Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Postcards from Japan : Zen gardens


During my trip to Japan earlier in April this year, I had the chance to visit a couple of zen gardens. Zen gardens are supposed to be places where one can meditate about the true meaning of life. These gardens usually have rocks, trees, water bodies and graveled pathways as landscape elements. Entering a zen garden is like getting transported to a different place through a portal, because once you are inside, you do not feel like you are in a city. It feels more like being in a quite, serene place, where you can sit around peacefully for hours. Capturing the essence of a place through photographs is not ever possible, but here are a few pictures anyway.


This is the Kyu-Yasuda garden


A walk amidst trees and bushes is so calming


Turtles and koi abound most zen garden ponds


Here is a koi swimming in the pond


A couple of turtles posing on the rock


And here is one of them swimming in the pond


This is the Yokoamicho park right next to the Kyu Yasuda garden.
The rows of trees as seen above is beautiful


There is a pond in the Yokoamicho park, and there are ducks in it too


Add to it, some cherry blossoms (not seen in the picture) and roses, and I was absolutely in love with zen gardens


Photographs can only capture visuals, but the feel of a place can only be experienced once you visit yourself. Japan is a beautiful place and if you need excuses to visit, here are 10 reasons why you must do so. I will be back with more postcards from my travels soon. Till then, have a great day!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Postcards from the skies : Shots from a plane


Clicking pictures from an aeroplane is not exactly an ideal setting for photography. First of all there is the constant vibration which needs to be contended with. The narrow window opening leaves you with no other choice than to lean and almost glue the camera's lens into the window (in case you want to capture the scene without the window edges). And I hate it sometimes when there are dust particles on the exterior. All that of course matters only if you get a window seat, and a row from where your view is not hindered too much by the wings.

On my way to Tokyo from Bangalore last April though, most of these factors worked out for me, and I did manage to get a few decent shots somewhere over Kuala Lampur. Here are a few of them.









More photographs from my travels will feature this Saturday. Stay happy, stay blessed and keep traveling. Have a great day!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Travel tips : 13 things to do before you set foot in Japan





As with any international trip, a trip to Japan demands some amount of planning and preparation. Many a time we go on a visit, and realize after reaching there that we could have avoided a lot of inconveniences if we had arranged for this and researched on that.
You already have 10 reasons why you must visit Japan, and you also know how much money you require for it. Now let me give you a list of 13 things you need to do to make your trip to Japan a reality.


BOOK YOUR TICKETS 

Let us start with the most obvious one, booking your tickets. The important thing is not that you need to book your tickets; I know all of you know this. More important is when do you book them. It is vital that you book your tickets well in advance to save on unnecessary splurging, and the most ideal time is around 4-6 months is advance. If you are lucky, you might find great offers at Air Asia


PREPARE A BASIC ITINERARY

It is not necessary to have a detailed itinerary ready before you leave, but you must have a rough idea on how much time you are going to assign to each place. Do your research, pick the places you will definitely visit, and leave enough room for spontaneous changes in plan. To make your job a little easier, I will put up a post very soon on the places worth visiting in Japan.


PRE-BOOK YOUR STAY

The reason why I said that you should have a rough idea about the amount of time you are going to spend in each place, is because it will then be easier to book your accommodation in advance. Try for hostels or Airbnb's because they will work out cheaper. Else, hotels are always there. I cannot comment on how easy or though it is to arrange for stay once you are in Japan, but I suppose it if nothing, you can always find a capsule hotel.


APPLY FOR VISA

A visa for Japan takes about 7-10 days, but it is always advisable to consider the worst case scenario too in case your visa gets rejected the first time. So keep some time at hand and apply for it about 3 or even 4 weeks in advance. A list of all documents required to apply for a 90-day tourist visa can be found here


APPLY FOR PERMISSION TO VISIT CERTAIN PLACES

I did not have problems regarding this, because none of the places I had visited required any kind of permissions. But in case some very unusual or elite place is on your list which requires prior permission, do not forget to write to the concerned authorities well in advance.


GET A JR PASS

JR pass is must when you visit Japan. It might seem to be an expensive affair on paper, but trust me, it will be way more expensive if you do not take it. You can find all the information on japanrailpass.net, and you can even apply for the pass here. Once you pay for it, they will courier you the pass, which you will have to activate once you reach Japan. The delivery to India should take about 7-10 days, but again, you should get the pass made with at least 3 weeks in hand.


