Going For An Underground Bath?

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This small lava cave with a thermal spring inside is called Grjótagjá (sounds like Graw-ta-gyo to me). It was not too difficult to locate it, just look out for a small sign along the Ring Road 1 that tells you where to turn off for Grjótagjá. The entrance to the cave is really small & nondescript. It isn’t obvious save for the few people milling around it, trying to keep the small fly-like insects from getting their orifices & pondering whether to climb down the uneven & steep rocky ‘steps’ into the cave. It would be great if you bought one of those nettings you wear over your head that would keep the insects at bay. Fortunately my hair was long & it covered my ears & I cupped my left hand over my nose & mouth but honestly the swarming insects are scary.

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Descending into the cave was one challenge, the other was the lack of room. This little section of rock is where maybe four or five persons can balance themselves to take photos of the cave. I left my camera & mobile on this huge rock on the right & leapt from the last step to get over there holding on to the rock to steady myself. Be careful if you are a tall person not to bump your head as the cave roof hangs low in this section.

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Here on my left is where the last step ends. The story told was that an outlaw by the name of Jón Markússon used to live & bathe in this pool when he was on the run in the early 18th century.

 

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Up till the 1970s, Grjótagjá was a popular bathing site until the volcanic eruptions of Krafla between 1975 to 1984  when magma steam caused  the water temperatures to rise over dangerous levels of 60°C making it unsuitable for bathing. Today the water temperature hovers around 43-46°C but bathing is prohibited & only viewing & photography is allowed as it sits on private land belonging  to the Vogar farm.  A scene from Episode 5 “Kissed by Fire” from Game of Thrones Season 3 was filmed here & aired on 28th Apr 2013 further popularising this cave.

This grotto lies underground totally obscured from view & it was just my curiosity that was piqued when I first read about people coming here to bathe in the natural thermal spring that brought me here.  It is akin to going to an exclusive spa but…. this awesome cave with beautiful, clear blue waters  really blew me away!

 

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We arrived at Miyajima in the evening & our timing was perfect as we could freshen up at our Ryokan, enjoy our Kaiseiki Dinner & round up the night with  the Illumination tour of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) & the Great Torii. The downside was that the narration was all in Japanese & our party of 8 was a 100% lost but the hilarious tour guide tried his best to throw us clues with his one word English vocabulary charades-like; which eventually had everyone onboard in stitches. Laughter is infectious!

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We approach the brightly lit Giant Torii & the Boat was a buzzed with excitement as everyone wanted to capture the memory on their cell phone or camera. Selfies & wefies are the order of the day.

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Our captain brought us around the O-Torii anticlockwise & positioned the boat for the highlight of our 30min experience by passing  through the Torii to a chorus of Oohs & Aahs! During the time of Taira-no-Kiyomori (1118-1181) it was common for devotees to pass under the Torii gate before entering  Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社). The etiquette was to bow twice, clap twice & end with a single bow.

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Welcome to Miyajima which is lauded as “An Island where People & Gods live together!” It is also known as Itsukushima Island which literally translates as the “Island of worship” with a circumference of about 31km.

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Toro (灯籠) A traditional lantern made of stone, wood or metal. This element of Japanese architecture has its origins in China & they were used only in Buddhist temples where they lined & illuminated paths. Lit lanterns were considered an offering to Buddha. However over time, they started to be used in Shinto shrines & even private homes.

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About 212.7m from the Itsukushima Shrine’s  Haiden (Main Prayer Hall) is the Great Torii.

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This Ryobu Torii gate is supported by pillars on both sides. The presence of a torii at the entrance is usually the simplest way to identify a Shinto Jinja (Shrine) & it is a symbol marking the transition from the mundane world to the sacred.

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Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) which is situated on the island of Itsukushima in the Seto Inland Sea was  first built during the 6th century & has always been venerated as a holy place of Shintoism. This present shrine dates from the 12th century & the harmonious arrangement & architecture reveals great artistic & technical skill. At high tide, the shrine appears to be floating in the sea.

