Day 1 (1/2).
Our flight landed in Tokyo Haneda at around 6am. Before our next flight to Hokkaido’s Memanbetsu Airport at noontime, we had a few hours to spare in the Japanese capital. Tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season in Japan, was in full force in mid June. Given the proximity to the city centre, we wouldn’t want to miss the chance of revisiting Tokyo. We took the monorail and then transferred to the metro heading for Tsukiji Market. 40 minutes was all it took to reach Tsukiji. It was pouring when we came out the metro at the Kabuki-za Theatre (歌舞伎座) exit. We followed Google Map to make our way into the quiet lanes near the outer market.
Opened in 1935, the 83-year-old market has officially moved to the new Toyosu Market (豊洲市場) in October 2018. With no intention to watched a tuna auction behind glass or checked out seafood and produce stores in a brand new shopping centre like setting, we preferred to revisit the old market at Tsukiji, where the Outer Market remained open for business. At the market, generations of social interactions have developed a strong sense of community. The chaotic turret traffic at the inner market, desperate tourists cramped in long lines for an early sashimi breakfast, cafes serving simple coffee on dark wood counters, street food stalls along busy lanes and covered alleyways, the spirit and ambience of the old market have drawn us back to Tsukiji again and again. This time around, our Tsukiji experience took us to a craft coffee shop, a back lane sushi eatery and a historical Shinto shrine.
Miraitowa (future and eternity) and Someity (calm and powerful), the two official mascot of 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, greeted all visitors at the arrival lobby of Haneda Airport.
Turret COFFEE, a popular hub for everyone in Tsukiji who love coffee, offered us a decent dose of caffeine to start the day.
We came just in time to be the first few customers at Turret.
The cafe decor was simple and the coffee was aromatic and good.
Named after the 3-wheel cart that once roamed in the lanes of Tsukiji Market, a real “turret” was placed in the centre of the coffee shop as display and also seating.
Kitsuneya Beef Rice, one of the most popular eateries in the entire outer market, offers visitors a decent alternative to seafood.
For many, leaving Tsukiji Market without picking up several pieces of tuna toro sashimi would be a big regret.
We ended up sitting down at a small sushi eatery in a covered alleyway.
Despite relocation of the inner market, the sushi at Tsukiji Outer Market was equally fresh as before.
Today’s uni (sea urchin): Hamanaka (浜中), Uchiura Bay (噴火湾), Akkeshi (厚岸), Nemuro (根室), Rebun (礼文), and Nemuro (根室). Even looking at the names of the five fishing villages in Hokkaido would wet our appetite.
Before returning to the airport, we made a stop at Namiyoke Inari Jinja (波除稲荷神社), the unofficial guardian shrine of Tsukiji Market.
Built in 1659, the Shinto shrine dedicates to Inari (稲荷大神), the god of fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture. The Namiyoke Inari Jinja (波除稲荷神社) was specifically aimed to ward off disasters and diminish incoming waves.
The 1-ton Yakuyoke Tenjo Dai-Shishi male lion is one of the main features of the shrine. During Tsukiji Lion Festival on June 10th, the lion head would parade across the Tsukiji along with the red female lion head.
The 0.7 ton female lion head is slightly lighter than the male, but equally impressive. After coffee, sushi, and Shinto shrine, we took our time to return to Haneda Airport for the flight to Memanbetsu in Hokkaido.
Tsuyu (梅雨), the rain season, begins to hit Okinawa in May and gradually makes its way north to the rest of Japan until the end of June. During the wet season, rainy and cloudy weather affects the entire country except Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island north of the main Honshu Island. The seismic active island is 3.6% smaller than Ireland, with a climate significantly cooler than the rest of Japan. Seeking for a pleasant getaway from Hong Kong’s humid and hot summer, we picked Hokkaido as the destination for our 11-day vacation from 15th to 25th of June. Traveling in the remote national parks and rural countryside of Hokkaido, hiring a car was a necessity. The Hokkaido journey was our first road trip in Japan.
Known as Japan’s last true wilderness, Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) is the natural haven where Brown Bears and Blakiston Fish Owls ruled the primeval forests and Orcas, Minke and Sperm Whales roamed the waters of Nemuro Strait. With fantastic natural scenery, wildlife and seafood to offer, this easternmost part of Hokkaido topped our priority list in the travel itinerary. Next in the journey took us to the spectacular volcanoes of Akan Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園), where we came close to Japan’s clearest water at caldera Lake Mashu (摩周湖) and the fantastic onsen and fly fishing hot spot of Lake Akan (阿寒湖). While the lavender fields of Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛) had yet reached the peak bloom moment, the ultra fertile soil below the Tokachi Volcanic Group (十勝火山群) treated us with some of the best bread, corn, potatoes, asparagus, melons and milk that we ever had in our lives. Despite far away from Tokyo and Osaka, the architectural magic of Tadao Ando (安藤忠雄) in Hokkaido satisfied our thirst of contemporary design and aesthetics. Back in Obihiro (帯広), Otaru (小樽) and Sapporo (札幌), historic traces of early pioneers and contemporary dessert shops and local eateries brought us back to delightful charm of urban Japan. What’s more? Day after day of mouthwatering seafood, fresh produces, good coffee, and lovely patisseries reminded us how wonderful our world could be, when the water is clean, soil is rich, forests are healthy and people are friendly. Thank you Hokkaido. You have truly touched our hearts.
Located north of Honshu Island, Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan.
Flying in from Tokyo Haneda, our Hokkaido journey began from Memanbetsu (女満別空港) near the Shiretoko Peninsula. After more than 1,181km of driving, we arrived at Otaru and Sapporo at the western side of the island.
This black hatchback hybrid Toyota Prius c (Toyota Aqua in Japan) provided us the means of transport from east to west across Hokkaido.
After 2 days of rain and wind, we finally had a glimpse of the active volcano of Mount Rausu (羅臼岳), the tallest peak in Shiretoko Peninsula.
The greatest experience we took away from Shiretoko was the close encounter with a pod of orcas in the Nemuro Strait.
The Mashu Lake (摩周湖) offered us a peaceful sunrise at 3:30am.
Under the shadow of Mount Oakan (雄阿寒岳), dozens of fly fishermen stepped into the crystal water of Lake Akan (阿寒湖) to test their luck.
Farms and greenhouses were washed with heavy rain as we entered into Furano (富良野).
Still at least half a month to go before the peak season of lavender blossom, visitors were enjoying themselves at a relatively less crowded Farm Tomita in Nakafurano.
Compared with rainbow flower fields, we loved the wheat fields at Biei the most.
Tadao Ando’s Chapel on the Water has been famous in the designer’s world since the 1980s.
The Hill of Buddha is the latest addition in Hokkaido by Tadao Ando.
At Yoichi Distillery (余市蒸溜所), whiskey has been produced since 1934.
Saturdays Chocolate in Sapporo is one of the many excellent local eateries and cafes that we visited in the journey.
Last but not least, Hokkaido offered us the best seafood and dessert that we ever had as far as we could remember. Let’s begin to tell the story of our journey!
Near the iconic Hawa Mahal and City Palace, the brothers Tikam Chand and Surendar have been using their antique box camera to take instant photographs for anyone who is willing to wait several minutes and pay a price for an one-of-a-kind vintage experience. Known as Pahari Master, the grandfather of the brothers was the former maharaja’s photographer. Given as a gift from the maharaja, the 1860 German made Carl Zeiss Jena camera was Pahari Master’s apparatus to make a living. Gone were the days when Jaipur was ruled under the maharaja. The 1860 Carl Zeiss camera had since then become a family heirloom from Pahari Master to his son, and then to the brothers Tikam Chand and Surendar. In the last three decades, the brothers had been taking instant photographs for people in the historical heart of Jaipur. Bloggers and media outlets such as CNN and LA Times have written about the brothers and their grandfather’s antique camera. In recent years, their photo stall has become a small tourist attraction in its own right. For us, checking out the 150-year camera and having a photo of ourselves taken by the vintage machine was a top priority in Jaipur. Fortunately we made it just on time to be Tikam Chand’s last customer of the day, before it get too dim for photography.
At 5pm, we left the City Palace and began our quest of the 1860 vintage Carl Zeiss camera. We found our way through the Jaleb Chowk Square and Naqqar Khana ka Darwaza (Drum Gate). In the old days, court musicians would station at the upper level of the gate to announce the arrival and departure of the maharaja.
Then through Naqqar Darwaza Gate we finally stepped out of the former royal compound and arrived at the market streets of old Jaipur.
Known as the pink city, many buildings in old Jaipur have been painted in the iconic pink colour.
The market streets of old Jaipur are full of merchandises of all sorts. As the capital of Rajasthan, many people in the desert state come to Jaipur for shopping.
Before sunset, we finally found Tikam Chand and his 150-year Carl Zeiss camera.
While chatting with Tikam Chand, we sat down on a bench and get ourselves ready for the one-of-a-kind vintage photo shoot.
Many think a vintage 1860 Carl Zeiss Jena would be locked up in a glass display box in a museum. It was hard to believe that this valuable artefact could actually work properly after 150 years.
Looking into the back viewfinder we could see an upside down image.
Tikam Chand first took a negative portrait of us, and developed the photo in a small box at the back of the camera. Then he took another shot of the negative to get a positive image as the final product.
