ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “UNESCO

NATURE’S SCULPTURE PARK, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

2006.05.07

Our bus arrived in Goreme at around 08:00.  Surprisingly the bus went all the way to the village centre, instead of the otogar at Nevsehir.  Arriving at Cappadocia in early morning felt like waking up in another world: minimal traffic, occasional herds of sheep, stone houses and cave dwellings.  But it was the bizarre rock formations, some of which towering straight up the sky known as fairy chimneys that captured our imagination.  The unique rock formations of Cappadocia began 2.6 million years ago when eruption of the ancient volcano Mount Erciyes covered the area (about 20,000 square kilometres) with lava and ash.  The ash later solidified into soft rocks exposed to erosion from wind and water.  As most of the soft rocks were eroded away, the remaining hard rocks appeared like stone chimneys towering towards the sky.

We checked in at Hotel Elif Star to begin our temporary stay in a cave.  The owner Jacky and her cat welcomed us.  Jacky pulled out a map and recommended to us a number of hiking trails around the area, and a few lookouts for sunset watching.

1In the midst of fairy chimney rock formations, unique valleys and the open air museum, Goreme is the main tourist hub in Cappadocia.

2Inhabited since the Hittite era (1800-1200 BC), cave dwellings had been constructed in the era for thousands of years.

3Throughout history, cave dwellings and underground structures have been carved out from the volcanic tuff.  These rock-cut houses of Cappadocia provided homes and hideouts for people escaping from wars and persecutions from close and afar.

4This world famous UNESCO world heritage town receives significant amount of tourists, reaching a record high of 3.8 million in 2019.  When we visited in 2006, Goreme still maintained a relatively peaceful ambience.

5Souvenir shops lined up the main street of Goreme.

6Remnants from the past were still visible on the fairy chimneys in the side streets of Goreme.

7Other than cave dwellings, other buildings in Goreme are also constructed with the local stones.

8We stayed at Elif Star, one of the many cave hotels in Goreme.

9This people-friendly cat approached us during our breakfast time at Elif Star.

10Late afternoon offers the best moment to photograph the unique rock formations.

11There are several popular spots to watch the sunset in and around Goreme.

12Everyday, if weather is fine, tourists should be able to appreciate the scenery of fairy chimneys blanketed in the orange glow.

13Around Goreme, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the interesting rock formations.

14Even without exploring the surrounding valleys, visitors at Goreme can still get close to the fairy chimneys.

15Cappadocia offered one of the best sunset scenery we have ever experienced.

16We watched the sunset everyday while we were in Cappadocia.

17At night, Goreme returns to its former tranquility after tourists make their way back to their hotels.


COTTON CASTLE, Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey

2006.05.06

Three hours of bus ride took us from Selcuk to Pamukkale.  Like everyone else, we came to Pamukkale for the spectacular travertine terraces.  As we hopped off the bus, we were immediately approached by bus companies selling us tickets onward from Pamukkale.  Along the path to the pools, we stopped by a small shop for a bowl of spicy Korean noodles.  The first glance of the white travertine pools cascading up the slope under the blue sky was a truly spectacular sight.  Pamukkale in Turkish literally means “cotton castle”.  To many, the otherworldly scenery of the white and reflective travertine pools is one of the two most iconic natural wonders of Turkey (the other being the rock formations of Cappadocia).  The travertine terraces at Pamukkale is made from continuous mineral deposit of hot spring accumulated for thousands of years.  Calcium carbonate from the hot spring is deposited as a soft gel and gradually crystallizes into travertine.  Pamukkale has been a popular tourist attraction for over two thousand years.  Hieropolis, the spa resort town at Pamukkale, was founded in the 2nd century BC and flourished for centuries as a hot spring and healing resort in the Roman and Byzantine Empire.  Today, Pamukkale continues to see large number of visitors from all over the world.

We entered the gate and soon found ourselves arriving at the remarkable travertine area.  Shoes were not allowed, and visitor circulation was restricted to a designated path going uphill to the top.  The only way to truly experience the pools up close was to take off our shoes and hiked up the travertine path in barefoot.  Covered with layers of calcium deposit, walking uphill on the travertine was quite a torture for our feet.  Along the way, we were disappointed to see that most pools had been dried up.  Moreover, this site was just full of visitors jammed one after another on the path.  Unless visiting at 8am during low season, it was next to impossible to enjoy the natural beauty without getting frustrated from overcrowding and misbehaving tourists.  According to the UNESCO, this world heritage is threatened by over-tourism, hotel constructions near the pools, water pollution by bathers, illegal diversion of thermal water, etc.  In recent years, hotels near the pools were removed, vehicular access banned, and pool access for tourists has been restricted, but overcrowding remains as an issue for the management to tackle.

travertine pools 1The sheer scale of the white travertine terraces is quite spectacular.

travertine pools 3We were lucky to have perfect blue sky during our visit.

travertine pools 2The travertine terraces are as white as snow, but as hard as rocks.

travertine pools 4The lower section of the terraces look fairy-tale like from a distance.

travertine pools 5We were disappointed to see many terraces were dried up.

travertine pools 6The scene would be quite different if the hot spring remained flowing down the terraces.

travertine pools 7Other than Pamukkale, similar terraces and pools can be found elsewhere in the world, such as Hierve el Agua in Mexico and Huanglong in China.  Each site has its own unique qualities.

travertine pools 9The weather didn’t look too promising when we reached the top of the terraces.

06ME15-06Before the weather get any worse, we headed over to Hieropolis for a brief visit of the Roman ruins.


SELIMIYE MOSQUE, Edirne, Turkey

2006.05.02

Often compared to his contemporary Michelangelo in the west, Mimar Sinan was the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire.  Out of the 370+ projects in his 50-year career, the famous chief architect of the Ottoman Empire considered Selimiye Mosque his true masterpiece.  The UNESCO seems to agree on this and granted Selimiye Mosque the status of a world heritage.  The huge complex is organized as a külliye, with a wide range of functions managed by the mosque.  At Selimiye, Sinan experimented with various configuration of domes, semi-domes and galleries to form an impressive and unified interior bathed with natural light.  The famous mosque was even depicted on the Turkish 10,000 lira banknote from 1982 – 1995.

06ME06-08A statue of Mimar Sinan was erected in front of the Mosque to commemorate his architectural achievement.

06ME06-10Instead of a series of small domes, Sinan built a large central dome instead.  The size of the dome is similar to the one at Hagia Sophia.

06ME06-16As a külliye, the mosque complex also includes schools, covered market, clock house, outer courtyard and library, all being managed under one single institution.

Selimiye Camii 2Four identical minarets were erected by Sinan instead of a series of distinctive minarets like many of its predecessors.

Selimiye Camii 3At the four corners, minarets point up to the sky.

06ME06-23The interior is dominated by a series of semi domes and the central dome.  Lines are symmetrical, simple and elegant.

06ME06-28Just like the Hagia Sophia, celestial windows are provided at the dome base to lighten up the interior.

Selimiye Camii 6Supported by eight pillars, the dome is a stunning spectacle from below.

Selimiye Camii 8A drinking fountain is housed under a richly decorated structure.

Selimiye Camii 9Considered as one of the finest in Turkey, the mihrab is visible from any location in the mosque.

Selimiye Camii 10Several circles of lights are suspended over the vivid carpet to provide a warm ambience in the evening.


TEMPLE OF THE SACRED TOOTH RELIC, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.09

Day 5 (3 of 3).

It was about 2.5 hour drive from Dambulla to Kandy.  After settling in at our guesthouse, we hopped on a tuk tuk for Sri Dalada Maligawa, or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.  The temple is the most important attraction in Kandy and probably the most sacred Buddhist site in the country.  We wanted to visit during the evening puja, the prayer session when the altar door of the gold casket that carries the Buddha’s sacred tooth would be opened for blessing.  The tuk tuk dropped us right at the entrance of the temple compound, at a busy section of Kandy Road where it bends upon reaching the waterfront of Kandy Lake.  After security check and a pleasant stroll through the forecourt dotted with historical memorials, we stored our shoes at the shoe booth for foreigners.  At the temple entrance, we purchased some lotus flowers as offering.

Apart from its religious importance as a relic of the Buddha, the tooth relic has long been considered as the symbol of political power since the ancient times.  After a war was fought in India over the possession of the tooth relic 800 years after the Buddha’s death, the tooth relic was eventually brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali.  It was first housed in the Abhayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura, then to Polonnaruwa and other cities in the nation as the capital city shifted from place to place.  In late 16th century, the tooth relic arrived in Kandy.  In the 17th century, it was periodically fallen in the hands of the Portuguese invaders.  With the aid from the Dutch,  King Rajasimha II  eventually drove the Portuguese away and recovered the tooth relic.  King Vira Narendra Sinha (reigned 1707 – 1739) was responsible for building the current temple that houses the sacred tooth.

01We approached the temple after walking through the forecourt.  Before entering, we left our shoes at the shoe storing facility.

02Paththirippuwa, the octagonal pavilion built in 1802 by Sri Vickrama Rajasingha, was intended for the king to showcase the tooth relic and address the public.  Since the British era, Paththirippuwa has been used as a library of the temple.

03We entered the temple complex through an arch passageway full of wall paintings.

