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Entries about bridges

On the road to Bukhara

Uzbekistan day three


View Uzbekistan 2007 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Breakfast in Khiva

Breakfast was served not in our Khiva hotel but in a restaurant in a nearby madrassah. No complaints about that though – the breakfast was fine, accompanied by pretty good coffee, and served in a striking interior which seemed to combine traditional styles of décor with Soviet-style exhortations celebrating the contribution of Khorezm province to the world of science!

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Our group at breakfast in the Matinya Madrassah

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Chris at breakfast

We ate bread, cheese, sausage, pancakes and jam, with drinking yoghurt, tea and the aforementioned coffee, plus some rather amusingly decorated biscuits with an image of the cartoon character Shrek embossed on each!

Today we had a long drive in front of us, but I was excited at the chance to travel by road and see something more of Uzbekistan than had been possible so far on this trip. We spent most of the day on the bus, so this will be a shorter entry - I can sense the relief of those of you who have waded through the previous one on Khiva

Talking of the bus, I was pleased when we climbed on board to find that it was air-conditioned, but that’s a relative term. This was a rather elderly European bus and having been designed for European summers it really struggled to cope with the 52 degrees we experienced on this drive!

In the heat of the day

Just as the bus was at its hottest, and we hit the day’s high of 52 degrees (according to Marat, our guide), we stopped in front of a small roadside chaikhana shaded (thankfully!) by trees – lunch-time!

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Roadside stop on the way to Bukhara

We scuttled across the sun-baked forecourt and into the shade, made use of the rather primitive ‘facilities’ and then lunched under the trees on non, salads and cold drinks. There was also an opportunity for a few photos of these local women who were happy to pose for me.

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Women at the roadside chaikhana

Crossing the Oxus

Soon after leaving our lunch place the road crossed the Oxus. This river flows to the north and east of Khiva and cuts off this corner of Khorezm province from the rest of Uzbekistan. It is properly known by the name of Amu Darya, but in ancient times it was the Oxus, one of those places you’ve heard of in old history lessons but never dreamed you would see (another was the Euphrates which we had seen some years previously in Syria). So I was thrilled to realise that to leave Khiva and drive to Bukhara we would have to cross the Oxus, and as we did so I grabbed a couple of photos.

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Crossing the Oxus

The bridge itself was unusual and thus also worth mentioning here. Our guide in fact told us it’s the only one of its kind in the world though I have no way of checking that. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is single track for both road vehicles and trains (i.e. one track for each).

We stopped a bit further down the road where there was a view of the river from above, although I would have welcomed a chance for a closer look than this.

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The Oxus

Arrival in Bukhara

We arrived in Bukhara late in the afternoon and were warmly welcomed at the Hotel Mosque Baland. This was probably my favourite of the hotels we stayed in during our trip round Uzbekistan. It’s a small, family-run affair, not much more than a B&B despite its grand name, situated in a residential street on the south western fringes of the old town, about 15 minutes’ walk from the Lyab-i-Hauz. Rooms are grouped around the typical Uzbek central courtyard. Ours was a good size, nicely decorated, clean and with a comfortable large double bed. We had a fridge to keep our water chilled, efficient air-conditioning and a TV we never got around to switching on.

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Courtyard of the Hotel Mosque Baland

One feature that both amused and slightly horrified me was to be found in the bathroom. The toilet had the most unusual seat I’ve come across, covered in a soft slightly fluffy fabric (such as you might use for a child’s pyjamas) adorned with cute cartoon mice (ditto). It seemed perfectly clean, but didn’t strike us as the most hygienic of decorative touches, especially in a country where regrettably foreign tourists do often have to spend more time than they would like in its vicinity ;)

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Our bedroom, and toilet!

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The family who ran the hotel were friendly and keen to be helpful although they spoke little English. They happily changed money for us, served green tea whenever it was wanted at no charge, and other drinks, including beer, at very reasonable ones.

Soon after arriving our group was invited to drink tea in the beautiful dining room of the hotel. This was decorated in typical Uzbek style, with ganch (carved alabaster) and niches displaying colourful ceramics, and was truly stunning. The family produced a beautiful cake for Georgina, whose birthday it was, to accompany our tea – somewhat to her embarrassment, as of course we then all sang ‘Happy Birthday’!

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Birthday cake for Georgina

Lyab-i-Hauz

Life in the old town of Bukhara centres around the Lyab-i-Hauz, both by day and at night. If you want to sense the heartbeat of this special city and immerse yourself in its soul, this is the place to be. Here you can for a while feel part of a way of life that stretches back through the centuries and defines Central Asian society and culture. For centuries people have come here to relax, drink tea at the chaikhanas, meet friends, do business, play backgammon – in short, to live. Nowadays the regular locals, in particular the aksakal or ‘white beards’, have been joined of course by groups of tourists, and the two cultures seemed to me to be mixing and enjoying the pleasures of Lyab-i-Hauz in harmony.

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Lyab-i-Hauz at night

The pool is an ancient one, dating back to 1629, and many of the mulberry trees which surround it are even older, having been planted in 1477. It was built as a reservoir of fresh water for the city, and water carriers would deliver large leather bags of its water to those citizens who could afford the service. It fell into disuse however, and for years was stagnant and infected with disease. We have the Soviets to thank for its restoration to the pleasant and tranquil waters we see today.

So we carefully followed the directions we had been given and found our way to this enchanting spot, which was to become one of my favourite memories of Bukhara. We were in search of dinner, but there was no hurry, and the light on some of the buildings around the pool was perfect for photography so that was my first priority.

Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha

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Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha

The building on the western side of the Lyab-i-Hauz is the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha. A khanagha was a hostel for dervishes, with a mosque and cells for these holy men to live in, although you won’t be surprised to learn that this one now houses souvenir stalls.

It was built at the same time as the pool, early in the 17th century, by (as the name suggests) Nadir Divanbegi – a divanbegi being a sort of finance minister. There is a cautionary tale attached to the origins of the khanagha which our guide told us the next morning, but I include it here alongside my photos:

The Divanbegi’s wife complained that he went away too often and the presents he brought her were not valuable enough. On one occasion he brought earrings which she dismissed as a very poor gift. He asked his architect to take one of the earrings, sell it, and build whatever he could with the proceeds; this was the result. He then brought his wife to see it and said ‘See what I was able to build with just one of your earrings. Do you now still say it was worthless?’ And, according to our guide, the next thing he said, repeated three times as was necessary by law, was ‘I divorce you’.

The other buildings I photographed were the Magok-i-Attari Mosque and the Tok-i-Sarrafon or Money Changers’ Bazaar, the smallest and most southerly of the remaining great trading domes of Bukhara. We were to learn all about these tomorrow so I will say more about them then.

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Tok-i-Sarrafon

Dinner by Lyab-i-Hauz

Bukhara isn’t, or at least wasn’t back in 2007, a place for fancy restaurants but what its eating places lacked in the quality of their cuisine, they made up for in their setting and atmosphere. The place to eat was in one of the chaikhanas and restaurants that surround the pool of the Lyab-i-Hauz, which at night was especially lovely – the coloured lights strung in the trees were reflected in its waters and locals and tourists alike relaxed over a green tea or a cold beer, an ice cream or a grilled shashlik.

This first evening we ate in the chaikhana on the eastern side of the pool. The setting was great, the large beers refreshing after our hot day in the bus crossing the desert, and the bread excellent (more of a flaky pastry than what we could call bread, and different from any we had elsewhere in the country).

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Bukhara non and chicken shashlik

The chicken shashliks we both chose however were disappointing – they looked good but were fatty and bony, with very little meat on them. The price was reasonable but given how little we ate was not such good value as other meals we had in Uzbekistan. And I should mention that it was the morning after this meal that I experienced my first attack of ‘Uzbek tummy’, though I can’t be sure I caught it here of course.

Caravanserai Nughay

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Bukhara at night

After dinner I attempted a few night shots and we popped into the Caravanserai Nughay just south of Lyab-i-Hauz. This attractive old caravanserai now, inevitably, houses a number of handicraft and souvenir shops. We didn’t buy anything but enjoyed browsing around. The owners of the shops were welcoming without being too pushy (something that I found was generally the case in Uzbekistan). I was also really taken with the lovely appearance of the courtyard with each of the small shops glowing in the twilight and showing off the colourful textiles to great advantage.

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Caravanserai Nughay at night

As we strolled back to the hotel along quiet residential streets we were trailed by a small crowd of young children clamouring to be photographed. As soon as we gave in and agreed they arranged themselves in a tiered group in front of a nearby wall and posed laughing and waving. The only reward they sought was to see the photos afterwards (oh the joys of digital photography that allow this!) and to follow us giggling to the end of the street.

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Group of children in Bukhara

Back at the hotel we joined a few others from our group sitting on the dais in the courtyard, where we chatted about the day over a vodka (me) or beer (Chris).

Posted by ToonSarah 02:03 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged bridges night road_trip restaurant history hotel river uzbekistan bukhara khiva Comments (9)

The wonders of Nikko

Japan day sixteen


View Japan, Essential Honshu tour 2013 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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At Toshogu Shrine - monk and novice

As always, we slept comfortably on our futons at the Turtle Inn Annexe. Breakfast was included in our stay here, and we enjoyed coffee, fruit, an egg, and toast (including a delicious raisin bread) in the cosy dining area – simple but adequate.

We then set out to explore the main sights of Nikko, walking from the ryokan the 15 minutes or so on what was a grey but (for now) a thankfully dry day. Before entering the shrines we detoured to the nearby Shinkyo Bridge.

Shinkyo Bridge

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Shinkyo Bridge

This distinctive red bridge is something of a symbol for Nikko. It belongs to the Futarasan Shrine (not, as may seem more likely, the slightly nearer Tosho-gu) and is the oldest bridge built over a gorge in Japan. It dates originally (in this form) from 1636. In 1902, during restoration works it was destroyed by the river and it was reconstructed in 1904. The most recent restoration was in 2005.

It is 28 metres long and 7.4 metres wide and spans the river at a height of 10.6 metres above the water. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural property in December 1999.

This was the first bridge to be built over the Daiya river in Nikko, and its construction is linked to an interesting legend:

It is said that around the year 766, the Priest Shodo Shonin together with ten disciples tried to cross the Daiya river, at the place where today this bridge stands. They were unable to cross the river because of the strong currents, so the priest fell on his knees and prayed. Suddenly, the God of the River, Jinja-Daio appeared before him and said that he would help him to cross. The god released two snakes over the river, one red and one blue; their bodies transformed into a bridge and sedge sprouted on their back, allowing the party to cross. After they had crossed the river they looked back; Jinja-daiou and the bridge had already disappeared.

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Shinkyo Bridge

That’s why when it was rebuilt in the form we know today, during the time of Empress Meishō, it was considered sacred, and ordinary people were allowed only to look at the bridge, but had to cross the river on a different one nearby. Only the Empress, a few generals and Imperial messengers were allowed to use Shinko. This interdiction remained in place until modern times when, 40 years ago, the bridge was transformed into an open-air museum. And now everyone can cross it, for a fee of 500¥.

