Haveli in India refers to a large historical mansion built by a wealthy merchant over a century ago. Designed to impress both the residents and outside spectators, these buildings usually come with ornate carvings, beautiful frescoes, intricate window screens, and an airy courtyard or lightwell. While many have been fallen into disrepair over the years, some havelis have survived into modern times and become valuable heritage buildings. Rajasthan has some of the most famous and well preserved havelis in India, and some of which have been converted into museums or hotels. Situated in the old city near the Gulab Sagar Reservoir and Clock Tower Market, the beautiful Pal Haveli was our hotel in Jodhpur. Owned by the Pal Family, the two-hundred-year-old haveli was the place where we first experienced the historical sense and beauty of the Medieval Jodhpur. Antique housewares, paintings, textiles and furniture offered a charming ambience. From the rooftop restaurant, views of the busy Clock Tower Market and the majestic Mehrangart Fort were breathtaking. Outside the hotel, the market streets and square near the Clock Tower dominated the street scenes.
Just a stone throw away stood a simple omelette shop that has been frequented by foreign tourists ever since Lonely Planet named the local eatery as the famous “Omelette Shop” in 1999. Since then, this simple eatery has been elevated into legendary status among foreign tourists. The life of Ramkishan Gawlani the owner has been completely transformed ever since. According to an interview with Reuters, Ramkishan Gawlani was used to be poor and drank all day. For 24 years he cooked meat, rice, lentils and sometimes omelette. After Lonely Planet’s listing however, his business boomed dramatically with tourists all over the world come to him for omelettes. He gave up the other options in his menu and became an omelette specialist. Just a decade after the listing, he was cracking 1000 eggs a day and earned much respect in the city of Jodhpur. Interestingly, the famous omelette man is in fact a vegan and has not eaten an egg for years. His story reflects an interesting phenomenon about the tourist and guidebook industry. According to Reuters, Lonely Planet has sold over a million guidebooks on India from 1981 to 2007, and has inevitably bringing tourists to the same hotels and restaurants throughout the years, and has created tension and jealousy among businesses, such as the hostile feelings of the other omelette shop owners towards Ramkishan Gawlani. For us, we did visit the famous Omelette Shop for our first meal in Rajasthan because of its convenient location. While not as legendary one might imagine, Ramkishan Gawlani ‘s omelettes were indeed delightful and convenient for us.
We arrived at Pal Haveli hotel straight from the airport in early afternoon.
Through the grand entrance, we entered into the main arrival courtyard of the hotel.
On the roof, Indique Restaurant is a well known establishment with good food and great views of the old Jodhpur.
The hotel reception lobby is situated right at the courtyard.
Despite its modest size, the reception lobby of Pal Haveli is decently decorated with traditional furniture and antiques.
Even the light switches reflect the long history of the building.
Our room was located right by the courtyard.
Inside the room, walls were decorated with traditional miniature paintings.
Just a stone throw away, the legendary Omelette Shop was busy serving foreign tourists.
Stacks of eggs and signs of “Lonely Planet” and “Tripadvisor” suggested we had come to the “right” place, but not one of the imitated ones.
Ramkishan Gawlaniwas busy making omelettes at the stove.
Made with several eggs, mayo, cheese, spices and bread, we tried the tasty Alibaba Omelette.
Near the Omelette Shop was the entrance into the Sardar Market or the Clock Tower Market.
Across the street from the Omelette Shop, we could see the side facade of our hotel Pal Haveli.
Dozens of tuk tuks or auto rickshaws await for tourists at the heart of the old city across the street from the Omelette Shop.
After a few rounds of bargaining, we hired one of the passing auto rickshaw for Mehrangarh Fort, the single most iconic sight of the city of Jodhpur.
DAY 8 (6/6): AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01
To end the magical night of Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi, we decided to have a bowl of local ramen. Through online research, we learnt about a popular ramen restaurant near the train station. The walk from Asano River to the station was full of surprises as we encountered groups of school children parading the streets with traditional lanterns. The entire city was turned into a festival ground.
Groups after groups of school children parading on the streets of Kanazawa during the night of Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi.
