Charbagh is a Islamic quadrilateral garden based on the four gardens of Paradise in the Quran. Across the Yamuna River exactly opposite to the Taj Mahal lies the ruined site of Shah Jahan’s charbagh. Identified by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the most appropriate location to view the Taj, Mehtab Bagh was once occupied with pavilions, pools and fountains, and planted with fruit trees and flowers. With an identical width and perfect alignment with the Taj, the garden was seen as part of the master plan of the Taj Mahal. However after years of neglect, Mehtab Bagh was almost forgotten in the modern days until a major restoration work in 1990s. Today the garden has become the most popular spot in town to view the sunset of Taj Mahal. Our tour guide Gautam Pratap with Agra Walks took us to Mehtab Bagh by car.
The car took us to cross Yamuna River.
After we crossed the river, we soon arrived at some underprivileged neighborhoods.
According to our guide, the neighborhood that we passed by was mainly occupied by a “lower” caste of inhabitants.
According to our guide, interactions between people of different castes is usually rare.
Even life for domestic animal is harsh here.
Children having fun along the road.
After paying an admission, we were led to the central axis in the garden directly facing the Taj Mahal.
Ruins of the former pavilion and platform lie directly across from the Taj Mahal.
Once the official royal garden to view the Taj Mahal, Mehtab Bagh has become a popular place once again for tourists to view the Indian icon during sunset.
Pollution of the Yamuna River poses a major threat to the timber fountain and marble facade of the Taj. Due to river pollution, millions of small bugs appear at Taj Mahal and produce green excrement on the marble walls.
Some visitors would go to the riverside ground east of the Taj to photograph it without paying the admission fee. The ground is particular popular in early morning.
From Mehtab Bagh, it is the riverside sunset that draws tourists and locals for a magical moment to end the day. For us, it was the grand finale for our Agra experience. Before sunrise the next morning, we would board the express train for our return journey to Delhi.
On the banks of Yamuna River stands one of the world’s most recognizable man-made wonders that has captivated the imagination of people for generations. Its perfectly proportioned domes, minarets, white marble facades with spectacular stone inlays, represent the utmost architectural beauty and splendid craftsmanship of the Mughal civilization. The complex immortalizes the eternal love of Emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628 – 1658) towards Mumtaz Mahal, whose marvelous tomb complex has become the most famous national icon of India. This tomb complex is of course the magnificent Taj Mahal, which literally translates as Crown of the Palaces. The Taj Mahal stands out as the single most important monument that draws travelers from all over the world to India. Not a mosque or a palace, the Taj Mahal is indeed the final resting place for Queen Mumtaz Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan.
It would be absurd if we made two visits to India without seeing the Taj Mahal even once. Fitting Agra into our Rajasthan itinerary and completing the Golden Triangle was easy with the frequent train services between Agra, Jaipur and Delhi. In Agra, we purposely picked a guesthouse at Taj Ganj, the district right next to the Taj Mahal. Though not many good hotel options were available in the area, staying at Taj Ganj placed us just a few minutes of walk away from one of the gates of Taj Mahal. Hoping to experience the golden sunrise at the Taj, queuing at the gate about half an hour before sunrise is a common practice for both foreign and local visitors.
Before the trip, we were a little worry about the restoration work and scaffolding conditions of the Taj. Since 2016, scaffolding were up at different parts of the Taj for a major cleaning work to restore the original white colour of the marble. The process had been painstakingly slow. By October 2018, the cleaning was almost over except the main dome. It would be a woeful view if the central dome was covered in scaffolding. Luckily, the authority had decided to delay the cleaning process until the end of the tourist high season, meaning that the Taj would be scaffolding free from November 2018 to April 2019.
After purchasing the tickets at the gate, we queued in the foreign visitor line for about 20 minutes before going through the security check and arriving at the Jilaukhana Forecourt in front of the Great Gate.
Beyond the Great Gate, we arrived at the starting point of the Water Channel. The channels symbolize the four rivers in the Paradise mentioned in the Koran. A tint of orange gradually lighted up the east side of the minarets and domes.
We slowly walked to the central pool and platform at the centre of the Charbagh Garden.
