ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “UNESCO

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.

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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.

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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.

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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 

 


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