04Time was still early for the puja, so we decided to visit the Royal Palace complex next to the temple first.   We ventured out into Maha Maluwa, the Great Terrace dotted with statues and pavilions, as well as Magul Maduwa, the Royal Audience Hall.  Looking back to the temple from Maha Maluwa, we could see the golden canopy of the main shrine.

05Magul Maduwa or the Royal Audience Hall was where the king met his ministers and facilitated public audience.  Built in 1783 by King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, Magul Maduwa is supported by two rows of elegantly carved wooden pillars.

06Maybe the time was late, most buildings in the Royal Palace area were closed.  Before heading back to the temple, we stopped by a prayer pavilion.

07Behind the main shrine we arrived at a prayer hall with a golden statue of the Buddha.  The room also houses a series of paintings depicting the legend of the Sacred Tooth.

08In front of the Palle Malaya or the lower level of the main shrine lies the Hewisi Mandapaya or the drummer’s platform.  Beats from the Hewisi drummers marked the moment of puja, the evening prayer.

09 Hewisi drummers dressed in traditional costumes perform their rituals twice daily.

10Visitors can walk around the richly decorated Palle Malaya (lower floor of the main shrine).

11Above the main shrine is the golden canopy built in 1987, while the upper floor of the main shrine, known as Weda Hitana Maligawa, is the venue where the main worship takes place in front of the shrine of the Sacred Tooth.

12The upper floor of the main shrine is known as Weda Hitana Maligawa, a beautiful timber pavilion where tourist and local worshipers wait for the opening of Handun Kunama, the main shrine that houses the Sacred Tooth.

13On the upper floor, we put down our lotus flower offering on the long table and sat down at a corner to wait for the actual ceremony.

14During puja, visitors are allowed to get close to Handun Kunama where the Sacred Tooth is housed.

15The Handun Kunama where the Sacred Tooth is housed is covered with golden decorations.

16The metal work of Handun Kunama is exquisite.

17During the actual ceremony, the window of Handun Kunama was opened, allowing us who queued for quite some time to get a quick peek at the golden casket of the Sacred Tooth.  After a quick peek, we left the Weda Hitana Maligawa altogether as it was getting really crowded and a little chaotic.

18On the lower level, tourists and worshipers lined up for entering different shrines and display areas.

19We left the temple through the same passageway we came in.

DSC_7624It was completely dark when we returned to the forecourt of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

 


DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE, Dambulla, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.09

Day 5 (2 of 3).

We arranged a taxi from Sigiriya to Kandy, and made a stop at Dambulla to visit Sri Lanka’s largest cave temple complex. The UNESCO World Heritage site is usually visited along with Sigiriya or Kandy nearby.  About 80 caves are found in Dambulla, with most of the highlights found in five caves.  The 153 statues and 2,100 sq.m of murals of the Dambulla Cave Temple represent the finest example of Buddhist cave art on the island.

King Valagamba of Anuradhapura concerted earlier caves into a Buddhist temple in the 1st century BC.  Later kings continued to expand the cave complex.  By the 11th century, the caves had become an established religious centre on the island.  This significant religious hub remains to the present.  The white verandas and colonnades outside of the caves were added in 1938 as an embellishment to the two thousand year old cave temple network.

01The 10 minute climb up to the rock temple prepared us spiritually for the visit.

02Near the cave temple, a family of monkeys greeted all visitors with funny looks.

03At the temple entrance stairway, a cat was busy chewing onto grass.

04The 1938 verandas gave the ancient cave temple an elegant facade to greet visitors.

05The Cave of the Divine King is dominated by the 14m long reclining Buddha.

06Above the reclining Buddha, the walls and ceiling of the cave are covered with Buddhist murals.

07The statue of Ananda, favourite pupil of the Buddha, stand next to the feet of the reclining Buddha.

08A rather Western appearance of the 1938 veranda give the cave temple an elegant look, contributing to the fact that the cave temple is continuing to evolve as time goes by.

09Reinforcement were added to the cave entrances.

10Antique wooden booth inside the Cave of the Great Kings.

11In Cave of the Great Kings, the largest cave of the temple, a small stupa and a “healing” spring dripping from a ceiling crack are two of the distinct features apart from the collection of statues and murals.

12Every inch of the cave is covered by murals.

13In this cave, King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa was responsible for gilding of 50 statues in the 12th century.

14Artificial lighting have been installed to replace candles from the past.

15Statue of what could have been King Vattagamani Abhaya or Valagamba, the first patron of the temple.

16Throughout history, these caves have been repainted over and over again.

17Lighting at some of the other caves are dimmer than the Cave of the Great Kings.

18We loved the tranquil atmosphere of the lotus pond, white veranda and rock caves.  After checking out the caves of Dambulla, we moved on to Kandy, the last historical capital of Sri Lanka before the colonial era.


SIGIRIYA ROCK, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.09

Day 5 (1 of 3).

After watching the majestic sunset from Pidurangala Rock the day before, we were excited to climb the actual Sigiriya Rock in the next morning.  We get up early in order to arrive at the ticket office of Sigiriya right at 7am sharp.  A short tuk tuk ride dropped us off at the gate of the archaeological park.

Reaching almost 200m above the jungle, the fortress on Sigiriya Rock was the site selected by King Kashyapa (477 – 495 AD) for his new capital.  In 477AD, Kashyapa I seized the throne from King Dhatusena with a coup.  His half brother and legitimated heir to the throne, Moggallana, fled to South India.  Kashyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, where he erected a city around the rock and a fortress/ palace atop the plateau.  Despite the effort of fortifying Sigiriya, the eventually downfall of Kashyapa was inevitable.  He was eventually defeated by Moggallana, who returned to Sri Lanka in 495AD with an Indian army.  After defeating Kashyapa, Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradhapura and converted Sigiriya into a Buddhist monastery which lasted for another 800 years.

01Our tuk tuk passed by the moat of the Sigiriya fortress.

02After getting the admission ticket, we entered the archaeological park of the Sigiriya Rock.  The short lived capital of Kashyapa lies pretty much in ruins now.

03We did manage to arrive earlier than most tourist groups, and enjoyed a short moment of tranquility at the base of Sigiriya Rock.

04Going through the natural triangular gateway, our 1200 steps up the rock officially began.

05A few dogs greeted us at the beginning of the ascend.

06At midway, we arrived at the Mirror Wall, a 3m wall covered with a glazed material that had been around for over a thousand years.

07Apart from modern markings, some graffiti on the Mirror Wall date back to visitors between the 6th to 14th century.  These markings remind us that marking graffiti at tourist attractions has been a thousand-year-old habit of humanity.

08A spiral staircase led us to a series of small caves where the famous ancient frescos depicting a group of beautiful ladies.  It is commonly believe that the depicted ladies are either celestial nymphs or the king’s concubines.  No photography was allowed.

09Continued onwards from the caves of frescos, we followed the only stepped path up.

10The name Sīnhāgiri, or Lion Rock, came from the lion like structure of the fortress gateway at the upper platform.  Two massive lion paws guard the upper fortress gateway.

11Beyond the lion gate, a narrow stair allowed visitors to ascend in single file.

12After some sweat and heavy breathing, we finally reached the top of Sigiriya.  The plateau top is pretty much occupied entirely by the ruins of the fortress/palace.

13Looking down to where we came, we could see the central axis of the entry path.

14Looking across the jungle, the lush green Pidurangala reminded us of the amazing sunset.

15We walked around the ruined fortress for about half an hour.

16The view from the top of Sigiriya was not bad, but it was not as stunning as the view from Pidurangala Rock.

17After an exhausting morning of climbing the Sigiriya Rock, we returned to the village and prepared for our departure.

18We would move on to Dambulla, a transportation hub in the region which is also famous for its Buddhist cave temples.


RANKOT VIHARA, LANKATILAKA & GAL VIHARA, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.08

Day 4 (2 of 3).

Parakramabahu I (reigned 1153–1186) is often considered as the greatest ruler of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.  Under his rule, Sri Lanka had entered a prosperous time.  The ambitious king unified the island into one kingdom, expanded and beautified the capital city, constructed extensive irrigation systems, reformed the army and religious customs, and conducted in military campaigns in Burma and South India.  Today, many surviving structures of Polonnaruwa, such as the Royal Palace, the circular Vatadage at the Quadrangle, the Lankatilaka Viharaya and the Buddhist statues of Gal Vihara, all could be traced back to the majestic ruler.  King Nissanka Malla (reigned 1187 – 1196AD) continued the building spree of his predecessor Parakramabahu I, and spent much of the nation’s resources on construction.  One of his most prominent projects was Rankoth Vehera Stupa, the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa and fourth largest in Sri Lanka.  With a base diameter of 550 feet and an original height of about 200 feet, Rankoth Vehera was the skyscraper of ancient Polonnaruwa.

01Our third stop in Polonnaruwa was Rankoth Vehera Stupa, the tallest structure in the ancient city.

02Similar to the stupas in Anuradhapura, small shrines known as vahalkada were constructed at the four cardinal axes of Rankoth Vehera Stupa for offerings of worshipers.

03Completed in 1190AD, the Rankoth Vehera Stupa was constructed in a similar style as Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura, which was built over 1000 years prior.

04An beautiful tree at the base of Rankoth Vehera Stupa provides a great spot for worshiper group to gather and perform Buddhist chanting.

