Continued from my last post Toris and Foxes @ Fushimi Inari
From Inari we headed to Saga Arashiyama on the JR Sagano (Sanin) line via Kyoto. Arashiyama is a popular tourist area in Kyoto. It is most famously known for the bamboo forests and the Tenryuji temple. It is also the start point for a ride on the Sagano scenic railway and boat cruise on the Hozugawa river.
Our plan was to take the Sagano scenic ride which starts from the adjacent Saga Torokko station. The steam train ride covers a distance of approx 10 km along the Katsura river through the bamboo forests to the last stop Torokko Kameoka. Rather than return the same route we planned a two hour boat ride back to Togetsukyo bridge. (check out www.hozugawakudari.jp/en). But alas the train tickets were not available- a common complaint we were told since spot tickets are usually unavailable. Something we did not bargain for. We had to be content with a coffee and croissant in a large public hall housing some immaculately preserved locomotives of the past.
Left with no option we set out for a short walk to the bamboo forests. While there is a well marked route I would suggest a minor detour past the Togetsukyo bridge and the Tenryuji Temple into the bamboo forests and return via the Arashiyama tram station. The bridge on the river is a few hundred yards from the station and a monkey park is located across the bridge . We admired the beauty of the bridge from afar, and left the monkeys alone and continued past the temple to the bamboo forest
While the bamboo forests themselves are fairly compact and dense what caught my attention was the soundscape project of the Japanese Government. They are of the view that not only must the ecology and environment of any landscape be protected but also the sounds. The Japanese government has compiled a list of 100 soundscapes that must be preserved which includes these bamboo forests. Way ahead of the rest of the world where the struggle is still to prevent degradation of the the landscapes. Walking through the bamboo forest trail we were struck by the height of the tall bamboos which have provided Japan with much of its construction material.
Nestled in these forests is the Nonomiya temple. Whilst the shrine is itself very small it has a bit of history which makes it worth a halt. Imperial Princesses were designated as high priestesses known as Saigu of the Ise Jingu shrine – one of the major shrines in Japan. Before they were ordained they needed to spend a few years of purification and prayer – first at the Imperial Palace and then at this shrine. Today Nonomiya is worshipped by women seeking love, marital happiness and safe childbirth. Do not miss the black tori or gate which is different from the vermilion one sees at most shrines.
Further along the trail is an area where one could stop and listen to the sounds of the whistling bamboos – Here one can really appreciate the soundscape project for having including the bamboo forest and observe the Japanese rickshaw mounted tourists – a mode of travel still prevalent here. There are a few other stopovers along the bamboo trail where one can admire the thick canopy of the bamboo trees, some of them as much as a 100 ft tall. Or just sit down and admire the peace and calm of the bamboo forest in spite of the fact that the place is thronging with tourists!
After a pleasant walk through the Bamboo trail our next stop was the Arashiyama station for the foot onsen. We had read about this and thought it was a perfect alternative to a full blown Japanese onsen experience. Both Malati and I are particularly squeamish of getting into the buff into a traditional Japanese Onsen and were determined to make up for this at a foot onsen – a great via media solution. The station was lit up very decoratively and seemed to be a popular location for a bridal photoshoots! Do note that Arashiyama station ( different from Saga Arashiyama) is the terminus on the Keifuku – Ramden tram line which is one the last surviving tram lines in Kyoto.
The Onsen is a small hut which can seat about 15- 20 persons. It is situated at the end of the station amidst well lit Japanese lanterns. For 200 Yen you were provided with a take home towel and unlimited access to the onsen.The hot water provided us a refreshing relief to our aching feet. We were on the road since the morning without a break. I even tried to catch a few winks but the water was a bit too hot for that. After what seemed an eternity we proceeded for dinner to one of the many restaurants at this station and set course back to the Marriott in Shin Osaka. A local train journey to Kyoto and Shinkansen to Osaka took us less than hour. We turned in early as we had another busy schedule for the next day at Hiroshima .