Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Japan in a week, memories for a lifetime

Hubby always tells me I had a cocooned up-bringing. I always argued. But in my heart I knew its true. Never having done anything important by myself, being indecisive, being dependent on my parents and on him so far for everything, and never having traveled  alone even to the next city, I thought travelling alone is something that I would not only be unable to manage but also that I would not enjoy.

But off late I started thinking, what if I challenged myself to do it. May be I would even love it. Or what if it went horribly wrong, getting lost, losing stuff, not managing the logistics, losing money, etc...

In November we just started looking at flights to Japan and it turned out to be quite cheap. But the catch was that due to a multitude of reasons hubby wouldn't be able to travel. However, the fire in my belly didn't die.

And voila' 10 days later I was in Japan. Whatt!!!??? I could not believe it wasn't jinxed this time!(We booked 5 trips and then had to cancel them the last year.. jinx right?)

The day of travel to Tokyo was hard. After a long, long leg of transit in Hong Kong, I land in Tokyo at 9.30 pm. But I decided to ditch the notoriously expensive taxis and took a bus from Haneda airport to Shinjuku station in Tokyo. I had done my research and knew the train I had to take to my hotel. My legs were giving way and the back was killing and to my horror I had walked a long distance in the wrong direction at 11.45 in the night to get to the hotel.
Finally made it to the hotel close to midnight, checked in to my room and slept like I was drugged.

Day 1 in Tokyo had me open my eyes to a hazy sunshine, a simple yet much needed breakfast at the hotel. My legs were still hurting from all the running I had to do in Hong Kong airport(lest I miss my connecting flight to Tokyo, which I indeed missed and later put in the next flight). Nonetheless, put on 5 layers of clothing(it was 7 degree celsius and that is too damn bloody cold for a girl from South India), laced up my shoe, put on my smiling face and set out.  Next stop Shinjuku Gyoen park. As I walked through its luxurious expanse, I realised a while later that my smile had not faded at all. Never had I witnessed that many colours in trees. Never had I known autumn like that!! I wanted to just grab all that and make a dress out of it.
The park not only had beautifully manicured lawns and japanese gardens and colorful trees, it was dotted with ponds overlooking rest houses or restaurants(I suppose thats what they were). Just like how you would picture an authentic Japanese painting. Here's a look(or three)

There was a small entrance fee. But much more than worth it.

Had a meal in a Japanese restaurant and walked around the shops in Shinjuku station, went for a brief bit in Shibuya, had a nice cup of coffee to hold in my hands to offset the cold weather, made my way back to the hotel, gleaming at what a day it had been.

Day 2 of Tokyo, I spent an entire day in Asakusa. Had a view of the Tokyo sky tree and made it toward the Senso ji temple.
The cold weather with the bright hues of the temple and the scent and smoke from the incense to warm up my hands, the sounds of the gongs, eating sweet topped sticky rice balls and getting lost in the shopping alleys of Asakusa. Indeed was a pleasant day :)

After having a pleasant day so far, I still did not wanna retire for the day. That took me to the shopping lanes and a proper lunch in Ueno. Got myself some wifi, rested my legs and got my body warm while having lunch.
Ueno shopping street had a very local atmosphere. People selling fishes mostly to some sweater shops and the occassional accessory stalls. Walked up and down the street twice and added an additional layer of clothing to my freezing body :P Quite nice it was to keep adding food to my belly and layers of sweaters  :P

Strangely I wasnt shopping much at all even when nobody was there to hold me back from it..…shocker!!  M disgusted thinking about that now!! :P
Next stop, Roppongi.. Had my first drink of shochu in a pub all by myself in a foreign country! Earned major brownie points there right? All trees and lanes were lit up for christmas and bands performing inside Roppongi hills.. Again lost my way a bit.. but who cares! You walk a bit and you find a metro station almost everywhere :)

Day 3 and 4 were reserved well in advance for Takeshita Dori and Harajuku in general. Had heard a great deal about the extreme cosplay one would witness in Takeshita Dori on a sunday…but dint find much like that. But ate many flavors of crepes and fell in love with the crowd and the absolute shopping heaven that the street was!

Day 3, I first went to the Meiji Jingu shrine and … garden, stopping several times on the way to just look at the pristine forests on either sides of the way leading up to the shrine. Exiting from the other side of the shrine, I made my way to Harajuku. The moment I walked the streets there, I knew I would be back here the next day. The heavily crowded street and bylanes helped me disappear, melting into the crowd made me more at ease… Had crepes for lunch and then again for snacks.. Had a cuppa coffee while chatting with an Australian after getting lost a bit and while I was resting my well used shoes by now :)
Tori, is like gates to the holy area of the shrine. When one crosses a Tori, it is said to purify the soul.. much humbled!

These, I was told are wines stored inside the shrine premises... heheh

Day 4, being a sunday, the hotel staff took us out on a walking tour and a flea market visit.. Got some sun on my cracked skin and made some friends, that I was till now not very keen on…being the wallflower that I am! :) Spotted some pretty pretty houses on the walk. Interesting thing is..the Japanese people however small or boxy their houses, give much importance to gardens and flowers. Almost every house had a tiny garden, utilizing space in the most creative of ways.

The flea market where I bought a winter skirt and learnt to use chop sticks to eat

Honestly, I did feel a bit lonely this day. Wandering around near the hotel and exploring Japanese restaurants and having dinner out by myself.. ya' well!

 I had a package tour to Mt. Fuji and Hakone booked for day 5. The view of Mt. Fuji was not the brightest but had a fairly good view being winter n all.
Took a ropeway up to the mountain top in Hakone which was quite nice and had a mini boat ride on lake Ashi. The tour was by sunrise tours. I would not recommend taking a package at all.. its best to do this on your own, staying a night in a Ryokan(Japanese style room) to relax in Hakone and may be go for Onsen. I could not pack that in my short holiday.

The great Mount Fuji in all its glory

 A shrine on a hill in Hakone

A view from the ropeway

My last day in Japan, I spent an entire day walking around in Kamakura with a friend I made at the hotel :)
Was a lot of fun to do this giggling, getting lost, walking up and down hills, exploring the little town and its Buddhist temples.

A pretty little village stall on the narrow lanes of Kamakura

We met a man here whom we asked directions to a temple. He sat down in the middle of the road spending 20 minutes drawing the layout of kamakura, explaining how to get there. After a while, we look back to find that he had come back for us and took us around for 2 hours  showing us hidden treaures of his fairy little land. He knew no english and us know no Japanese but I will never forget this man.
Not only this man, all Japanese people are a very helpful. Though they may seem very serious in appearance, you talk to them and they open up, smile and help in all ways they can.
After Kamakura, I had to do one final round up of Shibuya, shopping and eating as it was my last day here :(

Went back to the hotel and met the friends I had made, who gave me a wonderful going away party (Awwww....!!) and had a lot of sake and wine, laughed a lot, some gossip and then goodbyes!

Had a early morning flight and I felt too quesy from all that drinking, but well, the memories kept me in a chirpy spirit.
I still dont know if Japan as such is the best bloody place or was it because I travelled alone! Must be both.
One important lesson learned: A shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple :)

Right from booking flights and right up to a clean execution of a back pat worthy trip alone, I made it. I survived and I came alive. I now know that I enjoy the company of me :D Each person deserves a
solo trip. You owe it to yourself.
Let me know if anybody who has travelled alone, atleast in Japan and has disliked it!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A new leash of life

Raising mummy, papa
Hello all, I am a testing lab rescued beagle, my name is Mishka.. I think thats my name, yes.
I am 4 years old and moved in with mummy, papa just 2 months back.
So far I am loving them very very much.
To be honest, I only took to liking them recently. For the first month, I was scared of this new house. There are hell lot of loud sounds here, it is hot as an oven and the other dog at home doesnt like me I think. I donno why, but I wont give up. I will continue enticing her till she becomes my friend.

