We are met at the airport by our guide, Tula, and our driver, Rinzin.
(In an effort to avoid overwhelming numbers of visitors, Bhutan practices ‘high-value, low-impact’ tourism. This means most foreign visitors must travel with a booked package, at a substantial daily rate, including a guide and a driver.)
Paro isn’t the biggest town in Bhutan, but it is where the international airport is located.
On our way to the hotel, we pass groups of young monks.
Our hotel is a training ground for a local hospitality college.
The view from our hotel.
Our first stop is the Rinpung Dzong. A dzong is a fortress/temple.
It’s an ‘auspicious day’, so the monastery has many visitors. These local girls and women wear the kira, the national garment for women.
This lone girl dances to her own inner rhythm.
Up the hill is a national museum, currently under repair for earthquake damage.
The grouping of white prayer flags are a memorial for a deceased person.
According to Tula, they should be ‘high up and overlooking a river.’
We hike up into the surrounding hills.
We drop in on a small monastery. Tula discreetly checks if anyone is home. The resident monk is in town, running errands.
They have a bird hospital. We are interested in visiting – our favourite charity in Ottawa is the Wild Bird Care Centre – but visiting hours are over. Next time we’re in town, perhaps.
We struggle through the Brueghelian chaos of Chandni Chowk to get to the Red Fort.
Not far from our neighbourhood is Connaught Place, with its faded colonial glory.
It’s 45 degrees Celsius. Everyone – including us – is trying to conserve their energy.
Another day we visit the neighbourhood of Hauz Khas. Among other sights are these 15-16th century mausoleums, the Dadi – Poti (‘grandmother-granddaughter’ ) tombs. We wander around and soak up the antiquity.
Sight or Insight of the day
As we mentioned, it is 45 degrees Celsius in Delhi. A local temple hands out free cups of liquid refreshment.
Interesting historical fact: until 1872, eating meat was banned in Japan for over 1,200 years.
We are in Osaka, our original point of entry, for the third time. And for the third time we stay at the Tani9 Backpackers.
It seems so long ago that we first arrived in Japan, slightly overwhelmed by the hectic pace and unfamiliar culture after laid-back New Zealand. The atmosphere at the Tani9 is so relaxed and friendly, we ended up spending five days here as we acclimatize. It’s good to be back.
And we get to see Akubi again.
We take a day trip to Nara, once the capital of Japan. The temples are known for their tame deer.
The Tale of Genji is a strange thing. Over 1,200 pages long, it’s a ‘novel of manners’ written in the 11th century by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu.
Like many great works, you get the feeling it might contain entire worlds between its covers. Don’t know if I’ll ever get to read it, though; my dwindling stock of days in this world probably preclude starting 1,000-plus-paged novels. (No terminal illnesses – simply age.) Too bad there’s not a Classics Illustrated version.
The last ten chapters (out of 54) take place in Uji. Hence the location of the museum. The building is attractive – sleek and modern.
Wandering in Uji, there is a street fair going on. I sample some of the best grilled tuna I’ve ever tasted.
In Kyoto itself, we come across a crew demolishing an old Kyoto-style wooden building. Sad.
But of course many parts of Kyoto retain their charm.
In Kyoto, seeing groups of women – or couples – dressed in full geisha gear is common. Seeing a group of teenage boys much less so.
Then back to Tokyo for six days. One of our first stops is the Hokusai Museum.
Katsushika Hokusai reminds us of Rembrandt Van Rijn. Both artists spent most of their lives in the same neighbourhood, probably never traveling further than 100 KMs from home, but creating an entire cosmos in their work.
The Great Wave Off Kanagawa – the original:
Which inspires many variations, such as this Van Gogh-style effort:
For those who like rabbits…
…or for those who like pugs (you know who you are!):
From the sub-Arctic ambiance of Hokkaido we fly to the sultry tropical atmosphere of Okinawa.
Okinawa has an interesting history. In a nutshell:
The Ryukyu Kingdom, a separate entity, enjoys independence as a prosperous intermediary in trade between China and Japan.
Japan annexes it in the 1870s.
The Battle of Okinawa rages on the island in 1945 as a stepping stone for the invasion of the mainland. The Japanese army essentially uses the entire civilian population as human shields, shooting those who use Okinawan dialect as spies and urging group suicides.
The US administers Okinawa directly until 1972. Okinawa reverts to Japan.
Okinawans become increasingly disenchanted with having a significant area of the country occupied by American bases. Besides the risk of so much military activity in heavily-urbanized zones, crimes committed by US personnel are a problem.
We rent a car. His name is Suzuki, after David, and, well, because he’s a Suzuki.
After picking up our car at the airport, we get lost in a labyrinth of ridiculously narrow alleyways in between broad but unidentifiable major streets in Naha, the main town. Turns out that southern Okinawa is one continuous conglomeration of citified confusion.
We eventually find our minshuku, which is like a Japanese B & B.
On the road, we visit a Ryoko-era fort at Nagasuku. There are at least 30 of these around Okinawa.
The stonework in these is amazing.
We have the entire site to ourselves – probably because of the rain.
Okinawa is very urban, especially the southern part. We expect more of a tranquil, unpopulated idyll like Sado and Hokkaido. This is not the case.
We’re going to cheat here and offer web-search photos of the urbanized south. And the more scenic north.
After a few days, Suzuki gets a flat tire and has to be towed back to Naha. There is no spare tire – only a ‘puncture repair kit’ that has no instructions in English.
This is one of those travel tales in which strange things happen. While parked up with the flat, a man in a snazzy Mercedes Benz actually scrapes our bumper and we have to get the police involved. Long story. But it ends well.
We pick up a new vehicle to replace Suzuki. We name him Satoshi, after Satoshi Nakamoto.
This vehicle has mind-blowing gas mileage. We are half way around the island before the fuel gauge even begins to go down.
These guardian spirits on rooftops are an Okinawa tradition. If they weren’t so heavy, we’d send one or two home.
We reach Cape Hedo, the northernmost point of Okinawa. (This seems to be a recent theme, going to the ‘northernmost point’ of places.)
At Cape Hedo, the water is unbelievably clear. We see groups of large blue fish swimming near the shore, which don’t really show up in this photo.
Among the wildlife on the island are wild boar.
Back in Naha. Naha has an extensive monorail system.
Maria risks losing a limb to take this photo.
We get a seat right up front.
There is a well-known aquarium here that features two live whale sharks. This is reflected in a sculpture created from potted flowers in front of the Okinawa Prefectual Museum.
As well as the whale shark motif on this JAL aircraft we see at Naha Airport as we leave for the mainland.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Okinawa
People who know us know that we like rabbits. There is a brand of car in Japan called a ‘Lapin‘.
The front badge sports bunny ears.
As does the dot over the ‘I’ in the rear badge.
If we could, we’d load one into a container and send it back to Canada.
One of Lake Akan’s claims to fame are these marimo, or round balls of algae.
Wikipedia says the marimo population is declining. Probably because the tourist shops are full of jars of marimo for sale as souvenirs.
Lots of wildlife in Hokkaido. We see deer on the road. And foxes.
We see this one in the middle of the road. When we stop, not only does he not run away, he casually trots back to our car to have a closer look.
While driving on the Shiretoko Peninsula early in the morning, we see a mamma bear and two cubs crossing the road. We only catch a fleeting glimpse through the mist, but we are impressed.
The bears here in Hokkaido are huge, unlike the ones on Honshu. They’re related to grizzlies. I’ve lived in Canada most of my life and I’ve never seen a wild bear. Strange that the first country I see one in is Japan.
The Shiretoko Peninsula is has a very remote feel.
At the top of the Shiretoko Pass, you can see the Russian island of Kunashir in the Sea of Okhotsk. (In fact, the Russians stole this island and others at the end of WWII. Long story.)
While driving we run into a severe dust storm.
From time to time, we stop in Japanese roadhouses called Michi-no-Eki. This one is shaped like a cargo ship.
It has interesting local products for sale.
We reach Wakkanai, the northernmost point of Japan.
There is an irregular ferry from here to nearby Sakhalin Island in Russia. (Sakhalin Island became known to the world when the Soviets shot down a Korean Airlines 747.)
Throughout the north of Hokkaido you see abandoned homesteads. We remember seeing similar sights in Iceland.
We guess that some environments are just too severe to live in. Especially in winter.
We carry on down the west coast of Hokkaido.
We come to Otaru, a former major trading town. A canal runs through the centre.
There are warehouses left over from the glory days.
We make our way overland, passing Mount Yotei, the ‘Mount Fuji of the North’.
Just north of Noboribetsu is Jigokudani, or ‘Hell Valley’. At the entrance is a giant demon. Apparently, they are the legendary inhabitants in Hell Valley – good demons who protect the numerous hot springs.
Volcanic activity in the area provides colourful sulfur pools…
…with that distinctive rotten-egg smell.
We do a few short hikes.
We soothe our feet in a natural hot mineral stream.
So do other hikers.
Summer arrives in Hokkaido at last.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Hokkaido Road Trip
All over Hokkaido, we notice these arrow signs over the road every 100 meters or so.
This because it snows a LOT in Hokkaido in winter, and sometimes the snow makes it difficult to figure out where the edge of the road is.