GET WIFI/SIM CARD

I have written a good deal about why you should opt for a wifi device rather than getting a sim card in my post about the budget required for Japan. This actually can be done about a week before only, because you can pay for the device online, and will only have to collect it once you land. Check out Japan wireless for more information regarding what product you would like to opt for.


CARRY AN ADAPTOR

The plugs used in Japan vary from the ones used in India. Here we have a voltage of 230V, but in Japan, the standard is 100V. For more information regarding plug types, visit whatplug.info. Simply put, it is advisable to buy one before leaving, to charge your laptops and mobile phones there.


ARRANGE FOR A TRAVEL CARD

Rather than using your debit/credit cards there, use a travel money card. First of all, it works out much cheaper in case you want to withdraw or swipe your card, compared to debit/credit cards. Secondly, the exchange rate is locked at the time of loading cash in the travel card, so a sudden change in rates do not effect you at all. It is advisable to apply for a card at least 8-10 days before you leave, because it takes a little bit of time to load money into the card.


CARRY A LOT OF CASH

Japan is predominantly a cash oriented economy. The only places where you can withdraw cash is at atm machines located in 7 eleven stores and post offices, and nowhere else. Most of the places do not even accept cards as a form of payment. So it is very important to carry a lot of cash with you. In my case, I carried about 60% of my total money in cash, and the rest in my travel card. 


CARRY A POUCH FOR A LOT OF COINS

Japan has notes for denominations of over 1000 yen, and for everything else, there are just coins. There are coins starting from 1 yen to 500 yen, and after spending a few days there, you will realize that carrying around so many coins is not very easy on your wallet. So if you can, get some extra pouch for coins only.


FIGURE OUT YOUR FOOD PREFERENCES

Japanese food is a little different in terms of flavour, and even though I enjoyed everything thoroughly there, I have heard many people say that they do not like it that much. The problem is a thousandfold for vegetarians because almost everything there has some amount of non vegetarian elements. It is not that you will not find vegetarian restaurants, but they are way lesser in number than non vegetarian ones. So if you are fussy about food, or worse a vegetarian or a vegan, you might want to carry some ready made mixes from home only.


LEARN BASIC THINGS ABOUT JAPANESE CULTURE

Japan has a very unique culture and it differs from ours in many ways. Luckily they are the nicest people ever, and would not kill us if we make a mistake or two. But as a sign of respect or courtesy, we must make an effort at least not to end up doing things which are outright offensive for them. For one, we Indians are way too loud, and Japanese are the polar opposites. If you are in a public place, or traveling in the metro or bus, it is considered very impolite to talk or make any noise. People are very hardworking there and you will often find people sleeping on their way back home, which is why it is imperative that we maintain complete silence at that time. There are a lot of mannerisms involving the use of chopsticks too, like not keeping a pair of them over each other in a cross, and not using chopsticks to pass a plate or a bowl etc. There are way too many to be written here, but please do your research before you go. There are a lot of videos on youtube on that and spending 3-4 hours will save you a lot of embarrassment.



So these are all the things I could think that you must do before you set foot in Japan. It is not an exhaustive list and you can prepare even better I suppose. If you require any additional information about the things I mentioned above, you can leave a comment below. Next, I will prepare a list of places to visit when you are in Japan's capital, Tokyo. So stay tuned, keep traveling and have a great day!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Postcards from Kerala : The scenic dwellings


I do not know exactly what title should I have for this post. I have already posted photographs from a beautiful morning in Mananthavady, of the mighty Banasura sagar dam, and of a mesmerizing sunset at Kozhikode from this trip. But I did not want to leave out photographs closer to the places we had stayed in. These are not 'touristy' places, but as beautiful, if not more, than many other better known places. 


For the first couple of days of my trip, I put up in my friend's place in Mananthavady. His house is located in the countryside and surrounded by fields, trees and greenery. Add stars to the list after it gets dark.






The trees hide behind a layer of fog in the morning, and the experience is just surreal. And all this is visible from a nice, spacious balcony in the house.




In a post like this where I am trying to cover photographs over 4 days, continuity is definitely a problem. That is why I suggest that you also check out the links above about my experiences in Manathavady and Kozhikode. Just to give you a background though, the reason for this short trip was to attend my friend's engagement ceremony. But seeing as many places as possible in Kerala was also part of my plan.