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Long roofed corridors link the different shrines & halls together & Itsukushima plays on the contrast in colour & form between the mountains & the sea to illustrate the Japanese concept of scenic beauty which combines both nature & human creativity.

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The property covers an area of 431.2 hectares on the island of Itsukushima & the buffer zone of 2,634.3 hectares includes the rest of the island & part of the sea in front of Itsukushima Jinja (厳島神社).

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This is the Haraiden (Purification Hall) of the Marado Shrine which was where purification ceremonies are held.

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Looking through the Haiden (Prayer Hall), Heiden (Offerings Hall) & Honden (Main Hall) of Marado Shrine. This is the 2nd largest shrine or Sessha (Auxiliary Shrine)  in this complex & it is dedicated to different 5 deities. It is similar in architectural style to the Main Shrine with only slight differences in details. On the lit paper lanterns is the emblem of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社).

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These bronze  lanterns hanging from the eaves along Higashi Kairo (East Corridor) approaching the Asazaya are called Tsuri-dōrō or Kaitomoshi (掻灯) & they are usually small, four or six-sided & are made of metal, copper or wood. They were introduced from China via Korea during the Nara Period (710-794AD)  & was initially used in Imperial palaces.

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The Asazaya is the hall where the Shinto priests gather during Shinto ceremonies & also the Morning ceremonies. The roof is gabled & the whole complex is built in Shinden-zukuri  (寝殿造) architectural style used predominantly  during the Heian Period (794-1185) in palatial or aristocratic abodes.

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Gojunoto seen from the corridors of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社). This 27.6m high 5-storied Pagoda was originally constructed in 1407 & restored in 1533. It is coated with red lacquer & its roof is covered with layers of Japanese Cypress bark shingles  & its structure is built so strong that it  can resist horizontal oscillation caused by earthquakes or typhoons. This pagoda was dedicated to  the Buddha of Medicine accompanied by the Buddhist saints Fugen & Monju & during the early Meiji era (1868-1912) these deities have been moved to the nearby Daiganji Temple.

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The 6 pillars of the O-Torii are not buried in the seabed but actually sits on ground that has been strengthened; stones & pebbles inserted into the top of the gate also  helps it to keeps its balance.

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The Higashi Kairo (East Corridor) painted in vivid vermillion links the Marodo Shrine to the Main Shrine & here you can see how the roof & the columns are constructed symmetrically. The East & West Corridors have 108 bays with the pillars 2.4m apart enough to fit eight floorboards with gaps in between to relieve water pressure from rising tides & also allow drainage of rainwater.

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Prayer is in session at the Haiden (Prayer Hall). Looking through, you catch a glimpse of the Heiden (Offerings Hall) & the Honden (Main Shrine) which is also designated a national treasure. It was reconstructed in 1571 by Mori Motonari & covers an area of 271 sq m making it one of the biggest in Japan. Interestingly there are no doors or walls in this area, creating a spacious environment in this sanctuary.

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In the background is the Haraiden (Purification Hall) of the Marado Shrine looking from the Hirabutai (Open Stage) of the Main Shrine.

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The Takabutai (High Stage) which is elevated, stands between the stone lanterns & this is where the Bugaku (Ancient Court Dance)  is performed when the weather is fine. Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to the 3 daughters of Susano-ono Mikoto, kami (god) of seas & storms & brother of the great sun god.

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A decorated Bronze lantern the Hitasaki stands at the end of a narrow pier extending from the Hirabutai (Open Stage) & the torii gate is straight ahead, making it the best spot to view the O-Torii especially at low tide.

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The O-Torii stands at 16m in height & weighs about 60 tons. For the current main pillars of the gate, 600 year old Camphor trees were used after years of searching for the right trees. They are resistant to rotting & insect invasions. The supporting sleeve pillars are made of cedar.

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These sake casks are called Komodaru;  they are empty & are put on display as an acknowledgment to those sake brewers who have donated sake for the Shrine’s use during festivals in spring & fall.      O-miki (御神酒) which is rice wine used during Shinto rites & festivals in Japan has always been a way of bringing gods & people together. Imbibing sake during festivals makes one feel happy & closer to the gods & things couldn’t get any better for those who love to drink!