The old aunty at home, gives me curd everyday and so I like her too.
Mummy, papa dint know how to take care of me initially, I had to take up the task of teaching them.
Papa would put gun sounds on tv all the time, mummy used to cuddle me so much that I would choke sometimes, papa used to try feeding me all the food that I never liked(thou I had eaten nothing but pedigree all these years, but I wont tell him that, so that he tries hard to invent yummy food for me), mama used to make dynamite sounds at home by dropping things on the floor and hitting herself against walls and screaming(am I new here or is she?!).
They did not know that I can bark and howl till I did that in the middle of the night one day and scared them, chuckles.. (oh, the joy of scaring these 2!!)

They spent hours experimenting on food to feed the finicky me and finally papa has found a good combination of meals, mummy also eventually learnt to boil eggs. She dropped a piece of a shell one day with the eggs(I am sure she dint do it on purpose) and I showed it to her so that she could be careful next time.
Papa is very careless and doesnt open the door after food for me to go potty outside. He is still causing some accidents in the house. I think mummy has to train him!
I have now taught them to cook, jump on bed like a dog and how to wake up people early mornings so that we can all play.

Its been 2 months since we got little Mishka home.. The day we went to get her, there were so many other beagles in tiny cages that, to start off with, we dint know how to choose a dog. When we kept going from cage to cage, most dogs looked frightened, crouched up in their cages and afraid to even look out. But this little wonder, when we went up to her, she was all curious as to who we  were, trying to smell us and wanting to come out of her cage.
In a way when, she selected us.
Since that day, she has kept us on our feet. For the first month, she was very scared of even the slightest of sounds as she wasnt exposed to any sound at all being locked up in an AC atmosphere all of her 4 years of life with no good human contact.
She was undernourished and scared all the while, it took a lot of our energy and time in convincing her that we wont harm her. Mama had to shed some tears when she was rejecting any and all the food.
Also, when we got her neutered, the very same day she was walking and trying to stay awake, being very insecure!
Thinking about all that, today we are in a very nice place. She is pretty happy to be with us and jumps on us and wants to play all day :) Though sometimes she just gazes into the sky and probably wonders how her friends are doing!
Lab testing on animals is such cruely no? They have life too, they have feelings too.
She was never tested on fortunately as they did not get permission to test on this batch of dogs as they had acquired this batch illegally.
Inspite of that, the emotional trauma they undergo must be quite severe for her to have been so self aware and insecure all the while!

Poor baby, whatever she has had to bear with in the past, all that is done with! She will only have lots and lots of love and pampering the rest of her life.
Kissing her as I write! ♥‿♥

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chikmagalur and around

My dad is always busy with work and so are all four of us.. dad, mom, sis and me! We figured we had not taken a trip in a long time as the dates never seem to match! So I thought, never procrastinate… that too when a good deed needs to be done :P

Luckily all of us adhered to the plan of just setting out the same weekend to make that long pending road trip to chikmagalur and around.

My dad always vacations with his gang of friends, so him being experienced, he arranged the vehicle, stay, where to eat, what to see and the route.

After seeing Hampi, I am a big fan of ancient stone temples, architecture, the sculptures and the like..
My sister was first against seeing Belur and Halebidu, but was delighted no end at the end of our first stop in this capital of Hoysala empire. The whether was not too hot as it had just rained a few days which made our walk in the sun bearable.
There is a saying in Kannada that reads "Halebidu hora nodu, Beluru vala nodu" which means "See the outside of Halebidu and the inside of Belur". Halebidu which literally means 'old town' looks definitely older than Belur. Most of the idols here are broken in a battle between the Hoysalas and a Sultanate. Halebidu had intricately carved depictures of lord Shiva and stories around him  on the outer arena.
Usually when I visit a temple, I never really give importance to the God being worshipped there, not that I am an atheist, but that doesnt just stick in my head. But if a temple is as beautiful as this one, it hard to ignore anything. I now learnt that the god worshipped at this temple, Hoysaleshwara was an incarnarion of Lord Shiva and there is a Nandi in all Shiva temples because he used to ride on Nandi the bull.

Halebidu temple outer arena

Nandi the vehicle of lord Shiva

The interior of Halebidu Hoysaleshwara temple

Intricute sculpures on the outer walls at Halebidu

After this stop at Halebidu, we went to see the inner beauty at Belur. Somebody approached us at the entrance claiming to be tour guide and that we would give us a receipt too, only it was 200 bucks! Never usually hire a guide anywhere, but we thought it would be a good idea to get some knowledge on the stuff that makes our history so impressive! While he walked us through most of the sculptures, we clicked enough pictures and had our mouths open all through out gaping at the intricacy of the soap stone carvings. If the guide had not pointed us to the minutest of things such as, an idol of a man playing music on his drums had even the dent in a man's drums worn out by use shown, the daasis(maids) walking the queen's dogs, the same dog barking at a snake in the garden and such multiple levels of hierarchy all carved out! Imagine having to carve out everything all over again if the sculptor had made one teeny-weeny mistake in an idol!
Anyway the guide made the sights more alluring :)
Also, Halebidu and Belur, the older and newer capitals of Hoysala empire are known as International jewellery box.. wonder why? well there idols of shilabalikas(barely clad curavcious women :P) adorning necklaces, anklets, bangles, earrings, bindis, maang thikas, almost all a woman likes to indulge in :)) carved in stone to serve as inspiration for generations to come.

A shilabalika dressing up and admiring her beauty

sculpted jewellery used by the royals of the empire

After this sojourn, we had lunch and headed to chikmagalur district. The town of chikmagalur itself doesnt have much to be seen.. its what it is surrounded by thats more interesting.. we saw a lot of coffee plantations and pepper creepers around tall trees on the way to our stay. What is the one thing we always did in chikmagalur is…eat every meal at 'town canteen' near mg road there. This is a small restaurant famous for masala dosa, coffee and gulab jamoon! and it certainly did live up to the hype created about it by a friend of dad's..

dad playing a game of gulli danda with the local kids at hiremagalur  during a pit stop

The next day we left early to hit the peak of Mullayanagiri, the highest peak in the state, before it would get too hot.
The view from atop was a breaktaking 3D view of hills and snaking roads and lush greenery! The temple perched on the peak was just as pristine as a temple should be, there were hardly any people, pin drop silence and the floor was sparkling clean. The yard was washed with cow dung and a rangoli layed out. So we sat inside the temple in the shade for quite a while before starting our descent.

the view from Mullayanagiri hills

the temple at the peak

On the way to Kemmanagundi from here, we made a stop at an unknown waterfall. The sign board did not suggest the name of this one. There was just a guy selling pineapple slices and he told us the name of this waterfall was Daddabe…  From the road the falls was not visible. We had immense fun at this one, taking short routes on difficult paths, to avoid the longer route downhill. There were many other people as well, so we joined in :)
Half way down, we heard the gushing water as it made its way between the leaves and rocks to hit the ground.
Most waterfalls are disappointing as some are man made, some have so much access that it gets very crowded to even hear the sound of water! But this one was quite unlike any other I had seen, hidden away, not easily reachable, was quite high and was in the midst of a lush green jungle. The water was pure and cold, the jungle forming a canopy around the valley, the water hitting the rocks and forming a beautiful pond on the ground. Would make for a perfect romantic day. I think on a weekday, the crowd wouldnt be there, so one can make a drive down from chikmagalur and spend about half a day here.. it was beautiful.

the walk down to reach daddabe

the waterfall at daddabe

The rest of the evening, we spent at Kemmanagundi, viewing the perfect sunset ever and exploring somewhere on our own to spot another water fall, by when mom was calling out to us as it was getting dark.

lush green hills and valleys of kemamnagundi

The next morning, we started back to Bangalore, but making many stops on the way, being silly, watching birds, clicking pictures and running in the middle of the woods. I donno if it was the scent of pure nature or the lack of thick, black smoky city air that made the drive so amazing. This trip has definitely been my closest tryst with nature. Loved each moment, every bird, every leaf and every particle of sand that I met with. As at the end of any trip, I did not want to leave. I hope the place remains as untouched.