Anyway, after 3 days, the engagement was over. We drove from Mananthavady straight to Kozhikode, and we stayed in an Airbnb room there just for one night. But the room was located in a beautiful setting, right next to a lake. This is more than anyone can ask for if one is looking for an escape from the the city life.




I went out for a walk around the area with my camera early in the morning. The view was just amazing in all directions.




We had to leave early in the morning the next day, but we actually got really late. The reason? We were sitting like this for hours and just did not want to leave.






Eventually it was time though, and we could not laze around any longer. I would really love to come back to these places again someday. And just like that, my short trip to Kerala got over. 

I have been a little off schedule with my posts this week, but I will get back with more postcards from my travels every Wednesday and Saturday from here on. I am out of postcards from God's own country, so join me this Wednesday to find out where the next series will come from. Keep traveling, keep visiting and have a great day!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Travel diaries : Japan (Part V)

If you haven't read the previous posts in the series, click on the links below

Travel diaries : Japan (Part I)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part II)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part III)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part IV)


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Distance between Tokyo and Kyoto by road : Around 450 kilometers
Time required to travel that distance by road : Approximately 7-8 hours
Time required to travel the same distance by bullet trains (Shinkansen) : 2 hours and 20 minutes

In addition to this, they are comfortable to travel in, you get all sorts of food from food carts attending to every passenger, and they have smoking rooms inside the train which feels like some futuristic space pods. Need I say more to convince you how awesome they are?


Anyway, we left Tokyo around noon and from being in one of the busiest cities in the world, we transitioned into the much calmer surroundings of Kyoto, in a matter of just a couple of hours. Alright, I'll be honest here. I had no idea what Kyoto will be like, but I knew it was the cultural capital of Japan. People say that Kyoto is the polar opposite of Tokyo, and I imagined there will be six out of the two thousand seven hundred and thirty five (imaginary number, please ignore!) shrines right outside the railway station. I was so ignorant that I thought buses were the only means of transportation in the city. When I came out of the station, all these myths evaporated faster than Virat Kohli starts swearing on the field. 

I am obviously not saying that it is the same as Tokyo is, it's just that I expected a relatively 'backward' place, more like a small town. But Kyoto has a well connected metro system, and even better bus connectivity. The roads were as clean as it was in Tokyo, the buildings almost as tall. Just like in Tokyo, every single person was well dressed, and not one looked deprived of food or money. 

Assimilating the brand new surroundings and getting amazed every moment, I took a bus from the metro station to the hostel. It was around 3 P.M already, and I was already behind schedule, considering I left Tokyo late (if you remember from the previous post, my friends left for Kyoto early, and I stayed back to visit the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo). So I dropped my stuff, freshened up a little and left for the Fushimi Inari shrine. 

I don't want to bore you with a lot of history, but to tell you briefly, Fushimi Inari shrine is the head shrine of Inari. Inari in turn is a type of Shinto shrine, and Shinto is the ethnic religion of Japan. In short, this shrine has a lot of significance.

The time was perfect when I reached the shrine. It was just before sunset and the mild, diffused light enhanced the beauty of this place. I roamed around the place, and then realized that this peace, this feel, wasn't there to be found anywhere in Tokyo. Maybe this is the difference people refer to, and I was slowly understanding it. 







By the time I was done exploring the shrine complex, it was past sunset, and I was lost and alone. I had no means to contact anybody, so I was sitting next to the shrine, feeling the calm more than ever. Fortunately, about half an hour later, I saw all my friends heading to the exit, and I joined them too. We had gone as a group of 17 but had hardly ever spent time together, owing mainly to my disappearances. So we all gathered, went out for dinner, and got back to the hostel to retire for the night.

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The next morning started quite late. We were all supposed to go check out the flea market at the Kitanu tenmangu mae, and I was taking a walk around the hostel till the others got ready. The flea market is open only on the 25th of every month, and we were lucky that we were there for it. So after getting ready and having breakfast, we took the bus to go to the shrine.

The flea market had a great variety of stuff, ranging from food, mementos, crockery and vintage items just to name a few. I thought I'll keep the shopping for later, and decided to check out the shrine first. The shrine looks really beautiful, and well maintained. I was alone as usual, and clicked away at everything which looked interesting and beautiful. The shrine is spread over a considerable area, so much so that it must have taken me more than an hour to explore all of it. 











By the time we got done with the shrine, shopping at the flea market and getting something to eat, it was close to 4:30 P.M. The plan was to go to Kiyamizu dera after this, but it would close by 6 P.M. and we would not be able to make it on time, so we had to call that off. So the entire evening was ahead of us with no proper plan in place. I decided to do what I like doing the best... to walk around the city and look at it from non-touristy eyes.