05Around Kiri Vehera, smaller stupas were also constructed as burial place for royalties and high priests.

06On our way to Lankatilaka Monastery, the fourth highlight of Polonnaruwa, we passed by Kiri Vehera, the second tallest stupa in the ancient city.  Kiri Vehera is believed to be built by King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 A.D.) in memory of his Queen Subhadra.

07Then we arrived at Lankatilaka Image House or Lankatilaka Vihara, the largest image house in Polonnaruwa.  Unlike traditional stupas, the building focused on presenting the religious image, a large standing statue of the Buddha.  Two tall pillars frame the entrance of the building.  The original pillars were thought to be two times the existing height.  The building was part of the Alahana Pirivena Monastery complex erected by King Parakramabahu 1 (1153-1186).

08Two beautiful guard stones mark the entrance of Lankatilaka.

09According to some accounts, the building was originally five storey high, while the statue was 41 feet tall.  The entire structure, including the main Buddha statue, was made from clay bricks.

10Near Lankatilaka, we passed by an impressive pool in the Alahana Pirivena complex.  This pool was part of a larger bathing and water storing network.

11Gal Vihara, the impressive rock temple featuring four Buddha relief statues carved from a single piece of granite rock, was our last stop at Polonnaruwa.  15 feet of rock was carved away to create the surface where the statues were carved.

12The statues at Gal Vihara are considered some of the best ancient Sinhalese sculpting art.

13Some believe that the 22’-9” standing statue was not depicting the Buddha, but instead monk Ananda with a sorrowful look standing adjacent to the reclining Buddha at his deathbed.

14The 46’-4” reclining statue depicting the parinirvana of the Buddha is the largest statue in Gal Vihara.

15The Gal Vihara marked the end of our brief visit of Polonnaruwa by car.  Ideally if we had more time, we would spend more time walking or cycling around the archaeological park to fully appreciate the scale, planning characteristics and other highlights of the ancient capital.


ROYAL PALACE & SACRED QUADRANGLE, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.08

Day 4 (1of 3).

100km southeast of Anuradhapura stands the ruins of Sri Lanka’s second ancient capital, Polonnaruwa. For two hundred years, Polonnaruwa served as the centre of the nation after Anuradhapura was sacked by the invading Chola Kingdom from Southern India in the 10th century.  The Chola Tamils destroyed Buddhist monuments and monasteries, and established a new capital in Polonnaruwa.  In 1070AD, Vijayabahu I of Ruhuna Kingdom (southeast of the island) drove the Chola out, unified the country, and established the second major Sinhalese kingdom and restored Buddhism as the national religion.  Polonnaruwa flourished as the most important medieval city in Sri Lanka until the 13th century when the island was again invaded by the Tamil Pandya Dynasty from India.

Today, the archaeological ground of Polonnaruwa is a popular tourist destination in the Cultural Triangle (marked by Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy), the region on the island dotted with ancient capitals and World Heritage sites.  To save time, we hired a private car from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, with a detour to Polonnaruwa.  At Polonnaruwa, our driver took us first to the visitor centre for the admission tickets and a brief visit to the museum, before driving us to the five highlights in the archaeological park: Royal Palace, Quadrangle, Rankot Vihara Stupa, Lankatilaka Monastery and the Buddha statues of Gal Vihara.

01Built by Parakramabahu I (reigned 1153-1186 ) in the 12th century,  the Royal Palace was once seven storey tall in its heyday.

02The Royal Palace of King Parakumba was said to contain 1000 rooms.  Now only a few dozens remain.

03Much of the crumbling ruins is covered with lush green moss.

04The Royal Bathing pool (Kumara Pokuna) near the Royal Palace was a delightful treat for visitors.

05Built by Parakramabahu I (reigned 1153-1186 ), water would enter the pool through the two dragon mouths, and could be drained out after use.

06The Audience Hall of the Royal Palace is another feature at the Royal Palace.

07The Audience Hall is famous for the frieze of elephants, each has a unique pose.

08Two stone lions guard the entrance of the Audience Hall.

09The stone pillars of the Audience Hall have some amazing details.

10The second highlight we visited at Polonnaruwa was the Quadrangle.  On a raised platform, Quadrangle encompasses a cluster of religious structures erected by different rulers of Polonnaruwa.  Atadage is the oldest building among them all.  Built by King Vijayabahu the Great (1055 – 1110), Atadage is believed to house the Relic of the Tooth of Buddha.  Adjacent to Atadage, Hatadage built by King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196) was also a shrine for the Relic of the Tooth of Buddha.

11Built by King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196), Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is an interesting structure with unique columns and a small stone stupa.  The building was used for the king to listen to Buddhist chanting.

12Built by Parakramabahu I to house the Relic of the Tooth of the Buddha, or by King Nissanka Malla to hold Buddha’s alms bowl, Vatadage was an essential structure at the Quadrangle.

13Because of its circular form and well preserved carving details, Vatadage is also the most famous building in Polonnaruwa.

16Vatadage has two stone platforms and a small stone stupa atop.  Steps and statues were constructed at the four cardinal directions.  Stone pillars suggest that a wooden roof might have once covered the circular structure.

14Monkeys are everywhere in Sri Lanka.

15At all temples or ruins, including Vatadage, tourists would be reminded that taking selfies with their backs toward the statue of the Buddha is prohibited.

17Completely built with bricks, Thuparama is about 84 ft long and 56 ft wide.  Its brick walls are about 7 ft thick.

18Inside Thuparama, the central seating Buddha statue was long gone.  Yet the adjacent limestone statues survive till the present day.


ABHAYAGIRI MONASTERY, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (3 of 4).

From 399 to 414AD, Chinese monk Faxian traveled to India and Sri Lanka in search for Buddhist scriptures.  In his travelogue A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, he documented the places he visited in his journey, including Anuradhapura where he stayed briefly in 412AD.  Faxian gave the following account on Abhayagiri, the largest Buddhist monastery in Anuradhapura: “A monastery, called the Abhayagiri, where there are five thousand monks.  There is in it a hall of Buddha, adorned with carved and inlaid works of gold and silver, and rich in the seven precious substances, in which there is an image (of Buddha) in green jade, more than twenty cubits in height, glittering all over with those substances, and having an appearance of solemn dignity which words cannot express. In the palm of the right hand there is a priceless pearl…”

Founded in the 2nd century BC, Abhayagiri Vihara was once a world renowned Buddhist monastery and learning institution attracting monks from all over Sri Lanka and surrounding countries including Java, Burma and India.  In the 4th century, the Buddha’s tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka from India.  Abhayagiri was selected as the shrine and designated venue to showcase this precious relic in public veneration.  Supported by different rulers, Abhayagiri continued to serve as the main hub of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism until the 12th century, when Anuradhapura was sacked and abandoned, and the national capital was moved to Polonnaruwa.  The magnificent monastery fell into ruins for 800 years until late 19th century and early 20th century when excavation and restoration work began.  Today, Abhayagiri has become one of the largest clusters of ancient ruins in Sri Lanka, where gigantic stupa, stone pools, brick walls, foundations of multi storey buildings, and exquisite stone carvings in the midst of lush green jungle reveal the bygone glory of Anuradhapura two millennia ago.

01After lunch at Sanctuary at Tissawewa, we hopped on a tuk tuk for Abhayagiri Dagoba, the largest monument in the monastery vicinity.

04Although not as crowded as Ruwanwelisaya and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Abhayagiri Dagoba is popular among local worshipers.

05Believed to reach a height of 115m, Abhayagiri Dagoba was once the fourth tallest monument in the classical period, behind the Egyptian Pyramids in Giza and the Jethawanaramaya Dagoba.

06The shrine in front of the stupa houses a reclining Buddha.

07Abhayagiri Dagoba just went through a 15-year restoration at 2015 as a UNESCO project.

08Devoted worshiper praying at the stupa.

09The majestic stupa was the main focus of the entire Abhayagiri Vihara Monastery.

10A group of Western Buddhists sat down and listen to the teaching of their mentor.

11Another highlight at Abhayagiri Vihara is the ruins of Pancavasa palace hidden in the woods.

12The Pancavasa was famous for its exquisite carvings.

13Interesting carvings of Buddhist guardians at Pancavasa.

14All these exquisite carvings are not the reason why tourists flock into the woods in search for the ruins of Pancavasa.

15All tourists come here for one thing, the moonstone carving on the ground.

16Moonstone is a unique architectural feature in Sri Lanka. It usually appears as a base landing at a set of steps. Moonstones symbolize samsara, the endless cycle of reincarnation and the path to nirvana.  Each ring of animals represents a successive phase of one’s passage through samsara.

17The last thing we checked out in the monastery area was the Samadhi Buddha Statue.  The statues is believed to be part of a sacred Bodhi tree shrine.

18The 7′-3″ Samadhi Buddha Statue was carved out from a dolomite marble.  Sculpted in around the 5th century, the statue is considered one of the nation’s finest.


JETHAWANARAMAYA DAGOBA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (2 of 4).