We didn’t do this ourselves but watched as a succession of proud Japanese tourists (some of them in traditional costume) solemnly strolled from the town end of the bridge to the shrine end, paused to pose for photos, and then strolled back again. You see, while you can nowadays walk across the bridge, you can’t actually use it as a means of crossing the river because the far end is closed (I assume to ensure that everyone pays their 500¥). So to cross the river you do still need to do as ordinary people did for centuries and use the parallel bridge that now carries the road traffic too.

Toshogu Shrine

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By the entrance to Toshogu


There is one sight that every visitor to Nikko comes to see, and that is the Toshogu Shrine. And rightly so. This flamboyantly ornamented, intricately carved, riotously coloured collection of buildings will blow your mind!

The shrine is the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It was Ieyasu who established Tokyo as the seat of government of a (more or less) unified Japan. A perhaps surprising choice for deification, he was brutal and bloodthirsty in pursuit of power; even members of his own family died at his hands. It was he too who established the trade monopolies that resulted in the almost total isolation of Japan from the rest of the world for over two centuries.

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Stone lantern

Ieyasu had expressed the wish to be deified after his death in order to protect his descendants from evil. He died in 1616 and his remains were originally buried at the Gongens' mausoleum at Kunōzan, but a year later were reburied here at Tosho-gu. It was his grandson Iemitsu who, in 1834, ordered the construction of the complex of 55 buildings we see today in order to fulfil Ieyasu’s dying wish:
‘Build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as the God. I will be the guardian of peace keeping in Japan.’

He chose Nikko because of its location north of Edo. The north was considered the taboo direction, inhabited by demons. By placing himself there, Ieyasu hoped to protect Japan from evil and ensure long life for the Tokugawa government and eternal peace for the nation.

Whether these 55 buildings can be considered a ‘small shrine’ is another matter! It took 15,000 workers to build them, but they did so in an impressive one year, five months! The shrine complex was registered as a World Heritage site in December 1999, and most of the individual buildings are designated as either ‘an Important Cultural Property’ or ‘a National Treasure’ by the Japanese government. Almost all are covered with an explosion of colour and every surface is carved – there are 5,173 carvings in total!

As we approached the shrine we saw a small procession. I have no idea of the purpose of this – there must have been a special event happening somewhere, but we never saw anything more of it.

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Procession at Toshogu Shrine

Also near here is a dragon fountain with a wonderfully expressive dragon!

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Dragon fountain, Toshogu

One thing to be prepared for when visiting Toshogu is the sheer number of other people doing the same! We arrived here first thing in the morning, hoping to beat the crowds who make the day trip from Tokyo, but already there were some bus trips there and by 10.00 AM it was heaving.

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Crowds at Toshogu

This is not to say you shouldn't go – it is magnificent and a ‘must see’ if in this part of Japan (and indeed worth journeying to from any other part of the country). But it's helpful to be prepared mentally for the crowds you will encounter; to accept that you will have to wait to enter the inner shrine and other significant buildings; to recognise that other people will get into your photos, tread on your toes and probably push past you in their eagerness to see certain things. Accept all that, wait your turn patiently, and you will be rewarded.

Toshogu Shrine: Ishidorii

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Approaching the shrine -
not too crowded, yet!

You enter the complex through a massive torii gate, Ishidorii. This pre-dates Toshogu, having been dedicated in 1618 by Kuroda Nagamasa, the feudal lord of Kyushu Chikuzen (nowadays Fukuoka Prefecture).

The torii is made out of 15 blocks of stone, instead of wood, which is more usually used for torii. This stone was transported by ship from Kyushu to Koyama and then manually hauled overland to Nikko. The cross rails are hollow to minimise their weight and help withstand the impact of earthquakes. Despite this, an earthquake in 1949 caused a joint of the crossbars to slip widely, but it was shifted back to its original position by an aftershock. The inscription at the top reads: ‘Tosho-daigongen’ (‘Divine designation of Ieyasu Tokugawa’).

The stone steps leading up to the Ishidorii are cunningly designed. Although there are only ten of them, an impressive false perspective effect is created by the fact that the staircase narrows toward the top, and the height of the steps also decreases as they ascend. Despite the fact that the Tokugawa Shogunate had officially closed its doors to the rest of the world, in practice they had some secret channels that were used to bring in information and ideas from other countries. This included importing the concept of perspective from European art, and the designer Kobori Enshu put this to good use here at Toshogu – not only in the design of these steps but also on the path between the big cedar trees. In the past, the further you went the shorter the cedars were cut, creating the impression of a long, narrow path.

Toshogu Shrine: the Five-storied Pagoda

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Five-storied Pagoda

Inside the Ishidorii the first building we came to, on the left, was the Five-storied Pagoda or Gojunoto. This is designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government of Japan. The Gojunoto Pagoda was dedicated in 1648 by Sakai Tadakatsu, the feudal lord of Obama in Wakasa Province (present day Fukui Prefecture). But the one that stands here today was built in 1818 to replace that earlier one which was destroyed by fire in 1815.

The pagoda stands 35 metres high. It is carefully constructed to withstand earthquakes and strong winds. It has no internal floors and a central column is suspended by a chain from the fourth storey to support the ones below. This doesn’t rest on any foundations but instead is free to sway, thus functioning as a dynamic counterweight and also allowing for the wood to shrink or expand.

The pagoda’s five stories, from top to bottom, represent sky, fire, earth, water and wind, as well as the five Buddhas of wisdom. It is decorated with the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac on the first storey. You can go inside on payment of a small additional fee, but we opted not to, wanting to press on and see the main shrine complex before it got too crowded.

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Pagoda details

Beyond the pagoda you come to the ticket office, and to the official entrance to the shrine, the Omotemon Gate. We bought our tickets which, when we visited in October 2013, cost 1,300¥. I had seen references to a combination ticket for this and the other shrines but at the time of our visit that was suspended as the various sites hadn’t been able to agree a price. I’d also read that there was a supplementary payment to see some parts of Toshogu (such as Ieyasu’s mausoleum and the famous ‘sleeping cat’) but our tickets covered the whole complex.

Toshogu Shrine: Omotemon

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Omotemon - one of the guardian deities

This is the first of a series of impressive gates that mark the route through the Toshogu complex to its most sacred spots. It is also known as Niomon, a reference to the two guardian deity statues, Deva Kings, positioned on the left and right – Nioh means a guardian of Buddha. These were removed to the Taiyuin Mausoleum (part of Rinnoji Temple) by order of the Meiji government. At this time the gate took the name of Omotemon, meaning simply ‘front gate’. The Nioh, which are each four metres tall, were restored to their positions here in 1897 but the newer name stuck, for the most part.

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Omotemon - gilded elephant

On the far (inner) side of the gate the equivalent niches are occupied by statues – a lion and a kirin (a mythological creature, usually paired with the lion), while golden elephant-like creatures adorn the passage-way on that side. There are many other animal carvings too, including giraffes, tigers and leopards. The whole is a riot of colour and a wonderful foretaste of what is to come.

Proceeding through the gate (where our tickets were checked) we arrived in an open area with a number of buildings around the perimeter.

Toshogu Shrine: Sanjinko

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Shimojinko, the Lower Sacred Storehouse

Three of the buildings in the open area beyond the Omotemon are known as the Sanjinko or Three Sacred Storehouses. To our right was Shimojinko (Lower Sacred Storehouse), in front of us Nakajinko (Middle Sacred Storehouse) and to the left of that Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse). These are used to store the various harnesses and 1,200 costumes used in the Procession of a Thousand Samurai (Sennin Musha Gyoretsu), held each year in May and October. They also store the equipment for Yabusame contests (archery on horseback) which take place at the same time. The Sanjinko are open for viewing for one week each before the Spring and Autumn Festivals – I think we had unfortunately just missed the latter.

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Kamijinko

All three storehouses are designated Important Cultural Properties and all are ornately carved, but the most striking and consequently most photographed is Kamijinko. Large carvings of elephant adorn its gable. They are known as the ‘Imaginary Elephants’ because the artist, Kano Tanyu, would never have seen the real thing. He drew them from his imagination having heard accounts and descriptions, and really didn’t do a bad job under those circumstances – just think how hard it would be to conceive of an animal that looked like an elephant if you had never come across any, or any picture of one! OK the ears and tails are weird, but apart from that it’s pretty close.

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'Imaginary elephant', Kamijinko

Facing the middle and upper storehouses across this space is one of the best known of Toshogu’s 55 buildings, the Sacred Stable.

Toshogu Shrine: Shinkyu

In contrast to the other buildings in this part of the complex, such as the storehouses described in my previous tip, the Shinkyu or Sacred Stable is relatively plain – probably the least adorned building in Tosho-gu. Yet it contains its most famous single carving, that of the Three Wise Monkeys:
‘See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’.

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Sansaru: the three monkeys

In fact, there is a frieze of eight monkey carvings. This frieze is known as a Sansaru and its panels function something like a picture book, telling the story of a monkey’s upbringing and way of life. Other images show scenes such as a mother caring for a youngster; a young monkey on his own, newly independent; a pair of monkeys; and a pregnant monkey. But everyone wants to see and to photograph this one, and you will have to wait your turn. Remember my warning about the crowds that flock to Toshogu? Well, most of them are here to see this!

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Sacred horse

The monkey has been treated as a guardian of horses since early times and at one time there would have been a monkey actually kept in the stable. Today there is no live monkey, but the stable is home to two sacred white horses. Or rather, a temporary home, as the horses live ‘off site’ and merely visit each day, for two and a half hours, taking it in turns to serve the shrine in this way. We were here as one arrived so had a good chance to take photos before he settled into the stable for the day.

Different horses have served the shrine over the years but they must always be white. A notice outside the stable explained more about the current horses and their role:

‘Toshogu Shrine owns two sacred horses. One is ‘Kotuku’ meaning ‘White Heron’ in the New Zealand native Maori language. He is the third sacred horse donated by the New Zealand Government as a token of goodwill and friendship between the two countries. He is the only horse donated from overseas serving at a shrine in Japan at present.

The other horse is ‘Fukuisami’, meaning ‘good luck and bravery’ in Japanese. He is the second sacred horse donated by the Japanese Racing Association to the Toshogu Shrine.

Each of these sacred horses takes turns serving the Shrine in this sacred stable for only two and a half hours a day. They spend the rest of the time, attended by a dedicated stablemaster and master horseman, at a nearby modern stable which is attached to an outdoor practice ground.’

Toshogu Shrine: Omizuya

Beyond the Shinkyu we came to the Omizuya or Cistern / Water Purification Building (‘mizu’ means water). Here the faithful purify the body and mind by washing their hands and rinsing out their mouth before worshiping the enshrined deity. The basin was dedicated in 1618 by Nabeshima Katsushige, feudal lord of Kyushu-Saga. It has been maintained in its original form without alteration since its construction in 1636 except for a few small structural changes.

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Omizuya

Today, there is an Omizuya, or Chozuya as they are also known, in most of the shrines in Japan. But originally worshippers would simply wash their hands and mouths in a natural river or spring. The Omizuya here at Toshogu was the first to be built specifically as the place of purification for worshippers. The significant techniques introduced for the first time in its construction include the installation of an aqueduct from the water source near the Takino-o-jinja to its water basin. In addition, a siphon mechanism was implemented as part of the water-supply system, which was an innovative approach at that time in Japan. Today however the water is supplied through contemporary metal piping.

The basin is 1.2 metres wide, 2.6 metres deep, and 1 metre high. The ornate roof is decorated with sculptures of flying dragons. The dragon has wings to control the water. The roof is shaped like waves, echoing the water below. You can see from the richness of the ornamentation that it has fairly recently been restored. This was part of a 15 year project undertaken by a Mr. Yoshihara Hokusai, who rediscovered the ancient Kano school technique of Mitsuda-e, a paint mixing and application technique resistant to UV light and water, which had been lost in the Meiji era. Unfortunately Mr. Hokusai died in 1988 having failed to teach his 35-step process using 7 colours to any apprentice, though he did teach craftsmen how to apply the paint.

Toshogu Shrine: Kyozo

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Kyozo

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Kyozo details

One more building stands in this vicinity. The Kyozo or Rinzo is a revolving library holding 7,000 sutra or sacred texts. Revolving sutra libraries were invented in China and were later brought to Japan. They offer several advantages. Firstly, they allow priests and monks to select the required more quickly. Secondly, the act of walking around or turning something is important in Buddhism because the wheel is the international sign of that faith. And finally, it was believed that simply by rotating the shelves around the central pillar the faithful would benefit from the learning contained in the texts of the sutras without actually reading them. Unfortunately we found that it isn’t possible to go inside this kyozo to see the mechanism or the sutras.

Toshogu Shrine: Yomeimon

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Crowds at Toshogu, with the Karadō-torii in the background

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The shrouded Yomeimon

After exploring the various buildings that lie just beyond the Omotemon, among increasing crowds (the day-trippers from Tokyo had clearly started to arrive), we proceeded through the Karadō-torii, the first bronze torii in Japan, to what many consider to be Toshogu’s greatest glory, Yomeimon.

The flamboyantly carved, riotously coloured Yomeimon is also known as Higurashino-mon, ‘the gate, where people spend all day long to look’, or the ‘Gate of the Setting Sun’ because one could gaze upon it all day and never tire. Unfortunately for us, when we visited (October 2013) there was very little to look at, as Yomeimon was under restoration, and under wraps. Its more than 500 carvings of animals (real and mythical), people (children playing, sages and wise men), flowers and leaves were all hidden from our view, and we certainly had no reason to spend all day looking at it, even if we had had the time to do so!

This also of course meant I could take no photos of the carvings, but a quick image search online will show you, as it has me, what we missed out on.

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The Kairo

Either side of Yomeimon is the Kairo or corridor, which extends to the right and left. It is decorated with flower and bird carvings that are considered among the best in Japan. All the carvings are single-panel openwork painted in vivid colours.

Toshogu Shrine: Shinyosha

Once I had seen my fill of the Kairo we passed quickly through shrouded Yomeimon to reach the upper level of the complex and one of my favourite buildings here, the Shinyosha. I liked it, I think, because of its more intimate scale and its exquisite animal carvings.

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Shinyosha details

Known in English as the Portable Shrine House, and designated an Important Cultural Property, the Shinyosha houses the three portable shrines used in the Sacred Processions which take place in the spring and autumn (May 18th and October 17th).

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Portable shrine

These shrines are also sometimes called sacred sedan chairs, because it is believed the deified spirits ride in them. The spirit of Ieyasu rides in the central shrine. It carries the crest of the Tokugawa family which you see all over Toshogu (either side at the top). This is known as Mitsuba-aoi (three hollyhocks in a circle). The right hand shrine is for the spirit of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, while the left hand one is for Yoritomo Minamotono.

Each shrine weighs 800 kilograms and is carried in the procession by 55 people. In the past they weighed much more – 1120 kilos – but this became too much for people to carry. The old shrines are displayed in the Treasure House of Toshogu Shrine which we didn’t manage to fit into our itinerary (it lies just outside the complex and a small additional fee is payable if you’d like to visit).

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Roof of Shinyosha with outer wall beyond

Toshogu Shrine: Karamon

There was one more gate for us to pass through before reaching the inner shrine, and thankfully this one, the Karamon or Chinese Gate, was fully visible.

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Karamon

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Above the gate

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Pillar detail

In contrast to the flamboyant colours of most of Toshogu’s carvings, this is predominately, and exquisitely, finished in white and gold. On either side are pillars painted with dragons and above the gate are 27 figures – characters from the Chinese legend ‘The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove’. The man in the centre, sitting on the chair, is the Emperor Shun. The crane logo once used by Japan Airlines was derived from one of the carvings on this gate. It also features over 400 carvings of small flowers.

Above the portal are two bronze figures known as tsutsuga, a mystical animal that protects all buildings. The tsutsuga is a ferocious creature, much stronger than a tiger. His legs are fastened with gold rings to prevent him escaping and thus withdrawing his protection from the shrine.

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Tsutsuga, Karamon

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Karamon detail

The Karamon may be small compared with Toshogu’s other gates (just three metres wide and two metres deep) but it is perhaps the most important, leading as it does to the inner shrine. During the Edo period, only feudal lords and aristocrats were admitted through it to worship at the shrine, and even today, only guests of the nation can enter during important festivals. The rest of us must go in by an entrance on the right-hand side of it to visit the Honsha or inner shrine.

Toshogu Shrine: Honsha

The main shrine or Honsha is not one but a connected series of buildings. It is permitted to enter these, but not through the Karamon. Instead there is an area on the right where you remove your shoes and place them in a cubby hole before proceeding to follow the line of worshippers and visitors down five copper steps and into a small chamber, the Ishinoma or Stone Passageway. This connects the Honden (main hall of the shrine) with the Haiden (place of prayer). Today its floor is covered with tatami but in the past it was stone, hence the name. This space is important because it links the world of the gods (in the Honden) and the human world (the Haiden).

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Entrance to the Honsha

From here you are directed by the attendant nuns or monks up a further five copper steps to enter the main hall or Honden. This is considered the most sacred place in Toshogu. It consists of three rooms: the Gejin (outer room), the Naijin (inner room) and the Nainaijin (inner room of the Naijin, therefore the innermost room). The divine spirit of Ieyasu is enshrined in the Nainaijin in the golden shrine Gokuden. This building is said to be a perfect realisation of the Gongen-zukuri style of Japanese religious architecture. (Gongen=incarnation, Zukuri=construction). Built in 1636, it has not undergone any alteration apart from the replacement of the roofing materials in 1654 and of the stone foundations of the Honden in 1690. Of course, photography is not allowed inside so you must be content, as I was, with a few shots taken from outside.

Toshogu Shrine: Nemuri-Neko

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The sleeping cat

To the east of the Honsha is the Kuguri-mon, the entrance to the inner shrine or Okumiya. And above this entrance is the second of Toshogu’s famous little carvings, although unlike the Three Wise Monkeys this one, the sleeping cat or Nemuri Neko, is perhaps mostly famous only in Japan rather than worldwide. Attributed to Hidari Jingorou, this carving of a cat dozing while surrounded by peonies is supposed to be a personification of peace – peace for Ieyasu and for the nation. On the far side of the panel are carved a couple of sparrows (sorry, I forgot to get a photo of these) and the fact that they play so happily and so close to the sleeping cat is seen as a sign that Japan is at peace. Also, the cat is bathed in sunlight which is said to be a depiction of Nikko (nikko means sunlight in Japanese).

Next we walked under the sleeping cat, being careful not to disturb him, to visit the inner shrine.

Toshogu Shrine: Ieyasu's tomb

At the Kuguri-mon (the gate with the sleeping cat) our tickets were checked again, but there is no additional charge to visit Ieyasu's tomb – unless you count the penance of climbing the 200 stone steps to be a charge! These ascend through the forest (so there would be plenty of shade on a hot day, I imagine) to a small complex of structures that surround the actual burial place of the Shogun. At its heart is the small pagoda-like tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa. You pass through a torii gate guarded by two bronze Komainu (dog and lion-like creatures) and circle the tomb.

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Torii guarding Ieyasu's tomb

At one side is a sacred cedar tree, Kano Sugi, which has stood here protecting the shrine area for many years. It is said that if you pray facing a hole in its trunk your prayers will be answered, and a small stall sells Kano Suze, small bell-like charms in the shape of a cedar seed.

The tomb itself, Okusha-houtou, is of bronze – a replacement for an earlier stone one that was damaged by earthquake in 1683 (and which itself replaced the original wooden structure). Ieyasu’s coffin is within, but while he is buried here his deified spirit resides in the inner sanctuary of the main shrine below, in the golden shrine Gokuden in the Nainaijin or innermost room of the Honden.

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Ieyasu's tomb

In front of the tomb are a vase, incense burner and candlestick in shape of a crane, gifts of Korea. The atmosphere is more restrained and more tranquil than in the main shrine far below. Here among the trees you understand that Ieyasu Tokugawa’s wish for a ‘small shrine’ has indeed been fulfilled, and his grandson’s exuberant designs have not intruded totally on his longed-for peace.

Descending from here we stopped for a rest and a hot coffee from a vending machine in a small shelter (one of the few places on the site where eating and drinking are permitted) before taking a few final photos and then bidding farewell to Toshogu.

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Young tourists at Toshogu

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Novice nun

Many of the day trippers only have time to visit Toshogu, which is so huge that it can easily occupy the best part of their limited time in Nikko, but starting early meant that we left here by late morning, with plenty of time to take in some more of Nikko’s sights.

But as this entry is already very long I will save what we did during the rest of this busy day for my next entry ...

Posted by ToonSarah 05:57 Archived in Japan Tagged bridges shrines nikko architecture japan temple tomb toshogu Comments (8)

An island of shells

Senegal day eight


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Souimanga sunrise

Another Souimanga sunrise greeted us this morning. They seemed to me to be quite different each day – some more orange, some (like this one) pink, some dramatic, others more subtle.

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Souimanga sunrise

We had successfully hidden anything that might tempt our resident mouse and were congratulating ourselves on having adapted to sharing the suite with him as we went back inside to get ready for breakfast. However when we put the A/C on I heard the by now familiar scrabblings coming from nearby. I went over and looked up at the machine, mounted high on the wall. I was just in time to see the mouse disappear inside and the machine grind to a halt – the mouse had clearly come to an unfortunate end. I guess some might say that he got what was coming to him, but I can't help feeling a little sorry for the mouse despite having lost a favourite necklace and Chris's best noise-reducing headphones!

When we went to breakfast we reported the fact that our A/C was broken but were a little bit vague about the reason! On our return later we would find it repaired; the mouse was never mentioned but we did feel a little guilty that one of the lodge employees would have had the unpleasant task of removing his remains.

In Fimela

Cheikh picked us up after breakfast for today’s excursion which would take us west to the Atlantic coast. Firstly however, he needed to stop in Fimela to fill up with petrol.

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General store in Fimela

This slightly longer stop than yesterday’s money-changing one, and on a busy Monday morning rather than a Sunday, gave us an opportunity to see, and photograph, the town and its people. We were finding that in comparison to Gambia we were less hassled here, with most people more interested in going about their daily business than in us.

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In Fimela

A bus drew up as we were strolling around, disgorging its passengers many of whom were laden with goods, presumably to sell in the small market. One lady had so much to carry that her small handbag had to dangle from her clenched teeth!

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Bus and bus passenger in Fimela

Yayeme palm forest

Not far from Fimela is the small community of Yayeme, part of the same administrative district or commune. On the outskirts of this village is an extensive forest of palms where we stopped for some photos. These tall elegant trees are known locally as Ron palms, but their Latin name is Borassus aethiopum. Every part of the tree is used by the locals – the leaves to makes thatched roofs, baskets, mats, etc.; the trunk for timber to build houses; the leaf stem for fencing or for fibres; the fruit eaten.

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Yayeme palm forest

Cheikh taught us how to make a belt by weaving two strands together.

As well as the palms, the landscape is dotted with baobabs and we stopped for photos at the largest of these. Cheikh described how in the past the dead would be mummified and left tucked into the holes in the trunk in accordance with animist beliefs, but added that this practice was made illegal by the first president, Senghor, after the country’s independence.

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Cheikh and car next to the largest baobab

We saw several makeshift tent-like shelters here, the temporary homes of nomadic cattle herders. Their cattle grazed among the palms, and one curious child came out to stare at us.

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Nomads' tent and child

There was something very peaceful for me in this landscape, due perhaps to the regularity and rhythm of the tall vertical trunks. A few local people were walking through the forest, dwarfed by the trees, and I wondered how it would be to follow these tracks daily, absorbing the tranquillity of nature. Or were they just thinking about work they needed to do, or focused on everyday matters of feeding the family?

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Yayeme palm forest

From here it was about an hour’s drive to the coast and our destination, Joal-Fadiouth

Joal-Fadiouth

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Village street, Shell Island

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The bridge to Shell Island

Joal-Fadiouth is a small town / large village on the Senegalese coast just north of the Sine-Saloum delta region. Or rather, it is a large village (Joal) linked to a small one (Fadiouth) both for administrative purposes and physically via a bridge. And it is the latter that forms the main attraction for tourists, and where we spent most of our visit.

The island is also known as Shell Island, and the reason for this is pretty obvious – it is built on layers and layers of shells. These have accumulated over the centuries as the locals subsisted on cockle fishing in the shallows of the mangrove lagoons and simply discarded the shells, or used them as building materials.

Cheikh parked near the bridge which leads to the island. He explained that he would not be able to act as our guide here, as if you want to visit Fadiouth you have to hire one of the syndicated official guides. He arranged for us to visit with Edouardo, who lives in the village and proved to be an excellent guide.

We started our visit with a walk across the wooden bridge, which is about 500 metres long and used only by pedestrians and donkey or horse carts.

The village has no motorised transport – both bridge and all its streets are designed for pedestrians and the ubiquitous horse and cart alone. This makes it a relatively peaceful place, which Edouardo clearly loved – he talked a lot about the contrast with Dakar (which he enjoys visiting for occasional lively weekends but where he would not want to live) and about the magical evenings here with everyone relaxed, visitors all gone home and the lights of the village reflected on the water.

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Building details, Shell Island

Edouardo took us on a meandering walk along many of the village's streets, and on all of them we were walking on shells. With no cars to worry about, and small houses, it seemed to me that many locals live much of their lives on these streets - not just going about their business (working, shopping etc.) but also meeting friends for a gossip or simply relaxing. It also seemed to me, perhaps unfairly, that the women were doing most of the work and the men most of the sitting and gossiping! But I shouldn't judge on just an hour's visit.

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Village street

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On the streets of Shell Island

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Locals in the main square

Apart from tourism the main source of income here is of course fishing. You will see conch meat and other shell fish drying in the sun

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Conch meat for sale

The conch shells can be seen on sale in the sprinkling of tourist-orientated craft stalls, alongside crafted objects such as wood carvings and paintings. We didn't buy anything, but prices looked reasonable to me, and there was little if any hassling to shop.

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Small market in Fadiouth

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Man weaving

The villagers also farm land on the mainland, with the main crop being millet which they use as couscous – we saw women washing the grain in the waters of the lagoon using large calabashes. This, with fish, forms the staple diet here.

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Rinsing the millet

A significant difference between Fadiouth and most other Senegalese villages is that the religious balance here is the exact opposite of the country as a whole, with 90% Christian (Roman Catholic) and 10% Muslim. Edouardo explained how the two religions live side by side in harmony, as they do generally in Senegal. When the church roof was destroyed in a storm a few years ago the whole village addressed the problem and contributed to its repair, with left-over funds later being put towards restoration work at the Friday Mosque.

But older than either of these religions is the ancient belief of animism, which continues to be practiced to some extent today. Christians and Muslims alike overlay their official worship with traditional elements, and a sacred baobab tree stands side by side with an impressive Calvary in the main square. Edouardo explained that at funerals the body is paraded through the streets and brought here to be blessed according to the customs of both faiths.

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The main square
- calvary on the left, baobab on the right

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The calvary

The village is divided into six districts, each with its own patron saint whose image can be seen on the large red and white coloured plaques around the wall of the church, and as a statue at the heart of ‘their’ district. I didn't manage to get any good pictures of these statues however, as they are protected by glass, but we were able to take photos of those around the church. We also caught a glimpse of the main Friday mosque at one end of the village, and passed another small one.

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Church tower, and statue outside

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Inside the church

Another thing that struck us here was the large number of pigs, as of course the largely Christian population is happy to eat pork. These roam freely around the streets – truly ‘free-range’ meat!

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Pigs on shells!

Shell Cemetery

Our stroll around the village with Edouardo had given a good insight into how the locals live in this region, but the main ‘sight’ in Fadiouth is the so-called Shell Cemetery.

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Shell Cemetery with access bridge on the right

The religious tolerance of which Fadiouth is so proud extends to its famous cemetery, which is located on a smaller neighbouring island, joined to the village by another wooden bridge, and which accommodates deceased Christians and Muslims in two distinct but undivided sections. The Christian graves are marked with white crosses, the Muslim for the most part with simple iron plaques, and the latter are notable for being all aligned with the head facing east, to Mecca, while the Christian graves are more higgledy-piggledy in their arrangement.

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Shell Cemetery
- Muslim graves in the foreground, Christian beyond

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Crosses, Shell Cemetery


On the highest point of this tiny island (high being a relative term - we are talking about an elevation of only a few metres) is a large cross. From here we had extensive views back to the village and to the nearby old granaries, raised on stilts above the water. These are no longer in use but are kept to show tourists.

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View from the mainland, showing the large cross on the 'hill'

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Shell Cemetery, with Fadiouth and mainland beyond, seen from the highest point

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Granaries


From the cemetery you can either cross by boat back to the mainland, detouring close to these granaries, or retrace your steps over first one and then another wooden bridge, which is what we did.

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Looking back towards bridge and mainland

Back on the mainland we met up again with Cheikh and headed out of town to visit the sardine smokeries.

Sardine smokeries

On the outskirts of Joal the road runs between a series of sardine smoking enterprises. While no one could consider these attractive (the rubbish they produce makes them something of an eyesore) they are interesting to see. The fish are smoked on long racks supported with stone walls, beneath which fires are lit.

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Spreading the fish for smoking

Once blackened they are skinned, the skins being discarded on the ground and making a major contribution to the mess! The fish are then spread out to dry in the hot sun before being packed for transporting to other parts of the country or for export to other African countries including Ghana and Burkino Faso.

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Waiting to be skinned

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Skinning the fish

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Fish drying


I found that some people here were happy to pose for photos, such as the guy above who was spreading the fish out on the smoking racks. Others were less keen, or in one case asked for money – as you can imagine, I didn’t pay, given that none of the others made such a request!

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Children playing between the drying tables

From the smokeries we drove straight back to Souimanga Lodge, arriving mid afternoon.

Afternoon at Souimanga

We had a dip in the pool on our return to the lodge and then spent some time relaxing and bird-watching on our private jetty. Today’s sightings included some Great and Little Egrets and a beautiful Pied Kingfisher who took a dip in our plunge pool and then posed very nicely for me on the wall while drying off!

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View of the lagoon with egrets

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Pied Kingfisher

There were lots of crabs out on the mud exposed by the low tide.

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Crabs at low tide

We also had a visit from a friendly lizard.

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Visiting lizard

In the evening there was the usual nice dinner on the decking among the trees surrounding the main lodge building before retiring to bed in our wonderful suite - now, perhaps sadly, mouse-less.

Posted by ToonSarah 10:57 Archived in Senegal Tagged bridges churches trees birds islands fish fishing shells village africa reptiles seabirds customs senegal Comments (9)

Back to an English winter

Senegal day twelve

Our final night of this trip had been spent in Gambia, as it would have been impossible to do the long drive back from Fimela in Senegal, catch the unreliable Barra-Banjul ferry and be confident of making it to the airport in time for any flight, let alone the regular chartered mid-afternoon one to London. The bonus was a few final hours in the hot African sun before flying back to the February chills of home.

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Sunrise, Kotu Beach

The balcony of our top floor room at the Kombo Beach Hotel gave us a great view of a lovely sunrise through the palms.

And after a decent buffet breakfast we took a walk along the beach.

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On Kotu Beach

Kotu Stream

There was just time too to head along the road to a popular Kotu Beach spot. The road that leads off to the Kombo Beach and a few other hotels crosses the Kotu Stream, and the bridge here is a popular spot for bird-watching. In fact, at 10.30 every morning you can come and watch the vultures being fed. That would have been a bit late for us, with a flight to catch, but even earlier in the morning there was plenty of activity to enjoy.

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The view from Kotu Bridge

The downside was that, as everywhere in The Gambia, we were hassled by would-be guides, taxi drivers, boat owners and sellers of all kinds, both during our walk and while standing on the bridge trying to take photos or simply enjoy the view.

I did my best to repel or tune out those clamouring to sell me a tour or drive me anywhere else other than here, and found this despite the hassle a pleasant place to while away some time. Bird sightings were good and included various herons (a Western Reef Heron and a Grey Heron), Hooded Vultures, Long-tailed Cormorants, a Spur-Winged Lapwing, Pied Kingfishers, a Red-eyed Dove, Wide-tailed Swallows, Whimbrels and more.

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Western Reef Heron, and Grey Heron

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Long-tailed Cormorant

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Pied Kingfisher

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Wide-tailed Swallow

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Whimbrel

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Spur-Winged Lapwing

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Hooded Vulture

As well as the birds we enjoyed watching the fishermen with their traditional nets.

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Fisherman by Kotu Bridge

There was a small and rather exposed hide right by the bridge, and there may well have been others along the nature trail but we didn't have time to explore that as we had to get back to the hotel for our airport pick-up.

Our flight home was so uneventful I kept no notes! And after an equally uneventful overnight stay at Gatwick’s Hilton hotel, we braved the chill of London and headed home.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises bridges birds fishing wildlife beach hotel flight river africa gambia Comments (7)

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