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It is a common sight to see O-mikuji (おみくじ) tied to trees or stands & they are actually random fortunes written on strips of paper. You can make a small donation at the shrine or temple & choose one from a box hoping for good fortune. I suspect the reason why so many are left here is because the fortunes read were not desirous & people want to leave the ‘bad luck’ behind.

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Sori-bashi (Arched Bridge) – This bridge dates back to 1557 according to the inscription on one of the ornamental caps of the railing posts. It was also called Chokushi-bashi (Imperial Messengers’ Bridge) as it was where the imperial messenger crossed over to the Main Shrine on important festive occasions as Gochinzasai. Temporary stairs were assembled & placed on the bridge for easier passage.

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This Noh Stage was presented to Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) by the Mori Clan during the Warring States period & underwent restoration work during the Edo Period. This stage is unique in that it is the only Noh stage constructed over water & the floor has been constructed to act like a soundboard creating acoustics in place of Tsubo  – Urns filled with water that were usually placed beneath the ordinary stage. Shin Noh (Sacred Noh) was performed here during Tokasai (Peach Blossom Festival) from 16-18 Apr & in autumn, Kenchasai ( Tea Offering Ceremony) when a Tea-master performs a tea ceremony to the goddesses. On these occasions a temporary balcony is set up for audiences to enjoy the stage performances.

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This is the Tenjin  (Ten Shrine) dedicated to Sugawara-no-Michizane, a prestigious deity of Education & Intelligence. This is also sometimes referred to as the Renga-do Hall as Renga poetry ceremonies were held here on the 25th of every month until mid Meiji era, some 100 years ago. Renga is a traditional poem composed of lines linked in theme written by two or more persons.

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Looking at Itsukushima Shrine from Daiganji Temple where you can see Toyokuni Shrine, Gojunoto (5 Storied Pagoda), the two Kado-Marodo Shrines with the long pier between them leading to the Hitasaki Lantern & the Gakubos (Dance & Music Halls) which flank the lantern on each side.

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At low tide the wooden & stone foundations of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) lay exposed. These have to be constantly repaired due to decay & water erosion.

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People start streaming towards the O-Torii.

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This is Itsukushima Shrine’s most recognisable landmark & celebrated feature & also one of Japan’s most popular tourist attraction.

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The mighty O-Torii looms larger than life! Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) is listed in Nihon Sankei (日本三景),  as one of the top three most celebrated sights in Japan alongside Matsushima Islands (松島町) in Miyagi Prefecture & Amanohasidate (天橋立) in Kyoto Prefecture.

The Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996 & the Japanese government has designated several buildings & possessions here as National Treasures.

You really have to see this amazing place to understand for yourself…. Why?

 

 

 

Mostar’s Stari Most

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Mostar is a city in the administrative centre of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton of the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina. It has about 105,000 inhabitants as per the 2013 census taken.  This is the 5th largest city in the country & it was named after the bridge-keepers “Mostari” who during  medieval times guarded the Stari Most “Old Bridge”.

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Mostar which is situated in the deep valley of the Neretva River,  developed during the 15th & 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town & during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th & 20th centuries. Mostar is known for its old Turkish houses & the Stari Most.  Browsing along the cobbled-street Kujundziluk Bazaar where colourful souvenir shops & handmade crafts beckon.

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The Old City of Mostar & the Stari Most (Old Bridge) have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005 & this bridge built by the Ottomans in the 16th century is an exemplary  piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.

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Climbing up Stari Most which is an arched stone bridge commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557. It was tasked to Mimar Hayruddin (a student of the Ottoman architect  Mimar Sinan)  who took 9 years to complete it.

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The Stari Most superseded the previous wooden bridge that used to span Neretva River & upon completion in 1566 quickly became a wonder for being the widest man-made arch at that time. The arch of the bridge is made of a local stone called tenelija & its shape was formed as a result of the irregularities of the stones that lined the inner section of the arch.

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The picturesque Old Bazaar Kujundžiluk  on the west bank of Neretva River was named after the goldsmiths who traditionally crafted & sold their wares on this street. Today you can still find authentic paintings & copper or bronze carvings of the Stari Most for keepsakes.

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Mostar was first mentioned in a document dating from 1474 & it was on the trade route between the Adriatic & the mineral rich regions of central Bosnia; thus the settlement began to spread to the east bank of the river.

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Koski Mehmed Pašina Džamija- This mosque built between 1618-1619 represents another fine example of Ottoman architecture in Bosnia & Herzegovina & is the most monumental mosque in Mostar. This one space-plan with a dome was designed in the main architecture office in Istanbul & was built from precisely tanned stone blocks. It is significantly located on the cliffs by River Neretva in the centre of the city.

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Looking from Stari Most at the east bank of the Neretva River which is today lined with restaurants. Having survived for 427 years the Stari Most was sadly destroyed during the Bosnian War in Bosnia & Herzegovina on 9 Nov 1993 when more than 60 shells were fired at it.  That was deemed a deliberate attempt by the Croats to destroy cultural property & to wipe out memories of a shared cultural heritage & peaceful co-existence.

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The view from the highest point on Stari Most is pretty to say the least. I spy a diving platform that would be useful during summer when the water level in the river rises in tandem with the temperature. There is also a modern bridge the Lučki Most nearby that carries both pedestrians & vehicular traffic.

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Human settlements along the River Neretva between Hum Hill & the Velež Mountain have existed since prehistory & discoveries of fortified enceintes,  cemeteries & evidence of Roman occupation have been found buried beneath the present town. Bosnia & Herzegovina of the western Balkans is mostly mountainous & it encompasses the central Dinaric Alps.

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Passing under the semi-circular Tara Tower on the east bank of Stari Most which served as an architectural buttress, watchtower & ammunition storage during the Ottoman period. On the west bank, Helebija Tower was once a prison on the lower floor & a small barrack on the upper floor. Have a peek through the archway & see part of the Karst mountain range of the Dinaric Alps which extends for 645km from Italy in the northwest to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro & Albania in the southeast.

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The cobblestone pathway acoss the Old Town of Mostar & the Stari Most is called kaldrma. During reconstruction of the bridge, two distinct mortars were used. A dark red & a pink mortar which helped with preventing water penetration into the bridge & to make walking on them easier for the merchants & their animals.

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The dark red mortar is located directly above the stone slabs recesses & above the stone elements of the arch. The cobblestones are submerged in pink mortar that fills the joints & gaps between the stone blocks thus setting the pavement & insulating it from water seepage.

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Coming close to the waters’ edge – Neretva River is the largest river of the eastern part of the Adriatic Basin. There are 4 Hydroelectricity power plants & large dams with water levels higher than 15m providing flood protection, power & water storage. This is one of the most valuable  natural & freshwater  resource of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

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The Stari Most is iconic of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s & instead of foundations, it has abutments of limestone that link the wing walls along the waterside cliffs. It spans 30m, is 4m wide & rises 24m above the emerald-green waters of the Neretva River.

We were lucky enough to witness a man diving beautifully off the bridge. There is a traditional annual competition organised end July where young men leap off the bridge into the very cold waters & I would think it is quite risky & only skilled & trained divers should attempt this!

Faces of the Chao Phraya

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The under belly of King Taksin Bridge from Sathorn Pier where we boarded the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Wat Arun.

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Enroute to Wat Arun, I spotted this very interesting & inviting  riverside home.

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Some other houses on stilts along the Chao Phraya.

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Colourful long-tail Boat Taxis plying the Chao Phraya river. Lower Chao Phraya underwent several man-made modifications during the Ayutthaya Period (1351-1767) where shortcut canals were constructed to bypass large loops in the river, thereby shortening the travel time of ships carrying goods from the capital city to the sea.

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In Bangkok the Chao Phraya river is a major artery  for a nework of transportation that includes river buses, cross-river ferries & water taxis or long tails. More than 15 boat lines operate on the rivers & canals of the city & it is definitely one way to beat the horrendous traffic jams on the roads especially during peak hours.