Newspaper cutouts and vintage photographs served as the best advertisement for the brothers.
By the time we bid farewell with Tikam Chand and the 1860 Carl Zeiss camera, darkness had already fallen upon. Just a stone throw away, we stumbled upon the magnificent Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Wind.
The picture perfect Hawa Mahal is perhaps the most published image of Jaipur.
At Hawa Mahal, we flagged down an auto-rickshaw for Peacock rooftop restaurant, a popular dining venue that we discovered from online research.
The Peacock rooftop restaurant was neatly decorated based on the peacock theme.
The food was decent and the cozy atmosphere was enhanced by the lovely live music.
Established in a former mansion, Arya Niwas was the mid range hotel where we stayed for the night.
The old wing of Arya Niwas had its old school charm.
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.
Sunset was a great time to absorb the peaceful atmosphere of the ghats in Pushkar.
Maybe the presence of fish signify the improvement of water quality?
Deity worshiping might happen anywhere around the lake shore.
Buildings were covered in an orange glow as the sun set.
Nag Pahar (Snake Mountain) and Ratnagiri Hill were highly visible from Pushkar Lake.
Watching the sunset over Pushkar Lake was one of the loveliest moment in our journey.
Given the beauty of the sunset, the number of tourists lingering at the ghats were surprisingly few.
In just a blink of eye the sun sank beyond the buildings on the horizon.
Even the cow enjoyed the beauty of the sunset.
A small group of pilgrims and temple staff performed evening prayers at Varaha Ghat.
Candles were lit and flower petals were scattered into the water during the ceremony.
Although short, the prayer ceremony generated a spiritual ambience no words could fully describe.
The last pilgrim prayed to the twilight as all other worshipers returned into the temple.
Pilgrims and temple priests finishing their last bit of prayers at the ghat.
As light faded, we decided to call it a day.
We left Pushkar Lake from the entrance of mVaraha Ghat.
The market streets behind the ghats were much more lively than the waterfront.
On our way back to Inn Seventh Heaven, we passed by the old Rangji Temple.
At the hotel, we once again headed up to Sixth Sense, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for a vegetarian meal.
To finish the night, we ordered a Rajasthan vegetarian thali.
DAY 4 (4/5): DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27
From our guidebook we picked Saffron Restaurant for lunch. Situated on the leafy rooftop of Nachna Haveli Hotel, Saffron Restaurant offers an atmospheric venue away from the busy lanes of Jaisalmer. The building complex is owned by the Nachna family. They are direct descendants of Maharawal Jaisal, the founder of Jaisalmer. The Nachna Haveli was partially converted into a heritage hotel in 1996.
We entered the Nachna Haveli Hotel through a elegant gateway.
Beyond the gate, we arrived at a sleepy and lush green courtyard.
Comfortable seating adjacent to the courtyard offers visitors and guests a great place to escape from the afternoon heat.
We were told to go upstairs to the roof for the Saffron Restaurant.
Compared to the dusty and often busy street outside, the leafy and tranquil rooftop of Saffron Restaurant felt like a paradise to us.
At Saffron, it was a big surprise to find that film shooting was going on at part of the rooftop. It was a scene of causal talk between a mother and daughter while hanging the laundry.
After lunch, we went to check out the guidebook recommended handicraft shop Desert Handicrafts Emporium.
Desert Handicrafts Emporium is owned by LN Khatri, a knowledgeable historian and folklorist of the Thar region.
After purchasing two embroidered pieces, Mr. Khatri led us to his Thar Heritage Museum. With a decent collection of artefacts and antiques from various desert villages.
One of the most interesting display was a Gyan Chaupar (meaning ‘Game of Knowledge) game, which sometimes can be referred as the Snake and Ladder game. The game has been around in India since the 2nd century. It is a game that involves educating people about religious vice and virtue.
Displays at the Thar Heritage Museum are grouped in such a way that visitors can easily learn about the specific life and work of various kinds of people in the Thar Desert.
Opium was popular in Rajasthan in the old days. Khatri’s museum designates a corner to display the artefacts used for opium smoking.
Mr. Khatri’s father was actually a ghee collector in the Thar Desert. A number of old ghee containers are on display.
The displayed items in the museum reflect a bygone era of the Thar Desert.
Embroideries with gold and silver threads are popular in villages of the Thar Desert.
Vintage black and white photographs in the museum convey a romantic sense of the bygone Rajasthan.
Mr. Khatri was kind to show us around and talked about the highlights of his collection. The visit offered us a thorough glimpse of what life was like back in old Rajasthan.