In ancient times, two Buddhist monasteries dominated the religious scenes in Anuradhapura, the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri.  Both monasteries were home to thousands of monks and represents the two competing sects of Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka.  Their sectarian conflicts led to destruction of the Mahavihara, the main monastery of Theravada Buddhism built by the King Devanampiya Tissa.  Upon destroying the Mahavihara, King Mahasena (reigned 273-301AD) constructed the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba to house the relic of the Buddha’s belt.  Some also believed that the dagoba was built upon the place where Mahinda, the eldest son of Emperor Ashoka who first introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka, lectured Buddhism.  Reaching a height of 400 feet, the original Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the third tallest structure in the ancient world, behind the two Egyptian pyramids in Giza.  After Anuradhapura was abandoned in the 11th century, the stupa fell into ruins and subsequently renovated to its current height at 233 feet in the 12th century.  The stupa was gradually covered by shrubs until 1909, when conservation and clearing works began.

Towering above the horizon east of Ruwanwelisaya, the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the second great stupa that we visited in Anuradhapura.  On Google Map, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared to be less than 1km east of Ruwanwelisaya.  We were too lazy to walk under the scorching sun, so we hopped on a tuk tuk for Jetavanaramaya.  Upon arriving at the famous stupa, we were surprised by the lack of visitors.  Unlike Ruwanwelisaya where the white stupa was surrounded by worshipers, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared quite empty with only a handful of locals and foreign tourists.

01Once again we had to take off our shoes before entering the stupa platform.

02It was hard to imagine the imposing prominence of the original 400 feet tall stupa.

03A handful of local worshipers put down their offerings on the stone pedestals in front of the stupa.

04Beautiful statues of Buddha made of pink stone stood out prominently against the stupa wall.

05Dressed mainly in white, local worshipers circled the stupa in clockwise direction.

06Another Buddha statue is made with translucent white stone.

07Pieces of fine statues and relief carvings were placed in front of the brick stupa walls.

08At one side of the stupa stands a small worship hall.

09The Jetavanaramaya was constructed with special bricks made with 60% fine sand and 35% clay.

10In early 20th century, Jetavanaramaya was covered with dense shrubs.

11We left Jetavanaramaya after walking a full circle around the monument.

14No tuk tuk could be found at the entrance of Jetavanaramaya.  We decided to walk back to Ruwanwelisaya where we might be able to flag down a tuk tuk.

12On our way, we walk by Silachetiya (Kujjatissa) Stupa, another 2000-year-old historical structure built in the era of King Saddhatissa (137 – 119 BC).

13Near Ruwanwelisaya, we bumped into a group of tufted gray langur hanging around in the archaeological park.

15From Ruwanwelisaya, we decided to walk back to The Sanctuary at Tissawewa via Basawakkulama Tank, where locals enjoyed picnic lunch by the water .


RUVANVELISAYA STUPA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (1 of 4).

At 400BC, the great thinker and religious teacher Gautama Buddha passed away.  His body was cremated and the ash was divided into eight portions given to eight different kingdoms as sacred relics.  During the reign of Ashoka the Great (268-232BC), relics of the Buddha was dug up and further subdivided into 84,000 portions.  Stupas were erected across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to house the relics.  As time went by, only a small number of relics remain in the original two-thousand-year-old stupas, while most have been transferred to different temples around the world along with the spreading of Buddhism.  Today, Buddhist relics can be found in many Asian countries, and even as far as in Russia and the United States.  As one of the earliest countries where Buddhism was introduced, Sri Lanka has some of the oldest stupas in the world.  Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka where Buddhism first arrived at Ashoka’s time, was home to the oldest and grandest stupas, also called dagobas, in the nation.  While Buddhism in India has long declined, the religion continues to flourish in Sri Lanka until the present.  Today, a number of ancient stupas in Anurādhapura remain as popular pilgrimage sites for worshipers, just as they were 2000 years ago.

Built by King Dutugamunu in 137BC, Ruvanvelisaya is the stupa believed to house the largest amount of the Buddha’s relics anywhere in the world.  With a diameter of 300 feet and a height of about 350 feet, it was once one of the largest monuments in the ancient world.  As the nation’s political and cultural centre shifted away from Anurādhapura, the stupa fell into ruins during the Medieval time.  Restoration work of the great stupa began in early 20th century.  Since then, the stupa has once again become a religious and historical icon for the ancient capital.

01A short walk from our hotel brought us to the archaeological museum, a well established museum housed in the former district secretariat building.  We stayed briefly at the museum to learn a bit more about the history of the city and its famous stupas.  A museum staff was kind enough to show us around at a number of exhibition rooms.  Then we walked over to the ticket office adjacent to the museum to purchase our one-day cultural heritage tickets.

02After obtaining the cultural heritage tickets, we continued to head north to Ruvanvelisaya Stupa.

03Ruvanvelisaya Stupa was the most crowded stupa we visited in Anuradhapura.

04Before reaching the stupa, we arrived at glass building designated for candle and incense offerings.

05It was interesting to see so many worshipers dresses in white and dogs resting on the floor inside the candle offering building.

06Ruvanvelisaya’s famous elephant wall was originally built by King Dutugamunu’s brother Saddhatissa two thousand years ago.  It was said that the original 344 elephants were coated with gold dust.

07The actual stupa is washed in white paint, and wrapped at the base with a multi coloured band resembling the Buddhist flag of Sri Lanka.

08Around the stupa stand offering tables and stone counters.  Beautiful lotus flowers once again are the most popular offerings.

09Some worshipers prefer to leave their offerings at the base of the stupa.

10At each cardinal directions, a splendid shrine with Buddha’s figure known as vahalkada attract worshipers to leave offerings and chant prayers.

11Once again lotus flowers are the most popular offerings.

12Other than the white paint on the stupa and white clothing of worshipers, almost everything else is vivid in colours.

13Other than lotus flowers, rice and sweet good are also used as offerings.

14Somehow each worshipers would know where to place their flowers in order to create the fantastic flower patterns.

15It was hard to imagine how abundant lotus flowers are in the nation to allow so many worshipers to leave their offerings.

16At one end, we reached a small and crowded shrine.

17Inside the shrine there is a mini stupa protected by transparent partitions.

18Ruvanvelisaya was undergoing an extensive restoration.

19Before leaving, we passed by an area full of incense smoke and devoted worshipers.

20We left Ruvanvelisaya from the same path we came, where worshipers dressed in white continued to enter and pay their respect to the magnificent stupa.


2,308-YEAR-OLD SACRED BODHI, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.06

Day 2 (4 of 5).

In 288BC, a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred fig tree in Buddha Gaya of India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri, the eldest daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka the Great.  The sapling was brought to the island in a golden vase on the ship, and planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a 6.5m high terrace in the Mahamevnawa Gardens of Anuradhapura.  Sangamitta stayed in Anurādhapura and established the nun-lineage of Bhikkhunī with several other Indian nuns.   Along with his elder brother Mahinda, Sangamitta was a vital figure for spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka.  The ancient capital Anuradhapura continued to flourish and develop into a hub for Buddhist teachings that lasted for many centuries.

Today, the sacred tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi continues to thrive and has become one of the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world.  The amazing 2308-year-old tree is also known as the oldest living tree planted by human hands on record.  Given the significance of the tree, the Sri Lankan government banned all construction within 500m from it.  Walls were also erected in the 18th century to protect the tree from wild elephants. Golden fence around the tree was later added in 1969.  Buddha statues were placed at four sides of the sacred tree by different ancient kings.  Ceremonies are held at the site to celebrate new year and several other festivals every year.

01After a light lunch, we ventured out the Sanctuary Tissawewa and head east.  Following the instruction given by the hotel staff, we found our way towards the legendary fig tree.

02From the main road, we followed a pedestrian only path for about 10 minutes towards the sacred tree.  At one point, we passed by a tree full of monkeys.

03Most worshipers arrived at the sacred tree with lotus flower as offerings.

04A green garden mat surrounds the terrace where the sacred Bodhi is located.

07From the semicircular Moon stone (Sandakada pahana, a floor feature unique to Sinhalese architecture), worshipers would go up the steps to the shrine at the second level of the platform.

05At each cardinal direction, a shrine is built for worshipers to leave their offerings and receive blessing from the monk.

11The shrine is relatively simple, with an offering table and small Buddha statues.

06Offerings of lotus flower can be seen at all Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, including Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

10Some shrines are more popular than the others.

08Dressed in white, worshipers would leave a handful of lotus flower at the shrine, and receive blessing and a white string wrist bracelet from the monk of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

09At the platform, monks and worshipers interact and chat prayers towards the sacred Bodhi tree.

12Behind the shrine further up the platform, we could see what must be the 2300 year old sacred Bodhi tree.

13The lush green crown of the sacred tree provides a perfect backdrop for the golden features of the shrines and colouful Buddhist flags.  The golden sunlight, peaceful aura,  and sounds of rubbing leaves in the gentle breeze convey a strong sense of spirituality.

14Structures painted in gold are erected to support certain branches of the sacred tree.

15A small temple is located at one side of the platform.

16Inside the temple, a decent sized worship hall houses a Buddhist statue.

17Apart from the sacred Bodhi tree on the highest terrace, younger fig trees are planted at the lower platforms.  These trees are meant to provide protection to the sacred tree against storm and animals.

18We enjoyed the spiritual atmosphere of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.  After checking out the shrines at all four sides of the sacred tree, we left the compound at the south gate.

 


UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.16

Day 2 (2/3).

