Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Of a Summer Sojourn on Trains...

One of the few perks of a deputation to Japan, which kinda slightly makes up for the torture of having to consume my own culinary creations, is the Summer vacation. The basic idea is that people go back to their hometowns from the repititive rigarmole of their everyday lives and do the Obon thingy, which is a Buddhist festival, honouring and communing with the spirit of their ancestors.
Now given that my ancestors would be kinda chilling out with Indra and co, in the upper reaches of the Himalayas sitting on cumulus clouds (Please refer to Ramanand Sagar's Mahabharat for more visual clarity.They probably hit Goa every winter, but that would be speculation), we decided to check out Hokkaido in Northern Japan. The "we" in question happen to be myself and Santosh Datta aka Babruvahana(Pls refer below pic for details of the aka).

My vacation kinda kickstarted on Fri,10th Aug, with a party in Ginza with a few of my Japanese friends after which I was supposed to join Babru in front of a Starbucks in Ikebukuro at midnight. The plan was to spend the rest of the night in a pub , but we ended up spending it in a 24 hr MacDonalds since the pub was closing early for the nite.

After pretending to drink one Coke and eat one Burger from 12 AM to 0430 AM, we caught the first train out to Ueno to begin an epic train journey across Tohoku in the process maxing the benefits outta our 5day, 11500Yen Seishun 18 kippu.

The route:

We had to change 10 freaking trains to get to the northern tip. Lunch was a hassled bakery affair someplace midway.The plan was to take a night ferry to Hakodate and then take it from there.
But the Railway dude informs us that the Ferry is a no-go since they'd stopped operating it(Incidentally,he was wrong)....
We missed the 1045 Hamanasu Express to Hakodate too, so we were destined to spend the night in Aomori. We had an alleged burger for dinner at a MOS Burger joint and after wandering the streets watching the hip hop junta try their latest moves and a shamisen player entertaining an audience of exactly three, we crashed outside the Train station with our backpacks for pillows.

Day 2:
We rise bright and early and made for Kanita on the morning local. After reaching there, we were too consumed with our previous day's success in negotiating the Japan Rail System and jumped on a train to Mimmaya, assuming it would get us further on till the Seikan Tunnel.
Mimmaya turned out to be a nothing place which looked liked the ones where life revolves around gossip at the station waiting room. It was a dead end and we retraced our way back to Kanita and then took the express under the Seikan Tunnel into Kikkonai, then catching an afternoon train into Hakodate, where we were interviewed by an Assistant Director of some Television channel about what we liked about Japan. I must have made it on TV, and I looked like a train wreck :D

We moved on to Onumakoen St to camp around Onuma Lake around Mt.Komagatake. We scouted out the local station and the information center and booked our rooms for the onward journey to Sapporo. We stocked up on dinner supplies at a local combini and moved to Choshiguchi St, where we got down to camp.We got a empty piece of real estate at the far but prettier end of the lake.

We met a local Japanese couple who were chilling out on evening chairs next to our tent. They gave us local dope on wuts best and where to hire the cheapest bikes.
We had dinner and took a nap in the tent at 2000 and got out at 2130. Watching the reflection of stars in the water was a first for me. The sky was perfectly clear,the air crisp, the chill faint and I aint gonna forget that sight for a long long time...little shimmering silver dots in the still water.I also saw 5 shooting stars..I'd seen only one my whole goddamn life till then :)
We crashed out for good at around 2300.

Day 3:
We were the last people to wake up in the camp. We packed our tent into the backpack and made for an onsen resort at Nagareyama St. I almost fell in love with the cutest ever Shop attendant,Babru being the gentleman sacrificing et al :P. We hired MTBs there and went around the 14 km circuit around the lake and also island hopping the small islands around Komagatake and returned in late afternoon to return the bikes and popped into the onsen. Not a great onsen, but was charging the moon cos one can see Komagatake from the pools.
We returned back to the camp site and pitched the tent. We slept early .The night was a bit overcast. Not quite like the night before...

Day 4:
We moved camp and after encountering a snake at the station, moved on to Mori-> Oshamambe->Otaru->Sapporo.
After reaching Sapporo , we unpacked at the YH after a breakfast at a Mister Donuts at the station. We went to an Indian Restaurant for dinner and then went on to the Odori-koen where the Summer Festival was being held. Babru danced himeself into a trance to the repititive though catchy beat of the Hokkaido Odori around the stage..

Day 5:
We moved outta the YH next morning and took the 1000 AM to the Historical Village of Hokkaido, where we were shown around the place by an English speaking ex-Animal Husbandry researcher and English Teacher would taught Japanese in Australia and Argentina...phew...

We then went to the Beer Museum to same their exhibits. I kinda liked the early 20th century poster of the Beer Ads...Very kitschy, very cool.

We then went to the Bus Station to book the tickets on the night train to Utaro in Shiretoko.
And then walked the length of Odori Koen. We returned to the Bus station behind the TV Tower to catch the night train to Shiretoko.

Slept like a baby on the bus... The push back seats went way back. Real comfy :)

Day 6:
We woke to a rainy morning, and arrived at the Utaro terminal early. We went out to the information center and waited for it to open up at 0900. Getting all the info that we needed at this superb Info Counter, we made for the campsite on a ridge overlooking the Sea of Okhotsk.
We made camp and then it started drizzling again, so we got back into the sleeping bags and slept fitfully until late afternoon. We woke up at bout 1300 and made for the Nature Center a 6km walk from the camp. We then went to the Furepe-no-taki, which is an amazing piece of real estate. The setting is absolutely mindblowing... Open flowering grasslands will deer loitering about, a deep craggy rockface and the sea. We shutterbugged for some and got back to camp. We were out by 2000 after the combini meal.

Day 7:
Cloudy skies and damp grass on the morning were pretty good indicators for the rest of the day to come.
We took the bus out to Kamuiwaka Falls, which is basically a water fall over 5 levels forming a natural rotenburo. The water at the top originated from a hot spring, so the water at the bottom levels is still pretty warm.

We then came down to the 5 lakes, to find that we could not go to three of them since the route was closed because of bear sightings....grrr..

We walked the 14 km back to the camp from the lakes. A long long walk, but the greenery makes it worthwhile. Climbed the Oronoko Rock at the harbour after the return..

We hit the bed early. This is pretty much a one horse town, not the kind where you go out and let your hair down and party. At 2000, the place completely closes down...

Day 8:
With the weather finally clearing up, we decided to climb Mt.Rausudake a 15 km hike from the base.This is one of the must do hikes , the most scenic one by far amongst all my treks.. The trail is well marked, but gets steep in a couple of places, and has a final rocky incline which is tricky to negotiate. I was half dead on the way up with all the inclines... Downhill was much easier, but the gravel trail is slippery in bits. The views from the top are stunning to say the least. The Pacific covered with a cotton candy layer of low lying clouds on one side and the Okhotsk on the other. Totally worth the painful knees and sore tendons.

There is a rotenburo onsen, a konnyaku at the base of the climb. We did the full monty and jumped into the hot water and boy was it relaxing... We chatted up a couple of old Japanese men, who were curious to know if we were Brahmins ...Duh....

We came back to camp, packed up and took the night bus out to Sapporo after watching a perfect sunset from the view point at our campsite.

Day 9:
We took the first available train outta Sapporo to Otaru and then onto Oshamamabe and Hakodate. At Hakodate, we caught up on shopping for souvenirs and gifts for people back in Honshu and took a taxi to the Ferry terminal. We caught the evening ferry to Aomori and we spent a good bit of the first hour on it catching the different shades of the setting sun.

We arrived at Aomori at about 2130 and took the train out to Hirosaki, where we spent the night with a Nomihodai deal at a Skylark Gusto All nighter....

Day 10:
We trudged out early morning around 5AM and went lugging our backpacks et al to the Hirosaki-jo. The castle is kinda Ok, but the grounds are pleasant and make for a good place for a morning walk.
We started back on the return journey retracing our route back to Tokyo from Hirosaki

I dont remember much of the return journey cos I was basically in a state of suspended animation.

Overall an extremely fun trip. Lotsa things to remember years from now.

Adios Amigos.

No comments: