Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nikko, Japan

Downtown Nikko
We wanted to take a day trip outside of Tokyo and Nikko was the perfect place to go. Nikko is a beautiful area, the land of the shoguns. Especially honored here is Tokgugawa Ieyasu, who the famous novel Shogun by James Clavell was based on. The Toshogu Shrine was built in Ieyasu’s honor in the 1700s and his remains are still in the mausoleum in Nikko. The name Nikko means sunlight and it warmed us well on our cold winter trip there.

We didn’t take the Tobu Spacia train from Asakusa, but instead took a JR shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo station with a change in Utsunomiya. It took about the same time as the Tobu but the price worked out well since we both had JR Passes. There’s nothing like riding a Japanese shinkansen train. Smooth and comfortable.

The first sight you see as you get near the shrines is the vermillion Sacred bridge over the Diyagwa River. It was built in 1636 and for over 300 years only the shogun and his nobles were allowed to cross it. Now you can, for ¥500.

Our explorations began with going through the Yomeimon Gate  leading to The Toshogu shrine. it's the burial place of the famous Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and the most extravagant building here. Ieyasu was buried here immediately after his death, but the present complex was built in 1634 on the order of his grandson Iemitsu. The shrine took 2 years to complete with the efforts of 15,000 workers.

After climbing two flights of steps we reached the Sacred Stable, housing a sacred white horse. The most famous symbol here is the carving of the three wise monkeys, who "hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil". Stables often kept and had monkeys since they were thought to protect horses from disease. These sculptural  monkeys are considered the protectors of the sacred horse.

The trip to Nikko was an interesting excursion from Tokyo on the shinkansen… a great day trip and well worth it. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elephanta Island, Mumbai

Taj Palace Hotel and Tower, Gateway of India
Elephanta Island or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") has caves that are one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mumbai city. It is a lovely experience that’s definitely a must do if you’re visiting Mumbai.

The best way to get there is to take an early boat from the Gateway of India jetty on the Apollo Bunder for a delightful 1-hour ride across the harbor. There are great views of the Taj Palace Hotel, the naval dockyards, nearby islands and colorful ferryboats.

Once there it’s a long steep climb to the caves up steps that are lined with stalls selling all the usual trinkets and snacks. At least stopping at the stalls can give you a break from the long climb up the stairs to the temples. It’s worth it though…

The Elephanta Caves are the home of Lord Shiva and a perfect example of Hindu cave culture in the Arabian Sea. It is situated about 10 km (6 mi) from Mumbai on the east side of the harbor.  It owes its name to an enormous stone elephant found there by Portuguese navigators that’s no longer there. The elephant was cut into pieces and removed to Mumbai and put together again. Today it's the the stone guardian of Jijamata Udyaan, a zoo and garden in Mumbai.

There are a lot of interesting sculptured panels there with Shiva as the main attraction in most of them. The only sculpture not damaged by the Portuguese soldiers, who used the panels for shooting practice, is the central Trimurti or the three headed Shiva.

While returning to Mumbai, the view of the Taj Palace and Gateway of India with the sunset in the background is an exceptionally beautiful way to end the day. The trip is perfect for people who want to be away from the noise and crowds of Mumbai and have a peaceful and natural experience. Highly recommended!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Haunted City of Bhangarh

A haunted city, lost in time is the city of Bhangarh in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. Bhangarh was once a flourishing town of 10,000 homes but that was nearly 400 years ago. It was a beautiful city with many temples and fine houses. History seems to indicate that the city was abandoned virtually overnight.

There are two legends that says how the city was abandoned and cursed… The first says that a local holy man was asked for permission to build a city on the his property and permission was granted. He warned though that the city must never grow so big or its buildings so tall that it cast a shadow that would touch the holy man while he prayed.

Sacred Cow
Of course, the city grew to match the wealth and desires of its rulers. One day, the city's shadow touched the holy man. At that very moment the sky grew dark, rumbling was heard and the ground began to shake. The citizens, realizing what was happening, grabbed what they could and fled for their lives, never to return… the end of Bhangarh!

The second legend tells of a battle waged between the queen, and a wicked Tantric sorcerer. He set a magical web in which to catch her but with her agility she escaped every time.

After the last battle the queen finally lost her temper and turned a glass bottle containing magic oil into a rock and flung it towards the hilltop temple, where the sorcerer sat. He tried summoning his power to deflect the missile but failed, though not before cursing the city.

The queen and her people, fearing the worst, spent the night hastily moving her treasures to a new palace in Ajabgarh. Their caution was judged sensible because in the morning a storm leveled the city… the end of Bhangarh!

The truth is that  after the Mughal empire weakened in the 1720’s, Bhangarh slowly diminished in population, and when the famine of 1783 occurred the town was abandoned and has remained in ruins ever since.

People who visit Bhangarh today say there is still a haunted feeling in the air that makes them uneasy, so it seems that the curse worked.  It may be scary but it’s a great place to see. We loved it