only to worship but also to participate in all kinds of social and community activities.  For the locals, Shwedagon is the place to chill out, to date, to spend family time, to chat with friends, to seek for advice from monks, and to mingle with foreign tourists.  For us, the compound was the perfect place for people watching: devoted families worshipping their associated planetary post, kids amusing themselves with bronze bells and ritual tools, women reciting Buddhist mantras, monks meditating in front of the Buddhist shrines, children dressed in traditional costumes attending novitiation ceremony, large number of volunteers sweeping the marble floor, pilgrims lighting up candles and incenses surrounding the central stupa under the setting sun.

The terrace of Shwedagon has long been the centre stage for the people of Yangon.  Since 1920, students, workers, civilians, and monks had took up the terrace to protest against all kinds of social injustice from colonial rule to the authoritarian regime.  The most recent incident was the 2007 nationwide protest for democracy, when tens of thousands of monks and people marched from Shwedagon to the streets of Yangon demanding for change.  Political figures also chose the Shwedagon as the assembly venue, such as Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) addressing the mass in 1946 in pursuit of independence from the British, and Aung San Suu Kyi meeting with 500,000 people in 1988 demanding for democracy from the military regime.  Religiously, this huge Buddhist site holds the sacred hair relics of the Buddha.  Socially, the pagoda terrace is the iconic venue for national independence and democracy.  Historically, the Shwedagon is one of the oldest Buddhist monument in the world.  Culturally, the compound contains some of the Myanmar’s most remarkable architecture and national treasures.  With its layers of meanings, the Shwedagon Pagoda is truly a remarkable venue for the people of Myanmar, and the single most important monument that defines the cultural and social identity of the Burmese.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWearing a Burmese longyi and walking bare-feet on the marble floor of the Shwedagon is an unique Burmese experience for foreigners.

DSC_2896The Shwedagon is a popular place for Shinbyu parades, the traditional novitiation ceremony in Burmese Theravada Buddhism.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout our visit, we saw a few Shinbyu parades at the marble terrace of the Shwedagon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Shinbyu parades offered us some of most remarkable moments of people watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Shwedagon and elsewhere in Myanmar, gold is warmest colour.

DSC_3033Many pilgrims would light up candles and incenses at the altar around the central pagoda.

DSC_3008Local fruits are popular for religious offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeditation is a typical practice for Buddhists, and a common sight at Shwedagon.

DSC_2972Young children seemed enjoying themselves at the terrace while their parents were busy worshipping.

DSC_2926A kid trying out the bronze bell.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA devoted family worshipping at one of the planetary post at the base of the central pagoda.

DSC_2976A group of women reciting Buddhist mantras in front of a reclining Buddha.

DSC_2981Visitors and monks resting among figures of sitting Buddha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVolunteers collectively sweeping the marble floor was a unique scene for us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe volunteers formed a line and walked at the same pace to sweep the floor.  During our visit, we saw the sweeping group several times at different locations in the compound.

DSC_3071Away from the main circulation space, some worship hall were less crowded, allowing visitors to meditate quietly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear sunset, many gathered at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery northwest of the central stupa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGathering people included young visitors carrying flower offerings for evening worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also saw a large group of what looked like to be the Wa people.  The Wa is an ethnic minority group living in Northern Myanmar and Southwestern China.

DSC_3148Myanmar is ethnically diverse, with 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR

 


DAY 1 (6/9): GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

At 4pm, we left Downtown Yangon and headed for Shwedagon Pagoda, probably the most iconic sight of the city if not the entire Myanmar.  Our taxi stuck in busy traffic and it took us half an hour to arrived at the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda from Downtown Yangon.  We specifically chose to visit the pagoda in the latter half of the afternoon, as we planned to stay at the pagoda compound till dusk when the golden stupa would glow in the flickering candle lights and flooded lights.  At the east gate, we took off our shoes and left them on a shelf, and squeezed in a lift with the locals to head up the Singuttara Hill where the central pagoda and the main terrace were located.  From the lift tower, we crossed a link bridge over to the main terrace.  The first glance of the golden spires of Buddhist shrines was quite overwhelming.  Beyond the the various ornate shrines, prayer halls, and planetary posts, the majestic 99m central stupa known as the Shwedagon Pagoda stood proudly at the heart of everything.  Fully gilded with gold, this central stupa dwarfed all other stupas, shrines, altars, statues, and prayer halls on Singuttara Hill.

Probably erected by the Mon people between 6th and 10th century AD, the Shwedagon Pagoda has been the centre of Myanmar’s Buddhist universe for centuries.  Legend has it that the original stupa at Singuttara Hill was dated to 2600 years ago, when Taphussa and Bhallika met Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and brought back 8 of his hair as sacred relics.  A stupa at Singuttara Hill was built to house the hair.  The stupa evolved throughout the centuries, as shrines and prayer halls added by different kings and donors, and the height of the stupa increased several times during history until the present 99m.  The pagoda wasn’t always covered in gold in the past.  In the 15th century, Queen Shin Sawbu donated gold plates equaled to her own weight to be riveted onto the stupa surface.  Since then, cladding the stupa in gold had became a tradition for rulers.