We went back to the hostel, checked out some nearby shops for some more goodies, then left for the Gion district on foot. Gion, being a traditional entertainment district, is now Kyoto's most famous geisha district. By the time we went, it was close to 8 P.M and hardly anything was open inside. We were hoping to catch sight of a geisha or two, but no such luck. We walked around for about half an hour and then we exited.




When I explain this in words it sounds pretty boring, but we did a lot more walking after that. In fact, baring a couple of hours we spent in a tiny pub somewhere, we kept walking around the city well past midnight. 

The walk itself wasn't unadventurous by any means. There is a river going through Kyoto, called Kamo. It is quite shallow, as deep as just 1 meter at certain places. We found places near the river to sit peacefully and just chill out. There were cherry blossom trees to enhance the experience and give a more Japan-feel to it.





Then, as we kept walking aimlessly, we ended up reaching some red light area, where we could see suited pimps standing guard outside some buildings. Nobody told us this actually, but we figured it ourselves because we kept walking around the same loop again and again. As we were wandering here and there though, we spotted a couple of geishas in their traditional kimonos, escorting a few people to their taxis. A friend of mine got so excited that she almost ran after them to click a picture. I didn't do that though, so I don't actually have proof that I saw them at all. Damn, I should have taken one picture at least!





I feel like I have mentioned this in one of the posts before too, but I'll say it again anyway. So at some point around midnight, we found a place right next to the street to sit. We left a few minutes later, but my friend forgot his phone there. He remembered a couple of hours later that he left it somewhere. So we traced our way back, having zero hopes of finding it, but when we reached that spot, the phone was kept there, untouched. This incident speaks volumes about a country and the values it imparts to its citizens. Someone could have easily sneaked it inside his/her pocket, but no, they do not steal. They even keep the cycles and bikes on the streets with keys in them, but nobody will ever take them. I was already in love with this country, and now I also had the utmost respect for them. 


Thanking our stars that he forgot his phone in a country like Japan and not anywhere else, we went back to the hostel. One of the most scenic places in Japan, the Arashiyama bamboo forest was yet to be covered, and it was scheduled for the next day, along with a few other places. To read about all that, stay tuned. My laptop broke down last week, so I got delayed uploading this post, but I will try my best to get everything back on track, and get my next 'Travel diaries' post up by next Monday. Have a great day folks!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Postcards from Kerala : Sunset at Kozhikode


My friend's engagement at Mananthavady was an enjoyable affair. It was a reunion of sorts, with many of our friends coming down to attend the ceremony from different parts of the country. But it was over all too soon, and we had to make our way back to Bangalore to slide back into our 9-6 jobs. Before we did that though, we thought of taking a detour through Kozhikode and stay there for a night. 

It was the 14th of March, 2017. We left from Mananthavady in the morning at around 9, and by the time we reached Kozhikode, it was past noon. As the place is known for some great food, we filled our stomachs to the brim and drove around a bit. We were a little disappointed initially, because the trip to the market place wasn't as fruitful as we had hoped. It was a hot afternoon too, which made things worse. We then drove to the beach, and it was by far the highlight of the trip. The breeze worked on us like elixir, and the soft evening light rejuvenated us completely. We had a really good time just walking around and chilling by the beach. The sky was beautiful and I couldn't resist taking my camera out to take some shots. Even though we wanted to reach our hotel room before sunset, we just could not move from there. We had to experience it here, and it was absolutely worth it. These are some of the shots I managed to take that evening.












I hope you enjoyed the photographs. I try to present better content each time, so if you have any suggestions or advice, feel free to put it down in the comments below. Some more postcards from my travels will be put up by Saturday. Stay tuned and have a great Puja vacation!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Postcards from Kerala : Banasura sagar dam

Located in Wayanad, Kerala, Banasura sagar dam is the largest earth dam in India. It is spread across a huge area and seemed almost like a river to me. The speedboat ride was really thrilling and it should definitely not be missed if you visit. Anyway, here are a few photographs that I took that day.


Took this from the speedboat, somewhere in the middle of the dam


View of the dam from the bank






One of the speedboats taking people around the lake


I hope you like the pictures. I will be back with more postcards from Kerala this Wednesday. Do visit and check it out. Wish you all a great weekend. Keep traveling!