While the weather might not be the most ideal for hiking and brown bear sighting, the rain wouldn’t affect our appetite to try out the famous seafood of Shiretoko.  After our morning hike, we drove back to Utoro for lunch.  At the fishing port of Utoro, the fleet of fishing boats below Oronkoiwa Rock ensure the continuous supply of seafood to the area and beyond.  Right by the port, a simple eatery has long been a favorite for both the local and foreign visitors.  Operated by women from Utoro’s fishing industry, Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner at Utoro’s fishing port has been serving fresh seafood rice bowls or kaisen don for 40 years.  Signature seafood of Utoro includes uni (sea urchin), ikura (red caviar made from salmon roe), kani (hair crab, snow crab, king crab), and grilled Hokke or Okhotsk Atka Mackerel, accompanied with pickled radish and miso soup.

DSC_4360The rain stopped after our morning hike.  We returned to the fishing port at Utoro.

DSC_4361Due to unpredictable weather and strong wind, no fishing boats were allowed to head out to the sea.

DSC_4368The fishing port of Utoro was completely empty.

IMG_8791At the fishing port, the Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner has been a popular seafood eatery for 40 years.

IMG_8790The interior of Fisherman’s Wives Co-operative Diner is simple and causal.

IMG_6430The diner is served by wives of Utoro fishermen.

IMG_8785Wild Shirozake Salmon and its roe, crab meat and the legendary Ezo Bafun Uni are the most popular delicacies in Shiretoko.

IMG_8786Feeding on laus kelp, Ezo Bafun Uni (エゾバフンウニ, 蝦夷馬糞海胆) or Short-Spined Sea Urchin of Hokkaido is widely considered as the best sea urchin in Japan.  Known as orange gold, these tasty treat is available from June to August.

IMG_8787Grilled Hokke or Okhotsk Atka Mackerel is a popular local dish.

IMG_6461In Utoro, delicious seafood is also served at the Shiretoko World Heritage Centre (知床世界遺産センター), where simple meals and snacks are offered, as well as souvenirs and dried seafood.  The centre also offers tourist information on Shiretoko.

IMG_8840Housed in another building, a visitor centre offers a comprehensive introduction of Shiretoko National Park to visitors with a number of engaging displays.

IMG_8842Wildlife is definitely the highlight of Shiretoko National Park.

IMG_8844Too bad we didn’t see a real bear during our hike earlier.

IMG_8809In the afternoon, we drove back up to Shiretoko National Park from Utoro.

DSC_4371Looking down from the uphill road that led to Shiretoko National Park, Utoro appeared as a sleepy village guarded by a few huge rocks.

 

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)

 

 

 


DAY 2 (4/4): SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.25

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.

IMG_9950We checked in at First Gate Home-Fusion, a historical haveli converted hotel, at around 19:30.

DSC_0631Our pleasant room was on the upper floor with a pleasant balcony.

IMG_8874After checking in, we went up to the rooftop restaurant at our hotel.

IMG_8875Situated near the first gate of the fort, the rooftop restaurant of our hotel offers gorgeous views of the iconic fort.

IMG_8881Specialized in Indian and Italian cuisine, we ordered a combination of both for our first dinner at Jaisalmer.

IMG_8931From the balcony of our hotel room, we patiently waited for the sunrise at the east horizon.

IMG_8947Below our balcony was a quiet side street of small guest houses.

IMG_8983On the street, dogs, cows and local residents passed by our balcony every so often.

IMG_8980From the balcony we enjoyed the spectacular sunrise for two days in a row.

IMG_9533For two days in a row we witnessed the same little girl fed the street dogs while on her way to school.

IMG_9544Soon after sunrise, locals in colourful dresses came out to clean the street.

IMG_9054At the other side of the balcony, we also enjoyed a splendid view of the fort.

IMG_9029Under the rising sun, the yellow sandstone of the fort was illuminated in a golden glow.

IMG_9056Sunlight penetrated into our room through a tiny window.

IMG_9308Outside our room, sunlight also spilled into the hallway through high windows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter breakfast, it was time for us to step out and explore the magnificent Jaisalmer.

 

***
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 6 (5/6): GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山), Nanto (南砺市), Toyama Prefecture (富山県), Japan, 2018.05.30

The idea of staying a night in a traditional gassho-zukuri house prompted us to come all the way to Ainokura, the remotest of the three UNESCO World Heritage villages in the Japanese Alps.  A few centuries-old gassho-zukuri houses in Ainokura have been converted into minshuku (民宿) or Japanese style bed-and-breakfast.  A typical minshuku stay offers a Japanese tatami room, as well as dinner and breakfast served in a traditional dining room around an Irori (囲炉裏) hearth.  Based on online reviews and guidebook recommendations, we booked our stay at Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, a 350-year old gassho-zukuri located near the end of the village.  The interior of the house was as expected full of wooden panels, tatami flooring and timber lattices.  The bathroom and toilets were clean and modern, while the dining room and its Irori hearth provided a feature for all visitors.

Outside of the minshuku, gassho-zukuri houses scattered along the few winding paths and surrounded by patches of terracing flower beds and rice paddy fields.  Historically, Ainokura was self sustained not by farming, but by making traditional paper and raising silkworm.  Since the decline of silkworm raising in the 1950s, some fields of mulberry trees uphill from the village were converted into agricultural fields for vegetables and rice paddy.   Today, rice paddy fields dominate the scenery of Ainokura.  As the most important staple food in Asia, rice cultivation represents the lifeline for many nations, including Japan.  Apart from rice fields, small beds of colourful flowers can be found all over the village.  Flowers are planted adjacent to rice terraces, or along winding paths, or in front of village homes, leaving touches of lovely colours among the lush green palette, even in the greyest rainy day.

DSC_7981Gassho Minshuku Nakaya is a well-preserved 350-year-old gassho-zukuri house in the UNESCO World Heritage village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe thatched roof and timber wall panels of the minshuku look just like other traditional farm houses in the village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust like any typical Japanese house, there is a decent entrance vestibule at the Gassho Minshuku Nakaya.

DSC_7758The guest area is limited at the ground floor only, with traditional tatami bedrooms, dining room, and bathroom.

DSC_7757In the dining room above the Irori (囲炉裏) hearth, a jizaikagi (自在鉤) or free hook is attached to the beam structure of the house.

DSC_7756Our room was a Japanese style tatami room with traditional decorations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpon arrival, we were given green tea and snacks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, lovely flowers could be found in many fields and flower beds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most impressive flower beds we saw was just opposite to the front door of our minshuku.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small flowers in front of Minshuku Yomoshiro present a subtle beauty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColourful flowers along the village paths lighted up the scenery in a rainy day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found some of the most impressive flowers at the terracing flower beds in the midst of the lush green rice paddy fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd more flowers…

DSC_7898Late May.  Rice seedlings had just planted not long ago.  Rows of footprints were visible in the rice paddy fields.

DSC_7914It was a pleasure to get so close to the rice paddy.

DSC_7995At the end of Ainokura near Gassho Minshuku Nakaya, we found some larger rice fields with beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains.

DSC_7984After spending time to photograph the rice fields, it was about time for dinner.

 


DAY 6 (2/6): OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30

The illuminated Gassho-zukuri village houses blanketed in thick layer of snow make a fairy tale like postcard scenery have attracted visitors from close and afar, making Shirakawa-go an extremely popular tourist attraction at specific winter weekends.  Situated in the remote snow county of the Japanese Alps, gassho rural regions such as Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) have been historically isolated from the outside world.  A unique rural lifestyle and special vernacular architecture have been developed in the past few centuries to tackle the snowy and wet climate of the mountains.  Gassho-zukuri (合掌造り集落), which literally means “hands in prayer”, refers to the exceptionally steep thatch roofs of the regional farmhouses due to the heavy snowfall of the area.  These steep roofs have become a unique symbol of the region.  In 1995, three of these remote Gassho-zukuri villages: Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (荻町), Suganuma (菅沼) and Ainokura (相倉) in Gokayama were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Due to its proximity to Hida-Takayama, most visitors opt for a day trip (or half-day trip) to visit Shirakawa-go.  Few would venture farther into Gokayama and even less so would stay the night at one of the mountain villages.  In recent years, a number of the centuries old Gassho-zukuri farmhouses have been transformed into guesthouses, allowing visitors to experience the villages’ unique beauty and tranquility after the departure of the daytrippers.  Being the largest and most accessible Gassho-zukuri village, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is the most developed in terms of its tourist facilities.  A number of its old farmhouses have been converted into museums, restaurants and souvenir shops.  There is even an area called Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum, where historical farmhouses have been relocated and grouped into an open air museum.  Taking the 8:25am bus from Takayama, we arrived at Shirakawa-go bus station in about an hour.  When we arrived at one of Japan’s most picturesque farming village, steady rain kept on coming down with no end in sight.  We stored our backpacks in a locker at the bus station, picked up a village map and bought a transparent umbrella from the tourist office, and off we went to explore touristy yet charming Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.

DSC_7465Just outside the bus station, we had our first peek of the rural charm of Shirakawa-go.  Rhythmical rain drops rippled across the flooded paddy field of lush green rice seedlings.

DSC_7471Despite the rain, we were delighted to enter the tranquil world of Ogimachi.

DSC_7477It was 9:20am.  Not too many tourists were around.  We stopped by the pond of waterlilies in front of Wada Residence, one of the largest gassho style house in the village.