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Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn is a Buddhist temple sitting on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River. An important landmark in Thailand, it is beautiful especially in the mornings when the first light is reflected on the surface of the temple creating a pearly iridescence. This temple was built during the 17th century but the spires were later additions  built during the reign of King Rama II in the early 19th century.

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Sunset over the Chao Phraya River. This river is about 372km long & it starts in the North at Nakhon Sawan Province at the confluence of two rivers the Ping & Nan & flows from the central plains to Bangkok & finally out to the Gulf of Thailand.

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The Somdet Phra Pin-klao Bridge is just one of the many major bridges that cross the Chao Phraya. Others include the Rama VI railroad bridge, Phra Pin-klao near the Grand Palace, Rama VIII a single tower asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge, Rama IX a semi-symmetrical cable stayed bridge & Mega Bridge on the Industrial Ring Road.

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  Along the Chao Phraya River from the north to the south, cities have sprung up due to their access to the waterway. The many tributaries of the river delta are interconnected by canals that serve irrigation & transportation purposes.                                                                                                  A  romantic light envelops Bangkok as the evening fades into the night & we anticipate a lovely dining & wining experience at Asiatique Riverfront.             

It may come as a surprise to many who have been to Bangkok & crossed the Chao Phraya countless times to be unaware that the river is actually 372km long; that the Chao Phraya Watershed covers an extensive area of 157,924 sq km or about 35% of the country of Thailand & over 280 species of fish live in the waters of the Chao Phraya basin.

No need to Crane your necks!

 

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This was one of the highlights of my road trip to Kyushu & certainly a day that held much anticipation. I read about the migratory birds in one of the webpages & thought what a cool idea it was to see them  even though I am not much of a bird-watcher. Over 10,000 cranes make their annual southbound journey between mid Oct to Dec from Siberia & these amazing birds remain here till around Mar every year.

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As we approached the padi-fields of Arasaki in Izumi City of Kagoshima Prefecture, things seemed kind of quiet in this sleepy farming town. The autumn crops have just been harvested so I was surprised to see the fields water-logged. Apparently this was done deliberately for the cranes, as they roost standing in shallow waters in the rice fields at night.

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We parked at the large parking area right in front of the Crane Observation Center which was mostly empty & I figured it was a little inaccessible for most tourists unless you drive. On this notice board, the center has the actual figures of the different bird life spotted on that day. The total headcount was an astounding 15,360 with the majority of them Hooded Cranes standing at 14,907. How do they actually keep count of the flying birds, I wonder?

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It was said that the cranes started to arrive on this site around 1700 after the reclamation project in Arasaki by the Satsuma Domain & Shimazu Domain;  which were administrative units during the Edo Shogunate.

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This area was registered as a natural monument & sanctuary in 1921 & is one of Japan’s largest wintering places for cranes. Subsquently in 1952 the Izumi migration grounds was designated a special natural monument.

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I tried to get closer to the cranes to capture some shots but the warden kept a watchful eye & I was advised to keep off the fields which was out-of-bounds. The cranes are protected & given ‘space’ so as to keep them coming back to this safe wintering haven.

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Bird watchers take delight in observing the cranes as they engage in activities such as pecking for food, grooming their feathers & even dancing. Cranes feed mostly on aquatic creatures which they quietly stalk through the shallows.

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The total area of this migration grounds is 254 ha & most of the cranes here are the Hooded Cranes(Grus monacha) which are the smallest in species. They breed in south-central & south-eastern Siberia & over 80% of its population winters at Izumi, Japan.  Some sightings of them have been made in South Korea & China.

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These amazing Hooded Cranes are about 1m long, weight approximately 3.7kg & have a wing span of 1.87m. Soaring high, flying free!                                                                                              Herons & cranes do have a great semblance but Herons fly with the necks bent & head tucked in whilst the Cranes fly with necks outstretched like a goose & its long legs trailing behind as seen here. Cranes are monogamous & can live up to 30 years in the wild & 60 years in captivity.

