Dinner time, at a Japanese Restaurant, close to the University, my phone rings; balancing my loaded tray, I fish out my phone from the jeans pocket, don’t bother to look who is calling, and call out.. moshi… moshi..; to my surprise, I hear Malayalam from the other end! Saji Raju, from Osaka, was on the phone. He and his friends had made plans for a road trip to Hiroshima and neighboring areas. The guy who was supposed to drive them around had some other business of his own, and won’t be able to join them… they were short of a driver!.. The Q was simple, “Do you have a Japanese Drivers’ License?”. Yup, I said… “Well, Can you join us for the trip, we are getting an 8-seater Toyota car”.. “Hmm.. that sounds fun.. Okay Am in”…
Never before was a plan made this quick… and as usual, with all li’l planned trips this too was simply great! I left to Osaka by train, where I met Saji Raju. Together, we rented a Toyota Alfard; great car it is, and left for Santha, where the others were. Stayed over night at Santha, and drove to Miyajima early in the morning..
The drive was simply awesome.. Express way… 3.0 l engine… an enthusiastic crowd in the rear seat.. asking me to step on the gas.. the scenic landscape that Japan presented… the simply marvelous tunnels.. hmm.. I could go on adding to the list.. Simply put.. it was phenomenal!
The drive took us some 4 hours; with a couple of stops. By around 9:30 we had passed Hiroshima, and were at Miyajima bay, on the shore of the Inland Sea. We found a place to park the car, and got the ferry ticket. There are some wonderful offers on the ticket for the tourist. We settled on a two-day pass, issued by JR; which included unlimited times on the ferry, and the local shuttle to Hiroshima for 2 days. We could also use the cable car to the top of Mt. Misen with the same pass.. All for 2,000 ¥, deal it was! The car parking too came in cheap at 1,000 ¥ for 24 hrs.
We had had a glimpse of the bay, and the torri; when we had a coffee stop, high up on the express way. We could make out the red spot, that was the famous torri, and loads of oyster nets in the bay. But the view that we got from the ferry was in no comparison to what any of us had expected. As we closed on the island of Miyajima, the gate kept on growing in size, reaching prodigious proportions once we reached its base. hmm.. Now; I missed something there.. The ferry doesn’t actually take you to the base of the torri; we got down at the ferry terminal, and it is some 5 minutes walk, meandering through umpteen number of souvenir shops and restaurants.
Well, may be it is time, I add li’l bit about Miyajima here.. Itsukushima shrine (厳島神社), a Shinto shrine, dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, the deity of the sea and the storms, brother to the sun goddess; Amaterasu; is located on the island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima, just outside Hiroshima, in the inland sea. The shrine complex, is listed as a UNESCO World heritage site, and as Japanese National treasure.
The island itself is considered sacred, and commoners were not allowed in there for long time. The shrine is on a pier over the water, and appears floating, separate from the land, existing as a gate to the sacred land. The torri, the huge red gate, which has become the signature of Miyajima, was also built with the same idea; people had to steer through the gate, to reach the holy land of the Gods.
It was low tide when we reached the shrine, and we could walk all the way to the base of the red signature gate. But that waited till all of had our photos taken with the floating wonder in the background.. The blue skies, the blue waters, the mountains of the main land in the back drop, and the red of the gate in the foreground.. no clue on how they could not keep this away from Nihon Sankei (日本三景), one of the three most scenic places in Japan. Photographic opportunities aplenty, armed with tools ranging from mobile phones to huge cameras, people walked around the huge structure, marveling at the simplicity of the design, and the wondrous way it is fixed to the ground, or rather, half fixed – half floating on the ocean floor, so that, when the tide comes in.. the entire structure appears floating.. engineering marvel and architectural simplicity clubbed together with perfect natural background; unique…; glorious!
Time flew by; and we never noticed, for we were still drinking in the beauty of the scene.. and then, someone said.. ‘hey its past lunch time, and we need to go up Mt. Misen, and come back before the sunset”. Reluctantly we moved in to the shrine. Walked in through the floating verandas, keeping our cameras busy. The temple complex is composed of two pagodas, one of each side, a huge temple structure; where verandas occupy a huge space, couple of small temple buildings, and two museums. It took us more than an hour to walk around the place, and even then, we had to leave some of the outer shrines, for it was getting late.
After a hurried lunch, we hurried up to the cable car station; where we were greeted by a long queue. An hour of waiting, and we were in the cable car going up. The first car takes you to the half way point on the mountain. We got down at the station, hiked up a little way and got in the second car. This car gives you the view of your lifetime. The car kind of goes on the side of a cliff, facing the inland sea. Though the ride takes less than 5 minutes, it is one of the most beautiful rides, I have ever taken.
Once on the top, the view was even more breathtaking. We spent hours doing nothing but staring at the blue of the ocean, and the skies, trying to make out shapes from the cottony fluffy clouds, and well, trying hard for some clicking time. Once we had the fill of this amazing landscape, we hiked up to the peak of the mountain, for more views of the amazing inland sea. En-route, we also visited a shrine where a 1200 year old fire is still burning at Daisyō-in (大聖院), (story is that the flame was lit at the foundation of the temple back in A.D 806, by Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師); and that the flame at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was taken from here).
Atop, the view, was beyond portraiture. Huge rocks, carved on by the winds, on the foreground, the blue of the sea and that of the sky; complementing on each other and at times competing and showing off their glory, the bay dotted with small and big; tree-clad islands, the horizon guarded by the mountainous main land… it was simply ‘wow’ moments..
After spending some time enjoying the view, we hiked back to the shrine. We reached the Torri right when the sun decided to say good bye for the day. Did I say, the Torri looked amazing in the morning, well it was nothing comparable to how it was now. The display of sun’s grandeur, the sky filled with all known shades of red, the red torri, and its reflection in the water, add to that, the complementing lighting systems that underline the show with glitters.. Amazing to the next degree!
More photos later, we took the ferry back to the main land. We had beds booked at Miyajima Backpackers, good place, good hosts, and a good crowd of tourists and native Japanese welcomed us here. After a BBQ dinner, and loads of talking, we retired for the day. Next day, it was the drive to Hiroshima, but that is a different story all together!