From the Central Pool, the majestic Taj Mahal looked beautiful and poetic under the early morning sun. No tourist brochure or travel literature could do justice on conveying the true beauty of the marble architecture. We were grateful for not seeing any scaffolding on the Taj, and could see clearly all the major components of the iconic building: four minarets, five domes and an octagonal central structure.
It was a little hazy looking back to the Great Gate.
It was a huge relief to see the Taj scaffolding free. We slowly walked towards the main tomb structure to pay a brief visit of the interior.
No photography was allowed inside the tomb, where the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were on display. Their actual resting place is off limit to the public below the main deck.
After touring the interior, we stayed on the marble platform to check out the minarets and marble facades.
To the west of the Taj stands a beautiful mosque.
To the east, an identical building was used as a guesthouse.
To the north, Yamuna River provides a peaceful backdrop to the Taj.
From the marble platform, we could admire the details of marble carving on the Taj.
Standing face to face to the exterior marble walls, we were overwhelmed by the marble relief and stone inlay.
From the grandeur of the minarets to the splendid carvings and stone inlay of the marble walls, Taj Mahal is truly an amazing man-made wonder.
The sun get higher as time passed, and so as the number of visitors.
We circled the Taj to examine its beautiful marble walls before heading back down to the Charbagh Garden.
Back in the Charbagh garden, we could once again admire the overview of the Taj Mahal,
Back at the Central Pool, we took a few more shots of the classic view of the Taj once again.
Visitors continued to pour in from the Great Gate as we were about to leave the Taj Mahal complex.
We passed by the Khawasspuras (tomb attendant living quarter) one last time before exiting the Great Gate.
Dawn came before 5am. Taking a walk in Kamikochi before most tourists came out was a charming experience. Walking southwest along the serene Azusa River before reaching Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル), a small metal plaque at a small water pond reminded us the early mountaineering history in Kamikochi back in the late 19th century. Known as the Weston Memorial, the bronze plaque was made in honour of Walter Weston, whom many referred to as the “Father of Mountaineer in Japan.”
Before the late 19th century, the Japanese Alps was largely unknown to the Western world, and climbing mountains just for fun was a non-existence. Employed by the Meiji government, English surveyor William Gowland became the first foreigner to summit Mount Yari (槍ヶ岳) of the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈) in 1878. His adventure started a trend of mountaineering in Japan and was the first person to coin the term “Japanese Alps (日本アルプス)”. In 1891, English missionary Walter Weston also climbed Mount Yari. Sometimes referred as the “Father of Mountaineer in Japan”, Walter Weston wrote about his experiences and published “Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japan Alps”, an important travel literature that promoted this part of Japan to the Western world. He continued to adopt also Gowland’s term “Japanese Alps” in his publications, and established the first Japanese Alpine Club in 1905. Each year, the Weston Memorial Festival takes place in Kamikochi to commemorate Walter Weston.
Walking at 5am along Azusa River was a lovely experience. The charming scenery under the early morning sun gave us an uplifting spirit.
The turquoise water of Azusa River led us southwest towards the volcano Mount Yake.
It seemed that our fortune with perfect weather continued.
The rising sun was behind us as we moved along the river in a leisure pace.
The volcano Mount Yake in the distance was our intended hiking destination later in the day.
Before reaching Kamikochi Onsen Hotel, we came across the bronze plaque of Walter Weston. The memorial could be reached via stepping stones in the pond.
Soon we reached a path that led to the trailhead of Mount Yake (焼岳). The trail up to Mount Yake (焼岳) can be done in a 6 hour hike (round trip). It was our intended destination for later today. But our hotel manager said the snow conditions on the trail was not too convincing, and recommended us to do the day hike of Dakesawa (岳沢) instead.
Continuing south we reached the Tashiro Bridge (田代橋), where we had a fine view of Azusa River, Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル) and the mountains beyond. Crossing the bridge, we began to turn back towards Kappa Bridge.
Along the riverside, there were occasional park benches and tables where hikers were enjoying outdoor breakfast.
On our way back, the rising sunlight finally reached the summits of Mount Hotaka (穂高岳).
Before the arrival of tour groups, hikers can enjoy a moment of tranquility in the early morning.
