‘Tis the season to satiate your wanderlust cravings, so why not do something you have always dreamt of? Slow down in Slovenia, or get ready to live your diving dream in Zanzibar; soak in the Sakura season in Japan or feel the calm at one of the monasteries, or maybe take the road less trodden in the reclusive city of Jaffna, just as these travel writers did. Make the most of your precious holidays in 2017 and get a slice of your own paradise…
Messengers of Shinto Gods
Nara National Park, Japan: For animal lovers visiting Japan, the extremely unique Nara Park will be an experience of a lifetime. Over 1200 wild deer live openly in this area, right next to the city, in perfect harmony with locals and tourists alike. Visitors get to pet the deer, feed them specially made cookies and have an experience of a lifetime in close company of these beautiful animals. During my visit to Japan, I had a day to spare and had to choose between visiting Mount Fuji or Nara. After much deliberation I decided to skip Mount Fuji and headed to Nara instead. I am glad I made that decision. I had planned a short stopover at Nara before heading to my next destination, but ended up spending almost a day here. Deer cookies can be bought from local vendors for about 150 yen (around 90 rupees) for 7-8 cookies. Deer eat out of your hands and demand even more. Children love the experience. The deer at Nara are a national treasure. Locals believe they are the messengers of Shinto gods. It was pure bliss to spend my time in the park in the company of deer. However, the deer in Nara park are wild animals and not domesticated pets. Their loyalty to you will be as long as you have food to offer. They don’t fancy getting petted for free without food. Occasionally they may even attack visitors, hence one needs to be cautious. I found deer of all kinds – a few very comfortable with humans around and others a bit shy or scared of humans.
Inside tip: Visit Nara in the morning half. By noon, the deer will be least active, having eaten enough out of tourists’ hands and preferring to sleep in the shade.
The Shrines of Nara: Besides the large deer park, Nara is also home to several popular shrines and temples. Kasuga Taisha is the most popular one. Set up in 768 AD and renovated several times at regular intervals. Kasuga Taisha is famous for its bronze lanterns. Todai-ji temple is the other popular temple. These shrines and temples are largely constructed out of wood and have survived various earthquakes Japan had experienced over the years.
Cherry Blossom: Sakura or Cherry Blossom is another unique experience in Japan. Nara park is also a prime area where you can experience the world-famous phenomenon. But Cherry Blossom is very seasonal (March and April) and you will have to plan your trip to sync with the flowering season.
Museums: If you have the time, do visit the Nara National Museum. Open from 9.30 am till 5 pm and charging an entry fee of 520 Yen, Nara National Museum has two wings displaying Japanese Buddhist art and artefacts.
Travel Information: Japan is considered too far away and hence many Indians do not consider it as a vacation destination on par with Europe or South East Asia. But Japan has easy connectivity, a simple visa process and can offer a really unique experience compared to the rest of the world. There’s no reason why one shouldn’t consider Japan for their next vacation.
Reaching Nara: Nara is a 30-minute train ride from Japan’s Kyoto city. Osaka Kansai is the nearest airport. Both budget airlines like Air Asia and Tiger Air, as well as many full service airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines provide easy connectivity to Japan from India. From Osaka Kansai, take a train to Kyoto Station and from there take a train to Kintetsu Nara station (faster limited Express train costs around 1130 YEN while the slower train costs 610 YEN) one way. The park is at a walkable distance from the railway station. The Kyoto-Nara segment is not covered by Japan Rail Pass. JR Pass holders have an option to travel to JR Nara station instead but JR Nara station is slightly further from the Nara park, requiring a longer walk or a bus/taxi ride.
Cost: The Nara Park is open to the public for free. Various shrines in the park charge an entry fee ranging from 300 to 600 YEN.
Offbeat things to try: Take a ride in a hand-pulled rickshaw. The strong young men pulling the rickshaw can show you around, be your guide and also of course help you with getting your pictures clicked! Alternatively you can rent a cycle and zip around. Try the green tea flavoured ice cream and cherry blossom (Sakura) flavoured ice cream from local shops.
– Shrinidhi Hande, is a full time IT professional based in Chennai and a popular travel and lifestyle blogger at www.enidhi.net