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This shot was taken from the 3rd floor of the Crane Observation Center which offers a 360° panoramic view of the site for a small token of ¥210. On the 2nd floor is a smallish museum with some photo exhibits & information on these migratory birds plus a telescope that would give you a close up magnification of the cranes.

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The various species that can be observed here besides the Hooded Crane are White-necked Cranes, Common Cranes & sometimes Sandhill Cranes, Siberian Cranes & the rarer Demoiselle Cranes. They forage in the day for grain that has been scattered in the rice fields to feed them & may take off in smaller groups across Izumi but would return at night to the safety of the roosting ground near the Crane Observation Center.

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(From Left to Right) The Aosagi (literally Blue Heron in Japanese) is the Grey Heron; Kosagi the Little Egret, a species of small Heron from the Ardeidae family. Magamo or Mallard a dabbling duck; Tageri (Vanellus vanellus) the Lapwing, a wading bird that can be seen on cultivated land, marshes, mud flats & estuaries. Nabe Zuru the Hooded Crane is endangered as it faces major threats like the loss of wetlands & degradation of wintering grounds in China & South Korea due to reclamation for development & dam building. The last one in line is the Manazuru or White-naped Crane which breeds mainly in Russia, Northeast China & Northeastern Mongolia.

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The Orizuru or Paper Crane is the most classic of Japanese Origami. It is a representation of the Japanese Red-Crowned Crane (Tanchozuru) which the Japanese believe carried souls to paradise on their wings.

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A thousand folded paper cranes strung together is called Senbazuru & here at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park you would see many fine examples of them. It is said that a thousand cranes need to be made for a wish to come true.

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Orizuru is often associated with the story of Sadako Sasaki who lived in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing. She was just 2 years old when the “Little Boy” was dropped on 6th Aug 1945. At the age of 12, it was discovered that she had developed leukaemia due to radiation exposure & was told that she would not  have much time left. Her friend advised her to fold origami paper cranes in the hope that her wish to live would come true.

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Sadly, Sadako passed away on 25th Oct 1955 & her friends & schoolmates published a collection of letters to raise funds for a memorial to her & all the children who died from the effects of the atomic bomb. So here is the Statue of Sadako unveiled in 1958, holding a golden crane’s wings at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Genbaku Dome)

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A Grey Heron(Ardea cinerea) Aosagi in flight. This long-legged predatory wading bird is native throughout temperate Europe,  Asia & parts of Africa. Spotted this bird at Sakurajima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

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Smooth landing! The Grey Heron belongs to the Heron family Ardeidae & it is a bird of wetland areas & can be seen around lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes & on the sea-coast. They feed on aquatic creatures & can be a metre tall & weigh in at between 1 to 2 kg.

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Grey Heron perched on the pier railings of Sakurajima Island, attracted to the small bucket of bait that the anglers were using to fish.

This has been one happy adventure for me. I now better understand  why the crane especially the Red-crowned Crane is referred to as the “Honourable Lord Crane” in Japan.  This popular & beloved bird is featured in artworks & kimono motifs, used as a logo of Japan Airlines & ubiquitous in all things Japanese. Fabled to live for a thousand years, the white feathered, soaring & graceful crane is a national symbol of longevity & good fortune.

You do not have to look very hard nor crane your necks to see cranes here in Kagoshima Prefecture if you come to Arasaki between late Nov & Mar or catch the Tanchozuru up North in Hokkaido at The Kushiro Marshland (Kushiro Shitsugen), best seen in winter when they gather at the winter feeding sites.

The World Above Dubrovnik

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A short 5 mins ride on the Dubrovnik Cable Car took us up to Mount Srđ but the 10mins walk we took from the Stradun towards Buža Gate crossing a parking lot, was a bit more challenging with lots of steep stairs leading to the cable car station on Ulica kraija Petra Krešimira IV. This is apparently the quickest route but it left quite a few of us huffing & puffing! There are two other ways to get to the cable car via Pile or Ploče Gates taking about 8-12mins walking around & behind the city walls.