Looking at Mount Yake (焼岳) from Kappa Bridge, we decided to drop by the Visitor Centre to ask for their advice on the trail conditions of Mount Yake.
If the hike up Mount Yake was not possible, we would turn to the Dakesawa (岳沢) trail going up the slope towards Mount Hotaka (穂高岳).
At the Visitor Centre, the staff confirmed that the trail up Mount Yake was still quite snowy at the upper section. Unless we had snow crampons they advised us not to go for the volcano. They said even the Dakesawa trail could be covered by snow at the upper sections, so we could go as far as we could accordingly to the trail conditions.
Back at Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge, we enjoyed our scheduled breakfast at 7am. It was a tasty and filling meal before we embarked onto the hike up to Dakesawa Hut.
DAY 2 (5/5): ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.26
Sometimes referred to as Japan’s Yosemite, Kamikochi (上高地) in the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園) is a picturesque valley in the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈) or Northern Japan Alps. With an altitude of 1500m and a length of 18km, Kamikochi is bounded by Mount Hotaka (穂高岳, 3190m) to the north and volcano Mount Yake (焼岳, 2455m) to the south. The turquoise water of Azusa River (梓川) flows through Kamikochi and passed under the famous Kappa Bridge (河童橋) where most tourists gather when they arrive. Chubu Sangaku National Park was established in 1934 for natural conservation. As the crown jewel of the national park, Kamikochi sits in the midst of alpine peaks, marshlands and hiking trails.
Most visitors come to Kamikochi from Matsumoto (松本) or Takayama (高山). A traffic regulation was introduced in 1975 to prohibit tourists to enter Kamikochi in their own cars. Most visitors arrive in Kamikochi by bus, either directly from a nearby town or from a bus stop next to one of the many parking lots along the main road. A wide range of accommodation options are available in Kamikochi, from campsites to luxurious resort hotels. We chose a mid-range mountain lodge called Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘) near the Kappa Bridge. At the heart of Kamikochi, Kappa Bridge (河童橋) is the most important landmark in the valley. First built in 1891, today’s Kappa Bridge is the fifth iteration of the original. There are eateries, souvenir shops and convenient stores at either side of the bridge for hikers to stock up supplies and fill up their tummies.
We were delighted to arrive in Kamikochi in perfect weather. We immediately fell in love with the crystal clear water of Azusa River (梓川).
Just a few minutes walk from the bus station, we arrived at the famous Kappa Bridge (河童橋). In Kamikochi, the bridge serves as the most important landmark.
Standing at the Kappa Bridge, the iconic view of Mount Hotaka (穂高岳) and Azusa River (梓川) was quite impressive.
Looking out Kappa Bridge to the opposite side from Mount Hotaka, we could see the mighty volcano Mount Yake (焼岳).
Shops right by the Kappa Bridge carry everything from snacks to souvenir. We got ourselves local yogurt, juice and beer for the night.
A few minutes walk from Kappa Bridge, we arrived at Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘) where we would stay for two nights.
We took off our shoes at the vestibule and left them in the shoe storage room.
The spacious lobby of Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge was mainly finished in wood. A heater near the reception reminded us that it could get quite cool after sunset.
Next to the lobby there was a small cafe and souvenir shop.
On the upper level, we had high anticipation for the common baths, where users could enjoy the hot mineral bath and magnificent views of the snow capped Hodaka Mountains at the same time.
Since 7am in the morning, we departed from Shinjuku Station of Tokyo, made a whirlwind tour of Matsumoto and hopped onto a train followed by a bus into the Hida Mountains, and at last arrived at our hotel room in Kamikochi in the late afternoon.
The private room in Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘) was clean and spacious. The setting was relaxing and the room was filled with fragrant of the tatami flooring.
At about 18:30, we went downstairs to the dining hall for dinner.
Just like many hotels in Kamikochi, the food served by Nishi-Itoya Mountain Lodge mainly came from the surrounding area.
After dinner, it was time to shoot some night photos. Unfortunately, the moon was already up and relatively bright.
Tourists still gathered at the Kappa Bridge despite the darkness.
Standing on the Kappa Bridge, the picturesque view of Kamikochi was enhanced by the lights from lodges along the river.
