Continued from http://www.couchflyer.com/autumn-in-kyoto-part-i/
Next morning we started early. Our destination – Kinkakuji, in the north west of the city. Subway seemed to be the faster option. From Subway Kitaoji station, it’s a short bus or taxi ride. We were excited. Kinkakuji is said to be the living representation of the Japan seen in calendars and travel magazines.
Established by feudal lord in the golden era of Kyoto, it stands to embody the highest echelons of Japanese traditions and philosophy. Originally a retirement villa, it was a private estate surrounding a lake at the base of a hill. Later on it was converted into zen Buddhist shrine. The entire area comprising of the hill, the lake and the valley around makes Kinkakuji. The central villa is crowned in golden tiles, from which the name Kinakuji the “golden pavilion” originated.
Entering the complex
The bus dropped us at a corner. World heritage signs caught attention. Even in the chilly morning, a steady stream of visitors were heading up the path pointed to by the sign. A paved road went through a garden full of cedar and maple. It is second week of November.
The greenery was already thinning, replaced by bright colors of Red and orange. The two sides of the bamboo-fenced road were bright and cheerful in clear morning sun. The underside of the trees was covered with a thick carpet of green moss. At one point the road divided into two, one going straight in through the entry gate (Torii) and the other coming out of the exit in the right. We stopped several times on our way towards the Torii, trying to capture the morning rays shining onto the green carpet through the colored foliage. But the steady stream of tourists played spoilsport. It was a reminder that its fall season in Kyoto, and we were right in front of one of the best known world heritage sites. The crowd was to be expected. No option, so we moved on along with the crowd.
Entering through the Torii, at once we found ourselves facing a vast garden. The vastness of the garden was a sudden change from the busy outside. It was a vast expanse of land with manicured trees, bell tower, lily pond, bridge. The rush of people became slow, people trying to reconcile with the vastness of it all. The buzz quietened down. It was as if a scripted act. Done to prepare the visitors for the imminent next stage.
Another gate stood protecting the path to the final inner sanctum. Time to get our tickets. Past the ticket gate we headed through a narrow path. It opened into a wide vista. There Kinkakuji appeared, right in front of our eyes, shining, its reflection shimmering in the lake. Ducks swimming. Mild breeze buzzing through a bamboo grove nearby.
Shadow of white clouds on a blue sky played with the reflection of the golden pagoda in water. Gold fishes were swimming around the lake shore, unafraid. Peace. Tranquility. Eternal calm, yes this was it. It was a moment for reflection.
A narrow clay walking path led towards the pavilion. We moved, we stood, took in the view, and moved again. A clutch of thatched houses by the right separated themselves by a fence. These ones house the monks who continue to live the centuries old traditions. Japanese pine bent up on left, by the golden pavilions. Maple grove behind the golden pavilion led up a narrow path uphill. Red orange colored maple leaf floated in water, lay around on green moss covered hillside, lay under feet up the stone paved stairs going up.
At the hilltop, there was a tea room, opening its view towards the vast estate down below. The master stood here, offering the cup of green elixir in obeisance before taking the first sip. In mornings, in evenings, days and nights, the aroma filled in as the thoughts reverberated through the air. Karma is said to live through lives, reappearing through reincarnations. Was that a reason all these seemed so familiar, seen long ago?
Uh the nudge from fellow traveler woke me up. Continued on the path that now wound down the other side. We found ourselves by a private courtyard, lived in, living the life lived by generations before. A family busy in daily life, watering the gardens, washing and hanging clothes on the clothesline.
A normal day to day life, differentiated only by the fact that it is a life of a privileged, life unhindered by stress of civilization outside.
The road headed past around into the prayer hall. Devotees were kneeling, clasping their arms in Pranam posture, lighting incense sticks. Smoke curled up from the bronze stand. We stood, observing as the light and shadow played in the portals of the wooden building. The rush of the morning, the excitement, all seemed to unwarranted, so unbecoming of where we were to come to. It was not a place to visit, but a place to be in, to blend, to belong.
Kinkakuji is Japan. Quintessential Japan. At least that is the Japan I always envisioned. Ah, we envisioned, the milling millions who passed by the gates of this hallowed precinct for hundreds of years gone by. And will pass by. Join them o reader, by all means if you can. Aum.