DSC_7478Ogimachi has a extensive network of irrigation channels.  Visitors may occasionally find carps in the water.

DSC_7518A row of cute scarecrows offer an amusing background for photos, and a friendly reminder of Ogimachi’s rural past.

DSC_7493Straw from farm crops are harvested in the autumn, dried as a snow fence around the gassho style house, and used to repair the thatched roof in the spring or autumn.  Due to the need of a large labour force, neighbors in the village would come over to help on repairing the thatched roof.

DSC_7621Many gassho style houses, including the Yamaainoie Residence (山峡の家), have been converted into cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops or guesthouses.

DSC_7635The small gassho style house serves as a charming little cafe with splendid views of rice patties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance of the cafe is decorated with plant pots, wood lattice and a “thinker” statue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1961, the construction of Miboro Dam at Sho River in Takayama was completed.  several villages and shrines were submerged, along with about half of the surviving Gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_7622Today, the biggest concentration of Gassho-zukuri houses are found in Ogimachi, Ainokura, and Suganuma.  Important structures, such as the Myozen-ji Temple in Ogimachi, have become rare survivors from the bygone period.

DSC_7628Thatched roof repair works can still be seen in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.

DSC_7627The steep angle of the thatched roof of the Gassho-zukuri houses help to prevent snow accumulation, though people, especially outside visitors, have to be cautious of the falling snow below the roof.

DSC_7624A number of Gassho-zukuri houses in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go have been turned into guesthouses.

DSC_7755Fire hydrants are important in the farming village because of the combustibility of the Gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_7754Because of the rain, the mountains beyond Ogimachi were covered in beautiful mist while we were there.

DSC_7749Newer houses in a distinct architectural style can also be found in the village.

DSC_7631Due to the unique appearance of the Gassho-zukuri houses and it natural setting, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is often considered one of the most picturesque farming village in Japan.

* * *

CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Introduction

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)

 

 


DAY 3 (1/2): POTALA PALACE (ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་ 布達拉宮), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.18

We arrived at the central gate of the Potala at around 9am.  We excitedly looked up at the magnificent icon of Lhasa as we entered the palace ground beyond the first security checkpoint.  We found our way towards the main ramp that ascend up to the Potala.  Before climbing up, we made a brief stop at a small museum that housed a decent collection of treasures from the palace.  Despite its interesting exhibit, we didn’t stay long as we wouldn’t want to miss our time slot for the palace visit.  The walk up the main ramp looked easier than it actually was.  Because of the 3700m altitude, the climb up the main ramp to the Potala may prove challenging to many tourists who haven’t completely acclimatized to the Tibetan highlands.  We took our time walking up to the ticket office near the top palace level.   After all the effort of pre-booking and climbing, we finally got a real admission ticket for the Potala.  A flight of steps led us up a colourful passage to a open courtyard known as Deyang Shar.  After a brief break at Deyang Shar, we walk to the far side of the courtyard and followed other tourists and tour guides up a small set of triple stairs into the White Palace.  The Deyang Shar was the final spot of our visit that we were allowed to take photographs.

The first room we arrived at was the throne room of the Dalai Lamas.  Walking into the former throne room felt like entering into a scene of Scorsese’s movie Kundun.  The visit continued to a series of Dalai Lamas’ former reception rooms, meditation room, study room, etc.  After the Dalai Lama’s living quarter in the White Palace, we continued our visit to the Red Palace from the top (3rd floor) down.  On our way down the floors and through the chapels and assembly halls, we passed by impressive statues, golden chortens of former Dalai Lamas, mysterious chapels such as Chapel Arya, one of the oldest structures in the Potala built by King Songtsen Gampo.  If not the noisy tourists and their rude tour guides were virtually everywhere in the visitor route, our Potala visit would be much more pleasant.  One of the highlights was the 12.6m chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama.  Gilded with 3.7 kg of gold, the chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama was significantly larger than the other chortens displayed in Chapel of the Holy Born.

In 7th century, King Songtsen Gampo erected his royal palace on the Marpo Ri (Red Hill).   A thousand years later, construction of the Potala’s White Palace (Kharpo Podrang) began in 1645 under the order of the 5th Dalai Lama.  In late 17th century, the larger Red Palace (Marpo Podrang) was also built to house the funeral chorten of the 5th Dalai Lama.  Since then, the Potala has become the residence and final resting place of the Dalai Lamas.  In modern days, the Potala was largely spared from the destructing forces of the Red Army during the Cultural Revolution.  Extensive renovations took place in the 1990s to restore the palace.  Since then, the Potala has been turned into an open air museum that attracts thousands of visitors everyday.

The palace visit took us about 2 hours.  We exited the Potala from its back entrance.  A prominent walkway zigzagged down the Marpo Ri, leading us to the kora path of pilgrims that surrounded the base of the Potala.  We followed the kora path and entered the Zongjiao Lukang Park (宗角祿康公園) north of the palace.  Large groups of park users were dancing at different open areas in the park under loud music.  We strolled for a bit in the park and then moved on to find a small noodle eatery for lunch.

01Unlike the mysterious night scene, the morning view of the Potala was splendid and elegant.

02During our visit, we only had access to small parts of the White and Red Palace.

03Despite the access and photography restrictions, a visit to the Potala is still a must-do for most tourists in Lhasa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo reach the ticket office of the Potala, walking up the main ramp is the second major challenge for many tourists (the first challenge being getting up early to queue for the pre-booking.

05From the main ramp, we could clearly see the Potala Square (布達拉宮廣場) beyond Beijing Road.

06After an exhausting climb to the top, we finally reached the entrance gate and the ticket office.

07From the entrance gate, we could see the beautiful landscape outside of the city of Lhasa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mural of the heavenly guards and other mythical figures caught the attention of every visitors passed through the entrance gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance door was beautifully decorated with colourful details.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the entrance gate, we passed through a flight of colourful stair up to the entrance courtyard of the White Palace called Deyang Shar.

11The Deyang Shar is a pleasant courtyard that serves as the entrance for the White Palace, and the courtyard is also the last spot where visitors are allowed to take photographs during their Potala visit.

12The visit of the Potala for all tourists begins with the White Palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Deyang Shar, groups of tourists began their palace visit via a steep stair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the visit we exited the Potala at the back side of the palace.

15We walked down a pleasant walkway down the Marpo Ri.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe walkway led us down to the kora path of pilgrims that surrounded the base of the Potala.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlong the kora path there were small shrines for pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear the Zongjiao Lukang Park, we passed by a popular shrine frequented by pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe followed the kora path and entered the Zongjiao Lukang Park (宗角祿康公園) north of the palace.

20We strolled for a bit in Zongjiao Lukang Park and then moved on to find a small noodle eatery nearby for lunch.

* * *

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 (4/6): NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WESTERN ART (国立西洋美術館), Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier.  In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc.  We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.

01Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.

02We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer.  Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.

03The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.

04The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.

06A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.

05At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.

08On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.

09Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier.  The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.

12Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.

14At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard.  Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.

15After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day.  We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight.  We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.


280 MILLION-YEAR-OLD GEOLOGICAL PARADISE, Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), Hong Kong

Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), which literally means “horse excrement island”, is a tidal island off a traditional fishing village Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) at the northeastern New Territories near Tai Po (大埔).  Facing the Tolo Channel opposite from the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖), Ma Shi Chau belongs to the UNESCO Geopark network in Hong Kong.  The remote tidal island is famous for its unique rock formation and outcropped strata dated back to the Permian Period (280 million years ago).

Ma Shi Chau is accessible via Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡).  A short hike on known as Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail will bring visitors to walk along the southeast coast of the island.  Along the coastal areas, unique and colourful rock formations are visible everywhere.  Millions of years ago, Ma Shi Chau was a basin in which surrounding waters continuously to deposit sediments such as sand and gravel.  Over the years as water level changed and so as the kinds of sediments accumulated.   Sedimentary rocks were formed after the process of lithification.  Vaults and folds are also visible on Ma Shi Chau as tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities transformed the rock surface.  Like many parts of Hong Kong, granite is also present at Ma Shi Chau as a result of magma intrusion during the Jurassic Period.  Other than rocks, views of the Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) to the north, and the new town of Ma On Shan to the southeast across the Tolo Harbour (吐露港) are equally impressive.

DSC_3191Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) is a small fishing village inhabited mainly by former boat people (fishermen families who lived on their boats in typhoon shelter).

DSC_3195From Sam Mun Tsai, a short walk brought me up to a hill dotted with graves.  On the high point, fish farming nets in the waters of Plover Cove.

DSC_3197The trail continued to wind through the ridge of a hill dotted with graves.

DSC_3202The trail then went downhill to the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡), a natural sand bar that originally would be submerged in water during during high tide.  Over the years, villagers put boulders and sediments on the sand bar, so that it would be exposed above water even during high tide.

DSC_3205Today, the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is a convenient venue for a leisure stroll and water activities such as sea kayaking.

DSC_3204The Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is also the gateway to the Ma Shi Chau Special Area, part of the Hong Kong Geopark.

DSC_3247On Ma Shi Chau Island, there is a short trail called Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail (馬屎洲自然教育徑) bringing visitors to a number of coastal woods and rock beaches.  Giant Golden Orb Weaver, one of the largest kinds of spiders in the world, are quite common in the woods.  Some of these are about the size of a human palm.