Despite the bright moon, we could still see some stars at the darker areas in the sky.
I set up the tripod facing Dakesawa (岳沢) and Mount Hotaka (穂高岳) to capture the starry night.
Dakesawa (岳沢), Mount Hotaka (穂高岳) and a bend of Azusa River (梓川) gave us the perfect image of Kamikochi.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
We get up at around 7am and got ourselves ready for the departure of our journey out of Lhasa. Leaving Trichang Labrang Hotel behind, we put on our backpacks and walked out to the community medical centre on Jiangsu Road to wait for our driver. We got the name and license plate from Pazu. At slightly after 8am, our driver Sangzhu (桑珠) arrived and we were all set to embark on our 6-day journey. Shannan (山南), or Lhoka (ལྷོ་ཁ།) in Tibetan, was the first destination. Bounded by Lhasa (拉薩 ལྷ་ས་) to the north, Nyingchi (林芝 ཉིང་ཁྲི་ས།) to the east, Shigatse (日喀則 གཞིས་ཀ་རྩེ་གྲོང) to the west and the international border of India and Bhutan to the south, Shannan is considered as the legendary birthplace of the Tibetan people. The landscape of Shannan is dominated by the middle and lower sections of the Yarlung Valley and Tibet’s most important waterbody Yarlung Tsangpo River (雅魯藏布江), as we had seen it from the sky upon our arrival at Gonggar Airport by plane.
We hit the road out of Lhasa before 8:30am.
Under the morning sun, the highland barley fields and distant mountains signified we had entered the southern countryside of Lhasa.
On Provincial Highway 101, we stopped by a lookout by the Yarlung Tsangpo River (雅魯藏布江).
As the longest river in Tibet, Yarlung Tsangpo River originates from the Angsi Glacier in western Tibet. From the lookout, the Yarlung Tsangpo River continues to run downstream into India and Bangladesh known as the Brahmaputra River. From the lookout, we could see the desert environment of large sand dunes along Yarlung Tsangpo River.
We continued to drive along the south side of Yarlung Tsangpo River until reaching Tsetang (澤當), the capital of Shannan region and the fourth largest city in Tibet. Sangzhu stopped the vehicle at the regional security office to register our travel plan.
Near Tsetang (澤當), Sangzhu drove us to the nearby Yungbulakang Palace (雍布拉康 ཡུམ་བུ་བླ་སྒང།) to check out the supposedly the oldest structure in Tibet, and the legendary palace of Nyatri Tsenpo, the first king of Tibet in the second century BC. Later in the 7th century AD, it became the summer palace of Songtsen Gampo and Wencheng Princess, and turned into a Gelug monastery in the 17th century.
Erected atop a high ridge, the legendary Yungbulakang Palace was heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution. The palace then went through extensive reconstruction in 1983.
As we saw the long flight of stairs up to Yungbulakang Palace, we began to discuss how long it might take to reach the palace from the parking lot. We soon realized that the palace was closed to the public due to a $1.5m restoration work. That left us no choice but to turn back to the car.
Our visit to Yungbulakang turned out to be a brief photo stop. We soon returned to the Tsetang (澤當) for lunch. Sangzhu took us to Abba Home Tibetan Restaurant, one of the Lonely Planet recommended local restaurant.
Featuring traditional seating, the interiors of Abba Home Tibetan Restaurant was cosy and welcoming. Almost all customers were locals.
We ordered three dishes, including the local yak beef, and invited Sangzhu to join us.
For touring in Shannan, many jeep tours would stay at Tsedang for the night. Sangzhu suggested to stay in a smaller town further down the journey so we could save an hour’s drive at the next day. We decided that we would stay at Samye (桑耶鎮), the village where we would visit Samye Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet and probably the most important attraction in Shannan. After lunch, we were on our way to Samye at the north side of Yarlung Tsangpo River. On the way, we stopped by another beautiful lookout filled with vivid prayer flags.
From the lookout, we could once again admire the arid landscape of the Yarlung River Valley.
It was refreshing to take in the open scenery of the surrounding sand dunes and mountains.
The wind was really strong and we couldn’t stop for long at the lookout. After a few photos, we continued the journey towards Samye (桑耶鎮).
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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