It was delightful to see traditional rituals are being passed down to the young generation.
Movable carts were also seen with young traditional drummers.
We passed by Kanazawa Train Station on our way to Menya Taiga (麺屋大河).
Some bloggers suggest Menya Taiga (麺屋大河) in Kanazawa offers the “best miso ramen in Japan.” That’s a rather bold statement given the uncounted numbers of ramen restaurant in Japan, each has its unique recipe and ingredients.
After a little over half an hour in the queue, we finally got into the restaurant just before 10pm.
The ramen restaurant was full of little decorations.
Menya Taiga (麺屋大河) offers shorter and thicker noodles, with an extra touch of ginger and citrus fruit in the soup on top of the typical pork bone soup.
The uni (sea urchin) ramen was a delicious seasonal ramen we ordered.
In the next morning, 2.5 hours before the main parade of the Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり) began, we walked along the main street leading to the train station. The street would soon become the main parade venue.
Many local residences had already marked their spot on the sidewalk.
In front of Kanazawa Train Station, the Tsuzumi-mon Gate (鼓門) would serve as the symbol city gate for the annual parade of the Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり).
Parade participants would dressed in 16th century costumes to act like the army of Lord Maeda Toshiie entering the symbolic Tsuzumi-mon Gate (鼓門).
The banner of Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり) was hung at the entrance atrium of the train station.
At the station, we bought a few onigiri or Japanese rice balls for breakfast on the train.
Moving up to the platform of shinkansen or Japanese high-speed railway, our journey of Kanazawa and Chubu Region (Central Honshu) was coming to an end. In 2.5 hours, we would arrive in Tokyo.
DAY 7 (7/7): SIMPLE SUSHI BEHIND BUSY KATAMACHI, Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Sitting between the Japanese Alps and Sea of Japan, visitors to Kanazawa will be spoiled by the city’s freshest seafood from the Sea of Japan and vegetables from the surrounding areas of Ishikawa Prefecture. After a day of walking, it was time for us to sit down and finish the day with some local sushi. From Nagamachi, we passed through the colourful Kiguramachi (木倉町), an old neighborhood with small lanes full of restaurants. Time was still a little early. Chefs and staff of most restaurants were still busy making preparation for the night. We wandered in the neighborhood a little bit and reached busy high street of Katamachi (片町). We crossed the high street and found our way into a side street for Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), a tiny sushi restaurant that is highly popular with foreign tourists according to online research.
The sushi restaurant only had about ten seats along the sushi counter. The menu was simple and there were only two staff, the chef and his wife. A Western couple arrived before us and they were about to finish their first round of order. The wife spoke some English and politely took our order. All sushi was made by the chef right in front of us and they were really fresh. The price was reasonable too. The ambience was causal and the decor simple but delightful. Dining at Sushi Ippei provided the perfect ending to a day of sightseeing in Kanazawa. After dinner, we decided to walk back to our hotel near Omicho Market (近江町市場). We walked along the main shopping high street of Korinbo (香林坊) and made a detour at Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) to have a look at the stained glass of the gateway lit up with artificial lights. In about 20 minutes, we found ourselves back at Omicho Market where we started our day.
The walk from Nagamachi to Kiguramachi took us through a series of small residential lanes and water channels.
Time was still a little early when we reached the high street of Kiguramachi (木倉町).
In many restaurants and pubs, staff were busy preparing their venues for the night.
It might look empty before 6pm, but the area would soon be filled with people after work.
Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), a tiny sushi restaurant that captured the hearts of many foreign visitors in Kanazawa.
The chef would prepare the sushi and place them right in front of the customers on the counter.
The menu was mainly categorized in mackerel, tuna, white fish, prawns, fish eggs, shell fish, and others.
The sushi was really fresh and tasty.
The fresh sushi and ginger made the perfect match.
We sampled sushi from each category and were fully satisfied after a few rounds.
On our way back to the hotel, we dropped by Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) again to check out the gateway with the stained glass under artificial light.