We took our time wandering around the 114-acre pagoda site.  After an hour or two meandering through all kinds of Buddhist structures and visiting the interesting photo gallery, we sat down at the open space at the northwest corner near the Friday planetary post to chill out, waiting for the sun to set and candles to lit up.

DSC_2869Our taxi dropped us off at the east gate of Singuttara Hill.  We followed the locals to take an elevator up to the main terrace level.

DSC_2880Once we reached the main terrace, we were immediately overwhelmed by the fine details and golden ornaments of the surrounding shrines and prayer halls.

DSC_2907In the midst of everything stood the majestic 99m Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_2946We circled the pagoda and stopped by some of the interesting shrines.  Chinthe, the legendary half-lion, half dragon creatures are commonly found as guardians in Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia.

DSC_3013It was hard to imagine just how many gold plates were being applied onto the surface of the Shwedagon Pagoda over the centuries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 25 ton Singu Min Bell (Maha Gandha Bell) was a donation in 1779 by King Singu.

DSC_2914The big Buddha at the northwest corner of the compound is a fine example of Buddha images found at Shwedagon Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADisplayed behind glass, the jade Buddha reminds all visitors that Myanmar has the biggest gemstones and jade mining in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree out of the four main staircases known as zaungdan stairs at the four cardinal directions are filled with vendors of religious merchandise.

DSC_3018The four monumental covered staircases are all splendidly decorated.

DSC_3024Everything on the main terrace of Shwedagon Pagoda seemed to be golden in colour.

DSC_3066Away from the main circulation space around the central pagoda, we walked by a number of prayer halls and shrines.  These structures were built in different periods in history, but many were rebuilt after the 1931 fire that caused damages to the wooden structures in the compound.

DSC_3069The 150-year-old Bodhi Tree at the southeast corner of the compound is said to be descended from the original Bodhi Tree in Northern India where the Buddha meditated underneath.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAViewing the Shwedagon Pagoda from the north gate was one of our favorite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 6:30pm, the sun began to set.  More visitors arrived from the staircases at the four cardinal directions.

DSC_3096Only staff and monks are allowed to climb onto the terraces of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

DSC_3139In the Photo Gallery northwest of the central pagoda, we were able to see photographs of the treasures on the pagoda spire, including about 5000 diamonds, 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems.

DSC_3143One of the most famous treasures of Shwedagon Pagoda is undoubted the 72 carat diamond at the top of the spire.

DSC_3108After visiting the Photo Gallery, we sat down at the open space in front of the gallery as the sun began to set.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA (ལྷ་ས་ 拉薩), Tibet (བོད་ 西藏)

Other than the spiritual monasteries, wonderful mountainous scenery and marvelous night sky, one thing we miss from our Tibetan trip is undoubtedly the faces of the Tibetan people.  Their devotion to Buddhism, friendliness to foreigners, connection to their Himalayan homeland, and colourful clothing contribute to a unique and beautiful culture that we would always remember.

DSC_8835One face we would certain miss is the cute dog that always lingers at the entrance of Trichang Labrang Hotel (赤江拉讓藏式賓館).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the presence of tourism, there is still a community atmosphere in Barkhor Old Town near our hotel, especially in the morning when locals comes out to get breakfast and grocery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear our hotel, delightful kids often run around the narrow alleyways.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so as Buddhist monks who found their way towards Jokhang Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVivid colours is everywhere to represent the unique Tibetan culture.

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DSC_9779Large flag poles are pilgrim magnets along the kora route around the Jokhang Monastery.

DSC_8829The forecourt of Jokhang Monastery is always a great place for people watching.

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DSC_9819Pilgrims on the kora route of Jokhang Monastery in traditional clothing and accessories.

DSC_9787Prostrating pilgrims express their devotion to Buddhism through their physical actions.

DSC_2281Pilgrim and prayer wheels along the kora of Jokhang Monastery.

DSC_9630Pilgrim and prayer wheels at Sera Monastery.

DSC_9598Pilgrim at the kora route of the Potala Palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that concludes the posts on our Tibetan trip 2017.

* * *

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 10 (2/2): LAST DAY IN LHASA (ལྷ་ས་ 拉薩), Tibet (བོད་ 西藏), 2017.09.25

Our driver Sangzhu dropped us near our hotel Trichang Labrang (赤江拉讓藏式賓館) in Barkhor Old Town.  After dropping off our bags, we stopped by the eatery beside the hotel for a quick bite.  The friendly eatery owners, a talkative young couple, were excited to welcome us and chatted with us.  We ordered a Nepali platter, fried momo and two cans of local beer to celebrate the completion of our road trip.  The momos were quite delicious, and went well with the beer made with Highland Barley.  It was the last full day of the trip.  After filling our stomach, we didn’t want to visit any attractions, but spent time wandering in Barkhor Old Town, checking out souvenirs, watching people, and photographing anything that interested us, until the dinner time.  For dinner, we decided to try the Tibetan hotpot at “Our Tibetan Restaurant” (咱们的藏餐馆).