DSC_3267Visitors are usually fascinated by the rock formations when arriving at the first open coastal area.

DSC_3295Vaults and folds are visible at Ma Shi Chau due to prehistoric tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities.

DSC_3299Many of the outcropped strata and rock formations are colourful and eye catching.

DSC_3310Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3319Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3331Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3347To the northeast of Ma Shi Chau across the Plover Cove (船灣海), the 2km dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) is only a few hundred metres away.

DSC_3352To the southeast across Tolo Harbour (吐露港), the new residential developments below Ma On Shan (馬鞍山) look like a bunch of toy blocks.

DSC_3359Construction of the new town of Ma On Shan began in 1980s, including private residential developments and public housing estates.

DSC_3363

DSC_3366Fishermen may still test their luck in the Tolo Harbour.

DSC_3371In late afternoon, Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) north of Ma Shi Chau looks gorgeous.

DSC_3374Under the shadow of Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺), the tiny island of Yeung Chau and the fish farms in the Plover Cove (船灣海) look like a peaceful picture.


DAY 4 (4/6): KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

Visiting Nara and Kyoto in Japan, where historical temples and old timber houses mushroomed across the landscape and lined along the alleyways of the ancient capitals, is a close encounter with what we consider as the heritage of Japan.   A brief visit to Kofukuji on our way out of Nara Park provided a proper closure to a fruitful day of cultural heritage when we had already seen Horyuji, Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha.  A prominent representation of the Nara Period (AD 710-794), the Buddhist temple had seen better days in history, primarily during Nara Period and Heian Period (AD 794 – 1185), when Kofukuji and Kasuga Taisha controlled much of the politics and religion of the kingdom.  Since, Kofukuji had gone through a gradual decline.  The anti-Buddhist policies of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) gave the temple its final blow, when Kofukuji was forced to be separated from Kasuga Taisha, such that Shintoism could be separated from Buddhism.

Kofukuji is the headquarters of the Hosso sect of Buddhism in Japan.  Hosso, known as Yogachara in Indian Buddhism, is the school of Buddhism focused on meditative and yogic practice and believed that human experience is primarily constructed by the power of the mind.  This school of philosophy was founded by the famous Chinese monk and traveler Xuanzang (玄奘), who visited India in the 7th century for Buddhist teachings and scriptures.  Some of Xuanzang’s pupils were later responsible to bring the teachings of Buddhism to Korea and Japan.  As the headquarters of Hosso, Kofukuji was once a large temple complex comprised of 175 buildings.  Today, only a few of the original architecture remained.  While we were there, the Central Golden Hall was under renovation and covered with scaffolding.  We could still, however, admired the ancient architecture of Kofukuji Temple, including the Octagonal Halls, Eastern Golden Hall and the iconic Five-storey Pagoda.

dsc_3563We passed by the iconic Five-storey Pagoda (五重塔) on our way out of the Nara Park.

02At 50m, Kofukuji’s Five-storey Pagoda (五重塔) is Japan’s second tallest, and an iconic symbol of the city of Nara.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beautiful Eastern Golden Hall (東金堂) houses a large wooden statue of Yakushi Buddha.

dsc_3576Overview of the Eastern Golden Hall and Five-storey Pagoda.

03Founded in AD 813 and reconstructed in 1789, the Nanendo (南円堂, Southern Octagonal Hall) is another beautiful piece of architecture.

04List of donor’s names near the Nanendo (South Octagonal Hall)

05The stair down to Sanjo Dori Street was lined with donor’s flags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA path off the stair led us to a platform where a cluster of small Buddhist shrines stood under a few maple trees.

08A beautiful statue stood out from the cluster of shrines.

06Reconstructed in AD 1181, the Three-storey Pagoda (三重の塔) is one of the two oldest surviving buildings at the temple complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nanendo viewed from the Three-storey Pagoda.

10Nakatanidou (中谷堂) at Sanjo Dori near Kofukuji is famous for its traditional fast mochi (Japanese rice cakes) pounding known as mochitsuki.

11Yomogi mochi at Nakatanidou (中谷堂) are made with a wild Japanese plant called mugwort.  These rice cakes were really tasty.

12After a long day of temple hoping, we stopped by the relaxing Mellow Cafe for a quick bite.  The cafe is famous for its stone pizza oven.  We ordered a pizza with top with cheese and Japanese pickles.

13And washed the pizza down with a glass of local beer…

***

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 1 (6/6): NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

As first time visitors to Kyoto, we were eager to see the autumn colours at the world famous Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), especially when we knew that the iconic Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台) would undergo a major renovation starting from January 2017.  It was the second last day of the season that Kiyomizu-dera opened for autumn special night viewing, and according to local weather forecast, Kyoto’s weather would turn bad in a day’s time.  Without hesitation we hopped on a bus near Kitano Tenmangu and headed back to Higashiyama.  We had some rest on the 45-minute bus ride.  After getting off, we picked one alleyway to walk uphill.  Soon we arrived at the magnificent Hokanji Yasaka Pagoda (法観寺 八坂の塔).  As we walked uphill, we felt like we were pilgrims going back in time, entering into a world of narrow stone alleyways, centuries-old timber houses and Buddhist buildings.  Along the way, most shops were already closed, but a few souvenir and snack shops still opened to serve the night visitors of Kiyomizu-dera.  Over our heads, we soon discovered a strong beam of blue light in the sky, pointing from Mount Otowa (音羽山) where the temple was situated, outwards to the infinite sky above the city.  According to the official website, the light embodies the Kannon (観音)’s compassion, brightening the streets of the ancient city.  For us, it was like a guidance leading us uphill.  It get more crowded as we walked closer to the temple.  Minutes later we arrived at the stepped plaza of Niomon Gate (仁王門).  In front of the famous Saimon Gate (西門), we lined up to get our admission tickets from a temporary shelter and delightfully walked up the stair to enter the temple complex.

The autumn foliage at Kiyomizu-dera had past its peak a few days ago.  Nonetheless, all visitors including us were excited to tour around the celebrated complex under the illuminations of floodlights and embellishment of the remaining autumn maples.  At the main hall, we took off our shoes, paid our respect in front of the sanctuary, and admired the illuminated autumn colours down in the valley below Kiyomizu Stage.  Standing 13m above the valley, the Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台) had been the centerpiece of the temple for centuries.  Without using a single nail, the Kiyomizu Stage is made of 410 Hinoki wooden boards supported by 18 Zelkova pillars using the hole and grooves technique known as the Kakezukuri Method.  From the stage, a stone path led us to the opposite side of the valley, where a large crowd gathered in front of Okunoin Hall (奥の院) looking back to admire the  main hall and Kiyomizu Stage.  Perched above the fire red maples, the huge roof of the main hall made of Hinoki bark and the lattice structure of Kiyomizu Stage looked gorgeously timeless, while the comet-like beam of blue light connected the temple with the glittering urban skyline beyond.  The path overlooking the valley of colourful leaves then led us further away from the main hall until reaching the base of the small pagoda where we headed down to the valley.  In the valley, a tree-lined path brought us all the way back to the bottom of the Kiyomizu Stage, where the adjacent Otowa waterfall (音羽の瀧) came down in three separated streams.  Another crowd of visitors formed a long queue at the waterfall, waiting for their turn to drink the water with the special cup provided.  As we headed to the temple exit, we passed by a mirror-like pond with magnificent reflections of autumn leaves and the orange Three-storey Pagoda above the cliff.

We were overjoyed for having such a fruitful day of sightseeing.  To give this beautiful day a satisfying closure we opted for a late dinner.  We walked downhill from Kiyomizu-dera, passed through Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社), and entered the lively district of Gion (祇園), the active area of traditional geisha.  We picked Okaru (おかる), a small udon restaurant popular with geiko since established in 1923.  We ordered two of their signature noodle bowls and felt truly grateful of finishing our wonderful first day of Kyoto.

dsc_1567Passing by the Hokanji Yasaka Pagoda (法観寺 八坂の塔) as we headed up to Kiyomizu-dera.

02Minutes later we arrived at the stepped plaza of Niomon Gate (仁王門).

dsc_1589In front of the famous Saimon Gate (西門), we lined up to get our admission tickets from a temporary shelter, while the beam of blue light shot up the sky behind the temple.

03Stone statue in front of the Three-storey Pagoda.

04Looking back out to the Three-storey Pagoda behind entering the main hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors stepping into the timber structure of the main hall.

dsc_1649Inside the main hall, the sanctuary is consisted of three sections: outer, inner, and innermost.  Only the outer sanctuary is open to the public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors gathered on the Kiyomizu Stage photographing the skyline of Kyoto.

09The strong beam of blue light shot out from Mount Otowa behind the temple.

10Behind the Kiyomizu Stage, a prominent stair led down to the Otowa waterfall.

11Iconic overview of Kiyomizu Stage, main hall, autumn maples, blue light and Kyoto skyline.

12The beam of blue light pointed towards Kyoto Tower in a distance.

13The stair adjacent to the timber structure of the Kiyomizu Stage.

dsc_1723The amazing structure of Kiyomizu Stage lit up with floodlight.

dsc_1713Lanterns indicating special night viewing, which happens three times a year: cherry season in spring, three days of Thousand-day Pilgrimage/Special Viewing of nainaijin in the Main Hall in the summer, and the maple colours in autumn.

