Monday, June 25, 2012

Hakone, Japan

Last night I and my husband were going through all photographs clicked during our stay in Tokyo. Every trip we planned there and the execution of those plans used to be a big deal (we both dislike to plan) back then. Today when we look back all those moments feel so adorable and funny. I particularly remember our trip to Hakone. It was one trip for which we hadn't planned anything. We had just checked and our all time favorite for the route and timings of the trains running till Odawara and rest we left for exploration. I guess that made the trip more WOW.

I had longed to visit Hakone from the time I had come to Tokyo. The only reason was HOT SPRINGS. Onsen (hot springs) are the major attractions of Hakone machi (town). There are resorts that offer private Onsen baths. I have heard these bath spas are traditional - the Japanese style. The eagerness to visit this place came from the fact that my body shouts COLD whenever the temperatures fall below 24 degree celsius. After a long wait, my plans of visiting Hakone machi materialized and along with it materialized several of my 'FIRST TIME EXPERIENCES'....

1) The Hakone trip
Hakone machi is a town in Ashigarashimo district in Kanagawa prefecture. It is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which is less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo. Famous for hot springs, panoramic views, fun options to travel, natural beauty, and huge and beautiful Lake Ashi and breath taking Mount Fuji. Hakone is popular among Japanese and tourists due its proximity from Tokyo city. 

We first went to Odawara via JR trains. Well there are many ways to travel in and around Hakone. We wanted to experience all the different transports available so we took the Odakyu Hakone Free Pass from Odawara and started our journey. From Odawara we took a bus to reach Hakone. The weather outside was extremely cold and we were greeted with completely opposite temperature inside the bus. Thanks to the powerful heaters below our seats, we were forced to end our bus ride short. Few minutes longer and we would had got tandoori legs. Completely clueless about where we had got off, we decided to follow some fellow tourists. We followed these people and reached a Shinto Shrine. This beautiful shrine is located on the shore of Lake Ashi and is known as Hakone Gongen.

After being mesmerized with the beauty of Hakone Gongen we walked along the shore of Lake Ashi to board a ferry. Mind you its a its HUGE lake, and when legs become cold to the point that you are no more sure what is carrying your body, short and scenic distance becomes looooooooooooong and dreadful.Anyways, we walked all the way to Hakone machi, one of the pick up point of the Hakone sightseeing boat. The lake was decorated with magnificent ships who had pirate-ish look and whose crew members were dressed like pirates. After a pleasing tour of the lake we reached Togendai and went to a Japanese restaurant where I had.....

2) My first Soba: Soba is a type of thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. It is served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup. Mine was vegetarian Soba full with different types of mushrooms. To be honest I had never tasted anything like it in my life. I am not sure whether I liked it but it wasnt bad either. My hubby says that you start to love it over the period of time. Would like to have it again some day.  

Having our stomaches filled with hot Soba we moved further towards the...

3) Hakone Ropeway: I am scared of heights, so getting into a ropeway cabin for the first time ever was a big deal for me. The ropeway was going to take us to the Owakudani, the sulphuric hot springs. The view was so amazing that I forgot all about my phobia. I was clicking my way through when I first got the glimpse of Mount Fuji. 

4) Mt. Fuji: I have heard a lot about Mount Fuji, studied about it in my geography class and wondered always that how can it be covered with snow despite being a volcanic mountain. And now getting to see it, in actual, was a complete mind boggling experience. I cant explain how very beautiful Fuji San is. The first volcanic mountain I saw till date. Hope to see many more and yes inactive ones. 

Once we were out of the ropeway station we visited the Owakudani Geysers. 
5) Saw volcanically active geysers: The place was at a height and constant waves of strong cold winds were making us numb. It was difficult even to walk in the open area. After a short trek we reached the geysers. They are volcanically active. Everywhere white ashes were scattered. In the pictures below you can see them too. At Owakudani boiled eggs, black in color, are sold. 

6)Black Eggs: The regular white eggs turn black when boiled in these volcanic  geysers. It is said that consuming a black egg  can increase ones life span by seven years. Well I bought two of them coz I wanted some life to return in my cold blue palms. Despite just being taken out of the boiling water they felt pleasantly warm on our numb skin. Just imagine how cold it was over there. 
P.S. Did eat the black eggs later. Tasted like the regular white ones. Still my first ever, black egg.

From here we again took the Hakone ropeway to reach Sounzan. The view was spectacular. From Sounzan we took the Hakone cable car which took us to Gora. By this time we all were tired of traveling itself. I think 80 percent of our time we were just hopping from one form of transport to another. From Gora we took the Hakone Tozan Railways. The tracks of this train are weird. Its path are crisscrossed ones. After a quiet and calm railway ride we reached Hakone-Yumoto. The moment we went to ticket counter  we had to shed our  calmness and get into energetic mode. We were told that our 'Romancecar' was leaving in 2 minutes, so we literally ran like our life were at stake to board our Romance car. Romance car is not a car but Odakyu Electric railway's limited Express. It reaches faster than the usual slow ones. Its ambience is different than the JR trains.  The ride back was fun and warm.

While we were near the sulphuric springs I visited a huge omiyage (souvenir) shop and 
7) Bought a traditional japanese umbrella... Its a lovely purple one. Made of thick paper and wooden sticks. The top of it has nice hand painted design. I wont ever be able to use it as it is so delicate. Useless in the actual sense yet so very priceless to me.

Despite my intention to visit Hakone was purely for the Onsen, it was the only thing I didn't enjoy there. I guess Hakone has so many attractions that lodging there for at least a day or two helps. So I have decided my next visit to Hakone will be for two days wherein I can accommodate the Onsen experience and all the museum visits.

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