… With that, we headed to lunch at the Kangaan temple.We were seated four to a table and the traditional lunch for Buddhist monks came out with four pieces of each item on each dish – one for each person seated at the table. The food though was so beautiful, it seemed like a shame to eat it. In fact, it was so beautiful that I passed on eating an orchid. As we ate, we realized that there was more food coming – in fact there were a total of 13 courses. Out of the 13 courses that were all visual delights- I ended up with four favourites – the sweet pumpkin, the battered chillies, the seaweed cooked in soy sauce and the vermicelli noodles. I would gladly have eaten an entire meal of just those four items. The chillies were in fact so good that I ate all the chillies from my neighbouring table since they didn’t want to have any – they really don’t know what they missed ^^. The final course was watermelon (something I finally recognized) and we were then ready to start our hectic post-lunch tour to visit 3 historical landmarks in Kyoto.
It took a while though to get us out of the temple just because their garden was so beautiful, with its carefully trimmed trees, its traditional water fountains and stone work.Our first post-lunch stop was The Golden Pavillion, Kinkaku, a place we nearly skipped over because we had seen a manga museum on the way to lunch. Thankfully, the manga museum closed early and we ended up at the Golden Pavillion. It was possibly one of the best decisions we made on the trip. The pavillion is like a golden jewel surrounded by breathtaking greenery and a lake filled with Koi and turtles. I can only imagine how stunning it will look in spring and autumn. Tourists thronged to get their picture taken with the temple in the backdrop and it seemed like a far cry from the Black Temple nickname it had been given once when its gold leaf plating had worn and turned black. After the unfortunate nickname, it was thankfully restored to its former glory, this time with 5 layers of gold leaf which are checked every day for signs of blackening. I would love to come back here, hopefully in better weather and hopefully in silence and solitude, to better appreciate the beauty of the place. From Kinkaku-ji we headed to the Ryoanji Temple to see the rock garden- a traditional Buddhist Japanese garden without trees or water and filled with only white sand/gravel and 15 rocks arranged in a 5-3-2-3-2 pattern such that from no angle, except aerial I assume, can you see all 15 rocks. This fits in with their ideology that one should not be too attached to worldly things. The garden can be interpreted in many ways- a river filled with swimming tigers, a sea of clouds with mountain peaks and a sea dotted with islands. I’m leaning towards the second interpretation myself. The purpose of the visit is relaxation and meditation but once open to tourists, meditation takes a back seat as people are occupied with taking pictures and moving on. We managed to spend quite some time there relaxing and looking at the hypnotically raked sand. What I found remarkable was my first view of a cherry blossom tree. We were looking at a brochure of the garden with a picture taken in spring and when we looked up to spot the tree, we found a sad tree with leaves all drooping – not a single clue of what the tree can look like in spring. It’s a bit like people I suppose that way. As we left the rock garden, we walked through a beautiful tree-lined path and I’ll be honest when I say I can’t say what I liked better- the rock garden or the tree-lined path, Possibly the latter. Our final stop of the day was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, or maybe it was the shopping around the area. I can’t tel what the primary attraction was but for me it was the forest. The shops, we learnt, close rather early by UAE standards- 5 or 6pm usually which meant that for those interested in shopping, they had to move fast. I was only interested in reaching the forest, but I managed to pick up some souvenirs along the way. Towards the entrance of the forest we spotted a graveyard which we told was reserved for people who belonged to this particular temple. The forest itself was enchanting and noticeably cooler than the humid streets, with towering bamboo swaying in the wind. Since bamboo grows incredibly fast, we were told that it had to be tended to regularly especially during the rainy season. We left the forest and headed to the Togetsukyo Bridge, or Moon Crossing Bridge, which was our rendezvous location. Over a huge river, even the bridge is full of history and tradition. Rebuilt in the 30s, this is bridge is the bridge that young girls cross leaving their parents on one side of the bridge and heading to the temple to pray on the other side, as a sort of coming of age event. The bridge and surrounding mountains are actually a sight to be seen in spring and autumn which now makes me want to go back to Japan even more. Dinner was a very halal Turkish affair at Istanbul Saray and after all the walking, I ate like I was famished, having burned our 13 course lunch away. (You can check out a list of halal restaurants in Kyoto here). Dessert was Muhalabiyya followed by tea – real black tea. I’m still struggling to develop a liking for green tea. After a packed day, I only realized how out of shape I was when I fell asleep in the bus. It’s a good thing I’d decided to join the gym after this trip – this trip was like the perfect warm-up. 🙂
Stay Tuned for Day 3 Part 1