DAY 7 (2/7): A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Since the old days in the Edo Period, the Omicho Market (近江町市場) has been the biggest market in Kanazawa (金沢) for over 280 years. With 170 shops, Omicho Market is very popular among both the locals and tourists. Anyone who is interested to get a taste of the fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan will never be disappointed with the market. Depending on the season, Omicho Market is always a seafood paradise: snow crabs, shrimps, oysters, squids, sea urchins, and all kinds of fish from the Sea of Japan near Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), with Noto beef (能登牛) and Kaga vegetables (加賀野菜) from the region as delightful bonus. In fact, the Sea of Japan just off the Ishikawa Prefecture is where the warm Tsushima current and the cold Liman current intersect, resulted in an abundance of nutrients and large concentrations of fishing ground for a diversity of fish and shellfish. Being the largest market in the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, it is obvious why Omicho Market is one of the best places to sample seafood in Japan. Most tourists will either sample fresh seafood or seafood snacks from the market stall directly, or walk into (often after certain amount of queuing time) one of the small seafood eateries near the market entrances or on the 2nd floor. After dropping off our backpacks at Pacific Hotel, we quickly walked over to the market for a short stroll. It soon turned out such a stroll in the market would happen at least twice per day during our stay in Kanazawa.
Spanning across several covered lanes, Omicho Market is one of the largest markets in Japan.
Noto beef (能登牛) refers to the high qualify strain of Japanese black cattle with their longest and final breeding process held in Ishikawa Prefecture. Every year, there is only about 700 cattle shipped, making this rare wagyu beef almost exclusive to the region.
Many shops in the market specialize in regional fruits, produces or snacks.
Traditional Japanese sweets are also available in a number of shops, including this one that sell traditional sweet rice cakes made with sticky rice and red bean paste.
Thought of course the main draw for visitors to the Omicho is always the seafood.
For seafood, a winter visit would have an advantage with snow crab season.
Oysters from the region are also popular among tourists.
Outside of winter, crabs from the Ishikawa Prefecture are still available.
The crabs are sold in a range of prices depending on size.
Crustaceans remain the most eye-catching items in the market.
Without tasting them, even looking at the crabs was a feast for our eyes.
At last we couldn’t resist but ordered some oysters and a prawn.
Both the local oysters and prawns were super fresh and sweet.
Before taking a bus a few blocks south of Omicho Market where the city’s main tourist attractions could be found, we stopped by Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe for a quick lunch.
With fantastic reviews on the Internet, our coffee didn’t disappoint us.
The hummus, bread and soup were also more than satisfying.
After a leisure stroll in the picturesque Ogimachi (荻町), at around 11am we crossed the suspension Deai Bridge (であい橋)over to the main parking lot / Open-air Museum Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園). The rain was quite heavy and instead of visiting the open air museum, we opted for a lunch break at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本), a lovely soba restaurant housed in a traditional gassho-zukuri building. The lunch was a delicious soba noodle soup and a mini bowl of Hida beef rice. After lunch we crossed the bridge back to Ogimachi, and paid a visit to the Myozen-ji temple complex. The visit included seeing two gassho-zukuri buildings, the Kuri (former residence of the monks) and the worship hall. Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we headed up to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台) for the spectacular birdeye’s view of the village and the surrounding mountains. At around 1:40pm, we headed back to the bus station, picked up our backpacks, and boarded a “world heritage bus” heading to Ainokura (相倉) of Gokayama (五箇山), where we would stay the night in a 300-year-old gassho-zukuri house.
On the other side of Deai Bridge (であい橋), the tour bus parking lot and the Open-air Museum Shirakawa-go or Gasshozukuri Minkaen (合掌造り民家園) didn’t look busy at all.
For tourists who arrive by tour buses, Ponte Deai (であい橋) would be their point of arrival into Ogimachi.
Just a stone throw away from the tour bus parking lot, we arrived at Soba Wakimoto (蕎麦脇本). We decided to go for a bowl of soba and a cup of hot tea.
Two “raccoons” welcomed us at the front lawn of the soba restaurant.
It was 11am, and we were the first to sit down in the dining hall of Soba Wakimoto.
We ordered two soba sets. Both came with a seafood soba, and a bowl of Hida beef rice. The meal was fantastic and gave us an opportunity to dry up our jackets.
