Men on fire and deer poop.

DSC_0433cJapan is famous for its spectacular festivals, which are essential parts of strong, well-rooted traditions. The Fire Festival was the main reason why we chose NARA as our very first destination. The mystery around this event mixed with the fine festive atmosphere gives the audience show and fun they came for.

Here is a bit of explanation I found:

The Wakakusa Yamayaki is an annual festival during which the grass on the hillside of Nara’s Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire. The mountain is located at the eastern end of Nara Park, and when it is set alight it can be seen throughout the city. The burning of the mountain itself is preceded by a fireworks display. The festival takes places every year on the fourth Saturday in January.

The Wakakusa Yamayaki has been taking place for hundreds of years and its precise origins are unclear. One theory claims that the burning of the mountainside began during boundary conflicts between Nara’s greattemples, while another claims the fires were used to drive away wild boars.

DSC_0303cMount Wakakusayama before and after the festival.DSC_0552cDSC_0320cLocal Police and Fire fighters wait for the sunset (above).

Representatives of local monasteries take part in the procession, which precedes a really long prayer and setting the hill on fire (below).DSC_0348cDSC_0377cDSC_0443c

15 minutes of fireworks are followed by setting the hill on fire, which lasts around half an hour. In the mean time the artistic program kicks off.

DSC_0560ccMost of all Nara is famous for its 1500 DEERS, which wonder around and pose for pictures. Local gift shops are full of objects, which either have something to do with horns or fur. Sweets, called ‘deer poop’, can be found in all different sizes and flavors. Enjoy ;) IMG_2399DSC_0556ccThe local deers know their ways with girls ;)

DSC_0540cMy favorite afternoon snack- Matcha Latte (above) and Matcha cookies (below). DSC_0507c

The first capital of Nippon.

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Many months ago we run across cheap tickets to Japan and without much thinking we booked the flights. Only later have we realized that we are going to spend 1.5 weeks in the area, which is not so close to the equator any more. At the end of January we packed our ridiculous winter jackets and off we went to a lifetime adventure!

Kansai Airport, the one close to Osaka, is only a 6 hours long flight from Singapore. From there we went straight to Nara, where an annual fire festival was taking place that same evening! More about that in the next post.

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Nara was the first capital of Japan for only 74 years, before it was moved to Kyoto. This short period of time was, however, enough to turn a sleepy village into a significant spot on a cultural and architectural map of Japan. Among temples and shrines, which together are part of UNESCO Heritage Site, the Eastern Great Temple is definitely the most impressive. So called Tōdai-ji is a temple complex and one of the biggest wooden structures in the world. Its Great Buddha Hall houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha.

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The columns in the Hall are massive! One of them has a hole at the bottom. Whoever manages to squeeze through will leave the temple with a lot of luck. The spot seem to be extremely popular among students, who line up in long queues to face the challenge. The smart ones start with the arms up and have their friends to pull them out- lets say it works as well ;)

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In stead of real donations, one can buy a real roof tile, sign it and become a part of the temple for another few years.

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The Great Hall, just like all the other historical places, were always full of Japanese school trips. DSC_0140cIMG_2395IMG_2147IMG_2396

Nara was the coldest places of all we have visited. The monks in this particular monastery were kind enough to offer hot free tea in a warm and cosy room to weary travelers and local worshippers.

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On the market.

DSC_5726cI like looking at people. In fact, people can tell you the most about the country they live in, without even using words. They are the backbone of the place. Even the most impressive architecture or landscape would be dull without them. They bring flavor, scent and texture to whichever travel you are ‘consuming’.
The Cambodian must make an incredibly good impression on every foreigner. Those outgoing and friendly residents make their country hospitable and even more beautiful. While cycling through the rural areas we were greeted by each and every person met on the way. The kids were eagerly involved in the ‘spot the foreigner’ game. The moment they saw our ‘caravan’ approaching, they run and screamed ‘Hello’. Those who almost missed us run behind our bikes for a while making sure we heard the greeting ;)

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The local market we had a chance to visit overwhelmed us with the amount of colours and scents of fresh food. The bikes and motorbikes are not only means of transport but also mobile stalls, which travel with the owner (see the butcher). DSC_5785c DSC_5783cDSC_5788cDSC_5797cDSC_5742cThe net wrapping- a new way to tame toddler? ;)

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Mobile butcher shop. The piglets on their way to the market (above), and alredy on sale poor things (below).DSC_5735c

Not the best example of incredible acrobatics done on a single vehicle- the maximum capacity of a Cambodian motorbike is up to 8 people, including kids!!!DSC_5103c     

The ‘Jewel of Khmer art’.

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BANTEAY SREI- is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva built in 10th century.
The complex looks even more spectacular in the evening sun, for the reddish color of the sandstone walls gain on the intensity. I could not look enough on the decorative details of the temple- the carvings on the red sandstone walls are truly masterpieces! No wonder Banteay Srei is called the ‘jewel of Khmer art’.

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Phnom Kulen Area.
The half day of cycling brought us to the remote off-the-beaten-tracks temples. Over 50km away to the North from Siem Reap, the Phnom Kulen National Park is located.

PHNOM KULEN TEMPLE.
Numerous terraces bracing the main core of the temple forced us to do some extra exercises in the unbearable heat. Nevertheless, it was worth climbing till the top point.
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KBAL SPEAN.
The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. The forest around it looks like enhanced with ‘hobbit caves’ and weirdly twisted roots and lianas.

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