15.JPGAutumn foliage and the Three-storey Pagada reflected in the pond near the exit.

14Autumn colours, blue light and the Three-storey Pagoda.

16By the time we returned to the Niomon Gate (仁王門), Kiyomizu-dera was already closed for the night.

17We passed by the lanterns at Yasaka Shrine on the quest for our late dinner.

18We picked Okaru (おかる) in Gion for a simple noodle bowl.

19We ordered two of the signature dishes: curry and cheese udon and local duck udon.

20Curry and cheese udon and local duck udon.

***

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 1 (4/6): KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

The sun was low when we get off at Kinkakuji-mae bus stop, giving everything a bit of a yellow tone.  The path leading into the ground of Kinkakuji (金閣寺) was crowded with visitors from local and abroad.  After a few hectic minutes queuing in front of the ticket office, we finally got our admission tickets.  It wouldn’t be long before Kinkakuji closing its doors at sunset (around 4:30pm).  We wasted no time and walked into the temple ground, which was a large Zen Buddhist garden around a large reflective pool known as the Kyōko-chi (鏡湖池), or Mirror Pond.  All visitors entering the garden immediately gathered by the pond to take photos of the fascinating Kinkakuji building.  Covered with gold-leaf coating, the 3-storey Kinkakuji, which literally means the Golden Pavilion, stood proudly by the opposite shore and glittered under the western sun.  Since late 14th century the building was considered as an icon of architectural beauty in Japan.  Its beauty was so overwhelmingly powerful, prompting a mentally disordered novice monk to burn down the building in an early summer morning of 1950.  Built in 1955, the present Golden Pavilion building is a reconstruction of the 14th century original.  Author Yukio Mishima’s (三島 由紀夫) masterpiece “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (金閣寺)” was loosely based on this tragic incident.  I first learnt about Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion from his famous novel.

After a few minutes taking photos by the pond, we followed the designated path to walk towards the Golden Pavilion.  The building was not open for the public and we could only admire the architecture from outside.  Behind the pavilion, the garden path continued up a hill over to another tranquil water pond, the Anmintaku Pond, where a mini stone pagoda was erected on a small island.  After another short walk we were almost at the garden exit.  Before reaching the souvenir shops, we passed by the Fudo Hall where visitors paid their respect to Fudo Myoo (不動明王), also known as Acala Dharmapala, one of the five wisdom kings and protectors of Buddhism.  Because of the crowds, touring Kinkakuji wasn’t the most pleasant experience we had in Kyoto, but the visual beauty of the Golden Pavilion was still overwhelming.  Unlike Ninnaji Temple where we spent a considerable amount of time delightfully exploring the verandas, courtyards and gardens, we didn’t stay long at Kinkakuji.  In fact, the biggest surprise of the visit was our first glance of the Golden Pavilion and its perfect reflection in the Mirror Pond near the garden entrance.  Nonetheless, the iconic beauty of Kinkakuji under the golden afternoon sun is an irresistible sight for any first time visitor to Kyoto, including us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Ninnaji Temple, we decided to take the bus to Kinkakuji Temple in order to save time.  If we chose to walk it would probably take us about half an hour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATourists gathered in front of Mirror Pond to take pictures of the Golden Pavilion.

03Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, shimmered under the late afternoon sun.

04The reflection of the Golden Pavilion in peaceful Mirror Pond was near perfect.

05Close up of the reflection of the Golden Pavilion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproaching the Golden Pavilion from the waterfront path.

07The Golden Pavilion is topped with a bronze phoenix.

08The small stone pavilion at Anmintaku Pond.

09Even the Fudo Hall near the exit was packed with visitors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was almost sunset when we left Kinkakuji.  Because of the fine weather, we decided to continue with our Kyoto tour with temple night visits despite we were both tired from the red-eye flight.  Our next destination was Kitano Tenmangu (北野天滿宮), one of the few temples in Kyoto where the fall colour was still at its peak.

***

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 1 (3/6): NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

Some bloggers mention Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) is their favorite temple in Kyoto.  It is not a small feat for any Kyoto temple to become someone’s favorite given the city has over 1600 temples.  We had high expectations for Ninnaji before the trip and was delighted to check out this head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingong Sect of Buddhism on our first day.  Following street signage, it was an easy 15-minute walk from Ryoanji to Ninnaji.  The air was cool and refreshing in the northwestern foothills of Kyoto.  The occasional vivid autumn leaves along the way made our walk even more pleasant.  Founded in AD 888 by Emperor Uda, Ninnaji Temple maintained its close connection with the imperial family until Meji Restoration in the 19th century.  For a thousand years the temple’s abbot had always been served by someone in the imperial family .  Today most surviving buildings date back to the 17th century.

Ninnaji Temple is consisted of two main parts: Garan (伽藍) and Goren (御殿).  The monumental main gate Nio-mon Gate (二王門) is one of the three famous gates in Kyoto, representing the magnificent timber skills and sense of beauty of ancient craftsmen.  We started our visit at the Goren (御殿) just behind the ticket office.  After taking off our shoes, we entered the Goren through a zigzag covered walkway, which ended at a peaceful dry zen garden known as the Dantei (南庭), or the South Garden.  The pebbles and sand were arranged in rows across a large area, with the beautiful Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and the Nio-mon Gate as prominent visual focuses in the background.  The tranquil atmosphere of Dantei prompted us to stay for a short while to enjoy the pleasant moment.  Following the covered verandas, we walked around Dantei to admire the traditional wall paintings inside prayer rooms along the way.  The paintings on the golden walls in the Shinden (宸殿), the main hall, revealed an imperial touch in the design as if the interior of an imperial palace.  After another turn we reached a completely different garden, the Hokutei (北庭), the North Garden.  The main focus of Hokutei was a serene reflecting pool, reflecting the autumn foliage and the Five-Storey Pagoda in the Garan further in the background.  Just a few minutes before we were admiring the abstract dry landscape of Dantei, where sand and pebbles metaphorize the sea, rocks as islands and trees as forests.  A few minutes later we had entered a lush world of greenery and water in the Hokutei.

After the Goren, we walked over to Chu-mon Gate (中門) into the much larger Garan (伽藍).  The entire Goren area was like a park, with several buildings scattered over in the area.  We first headed over to the Gojunoto (五重塔), or the Five-storey Pagoda, an elegant tower visible from many places in Ninnaji.  Behind the pagoda, we arrived at  Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神), a peaceful Shinto shrine under the shade of trees.  After clapping, praying and bowing in front of the shrine, we continued to wander around Garan.  Next came Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵), a squarish timber building used to store the Buddhist scriptures.  Back to the central area, we reached the largest building in Garan, the Kondo (金堂), or the Golden Hall, and the orange painted Syoro (鐘楼).  None of these buildings were open, but it was the poetic atmosphere of these historical buildings in the natural setting that we enjoyed the most.  Before leaving, we had a quick visit of the Miedo (御影堂), a Buddhist hall dedicated to Kukai (弘法大師) – the famous 8th century Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism in Xian of China and founded Shingon Buddhism in Japan.  After a thorough visit of Goren and Garan, we walked through the monumental  Nio-mon Gate once again, leaving Ninnaji slightly after 3pm.  Because of the time of year the sun was already quite low, and it felt like late afternoon.  We decided to quickly take the bus a few stops northwards to probably the most popular attraction in Kyoto, the Kinkakuji (金閣寺), or the Golden Pavilion.  

01It was a pleasant 15-minute walk from Ryoanji Temple to Ninnaji Temple.

04We walked past beautiful autumn maples along the way.

02We finally reached the monumental Nio-mon Gate, the main gate of Ninnaji Temple.

03The timber structure of the Nio-mon Gate is a beautiful piece of architecture.

05After getting the admission tickets, we entered the Goren (御殿) via a stone path flanked by the dry landscape of pebble and sand.

06We took off our shoes and entered a zigzag covered walkway to enter the main buildings of Goren (御殿).

08The Dantei (南庭), South Garden, of Goren (御殿) is a peaceful dry landscape of pebbles and sand, with the Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and Nio-mon Gate (二王門) as background.

10We followed the covered verandas to circle around the buildings of Goren (御殿).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dry landscape of Dantei (南庭) could be appreciated at different angles along the way.

11An intimate pavilion just outside the timber veranda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe golden interiors of the Shinden (宸殿) reveals a sense of imperial aesthetics.

13The “wet” landscape of Hokutei (北庭) provided a stark contrast from the dry landscape of the Dantei (南庭).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was already getting low when we wandered around Ninnaji Temple.

14The Chu-mon Gate (中門) led us into the much larger Garan (伽藍) area.

15The old statue of a Buddhist Guardian at one side of the Chu-mon Gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Gojunoto (五重塔) in the Garan (伽藍) as seen from below.

17bUnder the tree shades, the Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神) looked peaceful.

16The squarish Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵) was a decent one-storey timber building with a big roof.

dsc_1233The Kondo (金堂), or the main hall in Garan in the park setting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe maple colour near the Kondo (金堂) were its peak.

20The orange Bell Tower adjacent to the Kondo.

19Autumn foliage in front of the Bell Tower.

dsc_1266The Miedo (御影堂) was the last building we visited in Ninnaji Temple.

18Before leaving Ninnaji, we passed by the maple leaves under the roof of the Kondo one last time.

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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