Standing on the Trikuta Hill, the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer has withstood the sandstorms and wind of the Thar Desert for 800 years. Bathed in a honey glow under the setting desert sun, visitors often describe the Golden City of Jaisalmer as the picture-perfect castle of A Thousand and One Night. The spectacular Jaisalmer was once a significant trading city frequented by camel caravans on the ancient Silk Road. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site and the westernmost destination for visitors coming to Rajasthan. Beyond the desert to the west is the Indian border with Pakistan. Many come to Jaisalmer by the 18-hour train service from Delhi to cover the 780km distance. We chose to take a flight from Delhi to Jodhpur, and then a hired car from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. After a brief stop at Osian, by the time we reached our hotel at Jaisalmer it was already after dark.
We checked in at First Gate Home-Fusion, a historical haveli converted hotel, at around 19:30.
Our pleasant room was on the upper floor with a pleasant balcony.
After checking in, we went up to the rooftop restaurant at our hotel.
Situated near the first gate of the fort, the rooftop restaurant of our hotel offers gorgeous views of the iconic fort.
Specialized in Indian and Italian cuisine, we ordered a combination of both for our first dinner at Jaisalmer.
From the balcony of our hotel room, we patiently waited for the sunrise at the east horizon.
Below our balcony was a quiet side street of small guest houses.
On the street, dogs, cows and local residents passed by our balcony every so often.
From the balcony we enjoyed the spectacular sunrise for two days in a row.
For two days in a row we witnessed the same little girl fed the street dogs while on her way to school.
Soon after sunrise, locals in colourful dresses came out to clean the street.
At the other side of the balcony, we also enjoyed a splendid view of the fort.
Under the rising sun, the yellow sandstone of the fort was illuminated in a golden glow.
Sunlight penetrated into our room through a tiny window.
Outside our room, sunlight also spilled into the hallway through high windows.
After breakfast, it was time for us to step out and explore the magnificent Jaisalmer.
It was dark by the time we left Mehrangarh Fort. We turned our gaze from the fort to the cityscape below us. We saw countless festive lights flickering in different parts of the old city, as if a citywide party awaited for our return. At the centre of Old Jodhpur, the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower was bathed in colourful lighting like a rainbow popsicle. We followed a winding footpath going downhill, hoping to get back to the old town in time for dinner at the rooftop restaurant at Pal Haveli. Before supper, we still had one more destination to go which was the vibrant Sadar Market at the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower.
It was getting dark when we began to walk down from Mehrangarh Fort. From afar, the clock tower in colourful lights was highly visible and served as a destination landmark to guide us for the walk.
Mehrangarh Fort looked majestic under the evening flood lights.
The path soon led us into small streets at the foothills below the fort.
It was dinner time and most shops were about to close.
We walked by many homes with their doors kept opened. From time to time, we could hear laughter of families from inside their homes.
In Jodhpur, there was a common way in which the street vendors decorate their store with bags of chips and snacks in different colourful packaging hanging vertically around the front edge of the roof. It was very eye-catching.
We kept on walking downhill and hoped that we would soon reach the Sadar Market and Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower. Behind us, the massive Mehrangarh Fort provided a mysterious background.
Soon we reached the bottom of the hill in the streets of Gulab Sagar,
It was dinner time for many families, and even bedtime for this puppy on a motorbike.
Near Sadar Market or Clock Tower Market, we passed by a small Hindu shrine along the main commercial street.
A beautiful gateway welcomed us into the vibrant Sadar Market. The market was named after Maharaja Sardar Singh, who built the market and the clock tower during his reign from 1880 to 1911.
Built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in the late 19th century, the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower is one the most iconic monuments of old Jodhpur.
Sadar Market is one of the busiest place in Jodhpur where locals and tourists come to shop for handicrafts, souvenirs, spices, fresh produce, textiles, jewellery and clothing.
At Sadar Market, our target was to check out MV Spices Shop.
Established by Mohan Lal Verhomal years ago, MV Spices is a renowned spices shop recommended by many guidebooks and foreign media. Today, the spices shop is managed by the friendly daughters of Mohan Lal Verhomal. After a cup of chai tea and a good chat with one of the daughters, we bought a pack of Maharaja curry, and also spices to make chai tea and chicken tikka masala.
After a quick visit of Sadar Market, we returned to our hotel Pal Haveli.
We climbed up to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant Indique for dinner.
Indique is a popular rooftop restaurant in Old Jodhpur, serving decent Indian food with magnificent views of the old city.
We enjoyed the distant view of Mehrangarh Fort at one side of the rooftop. During dinner, it was a surprise to see a small firework in front of the fort. It came in a split second. We couldn’t react quick enough to capture the moment with our camera. The scene could only live in our memory.
At the other side of the rooftop restaurant, we could look down to the vibrant Sadar Market and the colourful Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower.