18 Best Places to Visit in Northeast India

The Northeast region of India is one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world. The land of Seven Sisters includes Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, and Sikkim in addition. Each of these states has a vast natural landscape, flora, fauna, and natural beauty to offer to travelers.

Northeast India has forever been the center of attraction for tourism in India. If you have been here, you will find it hard to resist the beauty of Northeast India. It's an epic journey for nature lovers. The penetrating peaks and magnificent nature is what makes the northeast region of Indian highly compelling and worth visiting, especially during the monsoon season.

The cool weather in the northeast is one of the best things you can experience during the monsoons. The weather may be wet, but it is not at all scorching or clammy. It is like a natural cooler. There is a kind of novelty and freshness in the monsoon that is worth experiencing. The entire belt of the seven sisters gives a surreal feeling during the rainfall with its green forests and tea estates.

All these states are small and pretty close together. But you need to take some Northeast tour packages to figure out how to cover most of the things to see in the northeast in the least amount of time. Each of these Northeast states has so much to offer that you cannot visit all in just a single visit. Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are not even that small. You cannot visit two of the other five states on one trip if you really want to explore the depths of nature in Northeast.

So, you will have to choose where you want to go on this trip. You could go for the Orchid State of India, that is in Arunachal Pradesh, or you could go to Manipur for its culturally rich heritage. You can go to Assam if you want to enjoy the untarnished natural beauty. Or go to Tripura if you want to see endless bamboo and cane forest plantations, or to the land of the hill people, Mizoram.

Northeast India lets you escape the tiresome everyday life. Everyone needs a vacation to relax and spend some time romantically with their partners. Visit the most beautiful place called the Scotland of the East - Shillong in Meghalaya or you could go to Sikkim, the youngest of the sister states, the eighth state in the Northeast, and the most popular tourist destination for people from West Bengal.

The food is the essence of northeast India. The food culture in the northeast is as vibrant as their culture and heritage. Every state has its own specialty and it tastes even better while you enjoy the rain. The food is the essence of northeast India. Laksa from Assam, Alu Muri in Meghalaya, Kelli Chana in Manipur, and Shapale in Sikkim are some of the most famous dishes you must try during the monsoon season.

Northeast has more than 150 tribes and each of the tribes has their own tribal liquors. If anyone is visiting this beautiful side of India, tasting these incredible liquors should be on the wish list.

Steeped in rich culture, gorgeous nature, and warm welcomes is the North East of India. An unexplored paradise, with picturesque landscapes and a variety of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered, it is a magical experience that is one-of-a-kind. Whether you wish to picnic by Majuli Island or explore the Mawsamai Caves, your opportunities are endless.

Northeast Tour Packages

Here are the best places to visit in northeast India.

1. Kohima, Nagaland

If you want to get to know over 14 different tribes of people, go to Nagaland. Nagaland, which is limited by Assam in the east and south, Manipur in the north and Myanmar in the west is generosity of a nature in a narrow strip of mountainous territory. Kohima, the capital of Nagaland extended carefully by the face of the hillocks is a clear indication of the consolidation of homes with nature.

The Catholic Cathedral on the Aradura Hill with its magnificent cross, Dimapur as the melting pot of the Northeast and the Nagaland State Museum promises a wide range of interesting and varied discovery.

As there are number of tribes in Nagaland, each tribe celebrates its own distinctive seasonal festival. During the first week of December, Nagaland becomes the setting for the Hornbill Festival of deep-rooted tribal heritage. It is its capital, Kohima, where the event that gives rise to demonstrations of this culture is celebrated. Music, dances and dangerous indigenous games and sports are organised.

The Kohima War Cemetery is a must see. It is a monument dedicated to the soldiers of the British unit as part of the allied forces during the World War II. It is at this point that the Allied Forces won a battle against the Japanese, forcing the latter to retreat. If you want to get into the details of the tribal culture of the Naga people, then the Naga Heritage Village is the place to be in Kohima.

Pulie Badze is a popular weekend getaway for people who live in Kohima, perfect for a hiking trip up the hill to enjoy stunning views and a pleasant climate. Visitors walk to the top of the hill to get a panoramic view of the surrounding areas, including parts of Mount Japfu, Nagaland's second highest peak and a panoramic view of the city of Kohima.

2. Longwa, Nagaland

One of the seven sisters, Nagaland has a small village called Longwa which share its borders with India and Myanmar. This village is a true example of a world without any boundaries as villagers have dual citizenships. The locals can move freely to the other country without any visa or passport. Smoked pork is the famous breakfast item in Nagaland. Rice is served with a meat dish (usually pork) or vegetables.

Unless you are a panda you might not like bamboo shoots. But if you cook those shoots in true Naga style, chances are that you'll fall in love with them.

3. Mon, Nagaland

Nagaland is the only state with the last head hunting tribes. This is most amazing and interesting facts of Northeast. Nagaland is the only place where one will find the head hunting tribal. They used to cut the heads of their enemies during the battles and store them as trophies. Though, now the head hunting has been stopped but one can find the elderly tribals who narrates their stories. These tribals have tattoos on their faces.

4. Mao, Manipur

Dzukou Valley is a charming valley that will offer you generous views of the emerald green hills, lush forests, winding streams and an explosion of colors with flowers blooming along the trekking trail.

The Manipuris love their fish, so much so that you can find it in most of their dishes. Iromba is one such dish that is loaded with fish. Mashed potatoes and green leaves make up the remaining part of it.

5. Imphal, Manipur

Manipur is one of the states of northeastern India and bordering Myanmar, formerly Burma. It is one of the least visited places in the country but it is not devoid of attractions. Imphal has markets such as Paona Bazar and Khwairamband Bazar. Buyers can buy exotic shawl (Hauphee), Tangkhul scarf, various wooden items and the most popular Moirang Phee (a fine cloth) of art for their own.

One of the famous and unique markets of India, Ima Keithel is only market which is solely run by the mothers. From spices to clothes, other groceries to handcrafted things, all are available under one roof. This is one of the amazing markets for shopping in Northeast.

6. Ukhrul, Manipur

Besides the spellbinding sites, the unique and famous flower called ‘Shirui or Siroi Lily’ found in Shirui Kashung in Ukhrul district is also an irrefutable pride of the state. The remarkable fact is the flower is found nowhere except in the upper reaches of the Shirui hill ranges. The Shirui hill is at a distance of 97 km from Imphal and about 18 km from Ukhrul.

6. Loktak Lake, Manipur

On the top, only Fresh Water Lake under the sun, Loktak Lake is also in Manipur, which invites thousands of tourists to the state every year. The iconic Lake is situated in Bishnupur district, around 53km from Imphal. The freshwater lake is well known because of its round-shaped floating swamps, called Phumdis in the local language. The major attractions of the lake is the circular rings made up of natural biomass locally called Phumdis.

Take the opportunity to visit the beautiful Loktak Lake. Located near its capital, Imphal, it is a very pleasant place and the only floating National Park in the world. A canoe trip with one of the fishermen who live on its shores in order to navigate calmly among its islands of vegetation, called phumdis, is undoubtedly the best way to get to see the lake.

Thousands of tourists from both foreign and inside the nation visit the lake every month. For adventure lovers, the lake is a paradise as it has scuva diving as well as kayaking facilities. Boating (both traditional wooden and motor) and boat racing are also available. Midlake gardens are also there in the lake.

Nearby is the Keibul Lamjao National Park where with a little luck, you can see some sangai, an endemic antelope that is in danger of extinction. This deer species is found nowhere else in the world except in the national park. They dwell on the floating biomass, as their breeding ground. Their main diet is the fresh lusty green grasses grown on the biomass.

The jeweled land holds pride in having the one and only floating park across the globe, the Keibul Lamjao National Park. There are also a couple of dozen tourist sites which can’t take your eyes off. You can also visit the following prime tourist destinations: Andro, Kaina, Khonghampat, Khongjom, Khwairamband Bazaar, Langthabal, Sendra Island, Manipur State Museum, Manipur Zoological Garden, Moirang, Phubala, Sahid Minar, Sekta, Singda, War Cemetries, Kakching Garden, Langol Tower and many more.

For heading to this jaw-dropping destinations, you can find both direct and connecting flight options from Delhi/Bangalore/Kolkata/Guwahati to Imphal. Finding flights for Imphal is just a cakewalk, so there’ll be no worries at all. You can also reach the state by train/bus/cruiser. For accommodation, the state offers a wide range of accommodation options including mid-range, budget and decent hotels. Booking link option is also listed for your convenience.

7. Moreh, Manipur

In Imphal, buying is quite easy as the markets are put together but people have to travel three hours to the Moreh market. What makes Moreh stand out is the picturesque trip and the cheap imported goods available. The fine movement of the Ras Lila (Manipuri dance), the extravagance of Thang-TA (martial arts) can make it an all-together different experience.

8. Phawngpui, Mizoram

Despite tremendous varieties of flora and fauna, Mizoram hardly attracts tourists. Phawngpui, also known as the blue mountain, is the highest mountain peak in the Lushai Hills. The highly revered peak is considered the abode of local deities by locals. A natural home for mountain goats, the place is said to be haunted by spirits.

9. Melaghar, Tripura

Tripura has the only floating palace in Northeast. Neermahal, was built by one of the Kings of Tripura, Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Debbarma, in the year 1938. It is beautifully designed and one of its kind palace in Northeast, but it is also one of the most underrated tourist destinations in India.

The food is heart-friendly and employs very little oil as compared to the other cuisines of India. Chakhwi is one such healthy recipe that is a tasty mix of bamboo shoots, jackfruit and pork.

10. Mawsynram, Meghalaya

Find yourself exploring the wettest land on earth. For about 5 km to the south-west of Shillong headquarter, you will find yourself getting all wet on the roadside of the Mawsynram village. Some say it is the most romantic place to be with your partner. The famous foods that you can try here are Thukpa, Khao Suey, and Jadoh, among others.

Pukhlein, Daineiiong, Jadoh, and Jastem are some of the most famous dishes you must try during the monsoon season. If you adore pulao and can't live without pork then this Khasi delicacy is perfect for you. Jadoh which is pork pulao is sure to cast some magic on all you pork lovers.

11. Jakrem, Meghalaya

And the Jakrem hot springs near Mawsynram are greatly appreciated as they are believed to have healing and medicinal properties. When you are here, you can also visit the Mawjymbuin Caves, which is formed naturally. The best access points are the villages of Mawshamok and Tyrna, south of Sohra.

12. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Explore Asia's cleanest village, the Mawlynnong Village where rainfall adds as a plus point. It is a sustainable village with an appropriate waste management system. Tucked in the khasi hills, there are waterfalls, caves with hidden lakes inside and most importantly the trek to the living root bridges. Created out of the roots of the trees, the bridges are truly a wonder. Backpack through whole of Meghalaya and you’ll never regret it.

13. Laitlum, Meghalaya

25 km from Shillong is this picturesque place called the Laitlum Canyon. The hike to the top of the hill is between moderate and difficult, but it is well worth the effort, as you will be rewarded with views of the valley below you. You can also go by bicycle or taxi to the top of the hill. There is a staircase of 3,000 steps leading to a village called Raslong. On your way, you will find bamboo plantations and colorful orchids.

14. Mawphlang, Meghalaya

Perched on the eastern hills of Khasi, near the village of Mawphlang and surrounded by fields, is one of the most important tourist sites of Meghalaya, the Sacred Forest of Mawphlang. There are many sacred forests in these hills and the Jaintia hills of the state, but this is the best known.

There are many medicinal plants, including those that can apparently cure cancer and tuberculosis, and Rudraksh trees. According to local tribal beliefs, a deity known as labasa inhabits the forest. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council has created a Khasi Heritage Village in front of the Mawphlang Sacred Forest. The culture and heritage of the tribe are also exhibited during the two days of the Monolith Festival held there.

It may seem unremarkable, and even somewhat disappointing, for the uninitiated. However, a local Khasi guide will reveal its mystery. Drink pure rice beer in the jungles of Meghalaya, You will never again stand the taste of preservative rich beer, vodka, and whiskeys.

15. Kongthong, Meghalaya

Hidden in a corner of Meghalaya between the crests of Sohra and Pynursla is the village of Kongthong, a remote village in India. Curious whistles and chirps echo in the jungle around Kongthong, but it's not a birdsong. They are people who call each other music, an extraordinary tradition that can even be unique. Kongthong is a village in India, where mothers compose a special melody for each child.

According to the tradition of the community, everyone will address the person with this little individual melody for life.

16. Ranikor, Meghalaya

If you like fishing, Ranikor is the best place to be. Fishermen can paddle down the river where the Kynshi and Rilang rivers converge to enjoy fishing. You can find gold mahseers, golden carp, silver carp and common carp.

17. Jowai, Meghalaya

For caving in India, there are more than 150 krem (caves) that pierce the limestone bed of the Jaintia mountains, including Krem Liat Prah, the longest cave in India, which extends at least 25 km under the Shnongrim mountain range.

18. Dawki, Meghalaya

Dawki near Shillong becomes a heaven of sorts during December-January with pleasant temperatures ranging from 12 degrees and 20 degrees. It is a must to visit place if you don’t want to face harsh and extreme winter conditions and looking only to relax. A crystal clear Umngot river awaits your presence at the Dawki Lake on the border with Bangladesh where you can literally see your shadow beneath the face of the lake.

You can go for boating while exploring the Jaintia Hills. This experience is best served with raindrops. The emerald green water of this river is so crystalline that you can see the river bed at 12 feet deep. You can take a boat ride, swim in the water, fish, eat freshly cooked fish or simply appreciate the beauty of this border town. Near the border of Bangladesh flows the Jadukata River, which has an abundant population of mahseer.

When you're here, you 'd just want to sit and look into nature's magnificence — the endless horizon where the blue rivers meet, surrounded by leaves in all shades of green. Dawki's highlight is the Umngot River, which is like a floating mirror. This mountain-fed rivers green water is so transparent you can practically see the riverbed.

Each of the states in Northeast India is worth visiting. So get hold of a Northeast tour packages catalog and plan your next trip soon. You can take at least two trips in a single year if you plan your budget well.

Southern Hospitality of Valdosta, Georgia, USA

It's not uncommon on the 1,000-kilometre road along the US southeast coast for a traveler to find themselves in need of activities to fill the very large gap that separates Atlanta and Miami. So we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a break for the day in Valdosta, one of the best spots for weekend trips from Atlanta. I looked online for a room located near Valdosta.

The trip from Georgia to Florida can be monotonous if not planned correctly while traveling the US. Yet there are many things to see between the 'Peach State' and the 'Sunshine State' just knowing how to choose and also having a bit of luck as you travel the USA.

Points of interest might be national parks-memorials-monuments-forests, historic sites of famous events, top 50 most beautiful places in America according to various websites, Presidential birthplaces and burials, underground missile sites from the Cold War, famous movie locations, legendary restaurants, various tragedies, and notable sports locations. The list is almost endless.

A point of interest could even be something as mundane as one of the longest bridges or tunnels in America, geographic centers, steepest roads, largest houses, the point in the 48 states farthest from any road, or farthest point from Google Street View. It gets as ludicrous as the northernmost building, or the southernmost house, the easternmost pavement, or the westernmost ice rink, or even the world’s largest (fill in the blank).

To counteract the crazy, fun days that we had in Miami, we hit the road for Atlanta just before Thanksgiving. It was a very long trip. We didn't know if we could do it in two days because it's a 10-hour drive from Miami Beach.

Valdosta, Georgia

Lunch and Exploring Valdosta State University

Valdosta is the county seat of Lowndes County and is nicknamed Azalea City. The Azalea Festival takes place every year in the middle of March. The city is a pleasant place that stands out for its theme parks and university.

For lunch, we entered a typical sports bar — the kind of place where Americans gather to watch games with friends. I ordered tomato soup, which I love. We also ordered some standard American hamburgers. After a gracious lunch, we left to discover college life by touring the Valdosta State University campus.

Other Attractions in Valdosta

There are many other places to discover in the city, such as Theatre Guild Valdosta and Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

But it's about 15 kilometers northeast of downtown where you'll find the best attractions. We traveled along a dirt road that leads to a "T-intersection," where we turned left. There we visited the Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area. The 1,350 acres of wetlands are part of an even larger swampland complex called Carolina Bay. This is the second largest wooded swamp in the state after the Okefenokee Swamp.

It was Thanksgiving, and we were basically alone walking along the boardwalk. There were herons, alligators, river otters, raccoons, red lynxes, gray foxes, white-tailed deer, different types of frogs and more. After an hour-long hike, we visited a cafe to get some rest.

Our next destination was the Wild Adventures Theme Park. We had already booked our tickets online, so we entered and observed the many wild animals, including zebras, giraffes, lynxes and snakes.

We also immersed ourselves in some exciting Valdosta attractions. We have fun on a 90-meter roller coaster and then refreshed ourselves in the river rapids. After a long day, we decided to return to our hotel after enjoying the southern hospitality. We had another long road journey ahead.

Crossing State Lines

Approaching a border with another American state means it's time to start searching for the "welcome" sign. Sometimes the state's sign is easy to find, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes they're beautiful, and sometimes they're not. On the border between Florida and Georgia along Route 75, finding the states' signs is really simple. Between two exits. which are a few miles away from each other, you can visit both the Georgia Visitor Center and the Florida Visitor Center.

A Dream Bike Trip to Ladakh

The route from Manali to Leh is one of the toughest and most demanding stretches of road in the whole country. If you are interested in motorcycling in India in dream destinations, you may have already heard about it. A thousand kilometres long, half asphalt road connects Delhi with Leh passing through some of the highest points in the world. It goes up to even 5328 meters of altitude! Dizzy, right?

Months before starting our trip, Abhi spoke to me for the first time about this motorcycle route through north India. At the corner of thirty years, I decided to make an old dream come true to embark on an unprecedented adventure into the heart of the Himalayas. I did not imagine what this adventure was going to become. It was possibly one of the toughest challenges, which I would face.

It was a trip of two weeks in which, if everything went well, we would travel more than 3000 kilometres. It is a trip in which, defying the extreme conditions and crossing wild and untamed landscapes, we would reach some of the remotest places that one can reach in the Indian subcontinent.

But do not be mistaken. Going on a motorbike through such an environment is, in fact, a very physical exercise. Between the frequent fast drops (up to 2000 meters in two hours), the complicated terrain and the other rather confident road users, the chances of sweating - not counting the cold sweats - there is no lack of it! But the result was worth it. Because I have lived to tell about it. It is a trip, in short, which is epic.

We arrived in Delhi during celebrations of Dussehra in full swing with enough time to prepare everything necessary for this adventure. With the expert opinion of Abhi, we decided to hire Royal Enfield. For the next two weeks, those beautiful bikes would become our most inseparable companions.

The next day, taking advantage of the little traffic on the morning, four motorcycles and friends would depart on a trip of two weeks full of hope but not knowing how far we would be able to go. From the India Gateway we wander through Old Delhi, through the immense Jama Masjid. We end up having dinner in the impressive and crowded Pahar Ganj.

A Dream Bike Trip to Ladakh

Day 1: Delhi - Chandigarh (250 km)

As we were leaving early, the intense traffic that inhabits the streets of Delhi had not yet made an appearance. The day began on a wet note and even without having left the city we were already soaked. In addition, the strong wind on the highway did not make things easy for us. Despite all in about eight hours, we reached Chandigarh. After locating a cheap hotel, we went in search of a workshop where we repaired some minor problem in Roni's saddle.

Day 2: Chandigarh - Manali (295 km)

The first few hours of the second day went very quick in the morning. In the second half of the day, we left behind the plains to enter the first curves of the road to the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh.
It was on one of these sections of crazy twists and numerous overtaking trucks where we met John and Freddy from North-eastern India. They took a similar route as ours and from there we would no longer separate until the end of this adventure.

With the first foothills of the Himalayas in the background, the landscape that accompanied us was becoming increasingly spectacular. Although, as Abhi repeated, the best was yet to come in the coming days. After crossing Kullu, at night, we were finally in Manali, called valley of gods. We arrived here during the school vacations. So the traffic jam that we found is difficult to explain if one does not understand the concept of the crowd. After crossing the tumult, we arrive in Old Manali where we find a good accommodation to rest for the night.

Day 3: Rest in Manali

After driving more than 550 kilometers in two days, both Shiv and I were devastated. Spending so many hours on a motorcycle was not something we were used to. So we had to convince Abhi to take a day off. During the free day, we took the opportunity to request the necessary inner line permits to continue along the route we had planned.

As the day was beautiful, we also took the opportunity to take a motorcycle tour around and also made some purchases in the craft stores and enjoyed the tasty momos of the Himalayas. The next morning we would start the two-day trip between Manali and Leh, on a road that only opens to traffic for few weeks a year, when the less snow and conditions allow it. Being so, what better to have taken the day off with tranquillity to be able to go with force the next day!

Day 4: Manali - Rohtang Pass - Darcha (150 km)

The morning started with a nice breakfast and a warm cup of coffee. Next, we had difficult days that would take us to Leh, after crossing the spectacular Zanskar mountain range. We drive along the Beas River, heading north, crossing several villages of the green Himalayas like Kothi, Gulaba and Marhi until we reach the Rohtang pass (3980 mt). We were not surprised when we saw hundreds of people enjoying the snow of the glacier at Rohtang Pass.

However, the descent to Gramphu and Koksar was hard as the road was in a terrible state. From there, we continued into increasingly spectacular landscapes. We refuel in Tandi, the only fuel pump in the next 365 kilometers. Then we cross landscapes of fields in the course of the Bhaga River until we reach Keylong. Near Keylong, we start looking for a workshop where we can do some basic bike repairs.

Keylong is the administrative headquarters of the region and has some outstanding temples and monasteries. After a quick lunch, we followed our path that was going upwards, although not too far. Everyone was feeling rusty after 150 kilometers. So we planned to stop for the night wherever we get in, either at a small bar or a shop or a restaurant or a proper accommodation.

From here we go submerging in the Himalayas desert with its majestic mountains between zig zag roads. We arrive at Jispa (3142 mt). But hey, we have our first stroke of bad luck after the long arduous journey in Darcha. We leave the asphalt road and enter a dirt road by a roundabout. We made a mistake in a detour, but we were able to notice it and fix it.

While riding, we had lost our way and ride for almost 10 km, in wrong direction. As said by a wise man, sometimes getting lost pays off. It was an enthralling ride through the mountainous forest covered in mist. The cold wind and woody aroma was so hypnotic, none of us thought to stop and check where we were headed to. I was the last and just followed my buddies experiencing the captivating sights.

On one of the numerous bends, the fluttering prayer flags indicated the presence of a temple and right next to it was this musical stream flowing through the green thicket.

We further covered 50 kilometers, and it is already five thirty in the afternoon. Each time we pass a folk, we park at the side to check if we are on the right track. We do not know how long it will take us to find a good place to live. So we continue our search.

We go around 15 kilometers, and we stop to check the GPS, and we are on the right track. But when it comes to restarting the bikes, John's bike suddenly does not turn on. I cannot say that we are nervous, but it is nearing dusk, and we are in the middle of nowhere except for the sound of some creatures from a distant.

Anyway, we find a man and ask him for help. He looks more like the head of a village, who indicates something and lends us the cell phone to make a call at a workshop nearby.

So after a short wait, the local repairman arrives. He is a short fellow who tells us that he has to take out the cover, check the battery and after that, he can tell the problem. But the screw that joins the part is rounded, and there is no lever to remove it. John asks us, and the answer is affirmative. The repairman tells him that the battery is down and the "starter" broke.

He tells us that it needs to be taken to his workshop and we have no option but to follow until we reach the town. He calls a small boy with his body covered in black soot and asks him to bring one of the batteries lying in a dusty corner and a few more parts. John is skeptical about the battery, but the repairman explains that it is one of the best for journeys in this part of the world.

We also get the opportunity to ask the repairman for a possible stay nearby. As the night was nearing and the repairman kept on solving other problems in the bikes, Freddy and I moved forward in search of a house nearby to stay overnight and which can later be reached by the rest of the group.

The daily goal of 200 kilometres from now on starts as a utopia. But it does not matter as we started about two o'clock in the afternoon and the breakdown of the bike took a good time. So it does not seem as impossible as what the numbers say.

We are approaching a hut and a man with the wrinkled face appears. We put our hands together as a pillow under the bowed head. After that gesture, we lower our palms diagonally so that the man knows that we are looking for a stay.
He does not understand much, but he makes the gesture that we enter his house. They serve us fermented yak milk in huge bowls. The weather is getting rough. We give a box of cigarettes to the gentleman, and more family members begin to enter. At night, we are ten people in the house, eating homemade snacks, drinking tea and sour milk that fascinates everyone.

So, we understand that even if we have not clarified or are fully sure that the man understood our purpose, there is no chance of being taken out of there then. So we feel welcome and, we relax. We step out to build a mud stove quickly so that it does not start raining as the idea of cooking on the camping stove is more tempting. But before we finish ordering things, it starts to rain.

The owner of the house comes and requests us to go back in. There is dinner with some noodles with goat meat and hot milk that they heat up, and they are not bad. We feel good. We started with fears, had trouble with a motorcycle, we moved less than planned, but we overcame a challenge that gave us more nerves. The local man and his family welcomed us, accepted us, treated us great, and we are ready to sleep. Tomorrow will be another day.

Day 5: Darcha - Taglang La (220 km)

The most challenging day of the trip awaited us. More than 200 kilometers and numerous high passes above 4500 meters did not presage an easy day. That is why Shiv and I decided to start a little earlier than the rest of the group, whose driving was usually faster than ours. In this stage, we possibly crossed some of the best landscapes of the trip, with spectacular stretches of road and places that do not seem to belong to this planet.

After making a brief stop to enjoy the Suraj Tal lake, we said goodbye to the snowy peaks and launched for the final stretch. We have about 100 kilometers of descent towards Leh. From Baralacha La (4890 mt), we descend a thousand meters of altitude to the plateau of Sarchu to the beginning of the Gata Loops. We take a winding road until we reach the incredible Nakee La (4950 m).

From here, we climb to Lachalung La (5070 m), a point where we can witness spectacular views of the steep rocks and its unique geological formations. After a brief descent towards Pang (4630 mt), a place similar to Mars, we ascend again, this time through More Plains. The last high step of the day awaits us. Taglang La and its 5328 meters become a tough stretch for me.

I do not know if I can convey the hardness of this stage with my words. In this stretch of the road which is used for a couple of months in a year, a large percentage of it is in poor condition and unpaved. There are areas of mud, dust and many potholes.

We even crossed sections in which the summer that has turned the road into a river and all this is at high altitude with cold and ravines hundreds of meters to our sides. We continue through villages such as Rumtse, Gya, Lato and end at Miru, where we arrived well into the night, with just enough time to find a decent lodging and some hot food.

Day 6: Taglang La - Tso Moriri (200 km)

Our bike route takes us to sulfur springs and the wind-swept Polo kongka la pass of 4,900 meters. There we visit the Thukje Monastery. Destiny of our day is Tso Kar salt lake, a home of the shy wild mongoose and rare migratory birds such as the black duck, Naked Cranes and Brahmini. Tso Kar lake is one of the renowned lakes in Ladakh also known as a white lake. It is a great place for bird watching and other wildlife.

Tso Kar lake is a high mountain lake situated at an altitude of 4,530 m above sea level. On the way, we make frequent stops to visit the Puga geo-thermal springs and the nomadic Rebo tents settled on the Polo-Kongka pass.

After cresting Namshang Pass (5050 m) we arrive at the land of the Tibetan nomads, with bright turquoise Tso Moriri lake at the distance. Time to enjoy the lake and the view of Tibet on the other shore. We go close to the Karzok village and monastery. We have lunch on the way.

We ride a horse today to explore the old Korzok monastery and walk to the nomad tents in the wild valley just behind the Karzok village. We also take a cool dip in the Tsomoriri Lake. We have plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery and atmosphere in our comfortable camp by the lake. An abundant Ladakhi dinner is served at the restaurant.

Day 7: Tso Moriri Lake - Pangong Tso Lake (210 km)

Today we ride along the Indus river in the Rupshu valley through Chumathang hot springs and the Mahe Bridge. After passing the checkpost, our route begins once more ascending. The road is in perfect condition with unparalleled beauty until we reach Lake Pangong Tso, at 4250 meters above sea level, located in the Chushul Mountains. It contains saline water, but freezes in winter. Local guides say there are no fish or aquatic life in the lake.

The lake is on the border between India and China. From here, it is not possible to continue on the highway. We would need special permits and according to what locals told us, are not easy to obtain. We camp in tents in the night. It is easily a point of rejoicing on the road where we look for wildlife, photograph the beauty of the landscape, admire the stars and share with the group..

Day 8: Pangong Tso - Nubra Valley (320 km)

Today we get up early but without shrillness and go to the dining room for breakfast. We have a typical tortilla and toast with butter and jam, but also homemade pancakes, honey and even spicy legumes! After a heavy breakfast with a spectacular view of the lake, we make a small off-road excursion along the shores of luminous blue-green magic of Pangong Lake.

The objective of this stage was to travel as much as possible but as usual, the laziness of my teammates in the morning made us lose some time. After passing through the last checkpoint of Tangtse, which give us access to a stretch of about 50 km, we reach Durbuk.

Also, at this stage, we had to cross the second largest mountain pass in the world called Chang La pass (5360 m). It was not going to make things easy for us. The weather began to change and it began to snow until we reached the pass with almost no visibility and lots of snow everywhere. After a couple of photos and a lot of cold we continue. We started to go down and the streams were all frozen.

We go down and down. In the distance we could see Tangtse, the big city in this part and then we left to Shachukul.

We have a steep climb - the recently opened road to Wari La Pass at 5,300 will demand our undivided attention. There are not many references about this place on the internet but, from what we had heard, they did not look very good. The road follows the course of the Shyok River and is in terrible condition, with most of the sector being pure loose rock. The only favorable thing about this section is that the road is not consistently up.

From there it is a wild journey down in terms of our bikes in the vast and arid expanse of the Nubra Valley, where we will visit the ancient, remote Diskit monastery. This road is the ancient Kashgar route in Central Asia. It is also the supply route to the Siachen Glacier, located further north, which is a boundary point of Pakistan, India and China, and the second largest glacier in the world outside the polar regions.

We ride on quiet roads through small remote villages, and the sun makes everything warmer. There is peace in the valley. We continue descending thinking that it would be good to find a place to eat, but here there are no dhabas or villages. Luckily we had bought some emergency cookies and some potatoes and this would be our food on the side of the road seeing the views.

We do not stop hallucinating with the landscape. As something so arid can be so different in a few kilometers. Today's destination is Turtuk, an oasis surrounded by high snowy peaks. Known as the ancient Baltistan, Turtuk seemed to us that it was at the end of the world but, like every time we make plans, we arrived there after evening. The inhabitants of Turtuk speak in Balti. They are considered, first, Baltis.

If we continued a few more kilometres on these roads, we would be on the border with Pakistan, but civilians are not allowed to go there, since only ten kilometres away is the border or line of control between India and Pakistan. But, we are almost there. It is the gateway to the Siachen glacier, with the snow-covered peaks of Mount K2, visible on the horizon from the top of the town.

Turtuk is located at the end of Nubra Valley, in a desert region crossed by two rivers (Shyok and Nubra) and almost isolated from the rest of the world. The organized excursions, after spending the night in Diskit, go to Hunder sand dunes or ride a camel and some approach Turtuk to buy dried apricots (considered the best in the country) in the first store in town but nobody stays there to walk and, even less, to spend the night.

Entering this quaint little place through a rickety wooden bridge with strong military security, a sense of tension and gravity envelops the atmosphere. Photography around the bridge is strictly prohibited due to the sensitive nature of the location. On the way across the suspension bridge, there is a beautiful creek adjacent to the war memorial for those who fought in the Indo-Pak war in Kargil.

Gray sand, like ash, heat and dust, accumulate like a cloud on the banks of the river, with miles of nothing except jeeps and maybe some locals working on roads here and there. Time seems to stop along with the stillness of the hot air, due to the maintenance of the road, which tends to happen frequently in trips like these.

We assume that's why we were the attraction of the day for the inhabitants of Turtuk. Shortly after crossing the bridge for pedestrians we found smiling faces as women and children greeted our step. We went to find accommodation without much success.

Turtuk is made up of a couple of villages, one of the main ones is Pharol, which is located on top of a hill. A boy took us through the town to a small homestay. We got a double room with dinner included and have dinner and spend the night in the guest house with its cozy garden.

Day 9: Turtuk - Stok (325 km)

We wake up in one of the most lost corners of the world. The fresh and pure air of the mountains make this trip something special. Traveling to a place is not just to get there. It's about the trip, especially on a road trip through Ladakh. It is the feeling that evokes a place, being there in the moment. If she is not able to stir emotions that make a lasting impression, it did not make sense to have gone there.

To look at the landscape at a distance with narrowed eyes, this town could well imitate the Italian countryside, with tall green Viridian trees in contrast to patches of pale ocher barley. There is a desire to stay, the feeling of being part of a time tunnel in the past that would change if it were abandoned.

Could such a place exist in the realms of reality? Or was it an accidental door opening into the land of Alice's secret wonders, so that being as knowledgeable as outsiders was like looking through the mirror?

We have a half-day ride through the wide valley to the Panamik Hot Springs, followed by an afternoon riding Double Hump Bactrian Camels through the Hunder sand dunes. It is said that these camels, called Bactrians, have a Mongol origin and were used to travel the silk route.

When it was interrupted, a colony remained in these dunes and here centuries go by. After some photos, we continue to the temples of Diskit Gompa, which houses a 100-foot-tall Maitreya Buddha statue. From where we can see the entire valley. The worst section would be found about 50 kilometers from Diskit, between the small towns of Agham and Shyok.

We visit some small thermal baths and finally rest after finding very good accommodation in the center of the town of Diskit. Here, as usual, we also visit the workshop. We were more relieved to see the cheerfulness on the face of John as his bike did not give any major problem after the battery replacement in Darcha for which he was skeptical. We left early without knowing if we would have the strength and desire to reach Leh. Although this time it was not necessary to insist a lot, here we had to convince John and Freddy to go ahead.

While I was buying a commemorative patch to sew on my jacket in case we managed to cross it, my head started to spin because 5603 meters seemed like several meters. Our warm-up ride take us to the most famous monasteries in Ladakh of Hemis and Thiksay in the upper Indus Valley.

We cross the villages of Karu and Sakti, and stop to admire the Chemrey monastery. We then continue to Hemis, where every summer the festival is celebrated in honor of Guru Padmasambhava, known as the second Buddha and responsible of extending Buddhism to the Tibetan world.

We go further on to the majestic and iconic Thiksey monastery built in 1430 AD and considered one of the most beautiful monasteries and buildings. We visit the ancient capital of Leh, Shey, with its famous monastery that houses a great golden Sakyamuni Buddha. The trip ends at Stok at night, which is followed by a night's stay at the hotel.

Day 10: Leh - Alchi (250 km)

Today we take our bullets up mountain narrow tracks to the remote Tangyar village and through an unnamed mountain pass to Hemis National Park, an ancient forest. By the way, we also took the opportunity to visit the ancient capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, Leh. We stroll through its busy streets, buy souvenirs and once again enjoy the tasty Tibetan food of the place. We visit the Leh Palace, a former royal residence, and the Shanti stupa from which we can see the city and the fertile agricultural valley of Leh.

We have a cold morning climb to the Khardung La pass, located at 5320 mt. Khardung La is less than 60 kilometers from Leh by road if it is in good condition and if we do not count the last stretch that does not exceed ten kilometers. Although less touristy than Manali, Leh is also a holiday destination. Many tourists take advantage to get closer to the supposed highest motorable road in the world.

The traffic during the ascent is more or less fluid although in the first kilometers and we find many taxis and tourists. After passing the first control, the decision to leave early was a success. We adapt better to the harshness of the road. It does not matter - the mud, snow, water, and potholes. Slowly, we like more of the sensation of fighting against the elements. We enjoy without worrying so much about the conditions.

We stop at the ruins and temples of the large snake Buddha statue in Likir monastery and the former royal palace of Basgo and the Ser Zung temple, famous for its huge frescoes. The destination of our day is the oasis of Alchi and up to the endless forks of the La Fatu pass that meanders up to 4,000 meters. Post the Alchi Monastery, we visit the Magnetic Hill that shows an epic confluence of the Indus River and Zanskar.

During the ride, our biggest fear was fulfilled. The wheels of the motorcycle of Roni got deflated. In the end, we had to make several trips around the valley to find a workshop, but it was not that bad either. Through a somewhat tricky route, we would go back once more to Leh while we pushed the bike in turns.

After leaving Roni and Freddy who were repairing their motorcycle in an official workshop, we continued until the night became powerful. We had no choice but to stay at night in a nice camp in Uleytokpo, on the banks of the still young Indus River, where our group meets again for a good dinner to recharge energy for the long day that follows.

We spend the night in a charming hostel in an apricot orchard near the oldest monastery in Ladakh, now a Cultural History Museum with exceptional temple murals that have been restored by students of the University of Aachen. We have dinner at the garden restaurant.

Day 11: Uleytokpo - Kargil - Sonamarg (270 km)

According to all the references, this would be the last difficult day of our trip. What we did not know yet was the intensity of that difficulty. Although it would not take us long to discover it. We start the day with a spiritual note by visiting the Samstanling Monastery. After rolling a few kilometers through the beautiful valleys of Kashmir, we make the first stop at the monasteries of Lamayuru and continue to the Kargil War Memorial.

The region is famous for its lunar landscape, and has attracted several film production companies in recent years for its natural beauty. Lamayuru is the home of one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, dating from the 10th century. Local legend says that the place was once a lake that dried up. It contains a majestic collection of frescoes, carpets and thangka.

The route is guided by the path of the Indus River, a very nice point where we will make a stop is the Sangam Point where we can see the union of the Indus and Zanskar rivers.

Our journey leads us to Zoji La, the last of the great steps we would have to face. The accession was quite hard and, although the altitude of the pass is lower than previous ones, here we find much more snow. With the night approaching, after circumventing a descending stretch of road of about half a kilometre that looks like a river due to the melting snow, we find ourselves with a desolate vision.

A massive traffic jam of trucks that make the upward journey and tourist taxis that do it the other way extends as far as we can see. The mountain road is in terrible condition and with a huge precipice. It is a perfect complement to our nerves, as we were already exhausted after a long enough day. It took almost an hour to travel a few kilometers in, which would undoubtedly be the hardest and toughest experience of the entire journey.

In spite of everything, we did not have any severe problems, and we managed to get relatively well to the Sonamarg hill station, where a giant landslide prevented us from continuing. Being that way, we looked for a place to spend the night among the various hotels of this holiday destination. We went to sleep hoping that the road would be cleared by next morning and its snowing in July. Its like winter in July here.

Day 12: Sonamarg - Srinagar - Anantnag (140 km)

From Sonamarg, the road continues to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir through several bustling towns that contrast with the tranquillity that we experienced in previous days. Srinagar is chaotic but at the same time beautiful. Despite the stifling traffic, its ephemeral beauty is visible from any side. The Dal Lake provides a soothing balm to our minds. We stop here, with enough time to find a workshop and repair my motorcycle (which day after day is deteriorating more and more).

We leave the bike, take a walk through its congested streets, and eat amidst splendid views of the lake. We leave Srinagar, and when it is already dark, we find decent accommodation in Anantnag. Right there we are lucky to enjoy the delicious cuisine of this area of the country in a feast of biriyani and lamb rogan josh that leaves us more than satisfied.

We only have the way back to Delhi. From now on, it is necessary to subtract kilometers to reach the end of our adventure.

Now, from the comfort of our home, we can analyze the greatness of this adventure and give us an account of the real dimensions of what we were able to overcome. It was a journey of thousands of kilometers through the Himalayas, where the roads, for the most part, were terrible. There were challenging cliffs, many dusty curves, and extreme conditions that did not push us back.

I had to come face to face with some of my fears, accompanied by unusual and extraordinary landscapes, in a constant challenge that would end up becoming one of the most important experiences. These are memories that I always return to when people ask me about the places that impressed me the most and about my favorite moments of the trip.

The truth is that it was not bad at all and less if I take into account that I had never ridden a bike on that long stretch before. But I did it, and that will stay with me forever.

Japan Travel Guide - Best Cities to Visit & Itinerary

I want to be honest about my reasons to go to Japan. Japan was not a country, which was on top of my travel wishlist. But sometimes things are different from what you think. And you almost get forced into happiness. If I had already known before about my trip, how wonderful Japan is, I would have traveled there earlier.

It is one of those countries where you cannot get out of the astonishment as it has so much to offer. It is more than I could ever have guessed and more than I could take in my 2 weeks while traveling Japan. Japan is a land of delicious food, beautiful nature, and the friendliest people. I have traveled a fair bit and lived in a few countries, so have seen a few things.

But for me when I first planned my trip to Japan, it was like a child going to Disneyland. And I was excited for months in advance. I begin, by watching hours of YouTube videos, and reading endless travel books about what to do in Japan. I have been fascinated about how a society can be so different from the rest of the world. But yet so good and developed. Isolated in its own universe of deep rich culture.

So expected, a lot. I was told by friends that I was going with that have lived in Japan. Not to get so hyped up about everything and described what was the Paris effect where people go to Paris with high expectations and get downed by the dim reality of the places.

After 15 hours flight to Japan, I swore to stay awake. But somehow I get so tired from fatigue that I fall asleep. I wake up without orientation, with a pounding headache. Below me shine the lights of Tokyo Bay. When arrived in Japan, I found that all the hours watching travels shows all the time reading books were all but useless, when it came to being there in person.

It was kind of like an exam you spend hours studying and picture the answers in your head 1000s of times but nothing can prepare you for what to expect.

A half-full backpack, the passport and tourist visa, 1 ticket for the Shinkansen and 1000 Yen, that's all I have beside my excitement. I've been waiting for 20 years.

I leaf through the Japan Experience travel guide on my table. And now I do not want to get out of the plane. What if things go wrong? What if my big dream is a bubble and I get back with a case full of disappointment?

Tokyo || City of the Future

With the stream of the other passengers, I let myself drift through the airport. As I walked out of the corridor, an airport employee bowed in a friendly fashion. Thank you for visiting Japan! A canvas shows a kitschy Mount Fuji with cherry blossoms. I am a bit confused by the surreal level of friendliness offered to me at every corner.

After a colorful coffee break, I take the train to Tokyo Station for a walk in the Imperial Gardens. The maples are splendid! It's really ideal. I leave towards Akihabara! On a whim, I let myself be guided and go drink a beer. It is done. I made little hearts out of my beer and put on cat ears. Tokyo is a great metropolis with an oasis of tradition.

One of those shelters is Asakusa, a neighborhood where the Sensoji temple is located, the oldest in the capital. The main entrance is the door of thunder or Kaminarimon. On the other side are two gigantic traditional straw sandals (warajis). Each weighs half a ton and is an offering of the inhabitants of the city of Maruyama, in the Yamagata prefecture.

In front of the main worship hall I see many people reading their luck on little pieces known as omikuji (divine lottery) that are drawn at random from some drawers. If the prediction is unfavorable, the piece of paper is tied to some wires so that bad luck gets stuck in the temple.

We went to the Shinjuku neighborhood full of skyscrapers, shopping centers and department stores, restaurants, cinemas, karaoke halls, pachinko, a thousand and one neons and a lot of options of leisure. Here we find a multitude of skyscrapers, some especially remarkable as the Cocoon Mode Gakuen Tower and went up to the free viewpoints of the Metropolitan Government Building.

When we climbed it was already dark and we could see the whole city full of lights. They say, if the weather conditions allow, you can get to observe Mount Fuji. We can enjoy an extraordinary panorama of the city or the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel, known for to have been the silent protagonist of movies.

In this area we also find some outdoor sculptures, such as the famous LOVE sculpture or locations of the anime movies. On the other hand, the east exit of the Shinjuku station takes us to the part more dedicated to leisure, with a lot of shops, restaurants and alleys of dubious reputation. Here we find Kabukicho, Tokyo's red light district.

They also say that for this neighborhood and for some entertainment, you can see the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia). I guess it must be in some alleys or local. However, walking around the main area does not give any sense of danger. So we decided to take the Yamanote Line, make 4 stops and go to the Ikebukuro neighborhood.

We left by the Ikebukuro Est and we already found a large commercial area with electronics stores such as Bic Camera, Yamada Denki or the Seibu stores with a Kit Kat Chocolatory. As we had little time, we headed straight to the Sunshine City shopping center. On the way to the mall, we found anime and manga stores. West of Sunshine City, there is Otome Road with many anime and manga stores geared towards girls.

Within Sunshine City, we find the largest Pokémon Center in Tokyo, an official store dedicated to the entire Pokemon world. In addition, we went to the J-World, a theme park based on Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto. In the J-World, we took a picture above the Kinto cloud and a picture inside a spacecraft of the Dragon Ball space warriors. Among the attractions of the park was to throw a Kamehameha or catch Dragon balls. I think it's too expensive for what it offers.

For the evening, I go to Yorakucho, to enjoy the Izakaya! Before, I see Godzilla and look at Christmas lights, it was a long time. The meal is very good and the atmosphere noisy and happy. It's really great! I go home nicely. I have to prepare to leave for Aomori tomorrow morning.

Aomori || Land of Ski, Sashimi and Spas

Today we are not going to spend all day in Tokyo. Only the morning. At mid-afternoon we have to take a train to the north and the rest of the day will be spent traveling. Luckily, the suitcases are kept at the hotel until the time our train departs.

Tower Records awaits me, in Shibuya. In Japan Tower Records still exists. But the one in Shibuya, is the largest and I'm going to make sure to go through all the floors where Japanese music is sold. But first we have thought to deviate a bit to visit another place.

From the Shibuya station we walk to shrines that are facing each other on the same street, one dedicated to Hachiman, god of war and agriculture, and the other to Inari, deity of fertility and rice, among other things. And I say deity because we do not know what sex Inari has.

Sometimes she is represented as a woman, sometimes as a man, sometimes with an androgynous aspect. In any case, her emissary is the fox, so we can see the typical statues of foxes that are in all the sanctuaries dedicated to Inari.

We return to the station and we approach the exit where stands the statue of Hachiko, the famous dog who after the death of its owner never left the station where he waited for him every afternoon to return from work, and kept waiting until the day he died too. There is another Hachiko statue at the University of Tokyo. That we have not seen, but we know that represents the reunion between the two.

Two children come to us and ask us if we speak English. We say yes and then they do not ask permission to ask us some questions as homework for their English class. Then they argue to see who will ask us, but the discussion does not last long. The issue is solved as always those things are solved in Japan. Jan-ken-pon. Stone, paper or scissors, and the lucky one is already defined.

Although the ritual of jan-ken-pon ends up losing all sense, when after answering all the questions, we end up answering them again for the second child, who has been waiting at the side. We crossed the avenue through the Scramble Kōsaten, the shifty crossing of Shibuya, but at this time it is not as crowded as at other times of the day.

On the other side, the access to the Sentā-gai pedestrian street still hangs the decoration of Tanabata (the festival of the stars) that was held at the beginning of July. The Tower Records building is about three or four blocks from the station. I put disks out of control in my shopping basket and cross them off my list of "wanted".

I like Japanese music, and the cover art of many albums in Japan is beautiful. Before returning to the station we went through a bookstore and a branch of Mandarake, a chain that sells used manga. I'm looking for three titles that I have not been able to get in any of the libraries we've gone through so far.

The Shibuya branch is in a subsoil. It's a dark cave, and all the first shelves are loaded with BL (Boys Love), in amazing amounts. It's at the bottom where all the rest of the manga genres are and, as expected, they have the three titles I'm looking for. They may be used, but they look as if they have never been opened.

At 15:30, after searching our luggage at the hotel, we have to take a train to Omiya, in Saitama, to connect with the Shinkansen to Aomori. We already have a seat reservation on all the long distance trains that we will use from here on. When one travels north, it is advisable to reserve seats beforehand, especially in festival season.

In some high-speed trains you cannot travel without a seat reservation. Booking simply means asking for a seat number. Those who are travelling in Japan with the JR pass do not pay any additional charge. At the Omiya station where we will take the Shinkansen, we buy an ekiben. The ekiben are snacks (bentos) but those that are bought in the stations (eki).

Some come in very nice boxes, wrapped in decorated paper. The variety is huge. They tend to be different depending on the area in which one is, because some include local foods and bentos typical of the season. Japanese food is like Japan’s culture(well it is), it is close to the nature. I can taste the soy sauce, wasabi, the fish and everything else.

Or like their sashimi where I can taste the freshness of the food. Their dishes like tonkatsu, karaage, unagidon, miso soup, are not any different from either. I can still taste the base ingredients of their food. Their food is like a culinary that is preserved for thousands of years and evolves without losing its real characteristics.

So are their desserts, most of them are made of beans and rice cakes. That is just that. I would say they are really dependent on the freshness of the ingredients due to this. While I don’t really know the origin of these Japanese foods, I can see old eras of Japan would be eating what I have mentioned.

We arrived in Aomori at nightfall. We have some time left until our connection, so we go around the city a few times. We walked along the waterfront and entered the Nebuta Matsuri museum. There is no activity and the lights are off, but we can enter the main hall and some small floats of past festivals, which were exposed in the museum, remain on.

Then we go along the main street and go through a kind of beer garden outdoors, mounted at the entrance of a group of bars and restaurants. Some young Japanese people shout at us from a table! And they greet us with enthusiasm. We are running out of time in Aomori. In a few minutes we will have to pick up our luggage through the lockers and take another two trains. Tonight we sleep on the train, traveling to the very center of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido || The Capital of Flowers

When you think of Japanese winter, you tend to think of Sapporo, the ice sculptures, the snow festivals. There are several winter festivals in the north of Japan that I would like to attend. But there is another winter moment as fascinating as that, the one that I most want to see is the Oshōgatsu, or Japanese New Year.

The Shikotsu Toya National Park is located in the south of the northern island of Hokkaido. The two lakes that sit in volcanic craters, Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya stand out in the park. The area, like many other places in Japan, is famous for its hot springs. Its proximity to Sapporo makes it a very attractive destination for domestic and foreign tourists.

Thanks to its location and the spectacular nature that surrounds it, being in the middle of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Jozankei Onsen is a popular excursion from Sapporo.

We arrived at the Asahikawa station very early in the morning. We cannot check-in yet, so we leave the bags in a locker and enjoy the day. We already informed the hotel that we will be arriving after 8 pm. The Asahikawa station must be one of the most beautiful places we have seen so far. They have set up an outdoor beer patio that I suppose will be temporary, for the summer.

From the other you have access to a terrace with tables and a beautiful park that overlooks the river, full of flowers. And we are in the central zone of the Hokkaido island. The two places where the biggest flowers are found are Biei and Furano, a few minutes from Asahikawa.

Biei, although there are also fields of flowers, is actually distinguished by its hills painted green and ocher, in which many advertisements have been filmed. There are several trees known for the advertisements in which they appeared, and to which they have been named.

From the Biei train station there is a tourist group that crosses part of the fields and passes through some of these trees, but you must have a previous reservation. You can also rent bicycles. But we chose to walk to the tree of Ken & Mary, known for appearing in a Nissan advertising campaign. We find it at least curious that one of the attractions of the place are famous trees.

From the Ken & Mary tree we go to the Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park, where in addition to a beautiful view there is a park covered with lavender plants. We return to the station to take the train to our next stop. We are careful to calculate the times, because trains are not very frequent. In some sections of the route there is only one way. We arrived at time to take the panoramic train and we got off at a station that is only operational during the summer months.

Actually, more than a station, it is a roofless platform in the middle of nowhere or not so much, because it is the closest station to one of Furano's best-known flower plantations: Tomita Farm. It is not casual, that station is enabled in summer exclusively for people who want to go to this nursery to admire one of the most famous landscapes of the region, a hill where the flowers form colored strips.

In Tomita Farm there are several areas with melon plantations and different types of flowers, although lavender predominates. We walk the painted hills. I try lavender ice cream. There are enough tourists - not as many as we have seen elsewhere - but few from the West. The majority are Koreans.

The traditional tourist routes do not include Hokkaido Island. They do not usually include anything that is north of Tokyo, except for the city of Nikko. But northern Japan is beautiful and worth visiting at any time of the year. Its fantastic landscapes, especially during the autumn, when the trees change color. Its snow festivals, its onsen with outdoor thermal baths, surrounded by white in winter.

The summer matsuri, which are in quantities, and many of them the most popular and impressive in Japan. We traveled to Furano to make sure we were at the stop time to take the bus that leaves at 1:45 pm. Near the town of Furano there is a village of just a few blocks. The best way to go is by car, because the collective has a horrible frequency. We have no choice but to accommodate ourselves.

If the frequencies to some of the places we have already visited brought us complications to plan an itinerary in Japan, the frequency with which collectives from Furano to Rokugo operate is practically a nightmare. In the town of Rokugo, and in its surroundings, Kita no kuni kara was filmed, a very popular Japanese series that was broadcast for more than twenty years.

Within the various film sets that were used there is a group of recycled houses that can be visited today. For its construction, although they are mostly made of wood and sheet metal, all kinds of materials were used from the carcass of a collective, through ropeway cabins and safes, to plastic bottles, egg boxes, window frames of different types and car windows, among many other things.

We had lunch at a place specializing in soba noodles that also served as a film set in some chapter of the series. The place has walls full of tickets, plane tickets and personal cards of the people who have visited it. And it eats very well.

After lunch, we still have plenty of time until the bus leaves. We decided to walk to the forest of Rokugo, where part of the series was also filmed. Already in the forest, we learned that you have to pay entrance to see the house where it was filmed, and we are already very fair weather, so we decided not to enter and we were content to walk around the woods for a while.

Back in Rokugo, we make time in a business where they sell glassware (a local craft) and at 5:15 we take the bus back to Furano to arrive just in time for the start of the festival that we will attend night. When we get off at Furano a group of women is already in procession down the street that ends at the station. They carry a mikoshi, a portable shinto sanctuary, in miniature, which is usually seen in the processions of the matsuri.

The food stalls have been set up on the side streets, and there are long wooden chairs and tables, where people sit down to eat and chat. Meanwhile, on the main street, many are already preparing for the main course of the festival. Furano is in the exact center of Hokkaido, and has a festival to celebrate it.

The Heso Matsuri, in which participants paint faces on their bellies and hide the head and part of the trunk under huge hats. There is no better way to understand it than to look at some photos. We return to the station to take the last train back to Asahikawa. We wonder if we will get to climb, but in some mysterious way we all enter and we can travel without problem. And so we said goodbye to Furano.

After giving us a treat of color, we return to Asahikawa for check-in. The accommodation we get is very economical. It is a little away from the station, but we are going to stop at a small apartment with a large room, with an integrated kitchen, a private bathroom, and a comfortable three-module armchair where one can sit and read or watch television.

Despite the kitchen, we decided to dine at a Japanese chain with national-style options, including a vegetarian burger with lotus root and other vegetables. We continue to Tomakomai.

Matsushima || Haiku and Trains

We do not buy many things, but I take a small bottle with marumo, some round algae from the area. We take a train that will cross the Seikan tunnel (the longest underwater tunnel in the world) to the city of Aomori. It's not that you really notice it. It's like traveling through any subway tunnel, except for the fact that you know it's 250 meters below sea level and 100 meters below the seabed.

Matsushima is half an hour by train from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. It is a coastal city, famous for its bay dotted with islands, some so tiny that they barely manage to accommodate a young tree. There are ferries that make routes for several of them. Unfortunately, we are with enough time to go on an excursion, so we are happy to cross the waterfront and cross to two of the islands that can be accessed by bridges.

Oshima, the first island we visited, is very close to the station and is connected by a short red bridge that had to be rebuilt after the tsunami. This small island, which at some point served as a retreat for monks, houses a Buddhist temple whose pillars are decorated with colored bibs. We wonder what the symbology behind those bibs will be.

Part of the waterfront can not be traversed, they are doing work. Maybe they still drag some arrangements, fruit of the damage caused by the natural disaster, or maybe not, maybe it's something else. The truth is that practically it is not even noticed, that just a few years ago, an earthquake and a wave of almost 10 meters devastated the entire coast and caused a collapse of the terrain.

It reminds us, however, a sign on the way to the second island. We see a huge sign that recommends running on high ground if we feel tremors. Through a long pedestrian bridge, 250 meters, we reach Fukuura Island. On the island there are several trails and scenic spots. One of the trails leads to the Bentendo temple, which is closed, but we were fascinated by the enormous amount of wooden darumas that have been left on the stairs, in the outer galleries and on the temple railings.

You can also go down to a solitary and quiet beach. The tide has left enough trunks on the beach, but we sit down to rest for a moment. I take off my sandals and put my feet in the water. I do not recommend it, as there are some very annoying bugs that bite. But the most impressive thing about the island are its beautiful views of the archipelago.

On the way back, before continuing our tour, we stop for a few seconds at the ticket office on the island. It is very hot and the air conditioning is good. Tanabata or the festival of stars - which takes place in Sendai approaches. Next to the ticket office they have already placed a bamboo branch, with the typical tanzaku, strips of paper on which wishes are written where children can hang their wishes, generally associated with success in their studies.

Before taking the train back to Sendai, we passed by the Zuiganji Temple, the most important of Matsushima and the entire region. The temple is being renovated, and you can not visit its main attractions. In compensation, they allow entry to pavilions and buildings that are not usually open to the public. We decided not to enter, but we did cross the road to the temple, flanked by caves in the rock, which at some point served as places of meditation.

We returned to Sendai after 5 in the afternoon. But in some corners we can already see bamboo canes. There are also many young people in yukata. In several galleries and nearby businesses they have hung the typical serpentines of the festival. The place to see them is the Ichibancho and Chuo streets, of the commercial district.

And that is that tonight there are hanami near the river. Did you know that there are over 200 different varieties of cherry trees, the cherry flower is Japan's national flower? A Japanese tradition is to have a picnic Hanami under the cherry trees in bloom.

Once again, the fireworks open the festival. But the place where the fires are launched is a bit far from the station and our hotel. We have been walking, and my feet are beginning to suffer the consequences. We do not want to overdo it, so we give up the flowers in the sky, and we go to the hotel.

After a renewing bath and a pair of konbini bentos - tonkatsu, omuraisu and we replenish energy. As we do almost every night, before going to sleep, we check our mails in the room, download the photos, and leave a message on Facebook, commenting something about our experience of the day.

Japan Travel

Niigata || The Capital of Salmon

Niigata does not usually appear too much in the more conventional Japan tourist itineraries. The Joetsu Shinkansen line is a bullet train line that connects Tokyo with Niigata, in the Sea of ​​Japan. This line allows us to make the journey between both cities in just over two hours. All this despite the fact that its maximum speed is only 240 km/h, although there were services in the past that circulated faster.

Famous for the quality of its seafood and fish, both sea and river, Niigata is one of the main producers of edamame, koshihikari rice, sake, echigohime strawberries and nashi pears from the Shirone region. As a curiosity, the city was chosen by the United States to launch the second atomic bomb, but due to the weather, in the end the bomb was launched in the city ​​of Nagasaki.

It was about over an hour from Tokyo by the bullet train, and you got to pass through veeery long tunnels. It took almost twenty minutes to pass through one, in a bullet train, and maybe the tunnel bore through an entire mountain or something. But at the end of the tunnel it felt like another country entirely. Gunma had been quite crisp and green at the other end of the tunnel, but we suddenly emerged in a field of white.

Not that it’s particularly beautiful. Japanese towns look like other concrete-laden, gray Japanese towns. It had just stopped snowing, and when I arrived I took a taxi to this pension I booked quite randomly that I didn’t even know where it’s located exactly. But yeah, the taxi dropped me up at a hill a distance away from the town at a small Pension where everything is Wizard-of-Oz themed.

The exterior was painted chiffon yellow, they sold beads in the dining room and they had a fat tuxedo cat. The pension had a view of mountains covered in pines and snow and shrouded in mist. Still, I was pretty unimpressed. I guess I was just saturated with travel by that time, and I was feeling pretty low, alone, and confused too.

I wanted to explore, but by the time I arrived, it was already afternoon, I was freaking tired. I wanted to visit an onsen and waited for the snow to fall so I can have a legendary rotemburo bath with snow falling over my head, but as the light outside turned dark, it began raining hail and freezing water the size of berries.

The next morning I woke up just as the sun rose, got dressed, and peeked outside. Snow! I asked the concierge for a city map and resolved to travel to the nearest onsen. I’m hopeless with directions and my shoes were 10-cm tall boots suitable for Tokyo but not for sleet. But I just had to have that hot bath. I confidently went out and tried to make out my way along the white-covered roads.

Of course, quite predictably, I got lost. But I found myself to be in the most beautiful scene in my life. I got myself lost right in the middle of a small woods, and just around me snow was swirling in wisps of powdery white, all over me, the woods, all across the world.

I could see the weird homes- or pensions, or whatever- that felt shabby and weird to me the day before, but they were all painted in pastels of yellow chiffon and tempera and robin egg blue with their Bavarian-style painted flowers, still mostly asleep, and shrouded by a million pieces of snow from where I saw them.

I stepped aside a little, and as my boots made a satisfying small crack at the powdery snow, I saw my lone footprints marking my way from the door of my inn to where I was standing. Somehow I found it hilarious. It was so poignant and lonely. And so, so, so beautiful.

I sat on the ground and took it all in, it was almost too overwhelming. The dancing snow, the white sky, the pastel rainbow homes all around me, the mist-shrouded mountains in the background.

I actually loitered there for far too long, so that when I actually found my way to the onsen it was being cleaned and I couldn’t use it! But it was all worth it.

During my travels, I rarely found myself having my breath taken by picturesque places. Prague, NYC skyline, Zaanse Schans- they’re all picturesque, stuff made of dreams. But for some reason, what sticks the most to my memories are those images afforded by my random impulses and just an ordinary walk and my eyes happening to see things with a different lens, and the universe colliding them all creating nuance, reflections on puddles, moments.

I loitered the entire day in my hotel room, and when I went out it was raining. An andante rain, the sky dark blue, the puddles reflecting streetlights and golden brasswinds as I browsed each store.

There’s this “neck” on the Osaka red line separating Esaka and Minamikata. I always rush to the frontmost car of the metro whenever I ride that line to downtown, and then rush to the front windows, because from the front windows of the train I can see the tall buildings downtown zooming in with their red lights and the dark dreary sky, just gray and glass and lights for probably ten seconds. Then back to the real world.

There was this little alley I went in randomly when I was coursing through Vienna. At the end was a small shop of curiosities and vintage accessories, owned by a middle-aged lady who gossiped with her friends on white garden benches in front of the facade, and it was when I swore I would open such a shop one day when I retire.

The Sado island is an interesting regional destination. Just a two-hour ride by ferry from Niigata Port, it is the biggest island after the four main islands and Okinawa, possessing a rich cultural heritage due to its history. I visited in Niigata a town called Murakami, a one-hour train ride from Niigata City by the Uetsu main line.

Murakami is a small town located on the coast of the Sea of ​​Japan and is especially known for the quality of its salmon. Because of its location, it is a perfect day trip from Niigata. Murakami offers me the opportunity to enjoy that Japan of yesteryear that I like so much, with authentic machiya or traditional style shops and houses that open their doors to visitors to show them their living rooms and interior gardens in the Choninmachi neighborhood.

It also allows me to enjoy the ancient residences of samurai that show me what life was like over hundred years ago, of craft techniques that have gone through several generations, of gastronomy and spectacular sake and thermal baths in which to soak and relax. I learn more about the traditional lacquer technique typical of the city called Murakami Kibori Tsuishu.

From the hand of the young craftswoman I can see in this small shop how wood articles, a typical Murakami handicraft, are carved and lacquered in the traditional varnished lacquer. The difference between Murakami lacquer and another type of lacquer is that in the case of Murakami, first wood is carved and then painted with lacquer, thus achieving very elaborate designs and a spectacular shine.

The Sennen sake Kikkawa store is the most famous shop of Murakami salmon products, without any discussion. It is located in an authentic machiya of more than 130 years old and the shop hangs a traditional noren curtain with the salmon kanji. The store is so famous that the image of its exterior was used in an image of a JR campaign.

Since then, the facade of the store has become one of the top instagram worthy places in Japan where many tourists take a photo similar to the advertising campaign and upload it to Instagram. Due to its age and design, the store is an example of the traditional architecture of the city.

And again, I cannot forget to reach the innermost end of the Sennensake Kikkawa store after seeing the great variety of products made with salmon. There awaits us a surprise: the warehouse later. From the ceiling hang a thousand salmon face down that are fermented and dried in this way to make shiobiki-zake or salmon cured in salt. This preparation is typical of Murakami and its inhabitants are very proud of it.

In Murakami I try one of the local specialties and one of the most famous ingredients of the city, Murakami rice or Iwafune-mai rice and salmon and especially shiobiki-zake or salmon cured with salt. Then I walk through the alley of the black fence or Kurobeidori, a narrow street surrounded by a traditional black fence in which I really travel in time and feel in the Japan of yesteryear.

I find along the way the beautiful Anzenji temple. I also entertained myself by taking pictures of the lights and the colors of the leaves, and this is that traveling alone gives a lot of time to dedicate the time you want to the things you want.

This trip I did without a guide and it was a succession after another of going to places that I found interesting. In this way I came to the banks of a river surrounded by trees with fire-colored leaves that undoubtedly was the best moment of the trip. I took the opportunity to take a lot of photos and try many things and also to sit down for a sushi on a bench facing the river.

When I arrived back in Niigata, the first thing I did was find where to sleep. In that area the forests are very leafy and the dirt beaches, hidden between the slopes created as protection against the tsunamis and the Pacific do not make them the most ideal place to sleep in Japan. So after an hour looking for a worthy setting I find a free camping area and, like everything in Japan, perfectly clean for public use.

Among interesting things in Japan I found was a natural market next to one of the big rivers in the city where I used to buy some sweets to take to Hiroko as a travel gift, or from Omiyage as they say around here. I eat a precooked combination dish of rice patties with seaweed, famous onigiri. All in all, I enjoyed my trip to Niigata due to its diversity of travel destinations.

Toyama || The City of Rivers and Glass

I leave Niigata in the rain for Toyama. In the information office of the station I fill my backpack with brochures, including an original map of Japan and calendar which indicated the days when it was expected that the colors of the trees would acquire their best tonality. Something without a doubt very Japanese.

I buy bentos for lunch on the train. The choice is difficult but I come to decide. And finally, the shinkansen! 2 hours of train to cross Japan, from the South coast to the North coast. I arrive in Toyama, and it is still raining. I enter the hotel, and discover a charming establishment with tatami floor everywhere with traditional bathtub in the rooms.

I go back around the shopping arcade and sit in a cafe too kawaii, honey cake and vanilla ice cream balls with a beer. I go back through the hotel to cover myself a little more. Armed with my super-umbrella, I take the bus to the Toyama Municipal Folkcraft Village. These are small museums each presenting a section of local crafts or culture.

I visit the Thatched roof folk Art museum housed in a traditional Gassho house that introduces me to the traditional life in this kind of house. There is even an irori (focus) in action, I am delighted! Then I tour the Folk Art museum before climbing to the observation point at the top of the mountain. It's raining all the time and I do not see the mountains behind Toyama but it's still very pretty. I stop for a coffee before going back down. I visited a museum dedicated to trout sushi, a typical dish of the region.

I then visit the Clay Doll Studio, where I reasonably fall on the memories, the archaeology museum where I do not understand much, the museum of ceramics arts, the Gyujin gallery which contains beautiful prints and I end with the Museum of Folklore which houses many curiosities and representations of the very broad aspects of the culture of the region. From the snow boots to the work of the rice fields, everything is there.

I then take the bus to the train station. Then I walk to the Fugan Canal Park but in the gloomy weather I take refuge in the Toyama Museum of Art and Design. Well if the weather was nice, I probably would not have entered but it's informative. I leave then towards the hotel, and on the way I stop at the Daiwa in front of the hotel to do some shopping.

I go in search of a restaurant. I end up in an Izakaya and taste some sake. I test local specialties, but for once, it's not a success. I am not a fan of Toyama's phosphorescent octopus. Fortunately, the other dishes are good and I feast. Back at the hotel I dip into the Onsen!

Kanazawa || Cradle of Geishas and Samurais

Following the planned route by train to Takayama, the train took me the next day to the sea of ​​Japan, on the other side of the Honshu island. The colors of autumn and the vision of the high mountain alternated that day with the darkness of the long tunnels until I reached Shomyo Falls. It's the ski slopes that stop me. It's magic! I did not see so much snow even in Switzerland. In short, I am happy.

I decide to go down to the sea. The snow vanished to give way to a blackened coast. I go down to Iwasehama then go along the sea stopping at the sandstone of my desires. Oh yes, it's still raining. I then take the Shin-Minato bridge that I had spotted on the Internet. It is too beautiful! Downstairs there is a lobby with lots of people so I stop. Apparently, there are auctions of crabs.

After verification, it is indeed a fish market specializing in crab. I leave after finding a temple in Takaoka on the map. Then I visit the Zuiryuji of Takaoka which is a Buddhist temple and it is under a pouring rain that I leave. I had seen that in Tonami there was a tulip garden. Obviously, as I am curious, I go there. There is no one to welcome me, so I go around freely. There are actually lots of tulips.

After a coffee break with a kotatsu (Heating table), Kanazawa, the little pearl of Ishikawa, is my next destination. Going down in the direction of Kanazawa, the second stop was the Yamato Soysauce factory, a family business that has been engaged in making sake and sauces of soya, miso and wasabi, to which it has recently added vinegars for sushi.

Sake is a rice beer that has digestive and medicinal properties, so it is considered the secret of the longevity and flawless skin of the Japanese. The sauces, meanwhile, are the quintessence of Japanese food and the key to its aroma and sweet-sour taste. Both these condiments and sake and its sweet variant, the amazake, are made from the fermentation of rice and soybeans with a fungus called koji.

Next, I head to Higashi Chaya-gai, the geisha neighborhood. A chaya is a tea room where these refined artists dance, sing and play the shamisen, a small guitar with three strings and a long neck. The cobbled streets, the wooden houses, the tea rooms, the geisha and the geiko who walk with their shamisen (three-stringed lute) and the decoration led me to think that I had taken a shortcut to the last century.

Kaikaro is the most famous house. In it I can see classic elements of Chaya architecture, such as kimusukos, wooden lattices that let in the sun but prevent pedestrians from looking inside. Both the old castle and Kenrokuen gardens, considered among the three most beautiful in Japan, are a true wonder.

In the park, beautifully maintained, many Japanese are in traditional dress. The topiary, twine pulling up or branches that hold in horizontal planes, is very common. They call it niwaki, an expression that could be translated as the art of sculpture applied to trees. Its objective is to achieve a cozy environment that in some cases borders on perfection, as in Kenrokuen.

The first fortnight of April, when the cherry trees bloom, is the best time of the year to visit Japan. The vision of Kanazawa, however, would be incomplete without visiting the samurai neighborhood. There, near the canals and surrounded by a wonderful garden, stands the house of the Nomura family.

I placed an implacable word, an improbable word. I asked for a hotchikisu, a stapler! I am so proud of myself. Here for my unlikely day in the Japanese countryside. It was really improbable and fun. Now its turn to head to the izakaya, and then the onsen!

Takayama || A Trip to the Heart of Japanese Alps

Traveling in the heart of the Japanese Alps is like living a live lesson about the geography of the country. On the other hand, in the case of the train to Takayama, the silence that reigned in the wagons invited the idea that I am participating in some way in a kind of initiatory journey towards the heart of nature.

In Gifu the landscape began to change. It is inevitable that every time I travel to Japan I am invaded by the feeling that the forests of this eastern country seem to be animated. Perhaps it has to do with the Shinto religion, which is venerated by the kami, the spirits of nature. When arriving at Takayama, there were finally the Japanese Alps.

Takayama is a good place to explore the Hida Mountains with the district of Sanmachi Suji, with traditional streets and beautiful wooden houses of the Edo period, dozens of ryokan and traditional lodgings, traditional sake cellars, a market along the Miyagawa river and sanctuaries like that of Sakurayama Hachimangu, that seem to merge with the forest. At the top of the temple, among the symphony of colors of the maples, we see a stone pillar.

If you touch her, says an inscription, you will go mad. We refrained from touching her, of course, but, as we watched her, I remembered the extraordinary things that happen in Murakami's novels, especially in Kafka on the shore, where a mysterious stone gives access to another world. To live the mountain up close I get on a bus that in an hour and a half takes me to Shinhotaka, at the foot of the Alps.

Along the winding road, always on the rise, some passengers disembarked in Hirayu, where, thanks to volcanic activity, outdoor onsen (hot springs) abound. At the end of the journey the village of Shinhotaka appeared, from where a gondola starts. From there, the view is impressive, with a cirque of snowy mountains that seem to besiege Shinhotaka.

On the descent we take a break in the middle station of the cable car, where there is an outdoor onsen. Here there are no monkeys that come to bathe in the steaming water, as in Kamikochi, but the feeling of being in communion with nature is certainly unbelievable.

The Shirakawago village is another essential excursion from Takayama to feel the essence of rural Japan. On the road from Kanazawa to Takayama, there appears before the unsuspecting eyes of the traveler an agricultural town lost in the middle of the mountains whose inhabitants have preserved their way of life for centuries. It is the Shirakawa-go village.

The historical village of Shirakawago was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, together with its neighbor Gokayama in the valley of the Shogawa River. And the truth is that, walking through its streets, one understands this decision perfectly. This small Japanese town could easily be somewhere like Switzerland, Southern Germany Bavaria or Austria. It’s really shocking to believe, it’s located in Japan, simply breathtaking.

In one hour the bus took me there and the first thing I did was to go up to a viewpoint of Ogimachi Castle to see the traditional houses, scattered in harmony among the rice fields of Japan. I see gassho-zukuri houses, which means prayer. On the way back to Takayama, I eat a delicious grilled steak from Hida in a traditional restaurant in Japan. It is not a meat as famous as Kobe. It is so tender that it melts in my mouth.

In Japan hundreds of matsuris are celebrated, but one of the three most beautiful is that of Takayama, in the prefecture of Gifu, whose main attraction is the parade of floats through the streets of the city. Another popular manifestation is the Odori dance festival, which is held every summer night in the village of Gujo Hachiman, to honor the souls of the ancestors.

Men and women wear yukata, a garment lighter than the kimono, and perform rhythmic choreographs to the sound of drums, shamisens and flutes, while they sound the getas (wooden sandals) stomping the ground.

Nakasendo Trail || In the Footsteps of Ancient Japan

The old Nakasendo Trail connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) with the city of Kyoto in Japan passing through the Kiso valley. This route was part of the Gokaidō, or five routes that departed from Edo. Today, the stretch between Magome and Tsumago is especially popular with tourists and a nice day trip or a couple of days if we are in the area.

The towns of Magome and Tsumago are two ancient shukuba or rest stations of the Nakasendo trail. Magome was the number 41 station and Tsumago number 42 of the 69 rest stations that were on the route Nakasendo, also called in the past Kiso-kaidō or Kiso road, being in the middle of the Kiso region.

The most common excursion is to go by bus from Nakatsugawa to Magome and from there walk a section of the old Nakasendo route to Tsumago or Nagiso. The stretch between Magome and Tsumago is about 8 kilometers long and is relatively easy to do in about two hours and a half or three hours maximum.

Normally it is recommended to make the route starting from Magome towards Tsumago and not vice versa. This is so because from Magome there are less kilometers of climb and it is less hard. Making the way from Magome we have 2.7 kilometers of ascent to the mountain pass of Magome-toge and from there it is almost all downhill. If we do it from Tsumago, there are 5.3 kilometers of climb, which is much harder. But of course, the road can be done as desired and as best suits our itinerary.

I see the beauty of the area from the pass of mountain or port of Magome-toge to the outskirts of Tsumago, where I pass through stone paths surrounded by nature, going parallel to the stream on many occasions and enjoying small waterfalls.

During my walk through Magome I learn a little more about the life of the inhabitants of Magome in the small Shimizuya Shiryokan museum, with a beautiful exhibition of ceramics, clothing and various items. After visiting Magome, I begin my adventure along this stretch of the Nakasendo route that officially begins at the Magome viewpoint, from where I see spectacular views of the entire area.

Until the mountain pass of Magome-toge the road passes between houses and fields of culture, but when crossing the port, I descend by the mountain and enter in full nature. In full descent I find the Tateba-chaya tea house, an old inspection station on the Nakasendo trail. From here the prohibition of transporting some of the five most important trees in the region was controlled.

Nearby is the small altar Koyasu Kannon, dedicated to the goddess of mercy and especially popular with families in the area. Another point of interest during the route are the Odaki and Medaki waterfalls. The last section of the route crosses Otsumago, a small town before Tsumago that maintains many traditional buildings. In it I can find many minshuku or rural accommodation and traditional houses such as the former residence of the Fujiwara family, an original building of the seventeenth century, although with later remodeling.

And by the way, something that accompany me throughout the journey is the sound of the bells! Every few meters I find a bell that I will have to sound to scare away the possible bears that live in the mountains. Once I leave Otsumago behind, I arrive at the town of Tsumago, another of the famous rest stations of the Nakasendo trail that transports me to the Japan of the Edo period.

Another place that shows what life was like for the commoners of Tsumago during the Edo period is the Shimo Sagaya, a traditional house rebuilt in 1968. This house now also functions as traditional accommodation or minshuku.

Nagoya || Sumo tournament

It's time to start moving around the center of Japan. We take the shinkansen to Nagoya, a city not frequented by foreign tourists. The icing on the cake of this incredible trip to Japan we put with a sumo tournament in Nagoya. The bullet train arrives at the fourth largest city in the country, where we leave our bags at the station.

Nagoya is famous for being the city where Toyota was born, which hosts one of the competitions of this millenary type of wrestling that began as a martial art. The truth is that the inexplicable broadcast of this sport on television made it not a specialty outside of us and from the moment we knew we had the great opportunity we did not want to miss it.

From 8:30 in the morning, the time at which the fights of the youngest wrestlers begin, the competition begins. It lasts until the afternoon, when the heavyweights arrive, the yokozunas. We go to the tourist office, where they offer us a map of the city and they explain us the best places to visit.

We take our bags and go to the hotel, right next to the station. We shower, we rest a little. Before continuing to visit the city, we went down to the reception to ask for the takkyubin service. In the previous trip we did not need it but in this we sent our bags to Nagano, since in the next days we will change a lot of city and hotel.

We begin the visit of the city by the Nagoya Castle. In the castle we can see a museum of objects from its construction in the sixteenth century until its destruction during World War II, after which it was rebuilt in concrete. We go for a walk around Nagoya for dinner. The idea is to walk to the area where the Nagoya Tower is located, which is the city's television tower.

As we were a little late, we decided not to go downtown and walk around the station. The truth is that around the station there are many skyscrapers and good atmosphere. We search by tripadvisor and found a restaurant of unagi! I mean, eel, a delight. Already tired, we go to the hotel. On the way to the hotel we found what looks like a folkloric parade.

Kyoto || Temples, snow, and myths

Also my next stop Kyoto combines modernity and history in a very typical style of Japan. In contrast to Tokyo, Kyoto is almost a small town. What I liked most about Kyoto is the variety of cultural attractions. The Fushimi Inari Taisha, the golden temple, and the bamboo forest are 3 places you cannot miss while traveling to Kyoto.

More than 14 shrines and temples in the old imperial city are UNESCO World Heritages. I can only visit 4 of them, as the main part is not in the center, but on the slopes of the mountains that surround the city. I have planned several days for Kyoto so as not to miss the best sights, but I could have spent my entire two weeks here.

It begins to snow as I arrive at the top of the temple complex of Kiyomizu-Dera. There are young women in kimono walking past me, and I shiver at the sight. The promised outlook over Kyoto is unfortunately blocked by the gray snow clouds. But the buildings from the year 1633 alone are worth the steep climb.

Many myths surround the temple. I then stroll through the characteristic little streets of Gion and enjoy the general atmosphere before arriving at the Dragon Temple, aka the Kennin-ji. Its 108 tatami dragons are doing their bit and I take Zen classes along the way. I then cross Gion to Teramachi and complete my collection of souvenirs.

Then, I take the bus towards Kinkakuji. The bus takes 45 minutes! I see the golden temple. It is breathtaking! I am happy that my trip could not be any better and even surpassed my feverish expectations. I get back to the center of Kyoto. After arriving in Osaka, I see the food stalls on the way but I ignore after my double octopus debacle. I go up to the Umeda Sky Building and drink beer to enjoy the view. I dine at Shinsekai and return to the hotel.

Kumano Kodo || Sacred Roads of Japan

Today we left Kyoto. There are several trains and several combinations to get from Kyoto to Kumano Nachi Taisha, but beware, because in some they take a lot of time. There is a train that goes direct. However, in our case, this train arrived later than we had planned, and with it we would not have time to arrive to see the first day the Kumano Nachi Taisha temple.

So we prefer to get up early, leave earlier and also arrive before to the Kii-Katsuura station, the end point of our section by train today. Today I played again early, as we took the first train at Nijo station, at 6:26 in the morning. The total journey from Nijo to Kii-Katsuura, takes about 5 hours and you have to make two transfers in the Kyoto Central Station and Shin-Osaka.

After 5 hours of travel we arrived at the Kii-Katsuura station at 11:35 in the morning. Katsurra is a small and very manageable town. It is not visually attractive but it has its charm, especially for the riokanes by the sea and its good food, especially for the access to fresh fish.

We look for the ticket offices, which are on the street at the station and after getting rid of the backpacks and bring just enough for our trip, we went to find the bus stop. Nothing has loss since it is all in the same central square of the town. At the bus station there are also lockers, I think they are cheaper, but the schedule is smaller. At the train station the schedule lasts 24 hours a day.

With this combination of trains, we had time, without going to the hotel to leave the luggage, to catch the bus at 12:10. We waited sitting on a bench to get our bus that promptly left the town at 12:10 in the morning. The journey to our stop, Daimonzaka, was short, and in about 20 minutes we got off the bus. We had arrived at the beginning of what would be our visit to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

The Daimonzaka slope is a beautiful cobbled path, flanked by huge centenary cedars and camphor trees, which in its 650 meters of ascent contains 267 steps. The road seems to me precious and is ideal for all those who for time can not do any of the complete routes, or partial, of the Kumano way. The Daimonzaka slope, is part of this road network of Kumano Kodo and can serve as an idea to know how is Kumano Kodo.

I have to say that it seemed to me an authentic past. It is also the only pilgrimage route, along with the Camino de Santiago, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In addition, it is possible that you will meet people dressed in the costume of pilgrims of the Keihan period, who dress in the most colorful way.

Cuesta Daimonzaka, literally, means the big door, since at the end of the road we will find a large door that gives access to the Kumano Nachi Taisha temple. At the conclusion of the Daimonzaka hill we will arrive at the beginning of the Kumano Nachi Taisha sanctuary. We will pass under a big red torii and after climbing the last stairs we will reach the great esplanade of the temple, from where we will have stunning views of the mountains and the spectacular nature of the Kii peninsula.

We find part of the sanctuary in works, but I keep saying the same thing, go ahead because the sanctuary has a lot of corners and places to visit. However, most of the people who arrive, like us, to the Kumno Nachi Taisha Shrine, do so attracted by one of the best-known images of the Kii peninsula. It is the pagoda of the Seiganto-ji temple.

It is striking that being the best known of the Kumano road is the most modern building of the Kumano Nachi Taisha. It was time to relax. We had got up early, slept little and eaten nothing. So we settled into one of the tables in the esplanade in front of the pagoda, and there we did our picnic, with these wonderful views.

I was surprised that there were not many people in the area. I was even surprised that we could take pictures without anyone. We do not know if it is that many people do not visit this area or simply that we were lucky with the time of our arrival at the temple.

We spent a long time seeing the pagoda and the beautiful contrasting image, between the red pagoda, the Nachi waterfall in the background (the highest in Japan) and the green of the Kii mountains. It was time to relax, since we were really thinking that we had the right time to see everything and catch the last bus back to Katsuura.

I even went inside the pagoda, which is not that I have much to see but at least I looked at each and every one of the balconies to see the landscape. Even as we had some time left we made a view that we had not contemplated in the planning of today. We approach to visit the Nachi Cascade closely, at whose feet is the Hiro Sanctuary.

We go down some stairs in the similar style of the Daimonzaka slope, with centenary trees on the sides, and after a while we arrive at the Hiro sanctuary, from where we can contemplate up close, the Nachi waterfall. The Nachi waterfall is 133 meters high and is the highest in Japan. The waterfall is a sacred place and has been revered by the Japanese for centuries.

After this visit we hurry the return step, to finally catch the bus at 3:51. 20 minutes later we arrived at the Katsuura train station. We picked up the backpacks and went to the hotel. Certainly we thought it was closer to the stop, but the road was enjoyable and we enjoyed it. It was still daylight, although the sun was beginning to fall.

When we started to organize the trip we thought a lot about what hotel to choose in Katsuura. In addition, the price difference between the Bed and Breakfast and the Half Board was very low, so we opted for this second option and I think we're right. We got it right because the hotel is a bit separate and we appreciated having dinner included.

We stayed in the old part, the original part of the Ryokan and the experience was very rewarding. We chose the dinner time for the first, at 7 o'clock in the afternoon, and before we went to take a shower and relax at the Onsen. This time it touched me on the outer onsen, and one of the smallest and oldest. And there, relaxed and alone, I was able to enjoy one of the most relaxing moments of the entire trip.

And at dinner and we had a wonderful meal. The dinner was buffet style, but there was everything. I did not know what to choose so I tried a bit of everything.

Osaka || When a potato turns into an octopus

Between the onsen, the dinner and how wonderful were the almost 10 hours of sleep that I got this day, I woke up, the next day, fresh and with renewed strength. The truth is that I could not imagine before starting the trip, that here, in Katsuura, we would enjoy relaxing and replenishing our strength.

From Katsuura, a 30-minute drive take us to one of Wakayama's most photographed spots, the Kumano stretch known as Daimon-zaka Slope. The road that leads to Koyasan is a mountain gorge among forests of centenary cedars. We are in the Prefecture of Wakayama, south of Osaka, in the southernmost part of the main island of Japan, Honshu.

Koyasan is the nerve center of esoteric shingon Buddhism. In addition to the pagodas of Danjo Garan (the complex of sacred temples), here is Okunoin, the road that rises on the Uchinobashi bridge and that for two kilometers is flanked by 200,000 Buddhist tombs and stupas.

These places form a cultural landscape that reflects the fusion between Shintoism and Buddhism. The Kumano Way or Kumano Kodo is, in reality, an extensive network of paths connecting the three great sanctuaries of Kumano or Kumano Sanzan like the Hongu Taisha Shrine, the Hayatama Taisha Shrine and the Nachi Taisha Shrine.

As we have come to walk, we arrive at Hosshinmon-oji and we travel in about three hours the seven kilometers that lead to Kumano Hongu Taisha, a path that crosses rural Japan to the first great pilgrimage sanctuary. On the way we hear shots from neighbors to drive away bears, deer and wild animals.

All routes lead to Kumano Hongu Taisha, located in a delta between the mountains. The Oyunohara door receives us, the largest Torii in the world. This colossal monolith marks the entrance to a sacred area and symbolizes the division between the secular and the religious world.

Not far from this place appears Yunomine , a village in the foothills of the sacred mountains that can boast of having an onsen in the middle of its street that is itself a World Heritage Site. Tsuboyu onsen is a wooden hut with a natural stone bathtub that takes advantage of the hot springs stream that runs through Yunomine.

On the way to the city of Shingu, on the estuary of the Kumano River, we arrive at another of the three great sanctuaries of the pilgrimage route, the Hayatama Taisha. During a conversation as banal as metaphysics about football, the translator who accompanies me tells me that white is the color that symbolizes purity in Shinto: White can become another color, but no other color can turn white.

In Shingu there is another prestigious sanctuary, Kamikura-jinja, which is accessed after saving 538 steps . The summit, at 253 meters, offers an unbeatable view of this coastal city of the Pacific Ocean.

On my things to do in Osaka is Kuromon Ichiba. It is a sheltered market that offers all sorts of tasty Japanese cuisine. I go around shotengai (covered shopping malls). I start with one that is a market. On the stalls are crab and Kobe beef which are most famous after the gyudon (a bowl of rice topped with beef) made of Murakami beef.

Older ladies do their normal shopping here. While the tourists photograph the fish and seafood. I watch three dancing ball fish in an aquarium until I realize that these are "fugu". I move on to a stand to eat fried potatoes. I hope that I get the potatoes with cheese filling. When I bite, I taste cheese, but the potato, unfortunately, turns out to be in the form of pressed octopus.

I'm not vegetarian, but an octopus is not on my menu. And yet, the same mishap happened to me at a shack in front of Osaka Castle. Only this time it is octopus balls in sauce. It is fate that I have eaten Takoyaki. After all, Osaka is famous for its seafood specialties. The Osaka Castle is not only a perfect reproduction of the original. It is an important contrast to the modern high-rise buildings of the metropolis of Osaka.

I then go up to Chinatown and ride in Motomachi. I go towards Uji, see the Byodo-in. But before that, I stop in Kyoto. In search of the last gift. I go around absolutely beautiful shops but completely off budget. I will say that they are free museums, it's less frustrating. Then, I head to Uji! I visit the byodo-in, temple which is depicted on the 10 ¥ coins. It is magnificent!

I buy the local flagship product. It is the sencha! I taste the melon-pan sencha! I continue to Dotonbori and continue up Shinbaibashi. Christmas decorations are everywhere, and it's impressive! Once my marathon shopping is over, I find an improbable bar hidden in the basement of a building and enjoy the atmosphere and the beers.

The chef is adorable and comes to chat with us. We are five customers sitting at his bar and he explains a little about his life. He sings the Japanese national anthem, and take pictures with us. He makes the show! And we love it!

Hiroshima || Kissed by a holy deer

From my next station, Hiroshima, I take the regional train to Itsukushima. It is a small island that is one of the three greatest wonders of Japan under the name of Miyajima. I find the semi-wild deer roaming on the island.

The animals are already accustomed to visitors. In front of the Torii, three deer pose in a group photo as if they were also part of the tourist group. The deer, by the way, is a sacred animal here, since according to legend they are the messengers of the gods.

I console myself with the fact that the spit-spot of the pushy deer on my jacket might bring luck. At sunset, I drive again from the island. The sun glimmers violet through the mountains. The shrine of Itsukushima glitters one more time as a reflection in the water.

I would not like to go back to Tokyo tomorrow, but instead, go for a walk through Japan. My backpack is now filled with Japanese sweets, curry paste, clothes, and green tea. It also contains the best memories of a trip I've ever had.

Mt. Fuji || Hi Fuji!

The next morning, I wake up at 4 o'clock. The sun has not come out, although the Japanese country name actually means the Land of the Rising Sun. I've been bothering my head for months of what I'll see in two weeks. I want to see everything! I would have to move at the speed of light. So I take the second quickest thing in this part of the earth, the Shinkansen.

With the high-speed train and almost 320 km/h, I prepare to travel to Tokyo. Actually, I had to see both the South and the North and of course, the Holy Fuji. The North is now covered in deep snow. And in the south, I have underestimated the length of the route and the prices.

But that does not matter, I enjoy the Shinkansen. I also get a typical Japanese meal in a nice box, which you can buy at every station. I am most pleased with the presentation of the rice with a Umeboshi plum on top. The rice looks like the flag of Japan.

While I was passing large cities, villages, and mountains, I almost had the majestic view of Mount Fuji. The businessmen who are sitting with me on the train are already smiling at how I stick my nose to the glass. The Fuji disappears somewhere behind the facades. I saw the Fuji so close, but only for 2 minutes, but I was closer to it now than in Tokyo, days before.

Japan, My Love

As I sit in the plane, the airport staff waved in a row on the runway to farewell. Although the friendliness of the Japanese is famous, I am always touched again and again. Japan is something special, whether it is the sights, nature or the people. And I would at any time exchange 2 weeks vacation in Bali against 2 weeks in the winter through Japan.

2 weeks in Japan were not enough, but at least a beginning. Choosing a route was difficult because there is so much to see and there is so little time left during my travels in Japan. You should consider exactly what you want to see and what you want to save for a second visit (you always need a reason to come back!).

Japan is a country with a long tradition and culture. It has beautiful landscapes, quiet temples, beautiful ski resorts, and secluded islands. It is also home to one of the largest cities in the world. This mix of modernity and tradition is something you should experience.