Kyoto. The old capital of the land of rising sun. A center for culture and arts unchanged for more than a millennium. A world heritage so unique that at the time when the flames of war gripped the entire nation, Kyoto remained unstirred, engrossed in solemn meditation. If one place you must see in the far east, this must be it. And if it is the season of autumn colors, when the hills around the capital get flushed red and orange, above the golden pavilions of the palace, can you really afford not to go visit Kyoto? Well we could not not do it. Join us as we take a tour down the memory lanes of our travel to this magical city.
The journey started with a ride in Shinkansen the bullet train from Tokyo station. We took a right hand side seat, to enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji in the morning. Soon the train picked up speed. But somewhat disappointingly there was hardly any feeling of the speed as there was no vibration inside. It was more like flying in an airplane where you do not feel anything about the speed once in the air. Anyway in less than three hours Kyoto station arrived. As the travelers alighted the white aerodynamic machine zoomed past into the horizon. Hotel check-in was from the afternoon. So dropping the luggage into station lockers, we headed for the bus to Kyomizudera.
The pavilion of faith
One of the most revered shrines in Kyoto, Kyomizudera is also famous for the Autumn colors. Its about a half hour journey by bus.
Getting down from bus, one takes an uphill road through the narrow lane chok -a-block with art and craft shops on the two sides. Deciding to take a peek later on our way back, we carry on. The wide stone paved entrance goes up through a magnificent Torii gate. As one walks up, the bell tower falls on the left.
The ornate work on the bell in the otherwise austere premises of the monastery is worth a mention. A few more stairs takes to landing level. The viewing pavilion is right about here.
A wide view of the city of Kyoto is visible from the steep precipice. Maples bedecked in autumn red and yellow usher in the devotees along the pavilion. And do the devotees follow! Viewing autumn colors from the pavilion of Kiyomizudera is a ritual, a journey taken by millions every year. People move in, move out, taking in not just the view but fulfilling a solemn duty of obeisance to the supreme being.
Kiyomizudera stands there not as just one of the shrines, but as The one most revered. In times of despair people were known to take the ultimate leap of faith from the high precincts of this shrine down below. The ones who survived were the blessed ones, sure to stand up and win in the battles that followed.
From the pavilion, a bridge on the left leads to a small temple in the middle of a lily pond.
Gold fishes swimming in the pond create ripples in the shadow of the temple in water. Past The ticket gate on the right the way leads to the prayer hall. This whole complex lights up in the evening during the autumn color days. In fact this whole eastern fringe of the city is host to a collection of great temples and shrines. Shrines like Kodaiji Nanzenj along the philosophers path. The entire stretch wear a festive color in autumn. We walked, stopped, wondered and moved again.
Crafts worth a kings ransom
The craft shops were crafts in themselves, so eloquently decked up in colorful artifacts. Tourists ambled around, appreciating the display of traditional art . A simple matte finish jar with a crane painted in white. A gorgeously colorful vase done in lac, brushed with natural colors. Brilliant gold maple on black base. Some vintage, tracing a proud history of their own. From the humble memento to the prized souvenir, the alley of shops had it all. Price tags sometimes stretched to accommodate the extra zeroes. But that’s not the point here. Have you collected that shell from the beaches of Hawaii, or the adobe ware from market of Morocco, or that onyx jewelry from the Andes? It is that deep sense of attachment that these mementos are for. This is what this place is famous for – giving the opportunity to the worshiper to hold the memory of the worshiped close whenever one wants to. Visiting Kyoto, the capital of the kingdom was always a long cherished dream for a mostly agrarian population across Japan. Kiyomizudera for them was the place of worship, to submit, to surrender. In this background the trip through the pavilions, through the prayer halls, finally winding down the craft alley ended a journey worth a lifetime memory. Trinkets picked up by the traveler for his or her near and dear ones, or just for ones own memory, were no less worth than a kings treasure.
The road winded its way into Gion market. One wanted some time to sit down and cherish the sights seen. But it was already a full days travel and we were yet to get into our hotel. So we decided to retire for the day.
As we took the bus back to Kyoto station, the station seemed to be too busy intruding into the otherwise sedate evening mood. There was a multicolor musical water fountain setup in the station premises. We did not notice it in the morning. Nice, a bit too touristy, and perhaps a good digression for the tourist family with kids standing next, apparently enjoying the show. The inside of the station was already lit up with Christmas decorations. Shinkansens, other long distance trains and suburban trains kept pouring in bunch of people every other minute. We headed to buy the city bus tickets for the next day from the ticket office in front of the station. Then collected luggage from the lockers and hopped in to a suburban train. Google maps indicated In 15 minutes we were to be at the place we would call home for next three nights. We deliberately booked this hotel at a suburban location. The place was less crowded, less touristy, conveniently connected, and most importantly, during this time of the year in Kyoto, its was still affordable. But thats beside the story.
Next morning would start early. It was the day for visiting Kinkakuji, literally meaning the Golden Pavilion. We were tired, but excited. Quickly fell asleep thinking about the days happenings, the colors, the crafts……..to be continued