When the Mountains Call
Anmona Handique Mahanta
Japan has been a home to beautiful landscapes, traditionally rich sites, fascinating shrines and temples, blooming gardens, and the forever enriching Sakura or cherry blossoms and the enthralling charisma of autumn leaves. And today, through this article I would like to take you to a magical world where all these enrapturing treasures are exquisitely clubbed in one place. This place is known as Nara, precisely, the country’s first permanent capital and the seat of the Emperor (Source-Internet). A home to 1300 years old architecture, old temples and shrines, Nara is also a home with fine gardens, museum, seasonal blossoms and most interestingly the land of Deers and much more.
The writer at the Kasuga-taisha in Nara
It was in the month of October when I visited Nara for the first time in Japan and experienced the scintillating vibes of the stunning autumn leaves known as Momiji in Japanese. Today, through the tales of Nara, I would also like to pen down my thoughts on the wonderful Momiji which is celebrated like a festival just like the Cherry Blossom festival here. Yes, when it comes to seasons, likewise the fresh Sakura blossoms in spring, this country showers the whole landscape with another bunch of colorful petals of the vast maple trees which are seen during the autumn season and this culture of viewing autumn leaves in Japan is called Momijigari. These Japanese maple leaves wear a deep red hue while other deciduous trees wear vivid fall foliage shades of yellow, orange, gold and brown. Personally, I love the Japanese autumn season not only for the mesmerizing shades it wears but also for the subtle temperate it carries during the autumn months.
Momiji at Nara Deer park (Photo: AHM)
The Momiji season begins from mid-September to mid-December and likewise the thrill for Sakura, Japanese eagerly waits to enjoy the long season of autumn colors. Every year Momiji festival is held in various designated places where maple trees are crowded, in parks, gardens and at night the festival looks more marvelous for the lighting effects on the maple leaves. This is one of the precious gifts in Japan that every Japanese adore throughout the seasons and celebrate heartily with their friends and family that lightens up the entire atmosphere of the land. So, this time our Nara visit was to see autumn leaves or do Momijigari as the place is known for its breathtaking view in all seasons of the year. But surprisingly, we bumped into some more exciting things in this wonderful place which I feel is worth sharing.
At Todaiji Temple, Nara (Photo: AHM)
Well! Next to Kyoto of Japan, Nara is the second most culturally rich heritage place with the oldest shrines and temples, spiritual places, grassy parks and gardens and traditional neighborhood. It is a compact city small and stark and one of the most awe-inspiring and spiritual sight is the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, Great Budhha (Daibutsu in Japanese), cast since the 8th century. This is placed in the famous Todai-Ji temple, also known as the Buddha temple , one of the must-see places of Nara. Another place we visited was the Yakushi-ji temple being one of the most important temples here with the finest Buddha images. Then was the Kasuga-Taisha shrine where the buildings behold a mysterious outlook of atmospheric forest, stone-lanterns, other sub-shrines and the spell bound sight of the Deers leisurely strolling around. There are many more temples and old shrines in this place and if one wants to see every place then it's worth a two visit day tours. Due to shortage of time, we targeted a few places which is OK to say that those are the main must-see places!
The famous and prestigious Todaiji-temple at Nara (Photo: AHM)
What I liked the most in Nara is the Deer park which was a vast grassy highland consistent with tall huge trees, dotted with ponds and lashed with wide open spaces. Some typical Japanese restaurants were also installed inside the park and that is the best if you are fond of hot-served Japanese delicacies. So, if you want to see how nature and wildlife can be a boon to a human life and how beautifully wildlife and humans can actually get along better, then Nara Park is the place to live and relive the moments of embracing Nature again and again. Yes! I have experienced the most captivating moments while spending a pleasant autumn afternoon with the bowing Deers of Nara. These Deer's are considered as the symbol of the Nara city, and historically it is considered to be the most sacred National treasure which is well-known in Japan. For the first time I have seen such a hearty atmosphere where Deer's roam around so freely around humans, neither scared nor they harm and are so carefully protected.
The Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple (Photo: AHM)
Apart from eating the normal grasses and small plants, this place was famous for the Deer Crackers which hardly cost some 200 yen per packet with 6 crackers inside the packet. Visitors or tourists usually buy these crackers to feed the Deers which are sold in little stalls stalled inside the park itself. And , this is something not unknown to the Deers. Whenever anyone gathers near the stall to buy the crackers a herd of Deers just surrounds the buyer and eagerly waits to just hop on to grab the bites. This Deer Cracker is sold by the local authority for the Deers as a means of a special healthy diet which is made of wheat flour and rice bran without sugar. There are a few events also held in the place as a sign of starting the season for the Deers to come and form their gathering. Everything is just truly amazing and is worth a visit to experience. From elderly people, to couples, oldies, families and children all just stroll around the park and enjoy the abundance of wildlife and nature at the same time.
Unlike the traditional temples, Nara National Museum and the famous Deer park, there is another must go place and that is the oldest traditional town known as Naramachi. This place is a home to traditional restaurants, wooden houses, shops, Ryokan (traditional Japanese home-stays) having the oldest streets, narrow little roads and a place just to go around bicycling.
All put together, Nara is that perfect place which is breathtakingly beautiful and one of the finest places in Japan to visit and experience at least, once in a lifetime.
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]