01After returning to Lhasa, we stopped by the small local eatery next door from Trichang Labrang Hotel.  The young owners were friendly and talkative.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo celebrate the completion of our 6-day road trip, we ordered some local beer and highland barley wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most delicious snack we ordered was the fried momo (Tibetan dumplings).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor dinner, we revisited the “Our Tibetan Restaurant” (咱们的藏餐馆), the atmospheric courtyard restaurant nearby.

03Again we ordered the highland barley wine (青稞酒).  The wine came in an interesting bird-like pottery jar.

04The main dish of the meal was the Tibetan hotpot.  It came with vegetables, melons, beef, ham and yak meat.

05We wanted to linger around Barkhor Old Town for a little longer after dinner.

09In front of Jokhang Monastery (གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌། 大昭寺), pilgrims, worshiped on the stone pavers as usual. 

08Other than pilgrims, tourists also gathered at the Jokhang forecourt.

10In front of Jokhang main entrance, more pilgrims gathered to worship, including some Buddhist monks.

11The sky was getting dark but the Jokhang forecourt was getting even more crowded.

12Some pilgrims preferred to stay near the large flag pole in front of the Jokhang.

13Around Jokhang, groups after groups of pilgrims and tourists walked the kora in clockwise direction around Lhasa’s most sacred site.

14The kora route was flanked one side by souvenir shops and the other by the majestic facade of the Jokhang.

17Along the kora route, many pilgrims were performing prostration the entire way.

16Some tourists treated the pilgrimage forecourt as a public plaza and sat on the pavers to chill out among the pilgrims.

18Among pilgrims and tourists, chilling out in the Jokhang forecourt included this large and gorgeous husky.

15We would certainly miss the spiritual atmosphere of the Jokhang forecourt.

20On our way back to Trichang Labrang Hotel, we passed by one last time the store where we bought our bottled water everyday of our Lhasa stay.  The next morning, we would take the airport shuttle bus near the Potala and fly back to Hong Kong via Chengdu.  Although short, it was a delightful experience for the three of us on the unique Tibetan culture and magnificent Himalayan landscape.  Hopefully next time we could have more time and travel further to the western corner of Tibet.

* * *

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 9 (1/3): TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY (བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་ 扎什倫布寺), Shigatse (日喀則), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.24

Before leaving Shigatse for Namtso Lake, we spent the morning at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery (བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་ 扎什倫布寺).  Probably the most influential monastery in the Shigatse area, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is very popular with local pilgrims.  Founded by the 1st Dalai Lama in 1447, the 70,000 sq.m monastery remains as the largest functioning monastery in Tibet.  In the past five centuries, Tashi Lhunpo has been the traditional seat of Panchen Lama (པན་ཆེན་བླ་མ 班禪喇嘛), the second highest tulku (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ 活佛) in the Gelug school, just after the Dalai Lama.  During the turbulence years of the Cultural Revolution, buildings and relics of the monastery had been damaged.  Fortunately, damages of the Tashi Lhunpo was relatively small compared to most other monasteries in Tibet.

Walking in the labyrinth of cobblestone lanes of the enormous monastery ground, visitors can absorb the spiritual air and wander through prayer halls, chapels, chortens and courtyards, admire beautiful Buddhist artworks including the 26m statue of Jampa (Maitreya) Future Buddha, and pay respect to the tombs of the past Panchen Lamas.  Other than the gold gilded statues and architectural features, what interested us during our visit of Tashi Lhunpo were the pilgrims who came from all over Tibet and China.  From teenagers to elderly, the pilgrims’ gratifying expression and devoted prayers demonstrated to us how Buddhist traditions still remained strong in today’s Tibet.

01All visitors to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery would pass through the  lingkhor (sacred path) along the external enclosure wall.

02The 70,000 sq.m Tashi Lhunpo Monastery sits on the mountain slope west of Shigatse city.

03Inside the monastery ground, a network of flagstone paths led us to a village of chapels, chortens and prayer wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first objects captured our eyes as we entered to the core area of the monastery were the three large chortens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 9:30am the sun of the highland was already scorching hot.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPilgrims and monks in the vivid setting of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery provided us the best subject for photos.

08Many lamas we saw at Tashi Lhunpo were actually visitors from other areas of Tibet.

09Jamba Chyenmu or Maitreya Temple (强巴佛殿) is the tallest building in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.  Erected in 1914 by the ninth Panchen Lama, it houses the 26.2m statue of Maitreya Buddha.  The enormous statue contains 279kg of gold and 150,000kg of copper and brass.

10The chorten of the Tenth Panchen Lama is one of the most popular pilgrimage spot in the monastery.  The three-tiered chorten is decorated with large amount of gold, silver and gemstones.

11Semi-precious stones were used to decorated the entrance vestibule of chapels (in this case the Buddhist swastika was created on the floor).  Many pilgrims would knee down and touch the decoration before entering the building.

12Other than statues and chortens, a number of architectural features such as a building column could also become a subject of worship for worshipers.

13Outside of the monastery, we could see the beautiful mountains across the city of Shigatse.

14After visiting a number of the chorten halls (chapels housing the tombs of Panchen Lamas), we arrived at the upper court of the Gyeni Chanting Hall.  The gilded roofs and turrets of the Gyeni Chanting Hall can be seen from far away.

15As we walked down the ramp near the Gyeni Chanting Hall, we could see right behind us the Thangka Wall used for unfolding the gigantic thangka during festivals.

16Below the Gyeni Chanting Hall, we arrived at the Chuajing Duogang, the great courtyard paved with flagstones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Chuajing Duogang was another popular spot for pilgrims.

18.JPGSurrounding the cloister of Chuajing Duogang, we could admire the fresco depicting over 1000 images of Sakyamuni (Buddha).

19The Sakyamuni were drawn with hands gesturing the five symbolic poses (mudras).

20Looking up from the colonnade of Chuajing Duogang, the splendid Gyeni Chanting Hall looked grand and magnificent.

21Beautiful fresco could be seen all over Tashi Lhunpo, including the wall at the lower exit of Chuajing Duogang.

22After a 2.5 hour visit of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, it was time for us to find our way to the exit and departed from Shigatse.

* * *

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 2 (1/6): FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་ 布達拉宮), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.17

A fine night of rest had rejuvenated our bodies.  Angela decided to rest a little longer at the hotel to tackle her altitude reactions.  Maggie and I headed out at around 6:45am for a special mission.  We walked to the nearby main street Jiangsu Road and hopped on a shared taxi (all taxis in Lhasa are shared taxis, meaning that the driver can take other customers along the way as long as everyone are heading for the similar direction).  We got off near the west gate of the Potala Palace.  Our mission was simply to queue for a time slot of our visit at the next day.  Apparently during the high season (May to October), visitors of the Potala can only line up for a time slot a day in advance.  On the actual day of visit, one would then need to arrive at a specific checkpoint at the given time slot, in order to get onto the main path that goes up to the ticket office high up in the palace.

We were told that even obtaining a time slot the day before would involve considerable amount of queuing time.  Luckily we were not visiting Lhasa during the hottest time of the year, namely in August or the October 1st golden week of the Chinese National Day, when visitors would arrive at Potala’s west gate before 5:30am to guarantee a visiting time slot for the next day (according to bloggers online).  It was mid September and we were told to come at around 7:30am for the queue.  We arrived at around 7:20am and there were about 40 people standing in front of us.  Every individual visitor must have an ID in order to obtain a single time slot ticket for the next day.

The sun wasn’t entirely up yet at 7:20.  The sky was getting brighter by the minute.  We stood at the parking lot in front of the reservation office, and admired the majestic Potala under the morning sun.  At around 8:40am, Maggie decided to get some takeout for breakfast.  She set off to a small eatery over at another parking lot nearby.  Two minutes after she walked away, the queue began to move.  I had no choice but to follow.  Fortunately I had the ID of my two travel buddies with me, so had no problem reserving a 9:20am time slot for everyone of us in the next morning.  Time was still early after we got our reservation tickets.  Maggie and I decided to hop on a taxi to visit Drepung Monastery in the western suburb of Lhasa.

01We arrived at the time reservation office at 7:20am.

02There were about 40 people standing in front of us.

03While we stood at the queue, the sky to the east was getting brighter.

04Most shops near the reservation office were tourist related such as travel agents.

05_01At around 8am, the morning sun began to cast a golden glow onto the sacred palace of Potala.

06The golden glow on the Potala lasted for about 10 minutes.  The splendid architecture of the red and white palaces created a perfect harmony in a majestic manner.

07At around 8:15am, there was no sign that the reservation office would open any time soon.  We watched the golden glow gradually disappeared on the Potala.

08After we got the reservations for the next day, we walked over to the main street in front of Potala.  The street was full of pilgrims walking the kora around the palace, which takes appropriate half an hour to complete.

09Devoted pilgrims stopped in front of the Potala to read prayers and spin their ritual wheels.

10As we walked east along Beijing Road in front of the Potala, we passed by the central gate of the palace where we would return the next day for our visit.

11Looking from the southeast, the Potala looks as if surrounded by rows of young evergreen.

* * *

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 1 (3/3): KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.16

After we put down our bags into the hotel room, we couldn’t wait but to venture out into the alleyways of Barkhor Old Town.  Soon we arrived at a security checkpoint where we needed to show our ID and put our bags through the x-ray.  A little further beyond the checkpoint was a much wider stone paved street where almost all pedestrians moved in one direction.  We knew we had arrived at the famous Barkhor Street (八廓街).  We were all sleepy from the red eye flight.  Angela got a bad headache from the high altitude.  We had no particular itinerary for the day.  We took our time to walk around the Barkhor Street, taking in the energy and Tibetan atmosphere of the ancient street, and dropping by the nearby Summit Cafe and Spinn Cafe for brief breaks.

Kora (སྐོར་ར) is the term for a pilgrimage circumambulation for Tibetan Buddhism around a sacred site or object in the clockwise direction.  In Lhasa, if not the entire Tibet, the most popular kora route is undoubtedly the Barkhor Street (八廓街), the pedestrian circuit around the Jokhang Monastery (大昭寺).  For over 1300 years the stone paved circuit was the most sacred pilgrim route for Tibetan Buddhists.  Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo erected the Jokhang Monastery in 647, and the pilgrim path around the temple soon followed and had since then evolved into Barkhor Street.  On the hand-polished stone pavers, uncounted pilgrims stepped on the Barkhor everyday, some would even perform prostration while moving clockwise along the Barkhor.  Apart from prostrating, some pilgrims also spin their prayer wheels, chant mantra, or count their rosary beads.

Nowadays, other than its spiritual identity, Barkhor Street has also become a prime tourist destination of Lhasa.  Souvenir shops have lined up along both sides of the famous street.   For tourists, following the local pilgrims to stroll along Barkhor Street is compulsory.  Beyond souvenir stores and gemstone shops, visitors may find religious shops selling all kinds of items for the pilgrims.  For us, the Barkhor Street was the place that we walked by several times each day during our stay in Lhasa.

01The route from our hotel opens to the Barkhor Street at the south side of the Jokhang Monastery, near a colourful flag post.

02Many locals were dressed in traditional clothing while walking the kora on the Barkhor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA turn near the colourful flag post led us to the square in front of Jokhang Monastery, where a group of pilgrims and tourists congregated.

04At the Jokhang Square, local pilgrims passed by another colourful flag post.

05There were constantly pilgrims prostrating in front of the Jokhang Monastery.

06Visitors can no longer get in the original main entrance of Jokhang Monastery.

07The original main entrance of Jokhang Monastery has become a small plaza for prostrating pilgrims and spectating tourists.

08Going north from the Jokhang Square, the Barkhor Street gets narrow again into a retail street.

09The Barkhor Street is flanked both sides by traditional Tibetan houses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlong the Barkhor, there are quite a number of benches and seating areas for the pilgrims.

11Makye Ame is a famous restaurant bar at the southeast corner of the Barkhor.  Legend has it that Tsangyang Gyatso, the 6th Dalai Lama, met the girl he loved at this bar in the 17th century.

12There are also hidden courtyards behind the traditional Tibetan houses on the Barkhor, where young artists and artisans gather to promote a new generation of Tibetan culture, as well as cool cafes and interesting bookstores targeted at the local youngsters.

13Late afternoon is a popular time to walk the Barkhor, when the fierce highland sun becomes a more bearable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApart from Jokhang Monastery, there are a number of historical buildings at Barkhor, including this former office of the Qing government representatives.

16Smaller in scale than the famous monasteries, local Buddhist temples such as this one on the Barkhor Street is equally interesting with vibrant worshiping scenes.

17Both pilgrims and tourists love to interact with the Buddhist prayer wheels.

15Inside the small temple there is a much bigger prayer wheel where pilgrims move clockwise with the turning wheel inside.

19Police has a strong presence at Barkhor Street, with security stations set up at certain spots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATea shops and shopping centre of gemstone shops dotted around the Barkhor Street.

21Before sunset, Barkhor Street can get pretty crowded with pilgrims and tourists.

22Among all the pilgrims and tourists that we had seen on the Barkhor Street, probably this old man and his seven dogs had captured the most attention.

* * *

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

 


JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)

It has been many years since I dreamed of visiting Tibet.  Yet it only took us a little over a month to plan for this trip and invite our Canadian friend Maggie to join.  The itinerary consisted of two parts: 4 days in Lhasa and surrounding monasteries, and 6 days on the road climaxed with a close encounter with Mount Everest’s north face at the Everest Base Camp.  Apart from occasional hassles of security checkpoints, our Tibetan story was largely filled with breathtaking scenery, photogenic monasteries and joyful laughter among the three of us.

Under rapid modernization in recent years, Tibet has been changing drastically.  Since the opening of Qinghai-Tibet Railway, more highways and rail roads are being constructed every year, connecting Tibet with the rest of China.  Modern infrastructure has brought in a large influx of local tourists and commercial goods.  Given the inevitable social changes and urbanization of Lhasa, we were delighted to discover that the local Tibetan lifestyle is still going strong at many places, especially at Buddhist monasteries where locals pilgrims and monks still practise their traditional rituals, and at rural areas where farmers still live off the land raising yaks and sheep, and farming the famous Highland barley.

For 11 days we had the blessing of promising weather, even the infamous gusty and freezing weather at Everest Base Camp and Namtso Lake didn’t come to trouble us while we enjoyed the spectacle of the Milky Way and shooting stars over snow-capped mountains.  The rich culture of Tibetan Buddhism was equally spectacular and visible almost everywhere from vivid prayer flags at mountain passes to the myriad of prostrating pilgrims around Jokhang Monastery and the majestic Potala in Lhasa.  For us, the centuries old spirituality was inseparable from the Tibetan landscape.  At the land of mystic Shangri-La where heavenly landscapes coincide with the spirituality of the Buddhist Mandala, we had experienced a marvelous journey that defied fatigue from a red eye flight, occasional altitude sickness, and days of awful toilets.

DSC_0385Our first part of the trip concentrated on exploring Lhasa, the sacred capital of Tibet.  Walking the clockwise kora (pilgrimage) on Barkhor Street around Jokhang Monastery was an interesting experience that we had everyday during our stay in Lhasa.

DSC_1963Our second part of the trip was an remarkable road journey of ancient monasteries and spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and pristine lakes.  We were fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather and clear sky while admiring the starry sky from the Everest Base Camp and Namtso Lake.

* * *

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 4 (3/6): KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was a short walk from Todaiji to Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the most famous Shinto shrine in Nara.  The main path to Kasuga Taisha was a pleasant walk in the woods.  First there were just old trees along the path, but soon came the stone lanterns.  As we get closer to the shrine complex, more and bigger clusters of stone lanterns appeared.  Over three thousand lanterns dotted in and around Kasuga Taisha.  Every year, during the festival of Setsubun Mantoro (February 2-4, Spring Festival) and Obon Mantoro (August 14-15, Bon Festival), thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha would be lit up at once.

01Atmospheric stone lanterns and old trees lined the path leading to Kasuga Taisha.

02Deer is considered to be messengers of the gods.  They could be seen all over Nara Park, including the grounds of Kasuga Taisha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be never-ending rows of stone lanterns on our way to Kasuga Taisha.

04We passed by the Treasure Hall before entering the main shrine complex.  The Treasure Hall houses a number of relics from the old shrine.

05Before entering the complex, we passed by a huge wall filled with names of donors.

06From the lantern lined path, we walked up the stair to enter the main vermilion complex of Kasuga Taisha.

07Close up of the moss-covered stone lanterns near the main entrance.

08.JPGMany lanterns were written with prayers from donors who made contributions during the 60th renewal of the shrine.  Traditionally Shinto shrines in the Ise Jingu would be demolished and rebuilt every 20 years to celebrate the concept of impermanence.  Since the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century, only the damaged parts of the shrine would be repaired instead of replacing the entire building.

09After the entrance, we passed by the wooden pillars that supported the Heiden and Buden (幣殿・舞殿, Palace of Offerings and Dance Palace).

10Then we came to a gravel courtyard dominated by the Great Cedar Tree (社頭の大杉).  The ancient cedar was about 800 to 1000 year old.

11Next came the most prominent building in the courtyard, the Chumon and Oro (中門・御廊, Central Gate and Veranda).

12Spreading both directions beyond the Chumon, the Oro Veranda is full of suspended lanterns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 10m tall Chumon is the central gate in front of the Main Sanctuary of the shrine.  Many visitors line up to come in front of the Chumon to pay their respect.

14Vermilion is the dominant colour at the shrine, while green, brown and beige are also used in the ornaments.

15Each metal lantern along the Oro Veranda and East and South Cloister looks distinctive.

16The small shrines near the South Cloister blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings, especially during autumn times.

17There were so many lanterns in Kasuga Taisha.  How nice if we could visit the shrine again during Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Mantoro Festival when they were all lit up.

18Even the shadow of the lanterns look amazing under the afternoon sun.

19After the main shrine at Kasuga Taisha, we headed into the adjacent cedar forest to check out some of the auxiliary shrines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the auxiliary shrines we visited was Meoto Daikokusha (夫婦大国社, couple shrine).  Dedicated to the Shinto deity for couple relationships, Meoto Daikokusha is popular for visitors hoping for happy relationships and successful match-making.

21Some local visitors and even tourists came wearing traditional kimono dresses.

22There were many quiet shrines in the forest, each had its devoted supporters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited several of the auxiliary shrines.  The last one we saw was Golden Dragon Shrine.

24It was late afternoon and we were a little tired and hungry.  Following the two rows of moss-covered stone lanterns, we slowly walked out of Kasuga Taisha.

25Near the exit of the forest path, we saw a herd of deer outside the forest right by a beautiful grassland.

***

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 2 (2/6): KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04

The Kiyomizu-dera in early morning offered quite a big contrast compared to our previous night visit.  Tranquility replaced commotion of excited crowds.  Soft sunlight took over artificial floodlights.  After entering the Nio-men Gate (仁王門), we walked up to the main temple platform along with several local visitors.    To avoid the tourist crowds coming in an hour or so, we first made our way to the Hondo (本堂), or the Main Hall.  At the entrance of the wooden Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台), we tried lifting the displayed Steel Geta and Steel Shakujou, two Buddhist objects dedicated to Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶), a 12th century warrior monk who was famous for his loyalty and strength.  We could lift up the lighter Shakujou (12 kg/26 lbs), but definitely not the heavy Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs).  We wandered on the wooden stage for a while, and went over to the deck of Okunoin Hall for an overview of the Main Hall, the colourful autumn maples and the distant skyline of Kyoto.

A flight of stone steps adjacent to the Main Hall led us to the popular Jishu Shrine (地主神社), a Shinto shrine dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto (大国主命), a deity of love and matchmaking.  Perched above the thatched roof of the Main Hall, the Jishu Shrine is consisted of a cluster of small shrines around a main shrine.  The shrine is popular for lonely hearts who are seeking for real love, as well as couples who are praying for consolidation of their relationships.  At the forecourt of Jishu, two rocks stand 18m apart from each other.  Legend said that if one can walk from one rock to the other with their eyes shut, then their wishes for love would come true.  Names of donors from all over Japan and foreign countries are displayed inside and outside the shrine, indicating just how universal a simple wish for love is.  Apart from love, visitors also come to pray for good fortunate and safety for their family, and smooth delivery for their babies.

As we descended back to the Main Hall, the sun had finally moved above the mountain and shined on the temple buildings.  We made a detour to the temple forecourt for a few more pictures of the buildings under the morning sun.  We then walked south towards the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, at the far end of the valley.  Standing right by the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda and looked across the valley, we had a great view of the Kiyomizu-dera as the shadow of eastern mountains gradually receded.  We continued down the valley path to the base of Kiyomizu Stage, where we encountered multiple groups of school students who came for a school trip with their teachers and tour guides.  A large group of the school students gathered at the Otowa Waterfall, waiting for their turn to taste the sacred water from one of the three waterfall streams.  Given the super long queue, we gave up the idea of trying it ourselves.  After a night stroll and an early morning visit, we truly enjoyed Kiyomizu-dera with its magnificent timber architecture, spiritual atmosphere, natural setting, and views of the city.  It was time for us to move on to other places in Higashiyama and Gion before the afternoon rain arrived.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the temple from the main gate of Nio-men (仁王門) and walked up to the main temple platform.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors tried to lift the Steel Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs) and Steel Shakujou (12 kg/ 26 lbs) at the entrance of Kiyomizu Stage.

06The Main Hall and Stage of Kiyomizu-dera would soon be covered in scaffolding for a major renovation.

07The crimson maples in front of the Kiyomizu Stage offered a poetic sense of autumn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were only several local visitors around, allowing us to enjoy the temple peacefully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was well past the peak moment but the autumn foliage was still a major enhancement to our visit of Kiyomizu-dera.

05Out the wooden balustrade, we could see the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda at the far end of the valley.

05bAutumn colours at the valley below Kiyomizu Stage.

08The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage as seen from the deck of Okunoin Hall.

09Close up of the structure of Kiyomizu Stage and the valley path.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe stair that led us up to the Jishu Shrine, a sacred place for worshipers seeking for fortune of love.

11One of the two love stones in the forecourt of Jishu Shrine.

12The main shrine of Jishu Shrine was covered with names of donors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the several small shrines at Jishu Shrine where worshipers can make a variety of prayers and wishes, from good fortune to smooth childbirth.

14Okuninushi no Mikoto, the deity of love and matchmaking, and his messager the rabbit.

15Kyodo, the Sutra Hall and Sanjunoto, the Three-storey Pagoda under the morning sun.

16The morning warmed up as the shadow of the eastern mountains receded from the autumn maples below Kiyomizu Stage.

dsc_2023Not until we reached the far end of the valley that we realized the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, was actually quite small.

18Overview of Kiyomizu-dera as seen from Koyasu-no-to Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe valley path below Kiyomizu Stage was packed with school groups.

20Many students were interested for a sip of the sacred water at the Otowa Waterfall.

21It was already 9:30am when we left Kiyomizu-dera.

***

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 7 – KUMANO HONGU TAISHA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 3 of 4, Japan

At Hongu, we dropped off our backpacks at a locker across the street from the main entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha. We then went to check out the heritage centre where we learnt a little more about the history of Kumano Hongu Grand Taisha and the Kii mountain range. The Kumano Hongu Taisha is the house for the deity of Kumano Gongen, where pilgrims came to pay their respect to the deities of Kumano area for almost 1000 years. Every spring, the Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival would take place with three days of ceremonies.