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This cable car system was first constructed in1969 & it scales a steep incline of 412m high up over the old walled town of Dubrovnik. There was a  disruption in service during the War of Independence (1991-1995) & these gleaming orange cable cars operating since 2010 have transported millions of visitors who wanted to catch a glimpse of the beautiful panoramic view of Dubrovnik & the surrounding areas.

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We savoured both the magnificent view & Coffee paired with a delicious Apple Crumble Pie at Restaurant Panorama which overlooks Lokrum Island, the Adriatic Sea & the Old Town of Dubrovnik.

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Mount Srđ was in the thick of action during the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence & home to one of the fiercest battle, namely the Siege of Dubrovnik where the southern slope once rich with pine trees were completely gutted by fire.

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It takes between 1hr 30mins to 2 hrs to hike up Mount Srđ on a well defined trail to Fort Imperial. Along the way there are outdoor sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross & a final panel of Christ being laid in a tomb.

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This 20m high  White Procession Cross  & altar was rebuilt after it was destroyed during the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence. A gift from the Archdiocese of Brac (an island located between Spilt & Hvar), it was made from pure white limestone that was quarried there. Apparently the limestone used in the White House in Washington D.C. was also acquired from Brac.

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Mount Srđ was once forested with oak trees which the locals called dubrava (Slavonic word dub means “oak tree”) & that was how the city got its name, Dubrovnik.

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Lokrum Island is the closest to Dubrovnik & it is a popular getaway for locals & tourists. You can catch a ferry from the Old Harbour of Dubrovnik (bottom right of the photo) which takes about 15mins & cost about €5 to get to Lokrum.

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The amazing view of Dubrovnik’s Old City from Mount Srđ. Look at the impressive stone walls & citadel that protect the city & the attractive orange terracotta rooftops.

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Looking north-west at the modern part of Dubrovnik city from Mount Srđ’s cable car station.

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A picturesque view of the Elaphiti Islands which was named after the large number of deers that used to inhabit them. The ancient Greek word for deer is elaphos & the Roman author Pliny the Elder, was the first to identify  the islands as Elaphiti Islands.

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Interestingly terraced silhouettes of the Elaphiti Islands which comprises of about 13 isles dotting Croatia’s Dalmatian Coastline. The other 3 isles closest to Dubrovnik besides Lokrum are Kolocep, Lopud & Sipan.

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The setting sun swathes the Adriatic Sea in gold & bathes Dubrovnik in a romantic sepia hue as evening approaches.

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After spending such a lovely afternoon on Mount Srđ, it is now time to get back into the Old Town for a sumptuous dinner with a toast or two to round off this beautiful day!

Dubrovnik has the honour of being called “The Pearl of the Adriatic” & this gem truly lives up to its name. It was augmented further & cast into the limelight with the TV series Game of Thrones being filmed here as well.  When you walk down the Stradun, it is like going back in time to centuries past or is it just the diehard romantic in me?

Mysterious Penglai

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Penglai belongs to Yantai County in Shangdong Province of the People’s Republic of China. Penglai Pavilion which sits atop Danya Mountain is crowned one of the “Four Famous Pavilions in China”

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This is recorded that Emperor Wu from the Han dynasty came to Shandong on several occasions seeking the ‘fairyland of Penglai’ as legend has it that this is where the 8 immortals of Chinese mythology cross the sea. 

 

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 This photo is taken near the West Gate leading to Penglai Pavilion which is part of a large complex of ancient buildings, palaces & temples which covers about 18,900sq km.

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Depicted here in a small temple are the 8 Immortals who got drunk at Penglai Pavilion before using their special powers to cross the sea.

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Numerous calligraphic works by famous writers, stone inscriptions & couplets hung on the columns of halls can be seen everywhere as it was once the literary gathering place for renowned scholars & poets.

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Not only is Penglai Pavilion a good place to witness a magical mirage, it is also a good place to catch a magnificent sun rise. 

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This charming side of Penglai Water City with the ancient fishing boats is sadly no more, instead modern motor boats & yachts which take tourists out to sea are moored here. This ancient naval base built around 1376 during the Ming dynasty is most complete & was designated a national cultural relic in 1982 along with Penglai Pavilion.