After lunch, we headed back to Ogimachi. Outside of a tourist restaurant, a sarubobo (さるぼぼ) doll offered visitors a photo opportunity with this amulet of Takayama. The faceless doll was a traditional gift made by grandmothers for their grandchildren as lucky charm.
Back in Ogimachi, we passed by Myozen-ji Temple again and decided to paid a visit. Built mainly in the early 1800s, Myozen-ji Temple presents a rare surviving example of gassho-zukuri temple architecture.
In the Myozen-ji Temple, we could visit the Bell or Shoro Gate, the Kuri, and the main worship hall. All three structures were constructed with the unique thatched roof of the gassho-zukuri style. These temple structures were built in the early 1800s.
The Kuri of Myozen-ji Temple is one of the largest building in the village. Our tour of the temple complex began from here.
The spacious attic of the Kuri building had been converted into a two storey museum. Back in the old days, attics of many gassho-zukuri houses were used to make washi paper and raise silkworm.
Outside the Kuri, the gassho-zukuri houses and reflective rice paddies offered us a glimpse into the fading rural lifestyle of Japan.
The upper levels of the Kuri building allowed us a closer look at the straw eaves of the thatched roof.
From the Kuri, a zigzag corridor led us to the main worship hall of Myozen-ji Temple, where the interior was decorated with a series of paintings depicting the Mount Fuji.
On the ground level of the Kuri, we arrived at a beautiful fire hearth where visitors gathered around to smell the burning natural wood.
Before leaving Shirakawa-go, we walked up the hill near the bus station to Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台).
The Shiroyama Observatory Deck (城山天守閣展望台) offers the iconic postcard view of Shirakawa-go’s Ogimachi.
Despite the rain, the village of gassho-zukuri houses looked spectacular with the lush green surroundings.
Although most tourists prefer to visit Shirakawa-go in the snowy winter when the gassho-zukuri houses were lit up by flood lights at specific weekends, we didn’t mind to visit in late spring to see the village with its reflective rice paddies and lush green surroundings.
It was touristy, yet the scenery of Shirakawa-go and its traditional gassho-zukuri houses made the visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site more than worthwhile for us.
Unless you are a vegetarian, almost all visitors who come to Takayama would sample the Hida beef (飛騨牛), the renowned wagyu beef (和牛) famous for its fine marbling, soft texture, juicy quality and rich aroma. Since winning the “Wagyu Olympics” in 2002, the reputation of Hida beef has risen on par with the legendary Kobe beef (神戸牛). First introduced in the 2nd century AD from China, Japanese cattle were raised mainly as working animals until Meiji Restoration in 1868, when foreign cattle were imported into Japan and cross-bred with the local cattle to produce the four main breeds of wagyu: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled. Out of the three strands of Japanese Black, the Tajima bloodline is probably the most well known. Only pure Tajima bred, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県) will be certified as the famous Kobe beef. In the 1980s and 1990s, Kobe beef was introduced to the world and made a huge impact for its exceptionally high quality. Yasufuku, a bull from Hyogo Prefecture was considered to be genetically ideal for creating offspring with high quality meat. It was introduced to the Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県) in the 1980s, and produced 39,000 offspring during its lifetime. Yasufuku is also known as the father of Hida beef (飛騨牛). Today, all cattle of the Hida beef are bred and raised in Gifu Prefecture. In Takayama, there are multiple ways to appreciate the Hida beef, from high-end steakhouse to takeaway beef sashimi.
Opened in 2001, French Restaurant Le Midi is one of the most elegant restaurant in the city to sample Hida beef.
A side store of Le Midi offers takeaway snacks.
Custard pudding topped with local honey is one of the shop’s signature dish.
Other than pudding, Le Midi’s Hida beef burger is also highly popular among tourists. The Hida beef hamburger and custard pudding were the first two snacks we tried in Takayama, and already we were quite impressed.
Across the street from Midi, we also picked up a Hida beef skewer from Kyoushi (梗絲), one of the restaurants in Takayama specialized in Hida beef sushi.
Even the imitation display of the Hida beef snacks looked mouth-watering.
In the historic Kamisannomachi Street, the Hida beef sushi from Hida Kotte ushi (飛驒牛壽司) is perhaps the most anticipated street snacks in Takayama. Visitors can choose to enjoy the sushi at the seating area in the souvenir shop behind the sushi counter.
Hida beef sushi combo on rice crackers were truly amazing. We finally got a taste of beef that would “melt” in the mouth.
Near the railway station, there are butcher shops such as Yamatake Shoten (山武商店) offering a comprehensive Hida beef experience from picking the meat to devouring the grilled meat all under one roof.
For dinner, we chose Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明) to have Hida beef yakiniku (焼肉).
At 7:15pm, we put down our names on the waiting list at Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明). In less than ten minutes a staff came out and removed the waiting list and put a sign at the front door to stop any newcomer.
After an half-hour wait, a staff led us into the yakiniku dining hall.
We ordered a highest grade Hida beef (最とび飛騨牛) and a A5 Hida beef sirloin. The yakiniku dinner was basically a DIY barbecue experience.
The highest grade Hida beef (最とび飛騨牛) was full of marbling.
A5 Hida beef sirloin.
At the restaurant entrance, photos of Hida beef breeders were displayed on the wall.
Bar codes of the Hida beef for the night were also on display.
Certifications and newspaper articles about Hida beef breeders were displayed at the shopfront of Hidagyu Maruaki (丸明).
DAY 4 (3/3): MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.28
At 2pm, we returned to Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館) to check in. Although there were hiking trails venturing further out of Shirahone Onsen, we weren’t in a hurry to go out. Instead, we opted for spending a relaxing time at the ryokan. Since there weren’t any restaurants available, we made ourselves delicious local cup noodles bought at the souvenir shop on the main street. Our room was spacious and decorated in traditional Japanese style. The air was filled with fragrance of the tatami. Yet the thing that delighted us the most was the large window looking out to the dense vegetation. We ended up spending the entire afternoon reading novels, devouring local snacks and enjoying the ryokan’s hotspring bath from time to time.
Near the bus stop of Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) , a sign board indicated the availability of onsen bath at each ryokan for outside users.
At 2pm, we checked in at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館). The ryokan is located adjacent to a lush green ravine.
Shirahone Onsen remained quiet during weekdays. The lobby of Tsuruya Ryokan was airy but felt a little empty.
Our room was a comfortable Japanese style room came with traditional furnishings.
Through the large window, we could just stare at the lush greenery and circling insects all day long and wouldn’t get bored.
It was the perfect time to open a bottle of beer from the Japanese Alps.
The Nissin cup noodles we bought from the souvenir shop came with flavor of local miso, and it was undoubtedly one of the best cup noodles we ever had.
Adjacent from the onsen bath, the drinking room offered two water sources: local spring and the famous milky hotspring of Shirahone Onsen. The mineral rich onsen of Shirahone Onsen is drinkable and said to offer a number of health benefits.
The bath facility at Tsuruya Ryokan was neat and clean. Outside of weekends, it is quite possible to enjoy the bath all by yourself.
Similar to many traditional ryokan, the indoor bath at Tsuruya Ryokan is a large wooden pool filled with the milky hotspring.
The outdoor pool was definitely my favorite. It felt divine to breathe in the cool fresh air from the Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳) and enjoy the lush green scenery while submerging into the milky hotspring of Shirahone Onsen.
Like many ryokan, dinner and breakfast were included in the booking. For dinner, we had Hida beef sushi as one of the appetizers.
Yaki-zakana or grilled local fish was another tasty dish.
Sashimi of various types, including carp fish, was a delightful alternative to the grilled fish.
In the next morning, we had some delicious steamed local vegetables and hotspring congee for breakfast.
Soap made with the milky hotspring water of Shirahone Onsen was a decent souvenir.
After a day of pure relaxation at Shirahone Onsen, it was time for us to get moving again. There were only a few buses leaving the onsen village each day. We took the 10:15am bus to leave Shirahone Onsen.
We get off at Sawando Iwamidaira (さわんど岩見平) and crossed the road to wait for a bus heading to Takayama (高山), our next destination.