On a bench outside of the centre, we took out the lunchboxes for a quick lunch. The yummy lunchboxes were ordered online before we left for our trip and delivered to our hotel at Yunomine in the morning. After lunch, we took our time to visit Kumano Hongu Taisha a second time.  This time, we had more time to examine the donor lanterns, flags, signs, etc. along the main access path. After a relaxing stroll around the complex, we walked down the main entrance stairs one last time under the afternoon sun. We picked up our backpacks at the locker and walked over to the bus stop in front of the heritage centre, where we would hop on a bus for Wataze Onsen.

1The banner at Kumano Hongu Heritage Center commemorated the 10th anniversary of inscription into UNESCO’s World Heritage for “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.

2The Heritage Center represents a good example of modern architecture with a traditional touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA33.9m tall and 42m wide, the Torii gate at the entrance to the sandbank of Oyunohara is the largest in the world.  This is where the original Kumano Hongu Taisha stood over a century ago, before the devastating floods destroyed much of the old shrines.

4Along with our accommodation and luggage shuttle service, we also reserved this local lunchbox online at http://www.tb-kumano.jp prior our arrival in Japan.

4bHoused in a bamboo box, our lunchbox contained a number of seasonal local delicacies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARebuilt after flood damages, the Zuihouden next to the entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha houses religious study areas, a hall and a souvenir shop.

6The stair leading up to the main shrine is flanked both sides with donor flags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWorshipers put all kinds of wishes onto these wooden “ema” to communicate with the deities.

8Tying the Omikuji, the fortune telling paper slips onto trees or ropes at the shrine is a common customs of worshiping.

9Small bamboo flags were another common option for worshipers to leave their messages.

10Before entering the complex, cleaning our hands at the purification trough had become a common practice even for foreign visitors like us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWooden staff in hand, lots of elderly worshipers spend great effort in walking the pilgrim route before reaching Kumano Hongu Taisha.

12Our second visit to the Hongu Taisha.  This time we had all the time we needed to wander around the complex.

13Beside the main shrines stood this small and popular shrine under tree shade.

14After a thorough visit, we walked down the main stair once again.

15Lanterns with donor’s name were hung on a rack near the main gate of Kumano Hongu Taisha.

16We bid farewell to the Kumano Hongu Taisha under the late afternoon sun.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 5 – TAKAHARA to TSUGIZAKURA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 2 of 3, Japan

At around 10:30am, we left Takahara and continued to hike east towards Tsugizakura. In the next seven hours, we passed by a number of shrines, including Daimon Oji, Jujo Oji, Osakamoto Oji and stopped by the Chikatsuyu Village.  We took our time along the way, checking out almost every shrine and lookout, some of which required a short detour from the main trail.  The shrines (Oji) were in various conditions of preservation, from decently intact to completely in ruins or even disappeared entirely except an interpretation signpost.  In Tsugizakura, a small village 18km from where we began our hike at Takijiri, we checked in at Minshuku Tsugizakura.

19After Takahara, dense forest took over the scenery of rice fields and green rolling hills.

20Soon after we ventured into the forest we encountered two timber shelters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps these shelters were resting huts for local loggers.

22Evidence of forestry was common along Kumano Kodo.

23At each major oji (shrine) along Kumano Kodo stood a wooden shelter where hikers can obtain a souvenir stamp chop.

25A small porcelain cup at Osakamoto Oji was left for hikers to leave a small offering.

26Although small, the statues at Gyubadoji shrine were beautifully carved.

27More detailed stone carvings were found at Gyubadoji shrine.

28At 3pm, we were approaching the village of Chikatsuyu, a popular destination for hikers to stay the night.

29We entered the village of Chikatsuyu via a bridge spanning across the Hiki-gawa River.  The atmosphere of Chikatsuyu resembled an Alpine village in Europe.

29aWhile many hikers stopped at Chikatsuyu for the night, we still had another 1.5 hour before reaching Tsugizakura, where we could finally rest for the night at Tsugizakura Minshuku.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed by a number of self-served vending spots where local villagers left their agricultural products or handcrafts for sale.

31Along the way, we saw a number of interesting scarecrows.

32Before leaving Chikatsuyu we saw a large school complex.

33Inside the school fence, a cool playground equipment caught our attention.

33aUpon leaving Chikatsuyu, we passed by a long flight of stair leading up to the torii gate of a local shrine.

34By the time we reached Hisohara Oji in half an hour, it was only twenty minutes away from Tsugizakura.

35Because of the humid climate, much of the stone pavement and walls were carpeted with moss.

36Finally at about 5pm we reached the famous torii gate of Tsugizakura Oji.  Tsugizakura means “grafted cherry tree”.  Accordingly to historical account, an aristocrat from the 12th century passed by a cherry tree grafted on a Japanese cypress at this location.  Today, a number of century-old Japanese cedar trees still remain.

37At top of the stairs beyond the torii gate stood the shrine.  We clapped our hands, paid a small offering, and were grateful for reaching Tsugizakura after a long day of walking in relatively good weather.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka