Sakura blooms at Takashima Castle Park

Today Mani & I, go on a hunt for cherry blossoms in Japan. Sakura blooms in Japan represent a magnificent spectacle of nature’s artistry and hold deep cultural, historical, and spiritual significance. The ephemeral beauty of these delicate flowers serves as a reminder to cherish life’s fleeting moments.

Upon arriving in Osaka, we discovered that the Sakura blooming period in Kansai had already concluded. Unfazed by the disappointment and aided by our JR passes, we embarked on a search for regions further north where the Sakura blooms were still flourishing. Our quest ultimately led us to a little known: Takashima Castle ruins, nestled in the picturesque city of Suwa in Nagano. A quick search on Instagram confirmed that the park was still adorned with a breathtaking display of fully bloomed Sakura trees.

Next day, early in the morning, we took the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Nagoya. At Nagoya Station, we switched to the Shinano 19 Limited Express going to Shiojiri Station. From Shiojiri Station, we caught the Local Kami-Suwa to Kami-Suwa Station. The castle is located within walking distance of the Kami-Suwa Station. The total travel time was around 3 hours and we reached the castle park at noon.

A brief history of Takashima Castle

Takashima Castle stands as a testament to the rich history of the region. Even though the original castle does not exist, with its imposing presence and picturesque surroundings, this lovely castle park has captured the hearts of locals and tourists alike, offering a glimpse into Japan’s past.

Takashima Castle was built by Lord Hineno, a vassal of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1592 CE. The castle was initially built on a small island extending into Lake Suwa. Surrounded by several rivers emptying into Lake Suwa and marshes, the castle appeared to float and was nicknamed Suwa no Ukijiro (Floating Castle of Suwa). The lake doubled up as a natural moat on three sides of the castle.

Over time, urbanization took place around Lake Suwa and the lakeshore moved away from the castle. Meiji authorities tore down the castle structures in 1876. Several of them have been rebuilt, starting with the castle tower in 1970. Only the northern and eastern sides of the moat and the inner garden have been preserved in their authentic state.

One of the most striking features of Takashima Castle was its unique architectural design. It followed the traditional Japanese castle style known as “hirayama-kuruwa,” characterized by a multi-tiered structure with sloping roofs and intricate wooden detailing. The skilled craftsmanship exhibited in the castle’s construction reflects the precision and artistry of Japanese architecture during that era.

The replica of the castle stands as a symbol of resilience and endurance, having withstood the test of time and various tumultuous periods in Japanese history. It serves as a reminder of the profound historical legacy that continues to shape the identity of the Suwa region and the nation as a whole.

The main enclosure has three entrances. The Kabuki-mon Gate, which was rebuilt on the heavy stone walls at the northern side of the enclosure. It was also the front gate of the castle and only upper-class people were allowed to use the gate.

The castle had four enclosures in a line facing the lake. The castle is in a form called “renkakushiki” in which Kinotokaku, Sannomaru, Ninomaru, and Honmaru are lined up in a straight line from the north. Only one route was accessible to the enclosure at the edge of the castle. This design meant the castle could be very well protected.

Because the lake is nearby and the ground is soft. The main enclosure, surrounded by stone walls must have been very difficult to build on the lakeside. They were actually built on wooden rafts made from large trees in order to be stable on the soft ground. The stone walls were made of stones with only the ridges processed using a method called Nozurazumi.

Hanami at Takashima Castle Park

Upon entering the castle grounds, we were greeted by a gentle breeze carrying the delicate fragrance of cherry blossoms. The park becomes a tapestry of soft pastel hues as the cherry trees are adorned with clusters of pink and white petals. About 90 cherry trees, such as weeping cherry trees, higan cherry trees, and double cherry trees, are planted in the park.

Underneath the blossoming trees, the atmosphere is alive with a sense of joy and tranquility. People of all ages gather for hanami, the cherished tradition of flower viewing. They spread blankets and picnic mats, creating small pockets of laughter and conversation amidst nature’s grand spectacle. Friends, families, and even strangers come together, united in their appreciation for the ephemeral beauty of the Sakura.

Every spring, as winter gives way to warmer temperatures, Japan transforms into a mesmerizing spectacle of pink and white hues. The Sakura blooms adorn parks, streets, temples, and riversides, painting the landscape in a breathtaking display of natural beauty. The ephemeral nature of the Sakura blooms, which only last for a fleeting period of one to two weeks, adds to their allure, creating a sense of urgency and appreciation for the transient beauty of life.

The blooming of Sakura holds profound cultural and historical significance in Japan. For centuries, it has been celebrated as a time of joy, renewal, and contemplation. The tradition of hanami, which translates to “flower viewing,” brings people together to appreciate the Sakura blossoms in full bloom. Friends, families, and colleagues gather beneath the Sakura trees, spreading picnic blankets, and enjoying food, drinks, and lively conversations, all while marveling at the breathtaking beauty above them. This tradition fosters a sense of unity and harmony, as people connect with nature and with one another, celebrating the arrival of spring.

The Sakura blooms have inspired various art forms, literature, and poetry throughout Japan’s rich history. Renowned haiku poets and artists have sought to capture the essence of these delicate flowers, immortalizing their beauty in verse and brushstrokes. The ephemeral nature of the Sakura blossoms is often associated with the concept of mono no aware, a deep appreciation for the impermanence of things, and the profound emotions evoked by their fleeting existence.

Any Japanese park during Sakura bloom is not merely a visual feast but also a place of profound emotions. It is a space where one can reflect on the transient nature of life, where the ephemeral beauty of the Sakura becomes a poignant reminder to cherish each passing moment.

The Sakura season is eagerly anticipated by both locals and international visitors, with countless festivals and events dedicated to celebrating these delicate flowers. Locations like this become bustling hubs of activity, with crowds flocking to witness the enchanting beauty of the Sakura blooms.

Takashima Castle serves as a cultural and educational hub for the local community and beyond. It hosts regular events and exhibitions, showcasing traditional arts, performances, and historical reenactments. In the peaceful time during the Edo Period, a view of the castle with Suwa Lake became a popular attraction in the area. These activities not only preserve Japan’s rich heritage but also allow visitors to engage with and appreciate the vibrant culture that surrounds the castle.

The surrounding natural beauty, including the breathtaking views of Lake Suwa and the majestic Japanese Alps, further enhance the allure of this historical gem. The castle’s strategic location not only offered defensive advantages but also allowed for uninterrupted views of the stunning landscape, creating a sense of harmony between man-made structures and nature.

Takashima Castle is the highest elevation flatland castle ever constructed in Japan.

The Suwa clan had ruled the area around Lake Suwa in Shinano Province since ancient times. The clan was defeated by Takeda Shingen in 1542. The final Suwa ruler, Suwa Yorishige was forced to commit seppuku. The Takeda Clan was also defeated by Nobunaga Oda in 1582. However, confusion prevailed in the district when Nobunaga was killed in the same year. When Hideyoshi Toyotomi gained power at the end of the 16th Century, he sent his retainer, Takayoshi Hineno to Suwa District.

A three-story, three-storied watchtower was built in the main enclosure, but one of Takashima Castle’s major characteristics is that the roofs of the main buildings, including the keep, were not tiled but shingled.

Even though Hineno Takayoshi built Takashima Castle, in 1601, his son Hineno Yoshiaki, was demoted to Mibu Domain. In the same year, following several linked incidents, Suwa Yoritada’s son, Suwa Yorimizu, was allowed to reclaim his clan’s ancestral lands as daimyō of Suwa Domain. His descendants ruled for 270 years thereafter (clans both took their names from and gave their names to areas in feudal Japan).

Suwa Lake is now about 400m away from the park, so it is difficult to imagine “the floating castle”.

The rebuilt Main Tower is actually a modern building that looks similar to the original one. The building has copper plate roofing, not wooden strip roofing from the original, but they probably resemble each other. The inside of the tower is used as a historical museum and an observation platform.

Visitors are allowed to take very limited photos inside the castle.

Inside Takashima Castle, visitors can explore the various chambers that exhibit Naginata(a pole sword), lancers, and some Japanese armor among other artifacts. The preservation of original artifacts, such as armor, weapons, and historical documents, provides a glimpse into the lifestyle and traditions of the castle’s inhabitants.

The first floor provides some special exhibitions on Suwa’s traditional events and tourist information, and the materials related to Takashima Castle are displayed on the second floor. From the small observatory room on the third floor, you can see the snow-capped Japanese Alps, Suwa city and the peak of Mount Fuji on a clear day. You can in the photo below see a faint Mt. Fuji in the distance.

Mount Fuji has been at the center of Japanese spiritual practice for thousands of years with countless individuals summiting the volcano in pilgrimage. Although the volcano is now considered dormant, in the past it was both a site of reverence and a source of apprehension, much like the gods being worshipped in ancient times.

We spent a couple of hours at the castle park. It was a long way to go back to Kyoto so we decided not to stay any longer. I love capturing castles at sunset but grudgingly we had to leave for Kami-Suwa Station.

Takashima Castle embodies the essence of Japan’s historical and architectural grandeur. From its strategic hilltop location to its intricate design and cultural significance, the castle stands as a cherished jewel that invites visitors to immerse themselves in the captivating world of ancient Japan. Sure, it is not as grand as the castles in Osaka or Matsumoto (my favorite), and it is a reconstruction because it was destroyed long ago and rebuilt, but it is definitely worth seeing especially during the time of Sakura blooms.

Suwa Area of Nagano Prefecture is famous for its tourist spots like Suwa Lake and Suwa-taisha Shrine. A visit to Takashima Castle is not just a touristic experience but a profound journey through time, offering a deeper appreciation for the rich heritage that has shaped this remarkable country.

Originally built:

1592 CE

Opening Hours

9:00 – 17:30
(Closes at 16:30 between 1st October and 31st March)

Annual Close

12/26-12/31 and 2nd Thursday in November

Castle Admission Fee

310 yen for adults
150 yen for children
Admission to the park is free

Tsubosaka-dera Temple

Tsubosaka-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple located on the mountain of Tsubosaka, which overlooks Mt. Yoshino, one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Nara. It is considered to be one of the oldest and most historically significant temples in Japan, with a history that dates back more than 1,300 years.

According to the temple’s “Nanhokuji Koroden”, it was originally built in the late Taiho era in 703 CE. The temple is officially named Tsubosakayama Minami Hokkeji Temple, however over the years people have become used to calling it Tsubosakadera temple. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of Tsubosaka-dera Temple, its architectural features, and the best time to enjoy this hidden gem.

After a long gap of three years, Mani and I were back in Japan. Due to the stringent travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we missed out on two opportunities to visit this captivating island nation. Following a day of relaxation in Kyoto, we made the decision to venture into the outskirts of Nara. Although the cherry blossom season had recently concluded, a time renowned for its enchanting beauty, we remained thrilled about the prospect of exploring the splendid temple.

Starting from Kyoto Station, we embarked on the Kintetsu Limited Express bound for Kashiharajingu-Mae Station. Upon reaching Kashiharajingu-Mae Station, we made a transfer to the Local Yoshino train, which conveniently transported us to Tsubosakayama Station. The journey from Kyoto Station to Kashiharajingu-Mae Station typically lasts around an hour, whereas the Tsubosakayama Station is just a brief 10-minute ride away from Kashiharajingu-Mae Station.

From Tsubosakayama Station, you can either take a cab to the temple or wait for the local bus. The buses are at wide intervals, so we walked down to the local mall nearby. After a quick lunch from a sushi box, we walked back to the station to find the bus already waiting. Apart from us, there were hardly any passengers on the bus. Once we started from the station, it took us around 15 minutes to reach the temple parking lot.

A brief history of Tsubosaka-dera

Tsubosaka-dera Temple was founded in the early 8th century by the monk Benki Shonin, a monk of Gango-ji Temple, who is known for his role in spreading Buddhism throughout Japan during the Nara period.

The temple was originally named Tsubokokubun-ji and was dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing. Over time, the temple became known as Tsubosaka-dera and became associated with Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, who is now enshrined there. It is also called Minami (south) Hokke-ji Temple, while Kiyomizu-dera Temple is known as Kita (north) Hokke-ji Temple. During the Heian period, it was listed as a fixed temple along with Hase-dera (847), and the Heian aristocrats often visited the temple.

Sadaijin Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – January 3, 1028), whose son is credited with building Byodo-in Temple in 1052 stayed at this temple on his way to visit Yoshino in 1007 CE.

During the Heian period, Tsubosaka-dera Temple was an important center of Buddhist learning and scholarship. Many prominent scholars and monks studied and taught at the temple, and it was renowned for its extensive library and collection of Buddhist scriptures.

In the 12th century, Tsubosaka-dera Temple was severely damaged by fire and had to be rebuilt. Tsubosaka-ji Temple also declined with the downfall of the Ochi clan (12th – 14th centuries), which had been protected at that time, as it was involved in the upheavals of the Northern and Southern Courts and the Sengoku period. The temple was restored several times over the centuries, with major renovations taking place in the 17th and 19th centuries. Many roof tiles from the time of the Fujiwara Palace have been excavated from the precincts. At its height, there were thirty- six halls and sixty-odd temples on the mountain, but only a three-storied pagoda and a few temples remain in the precincts today.

Daikodo (Lecture Hall)

The lecture hall has traditionally been one of the seven structures on the grounds of Buddhist temples in Japan. It is one of the main structures on the compound of a Buddhist temple, in which sutras are read, Buddhist doctrines taught, and rituals performed.

The Hina dolls are not dolls people play with, but very elaborate, decorative dolls depicting members of ancient Japanese society. Hina dolls, also known as Hina-ningyo, are traditional Japanese dolls that hold great cultural significance. They are typically displayed during the annual festival called Hinamatsuri or Girls’ Day, which takes place on March 3rd.

Hina dolls represent the imperial court of the Heian period in Japan and are a symbol of good luck and protection for young girls. These dolls are beautifully crafted, usually made of wood, and dressed in elaborate silk costumes reminiscent of traditional court attire.

In the lecture Hall, you can also find several ancient pieces from India. Here we see two rock-cut heads of Budha. The left one is from the 5-6th century CE from the Gupta period. The one on the right is from Mathura dating from the 7-8th century.

Below them are two bas-reliefs of Shiva. The one on the left looks very much like Buddha and the right one is a depiction of Shiva with his consort Parvati.

From the lecture hall, we went up the hill toward the upper part of the temple grounds. The grounds are adorned with stone lanterns at several points. Stone lanterns, known as Ishidōrō in Japanese, hold a significant place in the aesthetics and symbolism of Japanese temples. They serve both practical and spiritual purposes, providing light to guide visitors during evening visits to the temple and symbolizing illumination of the spiritual path.

Even though we didn’t come expecting to see any cherry blossom, we were greeted by some Yae-Zakura. Yaezakura, which means “multi-layered cherry blossom,” is used to refer to all cherry blossoms with more than five petals. These flowers bloom a little late in mid-to-late April. The Yaezakura have petals that range from light to dark pink.

Because of the double layers of petals, they’re known as a symbol of strength in comparison to the delicate “Somei Yoshino”. The normal type of one-layer sakura tends to be fragile and easily blown away by strong wind or rain.

The mix of Japanese and Indian styles makes this temple unique. There are several Indian-style stone Buddhas and bas-relief carvings in white stone. These were presented by the Indian government as a gesture of thanks for the temple’s work to help leprosy sufferers.

To the left of the stone Buddha idol, you can find the Chōzu-ya. The Chōzu-ya is a water pavilion for ceremonial purification. It is a designated area within the temple grounds where visitors can perform the act of cleansing before entering the sacred spaces. The Chōzu-ya typically consists of a stone basin, known as a Tsukubai, filled with water. Visitors use a long-handled ladle to pour water over their hands and rinse their mouths as a symbolic act of purifying themselves before engaging in religious activities or paying respects to the deity.

This is an important place to purify one’s mind and body before approaching the main shrine and conversing with the gods to symbolize this people wash their hands and mouth in a small personal purification ritual before going further into the shrine. The act of purification is considered essential in Japanese religious and cultural practices, emphasizing the importance of physical and spiritual cleanliness. The Chōzu-ya serves as a peaceful and contemplative space for individuals to prepare themselves spiritually and mentally before entering the sacred precincts of the temple.

Taho-to Pagoda

We kept walking towards the left to reach the Tohoto Pagoda. Tsubosaka-dera Temple is known for its distinctive architectural style, which blends elements of both Japanese and Chinese Buddhist architecture. The temple complex consists of several buildings, including a main hall, a pagoda, a bell tower, and a number of smaller structures.

The Tahoto Pagoda is an exquisite example of Japanese architecture, featuring intricate wooden carvings, elaborate roof decorations, and ornate details. It is unique among pagodas because it has an even number of stories (two). Its name alludes to Tahō Nyorai, who appears seated in a many-jeweled pagoda in the eleventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra. With square lower and cylindrical upper parts, a mokoshi “skirt roof”, a pyramidal roof, and a finial. After the Heian period, the construction of pagodas in general declined, and new tahōtō became rare.

According to the Hoke-kyo (Lotus Sutra), when Shaka Buddha was preaching, the ground cracked open and a stupa appeared from below. From inside the stupa, a voice emanated saying “Wonderful, wonderful, Sakyamuni Buddha. Your sermon is the truth.” That was Taho Nyorai (the Buddha of the Past) proclaiming the truth of Shaka’s words. Hence, traditionally the temples which practice the chanting of the Lotus Sutra build Tahoto pagodas.

Kanjo-do Hall

Just beside the Tahoto Pagoda lies the Kanjo-do Hall. It is built in irimoya-zukuri style (a hip-and-gable roof construction, or a building with this roof construction) and hongawarabuki (tile roofing in which round and square tiles are laid down alternately). An irimoya style roof is composed of a kirizuma-zukuri style roof in its upper part (which inclines backward and forward when viewed from the longer side of the roof) and a yosemune-zukuri style roof in the lower part (which inclines in each of the four sides of a rectangular house). This roof style was introduced in medieval Japan from China at the same time as Buddhism in the mid-6th century.

There were some very ancient wooden idols inside the Kanjo-do Hall, but they were prohibited from photographing. Just beyond the hall, we found a huge stone idol of Kannon.

Couples Kannon

Juichimen Kannon (ekadaza mukha in Sanskrit) is one of the venerable entities of Bosatsu This is also a Kannon that was brought over from India to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of Sawa City and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of a nursing home for the elderly. This stone idol was commenced in 2011.

In front of the Kannon lies a flat circular platform. Several visitors were standing on this power stone bare-naked foot and asking for Kannon’s power and blessing. The power stone contains green malachite, which is said to improve eyesight and ward off evil, and blue is lapis lazuli, which is said to improve health and improve brain clarity.

The pedestal for praying to this Kannon is made of power stone. If you look closely, you can see the seams. It is also called Daikofusho Kannon, and it is said that the 10 faces on the front, back, left, and right among the 11 faces on the head show Jicchi (ten stages) while the topmost Butsumen (the head of a Buddha) shows nirvana. It is said that this shows the pious act of cutting away 11 kinds of ignorance and the earthly desires of living things opening the path to nirvana.

Sanju-do Pagoda

The pagoda at Tsubosaka-dera Temple is also an impressive structure. It is a three-story tower with a hexagonal base and is said to be one of the oldest surviving pagodas in Japan. It was rebuilt in 1479 in the Muromachi period. It is designated as a “National Important Cultural Property”.

Hakkakuen-do (Octagonal Hall)

When most people think of Hakkakuen-do, they think of the Yumedono Hall of Horyu-ji Temple. Yumedono was built by a monk named Yukinobu in 739 CE. The octagonal hall of Horyu-ji Temple was the mausoleum of Prince Shotoku, and Yukinobu built Yumedono to comfort Prince Shotoku’s spirit. Benki, who is said to be the founder of Tsubosaka Temple, may have had the same motive as Yukinobu when he built the octagonal hall.

Another octagonal building that comes to mind is the North Round Hall of Kofuku-ji Temple, which was proposed by Emperor Gensho as a mausoleum for Fujiwara no Fuhito. There is no other way to think that the Octagonal Hall of Tsubosaka Temple was built by Benki to mourn for the spirit of Emperor Jito.

As you enter the hall, you will find hundreds of hina dolls lined up. Tsubosaka-dera holds an event called “Dai-hina Mandala” every year during the Hinamatsuri, in which many Hina dolls are displayed around the statue of Buddha.

A total of 3,500 Hina dolls are displayed on the temple grounds. Of these, the Raido, which is an important cultural property of Japan, has about 2,300 Hina dolls on the tiers surrounding the statue of Dainichi Nyorai.

The dolls depict the Emperor, Empress, court attendants, musicians, merchants, their wives, lords and ladies, wizards and wise teachers, girls and boys, men drinking sake in an izakaya, etc., all dressed in the traditional court dress of the Heian period. Tsubosaka Temple’s “Dai-hina Mandala” remains open to the public until the 18th of April.

These Hina dolls are handmade treasures, and people keep them for generations. Please note that these precious dolls are not on display all year round. They are shown only once or twice per year depending on the temple authorities.

When inside the Octagonal hall, remember to follow the guided path indicated by arrows. You’ll end up walking around the sacred statue 3 times (clockwise direction), the last round will see you out of the building to witness the beauty of the mountain.

Rei-do (worship hall)

The Reido Hall was built around 1103 CE and again rebuilt before the middle of the Muromachi period (1336 -1392). The main focal point of the temple is the eleven-faced Kannon Bosatsu Zazo, a seated statue of Kannon. This revered Gohonzon stands at an impressive height of 3 meters, making it quite imposing when viewed up close.

The statue portrays Kannon seated on a lotus throne with its forty hands gracefully extended. Originally constructed during the Muromachi period, the current idol replaced the previous Thousand-armed Kannon that resided there. Made with oak marquetry, this masterpiece holds significant cultural and historical value. The Kannon enshrined in this temple is widely worshipped as the “Buddha of the eyes.” It has garnered national treasure status in Japan, representing one of the finest examples of early Buddhist sculpture in the country. While rare, there are occasions when visitors are allowed to touch this revered statue.

According to legend, the temple was built on a sacred site. In ancient Japan, a monk was in the midst of prayer when he noticed a bluish light outside his room. Upon investigation, the light was emitting from the ground. He dug that location and uncovered a statue of Senju Kannon (Thousand Arm Avalokitesvara)

Many years later after the story of the Buddha statue and of monk Benki’s healing skills had spread and grown popular, he was summoned to the Imperial Palace by Emperor Gensho, who founded Heijo-kyo in Nara. The Empress was suffering from an eye disease. Benki cured the Empress of an eye ailment. She rewarded him by financially supporting him in building Tsubosaka Temple and also enshrining the Senju Kannon in the Hakkakuen-do in 717. Subsequently, this temple became renowned for curing eye ailments.

Within the room, you can find a number of additional idols. Behind a glass wall, a pair of bronze statues caught my attention, conveying a sense of antiquity and value. Positioned slightly behind the main Kannon, I observed a distinct variant of Kannon. While I am unsure of its specific narrative at the moment, I will make sure to provide an update to this post once I gather more information.

After capturing some shots of the main hall, we hiked up the hill towards the Grand Stone Statue of Avalokiteshvara brought from India. On the way, we noticed some devilish oni statues. One of them holding out 2 fingers in a sign of peace.

This majestic Kannon is the largest stone statue in the world, standing tranquilly on the mountaintop. The mudra or hand gesture in this image is known as Karana Mudra. It means subduing evil forces!

Placed before it you can also see the stone statue of Buddha in Nirvana, also brought from India. The garden area is paved with fine-grained gravel.

By the way, the size of the Great Buddha in Nara is 14.98m in height and the base is 3.05m, so the total is 18m. The Daikannon of Tsubosaka Temple is even bigger! The huge statues were created by thousands of Indian stonemasons, and sent to Japan in pieces. The pieces were then assembled on location at this mountain. Some of the stone used to create the Buddha statues dates back millions of years.

The statue of Shaka Nyorai Dainirvana is 8 meters long. it presents a beautiful view of the Yamato Basin making Tsubosaka a memorable and grand place to visit.

Did you know: The nighttime illumination of the Tenjikutorai Daikannon stone figure located on the temple grounds is fully using solar panels installed at the site.

Tsubosaka Temple is in the mountains, so it is rich in nature. You can enjoy all four seasons, with yamabuki and cherry blossoms in spring, lavender in summer, and autumn leaves in autumn. The mountain scenery is beautiful too.

Myths relating to Tsubosaka-dera

There is a Bunraku story called Tsubosaka Reigenki. According to this story, a blind man, Sawaichi, found out his wife, Osato, went to Tsubosaka-dera Temple every day to pray for a cure for his blindness. Sadly, Sawaichi suffered from depression and tried to commit suicide by throwing himself off the edge of the temple. His wife lept after him. However, the Kannon of Tsubosaka-dera Temple saved them and Sawaichi regained his sight.

There are no souvenir shops nearby, so maybe this is not a tourist spot, but it is certainly a big temple if you compare it to the other temples of the Saigoku Pilgrimage.

At Tsubosaka Temple, you can also enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms at night during this period.

The cherry blossoms that cover the temple grounds and large stone Buddha statues are lit up, creating a magical beauty that is different from the daytime.

How to get to Tsubosaka-dera Temple

From Shin-Osaka Station: take the subway to Tennoji Station (about 20 minutes), then walk to Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station (just across the street from Tennoji) and take a limited express train to Tsubosakayama Station (about 40 minutes).

From Kintetsu Kyoto Station: take a limited express train to Kashiharajingu-mae Station, then change to Tsubosakayama Station (about 70 minutes).

Tsubosakadera Temple is 10 minutes by taxi from the Kintetsu Tsubosakayama Station.

Admission Timings:

Opening hours : 8:30 to 17:00

Admission Tickets:

Adults: ¥600
Children: ¥100
5 years and under: free

What is the best time to visit Tsubosaka-dera?

late March to early April

Annual Events:

18th of every month except for February and June: Kannon fair
August 18: Segaki-e (hungry ghosts’ feeding rites)

When is Tsubosaka-dera Illumination?

March 25th (Sat) to April 9th ​​(Sun), 2023
*Subject to change depending on the cherry blossom season

Viewing hours during illumination:
Gate opening time during the light-up period: 7:30-20:00
Lighting time during the light-up period) 18:00-20:00

The historic ramparts of Chitradurga Fort

Chitradurga Fort is an ancient fortress located in the Chitradurga district of Karnataka. This imposing structure, which covers an area of approximately 1,500 acres, is perched atop a hill surrounded by seven towering walls, making it one of the most impressive fortresses in South India. The city also takes pride in its historical ties to the Mahabharata legend and the mythological figure of Hidimba.

Located at a 3-hour drive from Bangalore, the fort is locally known as “Kallina Kote” or Stone Fortress, formed of two Kannadiga words “Kallina” which means stone and “Kote” which stands for fort. Because of its huge defensive fortification and tenacity to hold up against long aggressive raids, it is also referred to as Ukkina Kote or “Steel Fort”. Situated almost on the highway that connects Bengaluru to Hospet, this is a prominent point of interest in Chitradurga and was the center of Deccani politics for over three centuries.

We were lodged at the Hotel Mayura Durg. It offers excellent value for your money, and the standout feature is its prime location, just a brief 5-minute stroll from the Fort.

Admission tickets to enter the fort can only be purchased using UPI payment apps at the main gate. If you are not using any, you have to visit a website to use online banking to purchase the tickets. At the time I visited the fort, entry tickets for Indian nationals and visitors from SAARC countries were set at Rs. 20 per person, whereas for foreign visitors from other countries, the fee was Rs. 250 per person.


Chitradurga has a rich history of being ruled by many dynasties. Edicts of Emperor Ashoka from the 3rd century BCE were found near Molakalmuru, a taluk in the same district. To the west of Chitradurga, there was once an ancient city called Chandravalli, where excavations revealed the presence of a prehistoric city.

The fort rests on the seven hills of Chinmuladri range which are some of the oldest granite formations of the Indian subcontinent. As you enter through the Rangayyana gate, the first thing you see is a large water tank known as Kamana Bavi.

The fort’s history dates back to the 10th century when the region was under the control of the Rashtrakutas. Initially, it was mostly a mud fort surrounded by boulders. It was later taken over by the Chalukyas and then the Hoysalas, who added several temples to the fort’s architecture.

In those times between the early 1300s to 1500s, regions like Chitradurga were mostly governed by local chieftains, and the land was largely dominated by Bedar (Valmiki) tribes. The Bedar tribes claim descent from Brahminic rishi Valmiki and trace their origins to southern Andhra Pradesh from where they had emigrated with their herds.

In Kannada language the term ‘Bedar’ means Adivasis or hilly people with mostly hunting as their occupation. The Bedar community is also called as ‘Valmiki’ tribe, ‘Balmiki’ tribe or ‘Beda’ tribe.

However, it was during the reign of the Nayakas in the 17th century that the fort was transformed into its current formidable form.

Timmana Nayaka who was a chieftain under the Vijayanagar empire was given the rank of governor of Chitradurga as a reward for his excellence in military achievements. The first instance of fortification at Chitradurga was by Kamageti Timmanna Nayaka by about 1562 CE. Obanna Nayaka, also known as Madakari Nayaka, declared his independence from the Vijayanagara Empire. In 1602 CE he was succeeded by Kasturirangappa Nayaka, Madakari Nayaka-II (1652 CE), Chikkanna Nayaka (1676 CE), Linganna Nayaka (Madakari III), Bharamappa Nayaka (1689-1721 CE), Hiri Madakari Nayaka, Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka II. The Nayakas of Chitradurga made significant additions to the fort, including the seven concentric walls, which are the hallmark of the fort today.

At its prime, the Chitradurga fort is said to have 19 impressive doors, 38 smaller doors, 4 secret entrances and about 2000 watchtowers.

The fort is structured into seven tiers. Three lower tiers are adjacent to the hill and four tiers are on the slopes of the hill. The first tier has four gates (called Bagilu in Kannada):

  • Rangayyana bagilu (Rangaiyya’s gate) on the east
  • Santhe bagilu (market gate) on the north
  • Seenirina hondada bagilu (sweet water pond gate) on the northwest and
  • Lal Kote bagilu (red fort gate) on the south

The entrance of the rocky gateway is adorned with engravings of Gods and a huge snake on the rock wall. These walls were constructed using massive granite blocks, some of which weigh as much as 50 tons, and are separated by moats, which are now mostly dry. Depending on the topography and the geological strata of the land, the fort walls were built with a height ranging from 5–13 meters. Initially, it was built in mud these walls were subsequently strengthened in stretches with granite stone slabs in the 18th century. The three outer walls of defense are provided with deep broad moats.

An outstanding feature noticed in these stretches of the fort walls is that no cementing material was used in joining the large granite cubes that have been neatly sized, cut, trimmed, and placed in position. The total length of the exterior fort walls is about 8 kilometers and covers an area of about 1,500 acres. The narrow winding path leads to Kamana Bagilu, the start of the second tier of the fort.

The Nayak Palegars built the fort as an impregnable fortification for defense purposes with 19 gateways with bent passageways, a palace, 18 temples, 38 posterior entrances, 4 secret entrances, and subsidiary structures like multiple reservoirs, granaries, oil pits, along with 2000 watch towers to guard and keep a strict vigil on the enemy incursions. The storage warehouses, pits, and reservoirs were primarily designed to ensure the food, water and military supplies required to endure a long siege. Underground tunnels were built that served as escape routes in case of an attack. The fort’s strategic importance increased during the Vijayanagara Empire, and it was used as a garrison to protect the empire from invading forces.

Beyond the kamana Bagilu, there is a wide open space. It is up to you to choose which area you would like to explore first. We decided to head straightaway to Maddu Besuva Kallu, an area where gunpowder was ground. This lies in a secluded area on the southern side of the fortress. Once you cross the Kamana Bagilu, turn left and walk about 200m.

Maddu Besuva Kallu which means “gunpowder grinder” contains four stones at four corners similar idea to what we used to have to grind grains to make flour. These were used to grind the gunpowder for the cannons. The stones were powered by the animals either elephants or bullocks, which would rotate them in a circular motion. The grinders have teeth to break the lumps in gunpowder to make it fine so it can be bunt more efficiently with less oxygen inside the cannon chamber. A gunpowder storage room is also located near this place.

From Maddu Beesuva Kallu, we walked to the Chitradurga Fort jail. These are located directly opposite to each other but we wanted to cover these areas before hiking up the hill toward the upper echelons of the fort

The fort is situated on massive rock foundations and the view from the fort features towering boulders. The structure has been built with seven concentric fortification walls each of which has narrow passageways and gates. Thus, it is also known as Yelu Suttine, meaning “fort of seven circles”.

Chitradurga Fort Jail

One of the notable features of the jail area is the presence of a massive cannon. This colossal cannon, with a length of 22 feet and a weight exceeding 50 tons, served as a formidable defender of the fort in times of conflict. Its immense size necessitated the efforts of more than 100 men for loading and firing, and it boasted an impressive firing range of over 2 kilometers. This location within the fort receives relatively fewer visitors.

This cannon, one of two 18-pounders abandoned at the Tipu Sultan Battery on the northeastern corner of the fort, was cast in 1792 at the Carron Works in Falkirk, Scotland.

From the jail area, we backtracked towards the Kamana Bagilu gate to explore the upper reaches of the fort.

This stupendous fort has witnessed some of South India’s bloodiest wars. The fort successfully repelled a near-constant stream of would-be invaders until 1779, when it fell to Hyder Ali of the Kingdom of Mysore. It was during the reign of Madakari Nayaka, the city of Chitradurga was besieged by the troops of Hyder Ali. A chance sighting of a woman entering the Chitradurga fort through a crack hole in the rocks led to a clever plan by Hyder Ali to send his soldiers through the crack hole.

Chitradurga was under siege for almost two years before Hyder Ali was able to capture if from Madakari Nayaka.

Twenty years later, the British forces defeated and killed Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1799 CE. Between 1799 and 1809 CE, Chitaldoorg, as the British pronounced it, was garrisoned by British troops as it was perceived to be a potentially useful base along Mysore’s northern line of defense. Later, the fort was handed back to the Mysore government.

Britishers who captured the fort from Tipu were not able to pronounce Chitradurga and called it Chittaldroog

Many of the fortification lines possess elaborate gateways. Among the elaborate gateways, this gateway to the east of the fort has architectural features typical of the Bahmani Sultanate in Northern Karnataka.

The stairs keep going up toward the upper part of the fort where we can find a number of temples in a cluster. There are 14 important temples in the fort. Among them, Hidimbeshwara, Ekanatheshwari, Sampige Siddeshwara, Gopalaswamy, and Phalguneshwara are the important ones.

The presiding family deity of the Nayakas of Chitradurga was Goddess Ekanatheswari, an incarnation of Adi Parashakti. Ekanatheswari’s footprints are sculpted into a block of stones at the entrance of the fort. Some of the well-known temples were the Hidimbeswara, Sampige Siddeshwara, Ekanathamma, Phalguneshwara, Gopala Krishna, Lord Hanuman, Subbaraya and Nandi. Some of the temples have shikharas in Chalukyan style. The Siddheshwara and the Hidimbeshwara have shikhara that resemble a festive chariot.

Shri Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple

The gateway leads to its south leads to Hidimbeswara temple, one of the oldest temples on the hill. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Ekana, Ekavati or Ekanatheshwari. In ancient times, devotees used to sacrifice male buffalo here.

From the Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple, there are two paths, one leads east towards a walled compound popularly called the Mint, and the other leads south, towards the Hidimseshwara Temple.

Tankasale – Mint

These remnants of stone-mud walled structures are believed to have functioned as the administrative hub of Chitradurga Fort during the Palegar rule. Within this administrative center were the Darbar Hall and the Treasury/Mint. These mud walls have endured for approximately half a millennium.

Embedded within these walls are wooden columns, likely supporting the building’s roof with wooden beams. Surprisingly, even the wood from that era has remarkably well-preserved itself. The soil used in these walls is meticulously chosen, likely sourced from a lake bed. The mud is meticulously dried, then finely ground and sifted to obtain a uniform powder. Afterward, it is blended with water and thoroughly mixed until the entire mixture achieves uniform consistency. This procedure demands significant labor and is meticulously overseen at every stage to ensure quality and security, guarding against potential sabotage.

A narrow path beside the Mint leads to a wide open area where we can find a bridge over the Akka and Tangi ponds. There are several other points of interest on this path. A road leads past the Mint to the main western gate, called Basavana Bagilu, and another line of fortifications, which protect the inner fort.

Akka and Tangi Honda

Akka Thangi Honda stands for two massive ponds named Akka Honda (elder sister pond) and Thangi Honda (younger sister pond). These are part of the Fort’s well-planned and sophisticated rainwater harvesting and water conservation system.

The excess water collected in Gopalaswamy Honda flows into Akka Honda and then gradually to Thangi Honda. The pond where 2 queens of Nayaka king drowned after Hyder Ali succeeded in his 3rd attempt to capture the fort. This was a ”jauhar” of its kind.

From here a long winding path toward Gopalaswamy Temple.

We stopped for a breather at this gate just before reaching Gopalaswamy Temple. Garuda and Aanjaneya are carved on either side of the entrance.

A few feet ahead, a freshwater channel flows all the way through the passage that leads to the entrance. A freshwater pond is seen to the left side as soon as we enter. The pond named after the temple – Goplaswamy Honda (pond) is a tank that gathers rainwater from the hilltop. The greenery surrounding the pond is like a mini-jungle amidst a rocky terrain. The Gopalswamy Honda in front of the temple was one of the main water sources for people residing inside the fort.

The vast open space between the palace complex and the Honda is known as Sringara tota referring to the beauty of the landscape. The honda was a part of the palace complex and probably meant for the exclusive use of the royal family. The corner is where palace attendants would draw up water since that’s the closest to the palace complex.

The Gopalaswamy Honda is the largest waterbody inside the fort. This manmade waterbody serves as a mini reservoir nestled in a valley. A 45-meter-long stone wall across the valley is the dam that blocks the flow of rainwater in the valley creating a reservoir that is 50m at its widest point and 140m at its longest point. As to the depth I was told it could be around 10 to 12 feet in the middle.

Gopalswamy Temple

One of the most impressive features of the fort is the steep climb to the top. There are over 2000 steps leading up to the peak of the fort, which can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to climb, depending on your fitness level.

This temple facing east is of Dravidian order with the usual garbhagriha, sukanasi, a six-pillared navaranga. a large four-pillard closed mukha mandapa with a closed passage around the garbhagriha for circumambulation. In the garbhagriha is an image of Gopalakrishna measuring 1.05 m in height from sometime in the early 14th century CE.

There is a reference to this temple in an inscription from 1338 CE. The figure of Gopalaswamy stands cross-legged, playing a flute. On either side of the image, you can see cattle listening to the flute. The sukanasi doorway is flanked by dwarpalas. In the navaranga images of Ganesha, Garuda, Brahma, and Vishvaksena adorn the walls. The ceiling has a large shallow dome fashioned into a lotus. The beam features more images of Indira, Krishna, and other deities.

The climb is challenging but rewarding, as it offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and the fort’s architecture. While coming down from the Gopalswamy temple, we took a short detour to the Obavve onake.

Obavve onake

When the fort of Chitradurga was attacked by Hyder Ali, according to a legend there was a woman by the name of Obavva, the wife of a guard at the fort, who is said to have single-handily killed several of Hyder Ali’s men who were entering the fort through a small hole in between the rocks. She fought them off with a pestle (onake) and thus this legend is famously called the Obavve onake legend.

During that time, Hyder Ali attempted to capture the fort during the reign of Madakari Nayaka V, the last Nayaka ruler. The structure had a crevice that was discovered by Hyder Ali’s army. However, when Ali’s men attempted to squeeze through this crevice at night, a woman was guarding it on behalf of her husband.

When the brave woman noticed this, she killed the trespassers by hitting them with a pestle. When her husband returned, he discovered the bodies of dead soldiers in the fort’s crevice. He informed Madakari Nayaka and his soldiers about the invasion right away. Hyder Ali, however, was successful in invading and conquering the fort and the last Madakari Nayaka and his family was imprisoned at Srirangapatna.

Nonetheless, the brave woman’s story was not forgotten. History of the fort still remembers her courage and love for her land. Obavva’s courage has been memorialized in Chitradurga by setting up the Onake Obavva Stadium and a life-sized sculpture near the District Commissioner’s Office in Chitradurga.

From Obavve onake, we walked back to the Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple from where we hiked further south up to the Hidimbeshwara Temple.

Hidimbeswara temple

Hidimbeshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to have been built during the 15th century. It is the oldest temple in the area, situated above a massive boulder crowned with a stone superstructure. Within this temple is a sanctum (garbhagriha) housing a linga. On the front side of the outer sabha mandapa, there is a small mukh mandapa (porch) with bench-like seating. The temple’s pillars exhibit diverse designs, featuring octagonal or hexagonal shafts with ornamental details near the top.

The sole captivating feature at this site is the standard representation of Virabhadra, positioned in the navaranga and affixed to a base adorned with a bas-relief displaying seven horses on the front, symbolizing the Sun god, Surya. At the top of this structure is the smallest chamber, crowned with a square stupi. An ancient stone inscription from 1286 CE, found in the outer navaranga, records the generous grants made by Perumale Bandanayaka to the temple.

Myths surrounding Hidimba

The Hidimbeswara temple houses the tooth of Hidimba, the formidable giant (Rakshasa in Sanskrit). The legend goes that Hidimba and his sister Hidimbi once resided on this hill. Hidimba was a source of great trouble for the local populace, and when the Pandavas arrived in the area, they too encountered his menacing presence.

According to the ancient tale, the hills surrounding the fort held great significance during the time of the Mahabharata. Hidimba, the fierce giant, was believed to have inhabited the Chitradurga hill and caused fear among the inhabitants. When Bhima was in exile, traveling with his Pandava brothers and mother Kunti thousands of years ago, he crossed paths with this demon.

There you can find a piece of bone much larger than that kept in the Hidimbeshvara temple, believed to be the tooth of Hidambasura.

Bhima was challenged to a duel by Hidimba, and in the ensuing battle, he defeated and vanquished Hidimba. The boulders in this area are also believed to have been utilized as weapons during their epic confrontation. Hidimbi, who fell in love with Bhima (the second of the Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata legend), went on to marry him, and together they had a child named Ghatotkacha.


In front of the Hidimbeshwara temple, on a lower level is a three-storied stone tower (Mahadwara) with pillared verandas on the sides. It appears to have been built in 1411 CE by Mallana Odeyar, a relative of Devaraya of Vijayanagara.

Sampige Siddeshwara Temple

A monolithic pillar and two swing frames lie between the entrance to this gateway and the Sampige Siddheshvara temple, which rests at the foot of the hill in the left background. This temple was built by Thimanna Nayak in 1568.

The Gaalimandapa which is the Mahadwara of the Siddheshwara temple is more elaborately designed with a series of pillars in the facade of the second storey on all sides. The mandapa was constructed in 1355 CE while the torana was made in 1411 CE by Mallana Odeyar.

The prominent among them is the Sampige Siddeshwara Temple. The temple of Siddeshwara is a cave temple associated with a hillock named Mukthi Shivalaya Shikhara (abode of Shiva-pinnacle). Located on the southern side, the temple gets its name Sampige Siddeshwara because of the Michelia Champaca, the magnolia flowers, called Sampige in the Kannada language.

This Temple is named after the Sampige tree, which was planted by the Madakari nayaka’s ancestors. It is said to be named after the Sampige tree which was supposedly planted by the ancestors of Chitradurga ruler Madakari Nayaka. This temple is situated at the base of a massive rock formation. Atop the rock formation is the Kavalu Battery

The temple comprises a mukha mandapa, sambhamandapa, sukanasi, and a garbha griha, all axially located. We took a short stroll through the temple to explore the sanctum, vestibule, and hall. Inside the sanctum, you’ll find a daily worshiped Shiva Linga known as Sidhanta, which gives the temple its name, Siddheshwar. The veneration of this deity is linked to Veerashaiva Saints such as Revannasiddha (Sri Revana Siddeshwara Swamy is considered one of the eminent Saints of the Shaiva Sect within Sanatan Dharma).

In the sukanasi you can find images of Nandi and Parvati. It leads to an enshrined linga, better known as Siddheswara Linga. On the south wall is a niche containing a relief group in which two chieftains are depicted with daggers a their girdle in ceremonial attire, holding a linga each in one hand and a pike in the other.

The hall has sculptures of Allama Prabhu, Ganesha, Shula, Brahma, Nandi, Bhairava and several Naga stones. At one corner there is an impressive statue of Veerabhadra.

In the courtyard, there is a huge squarish platform where the palegars and chiefs of Chitradurga Fort were crowned once. In its heyday this place must have seen a lot of ceremonial activities, now it is bare and mute.

Murugharajendra Matha

Murugha Matha was built during the reign of Bharamanna Nayaka (1689 – 1721 CE). Bharamanna Nayak made many additions to the fort and built the Murugha Rajendra Matha, which since then has been the residence of a well-known guru of the Lingayats. The Matha is a spacious and impressive two-storied stone structure, with a pillared hall and a gateway known as Ane bagilu (elephant gate)

Archeological findings at the Chitradurga

Through excavations and investigations in the vicinity of the town of Chandravalli, a recurring sequence of two distinct cultures has been unveiled. This sequence begins with the Neolithic culture, followed by the Iron Age Megalithic culture, and subsequently transitions into the Early Historic period, notably the reign of the Satavahanas.

Several Satavahana coins were unearthed at the outset of the last century. Evidence of the Neolithic culture, such as pottery, has also been discovered in the area. The presence of cupules and engravings of human and horse footprints is discernible within the fort, and intriguingly, cupules have been identified on the dressed stone blocks comprising the fortification wall.

Rainwater-harvesting structures were built in a cascade development, which ensured large storage of water in interconnected reservoirs. It is said that the fort precincts never faced any water shortage.

Historical linkage has been established by an archeological inscription dated 1284 CE found in the Panchalinga (Five Lingas) cave in the Ankhi Matha area, to the west of Chitradurga. The inscription attributes the establishment of the Five Lingas (aniconic symbols of Lord Shiva) to the Pandavas. At Ankhi Matha, approached by stone steps, a series of ancient subterranean chambers cut out at different levels are seen, in addition to several places of worship and platforms

Carvings of the edicts of Ashoka dating to the 3rd century BCE have been found at the fort, and a legendary duel described in the Mahabharata between the hero Bhima and the demon Hidimbasura is said to have taken place on its grounds.

Chitradurga Fort is a magnificent piece of ancient architecture and human skill. Its imposing walls and intricate architecture serve as an important reminder of the rich history of Karnataka, and its conservation and preservation are crucial to ensure that it remains a part of our heritage.

Despite its age and the wear and tear of time, the fort remains an impressive sight, and its architecture has stood the test of time. Visiting the Chitradurga Fort was an unforgettable experience. The fort’s imposing walls, steep climb, and stunning views make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, architecture, or nature. The magnificent fort is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Though signs of deterioration are visible in the fort today, its sheer size, complexity, and detailed design, and the valor of those who gave their lives to protect it, speak volumes of its glorious past.


What kind of weather should I expect at Chitradurga?

Summers can be extremely hot and not advisable for the huge area that requires you to climb several stairs.

When is the rainy season in Chitradurga?

June – September

What are the languages spoken and understood at the site?

English, Hindi & Kannada

Is the fort accessible?

The fort is not disabled-friendly

What are the rules with regard to the usage of Tripods?

Tripods are not allowed inside the fort premises. If you are carrying a tripod, you will have to keep it at the front office at your own risk.

What is the cost of admission tickets??

Tickets must be bought at the front gates, and entrance fees are ₹20 for Indian citizens and ₹250 for foreign nationals.

Hoysaleshwara Temple

After a beautiful evening at the Mullayangiri peak, we were headed back to Bangalore. On the way, we decided to stop over at one of the prominent temples built by the Hoyasalas in Halebidu. Halebidu, previously known as Dwarasamudra, served as the ancient capital of the Hoysalas during the 12th century. The town is home to several scattered monuments recognized by historians as exemplifying Hoysala architecture.

After an hour’s drive, we reached Halebeedu at 7:30 am. We were a bit early and the temple gates hadn’t opened yet. As we parked the car on the roadside, some of the hawkers were already getting ready with their wares before the Sunday crowd could gather. The tea vendor stall was surrounded by people, sharing jokes and sipping on some local concoction of masala tea. A few faithful believers clad in dhoti were engaged in animated conversation also waiting for the temple gates to open. Under the warm embrace of the sun, we savored the simple joy of sipping a refreshing tender coconut water.

As the temple gates opened, we were the first ones inside. From the gate, a long narrow path leads to the remarkable construction that truly deserves its place as “Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas” in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

Hoysala dynasty

The Hoysala dynasty reigned over a significant portion of Southern India for nearly two centuries, and left an indelible mark with the construction of remarkable temples, encompassing both Hindu and Jain architectural marvels. No matter what some might say, the Hindus were pretty much welcoming of Buddhism, and apart from some scattered incidents, Buddhist and Jain temples have existed together alongside Hindu temples in several places. One of the most prominent examples is the Cave temples in Badami which hosts a mesmerizing temple devoted to Mahavira and Buddha accompanying several other Hindu gods.

The empire of the Hoysalas extended in Southern India from Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram in the east to the present State of Kerala in the west. Their rule spread to most of the current day Karnataka and also several parts of Northern Tamil Nadu in the Kaveri river belt between the 10th & 14th centuries CE.

The Hoysala dynasty is said to have comprised 14 kings. They were known for their patronage of art and architecture, which forms a crucial part of their legacy. The most popular of the Hoysala kings was Vishnuvardhana, a Jain who converted to Sanatan Dharma and worshipped the Hindu God Vishnu. It was during his rule that the Hoysalas really flourished. After his rule ended, the empire started disintegrating and in 1336 CE. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (a Muslim ruler from Northern India) attacked the Hoysalas, ending their reign.

Hoysaleshwara Temple

The Hoysaleshwara Temple on the banks of Dorasamudra tank is a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture. The temple is built in a star pattern with 64 corners to accommodate hundreds of deities and other decorative carvings. It was built during the 12th century during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

As we walked towards the main temple, there were two structures placed tangent to the path. One of them is a weathered carving of a boy fighting a tiger. This is an emblem of the Hoysala dynasty characterized by a majestic and intricately carved sculpture of a mythical lion, often depicted standing on its hind legs. This symbol is prominently featured in many Hoysala temples.

The origin of the name “Hoysala” traces back to the legendary encounter of the dynasty’s founder, Sala, who was the tribal leader of a village known as Angadi (currently within the Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka State) with a tiger. According to popular folklore, Sala valiantly defeated a ferocious tiger, and in commemoration of this brave feat, the dynasty adopted the name “Hoysala,” with “Hoy” meaning “strike” or “kill” in Kannada.

Exactly opposite to the Hoysala emblem, lies a rock-cut statue of Ganesha. It seems to be in a much better state than the emblem. The intricate work on this piece of rock was simply astounding.

As I explore more and more of southern India, it just amazes me as I stand in the presence of these ancient rocks unfolding their silent tales. The Hoysaleshwara temple was earlier also known as ‘Srimad Vishnuvardhana Poysalesvara’ after its patron and was built in 1121 AD. Later epigraphical records recognize it as “Hoysaleswara Panchikeswara” constructed by Ketamalla Dandanayaka, a prominent merchant and other wealthy citizens and merchants of Dorasamudra, in honor of the ruling king Vishnuvardhana and his principal queen Shantaladevi, according to an inscription found in Ghattadahalli, five kilometers east of Halebidu.

According to historical records, it took about 39 years to construct the Hoysaleshwara Temple in Halebidu, yet it remains incomplete in some places.

The temple has four entrances. The one normally used by visitors as main entry nowadays is the northern entrance closest to the parking lot. There is one entry on the south side and two on the east side, facing two large detached open pavilions whose ceiling is supported by lathe-turned pillars.

This view shows two exuberantly decorated dvarapalas, or temple guardians, outside the main doorway approached by a flight of steps. The upper sections are decked with floral and creeper designs. Spread over 7 hectares, the temple complex with deities and pillars are predominantly carved in Steatite (talc-chlorite schist with occasional magnesite and opaque) procured from Turuvekere and Hassan.

The temple was made in star pointed base, further layered with stone carvings systematically. Hoysala temples are not very tall. They are mostly situated on a platform which is 3-5 feet in height. The temple from the base to the crown is approximately 36.6 feet in height. The shikhara or temple towers are absent at Hoysalesvara Temple at Halebidu. There is no clear evidence of its existence in any epigraphical collection.

Dvarapalas at Halebidu are more elaborate than those at most temples. They are about seven feet in height and fierce in appearance like the nio-guardians in Japan. They wear skull-studded crowns endowed with four arms in which they typically hold Shaivite attributes.

Before exploring the outer walls of the temple we went inside the mandap. The temple is a dwikuta- vimana which means a temple with two shrines on the same platform, both dedicated to Shiva. They are two separate shrines with a cruciform platform resting on cruciform-shaped plinths. Both of the temples are preceded by a Nandi pavilion containing ornamented but realistic Nandi bulls. They are respectively called “Hoysaleshwara” And “Shantaleshwara. Hoysaleswara is dedicated to ‘Hoysaleswara’ Shiva (the king) and the other one is dedicated to ‘Shantaleswara’ Shiva (the queen, Shantala). Neither of the shrines have sikharas.

The mandapa (central hall) is held up by pillars. It leads worshippers to the garbhagriha. The spaces between the peripheral columns have been closed off with stone slabs. There are 10 internal pillars around the four much larger ones at the center.

Designed with precision, the temple orchestrates a spectacle known as the ‘Surya Mandala,’ whence the sun’s rays delicately caress the main deity during specific hours. Beyond this celestial alignment, the temple also features many other architectural innovations, such as the use of different types of stones to create various effects, and the use of intricate geometric patterns in its architecture.

In the central navaranga of the shrine, each of the four pillars featured four standing madanakai figures in their pillar brackets for a total of 16 standing figures per temple. These intricately carved damsels, typically depicting a female form, adds visual interest to an otherwise simple pillar. They gaze down upon the devotees below, adding to the beauty of the pillars. Not all the madanakai are in their positions. Of the 32 figures on the central pillars of the two shrines, a total of 11 remain. Only 6 damaged ones have survived in the north temple and 5 in the south temple.

The interiors showcase finely carved, highly polished pillars in myriad profiles, along with exquisite racket figures of dancers and musicians, their sensuality and dynamism expertly rendered in stone. Similarly, ceilings featuring corbelled domes, are adorned with figurative sculptures and with floral, geometric and botanical motifs, the stone resembling wood in its ornateness.

The sanctum walls are plain, avoiding distraction to the devotee and focussing the attention of the visitor at the spiritual symbol. The ceilings of the temple are supported by 12 feet tall pillars chiseled with fascinating grooves, with amazing perfection. Bulbous pillars are found inside the temple, which have carvings that are so precise, that they might have been constructed using some kind of machine.

After paying respects at the temple we came around to examine the intricate carvings on the outer walls depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. Some of the panels also depict everyday life during the Hoysala period, including dances, music, and games.

The external nandi mandapas (pillared halls built to enshrine the sacred bulls) have been reconstructed in the past, however, they do not affect the authenticity of the architectural form of the temple. Nandi, the sacred bull and vehicle of Lord Shiva, is often depicted in a monolithic form, carved from a single piece of rock. The Nandi monolith at Hoysaleshwara is characterized by its impressive size and detailed craftsmanship. Carved with precision, these sculptures exhibit the strength and majesty associated with the divine bull. The position of Nandi, typically facing the main sanctum of the temple, symbolizes devotion and readiness to carry out Lord Shiva’s will.

The symbolism of the seated Nandi facing towards the sanctum in Shiva temples represents the soul and the message that the soul should always be focused on the Parameshwara (Shiva), the absolute.

From the Nandi shrine, we went on a peripheral walk examining the beautiful carvings on the outer walls of the temple. The Hoysala architectural style has indigenous structural patterns in the form of staggered, star-shaped shrines, positioned on a raised platform with a wide pathway for circumambulation. Hoysaleshwara exemplifies the schema of the tier designs completely on the outer wall of the temple. There are layers of animals and designs, each representing a certain aspect of the Hoysala kingdom. The bottom, the elephants, shows strength, the next layer, lions, shows bravery, the third from the bottom- the symbolic view of flowers- shows beauty, the fourth- cavalry, and then another layer of flowers, to again bring in the idea of artistic beauty.

The layer after that is comprised of soldiers or scenes from Hindu mythology. The third from the top is a layer of makaras (semi-aquatic mythical sea monsters) followed by a layer of peacocks. The topmost layer consists of flowers again to add aesthetics. Above these panels, follows a continuous parade of large-sized depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, each one incomparable in beauty.

There are more than 240 wall sculptures that run all along the outer wall of the Hoysaleshwara Temple

I have tried to add some of the interesting carvings here. The next capture tells the story of Arjuna shooting the eye of a fish during Draupadi’s swayamvara unfolds in this captivating stone relief.

Skillfully carved, the depiction captures the essence of the archery contest that determined Arjuna as Draupadi’s groom. Arjuna stands poised, his bow drawn with precision, aiming at the revolving fish’s eye. The stone relief immortalizes this pivotal event from the Mahabharata, where Arjuna’s unparalleled archery skills won him the hand of Draupadi, marking a significant turning point in the epic narrative.

This is a figure of a dancing Ganesha with ornately detailed jewelry. The mesmerizing craftsmanship captures the essence of one of the most beloved Hindu deities. Carved with intricate precision, Lord Ganesha is depicted in a seated posture, radiating a sense of divine tranquility and benevolence.

The detailing in the sculpture extends to the symbolic attributes of Ganesha, such as the elephant head, potbelly, and the iconic broken tusk. The sculptor’s skill truly breathes life into the portrayal. The right part of the external wall of the temple starts with an image of a dancing Ganesha, there are almost 240 images of Ganesha in different poses.

Next, we see the Ugranarashima, the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The depiction captures the intense and awe-inspiring moment from Hindu mythology when Lord Narasimha, emerges in his fierce form to vanquish the demon Hiranyakashipu.

The intricately carved details convey the ferocity of Ugra Narasimha, with a lion’s head and a formidable posture. The sculpture skillfully renders the tension and drama of the narrative, showcasing the divine wrath and power encapsulated in stone. The facial expressions, sinuous mane, and the portrayal of the defeated demon beneath the lord’s formidable figure evoke a sense of reverence and awe.

The legend of Jakanacharya

A fascinating legend surrounding the Halebid temples revolves around Jakanacharya, the skilled sculptor credited with their construction. Hailing from Kridapura village in Tumkur, Karnataka, Jakanacharya’s devotion to his craft overshadowed everything, even his familial ties. Entrusted with building the Belur and Halebid temples, he poured his heart and soul into the intricate sculptures.

Unknown to Jakanacharya, his wife gave birth to their son, Dankanacharya, who also later became a renowned sculptor. At Belur, he found a job as a sculptor and noticed a flaw in a figure sculpted by the great Jakanacharya himself. A furious Jakanacharya challenged him, vowing to sever his right arm if proven correct. To everyone’s surprise, Dankanacharya proved his assertion, unaware of his familial connection. In keeping with the challenge, Jakanacharya kept his promise and cut off his right hand even though Dankanacharya insisted not to do so.

Subsequently, Jakanacharya purportedly had a vision where Lord Vishnu instructed him to return to his village, Kridapura, and construct what we now know as the Chennakeshava temple. Following divine guidance, Jakanacharya built the temple, and as the legend goes, Lord Vishnu restored his right hand. Stories of miracles like this should be taken lightly but it is interesting nonetheless. In honor of this skilled sculptor, the Karnataka government annually confers the Jakanacharya Award upon exceptional sculptors and craftsmen.

Back to the continuation of the intricate reliefs. Here we have a relief of Vishnu in the avatar of Trivikrama. Carved with meticulous artistry, it captures the cosmic dance of Lord Vishnu in his Trivikrama form, spanning the heavens, Earth, and the netherworld.

The majestic figure of Trivikrama, with one foot elegantly raised and the other firmly planted, symbolizes the divine conquest of the three realms.

Here we have a panel depicting the Hindu god Vishnu & his consort Lakshmi. The stone carving depicts the goddess Lakshmi gracefully seated on the lap of Lord Vishnu. In this intricate sculpture, both deities are portrayed with exquisite detail, capturing the divine essence of their eternal bond. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, emanates a sense of grace and abundance. She is adorned with symbolic ornaments and holds attributes that signify prosperity and auspiciousness. The intricate details breathe life into the sculpture, capturing the divine grace and serenity that characterizes the celestial couple.

Lord Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu trinity, cradles Lakshmi in a posture that reflects harmony and cosmic balance. The sculptor skillfully captures the expressions of devotion and tranquility, emphasizing the divine connection between the two deities.

The outer wall paint is creamy brown, and the tallest outer wall reliefs are found in Hoysaleshwara. Among these, one also finds a relief of goddess Kali in the temple which is surprising to most since it is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Descending to Earth, Krishna astride his divine steed holds the Parijata tree, embodying the essence of cosmic battles. Shri Hari’s countenance reflects his preparedness for the impending conflict, accompanied by the mighty Garuda poised to unleash formidable weaponry. Atop Airavata, Indra and Indrani follow suit, wielding the powerful Vajra. In the culmination, Indra succumbs, and the Parijata finds its eternal abode on Earth.

Horses and cavalry are a prominent feature in the friezes displayed. The cavalry frieze in Hoysala temples showcases depictions of mounted warriors or cavalry, adding a dynamic and lively element to the temple architecture.

Makaras are also extensively used in reliefs. Lions and Makaras are more ornamented than horses and elephants. Reliefs in the temple feature a variety of animals, including bulls, buffalos, monkeys, and peacocks.

Makaras are mythological creatures that are a combination of both land and sea creatures. There are many variations in their form. Makaras designed during the Hoysala period were a combination of crocodiles, pigs, elephants, and peacocks. They were considered sacred and were the vehicle of Lord Varuna. They can be spotted in basement cornices, doorways, ceilings, and various other locations within the temple.

The Hoysaleshwara temple has no less than 1200 carved elephants. They always appear like a disciplined herd, and their positions are related to battle. They are all ridden by warriors or mahouts and are not decked with houdas. There are more than 1400 lions carved in the temple. Almost all of them have raised their tail coiled in identical fashions.

The Hoysaleshwara shows the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in detail and was one of the first Hoysala structures to do so, similar to the Hazari Rama temple in Hampi. The narrative of the ocean churning is illustrated in a band stretching six feet. Bhima’s confrontation with Bhagadutta extends for about seven feet. The clash between Karna and Arjuna is also depicted, spanning approximately 10 feet.

Ruins of the Hoysala Empire

In the 14th century, the Hoysalas faced defeat at the hands of Alauddin Khilji and Muhammad Tughlak, leading to the plundering of their empire and a significant loss of wealth. This once-thriving city, now bearing the name Halebidu, meaning “old house/old ruins,” never fully recovered and gradually succumbed to neglect. Despite the widespread destruction, a few temples, Halebidu among them, remarkably withstood the ravages of time. When you gaze upon these structures today, the intricate stone carvings will undoubtedly enthrall you, displaying some of the most remarkable expressions in the art of stone craftsmanship.

The temple walls are richly covered with intricately carved sculptures with themes of different forms of the Hindu gods and goddesses, along with stylized animal figures and exquisitely decorative patterns of flora and fauna.

The Hoysala aesthetic emphasized intricacy and hyperreal detail across all levels of sculpture, whether it is pillars, ceilings or wall sculptures. The carvings display a high relief technique, featuring profound undercutting, where artists meticulously indulge in intricacies, capturing every bead, fingernail, or leaf blade with meticulous attention. This lavish ornamentation and unwavering dedication to detail were facilitated by a thorough exploration and utilization of the qualities inherent in Schist, a metamorphic rock. The sculptors deliberately selected this fine-grained, relatively soft mineral for their temples, enabling the manifestation of elaborate and finely detailed sculptures.

Schist is easier to handle, relatively softer and allows for delicate carvings, while granite is harder and one can’t manage the immense beauty achieved in schist. Hoysala-style temples in Halebidu are fine examples of schist sculptures, while the Pallava style in Tamil Nadu is largely defined by the use of granite.

Temples, beyond serving as religious symbols, were the focal point of societal activity. They radiated positive and spiritual energy, becoming hubs for various aspects of life. The temples acted as catalysts for the flourishing of arts, livelihoods, and businesses in their proximity.

Dance and music found encouragement within the temple premises, while vendors and traders established their shops outside, drawing crowds to the vicinity. As a result, temples became convergence points for diverse societal elements, encompassing the political, social, economic, and culture.

Honestly, the visually stunning masterpieces created by Hoysala sculptors on the exterior walls were more interesting than the inside. The extensive sculptures of deities depicting mythological stories foster a much stronger connection with the divine as we walked along the circumambulation path surrounding the temple.

The Hoysalas sculptors are an embodiment of craftsmanship not just from the point of architecture, but also their skills in precision engineering, symmetry, and minor nuances in the sculpturing. Whilst the first look at the architecture awestruck everyone with its intricate carvings; swiftly, it immerses one in the profound thoughts at the engineering abilities of Hoysalas.

The town has many other protected and unprotected temples, archaeological ruins and mounds including multiple Jain temples. There are also some remnants of the fort and gateways that once protected the town.

The Hoysaleshwara temple is considered as one of the most intact and well-preserved examples of Hoysala architecture, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world. The chisel craftsmanship of artisans from that period infuses vitality into their extraordinary stonework that has captivated visitors for centuries. It is a “must-visit” destination for anyone interested in Indian history, culture, and art.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took the time to read through my journal. Your engagement and interest mean the world to me. If you liked it, please leave me a comment. If there are areas where you think I can enhance the storytelling, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

When was the Hoysaleswara Temple built?

The Hoysaleswara Temple was built during the 12th century, between 1121 and 1160 CE.

Who founded Hoysala?

Sala, the tribal head from the village called Angadi, located in what is now Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka, is considered to be the founder of the Hoysala dynasty. He laid the foundation for a dynasty that would rule over a significant part of South India for nearly two centuries. Renowned for his legendary courage, Sala is said to have once confronted a tiger barehanded during his childhood and emerged unscathed. You can find a depiction of this event carved in stone at all of the Hoysala temples.

During what timeframe did the Hoysala dynasty rise to prominence?

Hoysala dynasty ruled southern Deccan from about 1006 to about 1346 CE.

What was the capital city of Hoysalas?

The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu, also known as Dwarasamudra.

What are the visiting hours for Hoysaleswara Temple?

Halebeedu Temple complex is open from 6.30 AM till 9 PM.

MahaNakhon SkyWalk

Today we visited the MahaNakhon Observatory and skywalk. The imposing 14-meter MahaNakhon Tower dominates Bangkok’s skyline. The MahaNakhon SkyWalk on the 78th floor of this imposing building is a state-of-the art observation deck boasting the city’s most epic views at a height of 314 meters. If you have the right view, you can see it from most hotels in the city.

This was our first trip to the capital of Thailand. While many tourists arrive in the country looking to explore its exquisite temples and dream beaches with turquoise-blue water, Bangkok is a city of contrasts with its own unique draw that sets it apart from other skyscraper cities in the world.

The MahaNakhon skyscraper is located in the heart of Bangkok. Standing at 314 meters (1,031 feet) tall, it was the tallest building in Thailand till 2018 and the ninth tallest building in the world. The building was designed by German architect Ole Scheeren and was completed in 2016.

Even as you enter the building you can sense a place where luxury meets privilege. Inside the lobby you can find the ticket counter for MahaNakhon SkyWalk. Apart from premium shopping areas, the 78-story building is home to the Ritz-Carlton Residences, one of the most sought after residences in all of Bangkok.

Tripods are not allowed inside the MahaNakhon Observatory

We were asked to leave the tripod behind on the ground floor. Lockers are provided to store your tripods safely. I am sure many visitors end up here not knowing that tripods are not allowed at the skywalk and the locker is a big benefit for them.

Video-themed elevators

After securing the tripod, we proceeded to the elevator boarding area passing through a Bangkok-themed digital corridor.

Just prior to catching the lift, we passed a section where they were shooting pictures of visitors on a green screen. You can buy a printed set of these photos when you leave.

The lift was already full and we were the last ones to get on. I believe it can hold around 15 people at a time. As the lift started a fly-through video started on the walls of the lift. It was fun to watch.

You can also buy MahaNakhon skywalk tickets from beforehand on their official website.

Facts about MahaNakhon Tower

Mahanakhon is a mixed-use building, with retail and dining outlets occupying the lower levels, while the upper levels are home to luxury residential apartments and the MahaNakhon SkyWalk. The building’s name, “MahaNakhon,” is derived from the Thai word for “great metropolis,” a fitting name for a building that dominates the skyline of one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant cities.

The tower was opened to public in August 2016 following an eight-year planning and construction phase. The total project value of the construction is near to 21 billion baht (US$620 million).

The tower defies the typical podium typology, creating a skyscraper that has been carved to introduce a three-dimensional ribbon of architectural pixels that coil up the tower’s full height. The distinctive cut that snakes around the building gives it an unfinished appearance from a distance.

In a play of one-upmanship by a competing development the MahaNakhon tower lost the title of tallest building in Bangkok in 2018, when the Magnolias Waterfront Residences Tower 1 was completed with 315m, just one more than the MahaNakhon.

MahaNakhon SkyWalk Indoor Observatory

The lift brought us up directly to the Observatory on the 74th Floor. It says in the booklet that it takes just 50 seconds to travel the 74 floors. The observatory and the Sky Bar occupy floors 74th to 77th.

The 74th floor offers a unique 360 degrees view over the city of Bangkok while educating the viewer on the city’s heritage and history through inscriptions and city maps engraved on the floor, while the two top floors are outdoor spaces occupied by the Sky Bar and Skytray and are meant for leisure and amusement of visitors.

All the sides have continuous glass walls from which you can see the stunning Bangkok skyline. On the observatory floor, you can also find a miniature model of the MahaNakhon building.

The top of the tower houses a three-floor Sky Bar and restaurant with double-height spaces and an outdoor rooftop bar with 360º views, floating 310 meters above the city.

This Post Box is a replica of the very first mailbox of Thailand.

From the observatory you will need to go up an escalator to the 75th floor. From here a spiral staircase leads up to the terrace. Alternatively, you can also use an elevator to go up to the terrace.

You will be provided a shoe cover here for going on to the glass tray

The staff here might tell you that you cannot come down to the observatory once you go to the terrace but you very much can. You have to use the stairs beside the circular stairs on the 75th floor to go down.

Even though it was November, you could feel the stifling heat as you come out onto the open terrace. Bangkok is more near to home than I could have imagined.

As we walked toward the edge of the terrace, we could see the city emerging.

Glass tray at MahaNakhon

The glass trays are at a height of 300 meters. It is is cantilevered out from the building to give visitors views directly down to the ground below. It was the main attraction for us: to stand on this glass tray with a bird eye’s view of the beautiful skyline below. Visitors are required to cover their shoes with the disposable shoe cover provided on the 75th floor.

This attraction is known as the Skytray, a walkable glass platform of 4.5×17.5 meters that is not only sure to attract thousands of visitors every year but also ensure that these visitors post breathtaking photos of them walking on the glass platform on their social media.

Please note that visitors are not allowed to take any loose items including mobile phones, camera, selfie sticks and other items to the glass tray.

The glass floor, constructed and laminated by Sedak, is fabricated from six multi-layered panels, each measuring 4.14 x 2.69 m. Each panel comprises seven pieces of 12 mm heat strengthened low-iron glass alternated with 1.52 mm SentryGlas®, creating a 13-ply glass/interlayer construction, which still offers excellent clarity. For those feeling unsure on getting on to the glass tray, SentryGlas® ionoplast interlayer is tougher and 100 times stiffer then the older PVB interlayers.

Photography of the glass tray is only permitted from a photo taking area outside of the glass tray.

If you do not have anybody to take your photo while you walk on the glass tray, the staff will help you.

Thailand’s highest rooftop bar with signature drinks and cocktails.

Gazing at the unobstructed view of the city we enjoyed some chicken pie from the Skybar.
Note: The snacks are a bit on the expensive side.

The MahaNakhon Terrace

MahaNakhon was recognized as Thailand’s Tallest Building (2016 – 2018), certified by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in April 2016. Its luxury ‘mixed-use’ development is specifically designed to complement the city’s existing skyline and gives Bangkok an iconic architectural landmark.

Sunset from MahaNakhon

As we approached the Golden hour, the cityscape turned into a glowing orange with light that is soft, warm, and golden.

The Bangkok skyline at sunset is a breathtaking sight to behold. The city is known for its towering skyscrapers, which seem to rise up from the ground and stretch towards the sky. As the sun begins to set, the city is bathed in a warm, golden light that gives the skyscrapers a beautiful, glowing appearance.

The towering skyscrapers seem to glow with an otherworldly radiance, and the city’s many temples and shrines are lit up in a way that is both beautiful and serene. It is a truly breathtaking sight to see, and one that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who witnesses it. Night falls gently in Bangkok and lights come on across the city.

My Nikon 810 was struggling to capture this beautiful cityscape so I switch to my Sony AS3 in hope more than anything that maybe it can do better.

The beautifully lit building in the above photo is that of ICON SIAM. I haven’t been there yet. Hope to go therein the future as it looks pretty appealing.

Along the ICON SIAM, you can see the Chao Phraya River. The river is an important source of food for the people of Thailand, and it is also home to many floating markets where people buy and sell goods from boats. It is a popular tourist destination, with numerous boat tours and cruises available for visitors to experience the sights and sounds of the river. The Chao Phraya River is home to several important temples and landmarks, including the Wat Arun temple and the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

On the way out we grabbed the set of printed photos, photoshopped to look as if taken from the terrace.

Since its completion, MahaNakhon has become a popular tourist destination in Bangkok. In addition to the observation deck, the building also features a rooftop bar and restaurants. It is a popular spot for both locals and tourists to take in the breathtaking views of the city and enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many dining and entertainment options.

King Power MahaNakhon building was conceived to reflect the ambition and excitement of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. It is a showcase of one of the most significant examples of contemporary architecture and urban design in all of Thailand. Designed by an award-winning architect, Ole Scheeren, the MahaNakhon Building spirals up through the urban jungle of Bangkok, representing this vibrant city. Bangkok, with its contrasting mix of traditional temples and modern skyscrapers, has developed an eclectic skyline and the MahaNakhon Building fits right in.

From the summit of MahaNakhon, the panorama unfolds into a mesmerizing tapestry of urban brilliance. Perched above the bustling city, the view encapsulates the vibrant energy of Thailand’s capital. Gazing out, one witnesses the convergence of modernity and tradition, as gleaming high-rises stand in juxtaposition with historic landmarks. The Chao Phraya River meanders through the urban sprawl, reflecting the glimmering lights of the cityscape. At night, the skyline transforms into a dazzling display of colors, and the bustling streets below come alive.

Thanks for reading! I hope you like my story. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

Visitor Information

What are the open hours for MahaNakhon?

Daily from 10.00-19.00 hrs. (last admission 18.30 hrs.)

How do I reach MahaNaknon using Skytrain?

BTS Skytrain via Chong Nonsi Station, exit 3

What is the price of admission tickets to MahaNakhon Skywalk?

Adults: ฿880.00
Kids: ฿250.00
Seniors (Age 60+) : ฿250.00

Visitors can also avail some package options that come with complimentary drink and food coupons. Various offers are also available during festival times when they offer discounts on the price of the tickets.

Stok Palace

Nestled in the picturesque landscape of Ladakh, the Stok Palace & Monastery stands as a profound reflection of the rich cultural heritage of this remote Himalayan region. Located approximately 15 kilometers from the bustling town of Leh, Stok Palace serves as the residential palace of the royal family of King Sengge Namgyal. Today, we will explore the fascinating history, architecture, and cultural significance of this magnificent palace and the adjacent monastery.

We had booked a cab for the entirety of the trip that would pick us up every day in the morning, right from our hotel. It was a great help as it helped us save time looking for rides on a daily basis. From Leh, Stok Palace can also be reached by local jeeps or through shared taxis. However, please note that you should make sure that you have some method of transportation to get back as well. It will be very difficult to get one-way transport back to Leh from Stok.

Brief History of Stok Palace

Commissioned in 1820 CE by King Tsepal Tondup Namgyal (1790-1841), the Stok Palace is situated opposite Leh on the other side of the river Indus. Tsepal Namgyal, the last independent Gyalpo (King) of Ladakh, inherited the throne when his elder brother died without any children. Tsepal was in every way opposite in character to his brother. He loved an easy life and was lazy in every respect. Despite his nuances, Ladakh flourished during his time, and the people enjoyed peace and happiness. He never went to battle throughout his reign until the Dogra army threatened the very existence of the Ladakhi way of life.

During his reign, the royal treasury had increased so much that the king decided to use it for building a new palace at Stok, also pronounced as “Stog” by locals. Stok, as people would describe was always a “dress colder” than Leh. While Leh Palace was the main seat of power, Stok Palace was built as a retreat for the ruling family. It was ironic that when the Dogra army arrived, led by Zorawar Singh around 1834, the king escaped and took shelter in this very palace he had commissioned.

Historically, Ladakh was an independent kingdom from about 950 CE until 1834, when Dogras from Jammu invaded it. The wool trade has held a significant position in the political history of Ladakh as was the primary interest of the Dogras. Although Ladakh was conquered by the Dogras in 1834, the state was not annexed until 1842. On his first assault on Leh, Zorawar Singh stayed in Leh for four months at the end of which he restored the kingdom of Ladakh back to Tsepal with an agreement that the kingdom would henceforth become a vassal state of the Dogra kingdom of Jammu.

But it was not long before Tsepal revolted against Zorawar. When the gyalpo learned of Zorawar Singh’s quick arrival at Chumri it was too late for him to do anything about it and he thought it wiser to receive the Dogra General outside Leh in all humility, expressing regret at what had happened. Besides extracting the installments of the war indemnity from Tsepal, he deposed him and installed Morupa Tadzi, the minister of Leh, as the gyalpo of Ladakh. Tsepal Namgyal, however, was allowed the village of Stok in Jagir. Tsepal Namgyal was the last independent king of Ladakh and remains much admired in the memories of the people of Leh.

The palace still serves as a summer home for the royalty of Ladakh from the Namgyal Dynasty. It is the only inhabited palace with more than 80 rooms, of which 5 are open to the public. The other two – Leh and Shey Palace are not liveable. While Leh Palace has been converted into a museum, the Shey Palace is in ruins.

A part of the building has been renovated and restored and turned into a heritage hotel. It offers discerning visitors a selection of four suites, a royal suite, and the queen’s bed­room. This magnificent four-story structure sits atop a vast hill surrounded by pebbles that descend from the peak. The palace seamlessly combines elements of both ancient and contemporary architectural styles, set amidst enchanting gardens and breathtaking panoramic vistas. The rooms are decorated in red, creme, and lapis lazuli blue adorned with Ladakhi motifs, rugs, and woodcarvings, with balconies overlooking the beautiful Indus Valley.

The central courtyard is dominated by an open space with a huge tarchen (flagpole). A staircase brings us to a smaller inner courtyard with a smaller tarchen, rooms on different sides, and a smaller staircase leading off to the vari­ous wings of the palace.

The Royal Palace comprises a four-story structure with a fine blend of architecture. The royal family is limited to top floors.

Guests staying at the Stok Palace Heritage Hotel have privileged access to the museum.

Although it is not as imposing as other palaces I have witnessed in India, it does command respect when compared to other surrounding structures. The site is famous for its well-laid gardens and visitors can also enjoy the amazing views of sunrise and sunset.

The palace organizes an annual festival of dance-mask (Cham) that enjoys huge participation by the locals. Visitors can also get to see some of the unique collection of crowns, royal attires, and other significant materials inside the palace. These lower floors were used as stables.

The mask dance known as Cham is a Buddhist dance performed by monks on the rythm of the dungchen(longhorn), gyaling(oboes), ngai(drums) and dung(conch shells), while wearing masks, some of which are fearsome while others are benign. The dance is religious in nature and it symbolizes the destruction of evil spirits.

Stok Palace also houses a must-see museum that has a collection of artifacts and relics related to Ladakh’s old monarchy. It offers a stunning collection of royal outfits, the crown, and other royal articles. One can see ancient coins, royal seals & costumes, jewelry, and photographs along with the royal family’s collection of thangkas, some of which are over 400 years old.

Royal Museum of Stok

Some of the major highlights of the Stok Palace museum are the Queen’s ancient yub-jhur or perak, which is a headpiece encrusted with 401 lumps of uncut turquoise, coral, gold nuggets and other precious stones; a 1,000 years old crown, and an actual knotted sword. The palace also has a temple where the guests are welcome to pay a visit. There are gold and silver teapots; and 35 ancient thangkas telling the Buddha’s story. Visitors can also see wooden blocks used to print prayer flags, and drums and trumpets made of human bone for use in tantric rituals. In one of the rooms is a sword whose blade has been twisted into a knot.

After grabbing some photos, we proceeded towards the Stok monastery, situated atop the hill about 2 kilometers away from the palace.

Hike to Stok Buddha

As we hiked towards the monastery, we could see dozens of chortens scattered all along the mountains. Among the most iconic and spiritually significant architectural elements in Ladakh are the white chortens, also known as stupas. Chortens are powerful symbols of the Buddhist faith. These distinctive structures are not only remarkable for their aesthetic beauty but also for their deep religious and cultural significance in the lives of the Ladakhi people.

Chortens have a long and storied history in Buddhism, dating back to the time of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself. They were originally built to house sacred relics and scriptures and to commemorate important events and figures in Buddhist history.

Over time, chortens spread across Buddhist regions, each incorporating unique local styles and traditions. In Ladakh, these chortens evolved into the beautiful white structures that grace the landscape today.

On the way, you can also catch this beautiful view of the Stok Palace standing mesmerizingly amidst the serene and awe-inspiring backdrop of the Stok Range of Mountains.

Stok Buddha

The history of Stok Monastery dates back to the 14th century CE when it was founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus. This historical connection adds an air of regal grandeur to the monastery, making it a site of cultural significance. The gompa is affiliated with Gelugpa or the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism. One of the major attractions of the monastery is its impressive library which has 108 volumes of Buddha’s own discourses known as Kangyur.

The most striking feature of Stok Monastery is its architecture. Like most monasteries in Ladakh, Stok follows the traditional Tibetan architectural style. The main assembly hall or prayer hall, known as the Dukhang, is adorned with colorful murals, intricate woodwork, and statues of Buddhist deities. These artistic embellishments not only showcase the skill of local artisans but also provide visitors with a vivid glimpse into the world of Tibetan Buddhism.

It has various deities that are pictured inside along with 2 thrones that are for the Dalai Lama and his Lama. The central image that is seen here is of Avalokitesvara who has 11 heads and some 1,000 arms.

One of the highlights of the Stok Monastery is its impressive collection of Thangkas. Thangkas are intricately painted scrolls that depict various aspects of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, cosmology, and religious figures. These Thangkas, some of which are centuries old, are a testament to the monastery’s commitment to preserving its cultural heritage.

The monastery serves as a center for religious rituals, festivals, and meditation practices. Monks residing at Stok Monastery follow the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and their daily routines include prayers, chanting, and studying Buddhist scriptures. The monastery also plays a pivotal role in the cultural life of the region by hosting annual festivals, including the Stok Guru Tsechu, which draws crowds of devotees and tourists alike.

Beyond its religious and cultural significance, Stok Monastery offers visitors a serene escape from the chaos of modern life. Surrounded by breathtaking Himalayan vistas, the monastery exudes an aura of peace and serenity that makes it an ideal place for meditation and introspection. The tranquil environment, coupled with the spiritual ambiance, attracts travelers seeking solace and a deeper connection with themselves.

The history of the Golden Buddha Statue at Stok is deeply intertwined with the history of the Namgyal dynasty, the royal family of Ladakh. The Stok Monastery, where the statue resides, was founded in the 14th century and has been the residence of the Namgyal dynasty ever since. The statue itself, also known as the Sakyamuni Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha, is believed to have been consecrated by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century, making it an invaluable relic that connects the royalty of Ladakh with their spiritual heritage.

The most striking aspect of the Golden Buddha Statue is, of course, its striking appearance. This statue which was started in 2012 and finished in 2015 was dedicated on August 8, 2016, by Tenzin Gyatso, who is the 14th Dalai Lama. Standing at an impressive height, the statue is crafted from gilded copper and is adorned with intricate ornamentation, jewels, and an aura of serenity that immediately captures the attention of anyone who beholds it. The golden hue of the statue not only represents the richness of the Buddhist faith but also symbolizes the illumination and enlightenment sought by Buddhist practitioners.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail displayed in the Golden Buddha Statue are nothing short of breathtaking. The statue’s facial features are finely chiseled, radiating compassion and wisdom. Its serene countenance, framed by an elaborate headdress, is a testament to the skill and dedication of the artisans who created it. The intricate designs adorning the statue’s robe and the precious jewels set into it add to its splendor, making it a true masterpiece of Tibetan Buddhist art.

Beyond its physical beauty, the Golden Buddha Statue holds profound spiritual significance. It is an embodiment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and dedicated his life to teaching the path to liberation from suffering. The statue’s presence in Stok Monastery serves as a constant reminder of the Buddha’s teachings and the path towards spiritual awakening.

For devotees and pilgrims who visit Stok Monastery, the Golden Buddha Statue is not just a work of art; it is a source of inspiration and a focal point for meditation and prayer. The statue’s serene expression and the aura of tranquility that surrounds it create an environment conducive to inner reflection and spiritual growth. Pilgrims often offer butter lamps, flowers, and prayers to the statue, seeking blessings, guidance, and inner peace.

A day trip from Leh is good enough to explore Stok Palace and the monastery. If you wish for a special experience you can also try to stay at the palace for a night. Spend the day soaking in the tranquility of the place – stroll around the palace, listening to the soothing sound of monks deep in prayers. Later you can enjoy the family museum with jewels, armor, and ‘thangka‘ collection of painted, embroidered ceremonial scrolls found in Buddhist monasteries.

Best Time to Visit Stok Monastery

The ideal months to visit the Stok is between May to October. However, if you wish to witness the local festivals you can try visiting in February.

Stok Guru Tsechu, the festival of Stok Monastery held in February/March, is a major crowd-puller. It is held on the 9th and 10th days of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as we drive to Kargil with Apricot blooms along the way.

The enchanting Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first time I visited Fushimi Inari-taisha was way back in January of 2016. Since then I have been to the heritage site a couple of times but I never came around to writing about it.

The Inari shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Japan. The classical vermillion Torii (gate) with a pair of stone fox images guarding such shrines can be found everywhere in the country. The most striking feature of Inari worship (Inari shinkõ) is the high degree of diversification and even personalization of this kami. Devotees do not simply worship “Inari,” but a separate form of Inari with its own name.

Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of the Kami Inari, located in Fushimi-ku area of Kyoto. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain, also named Inari, which is about 230 meters in height. Most of the shrine’s prominent structures are located right at the base of the mountain. However, for the adventurous types, there are numerous trails that lead right up to the summit of the Inari mountain, where you can find some very old and interesting shrines.

Whichever trail you choose, it is about 3 km to the top. Along the way, you will witness hundreds of smaller shrines, some freshly painted and some, in a somewhat debilitated state. The most intriguing part of the hike, however, are the thousands of vermilion-colored gates called Torii.

Vermilion is said to be a color that repels magical powers and is the reason it is often used in shrines, temples and even palaces in Japan.

Most of you, I assume, would be arriving to Fushimi Inari-taisha from Kyoto via the JR train line unless you are using your personal vehicle. As soon as you get off the train at the Inari Station, you cannot miss the huge Torii gate that leads to the main shrine grounds. The shrine’s close proximity to the bustling city of Kyoto makes it very easy to reach but that also means massive crowds, especially during the weekends. My recommendation would be to reach as early as you can.

The Great Torii of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Visit to a Japanese temple or shrine starts with passing through an exorbitantly designed gate. These ubiquitous gates that form an integral part of every Shinto shrine, vary from shrine to shrine in terms of both size and effect. Made from bronze, stone or wood, they are typically constructed to form a horizontal beam – kasagi, supported by two cylindrical columns called hashira. The first massive gate you pass while visiting Fushimi Shrine is known as the Daiichi Torii. It is meant to indicate to the visitor that he or she is now passing into an even more sacred space.

If you visit the Taisha from Keihan Fushimi Inari Station via Miyuki Road, you will not be passing through this torii gate.

The wooden ones are always colored in bright vermilion. Though commonly built at a scale that comfortably fits a small group of people, they range from miniature torii placed on shrines by worshipers to mighty structures such as this one leading into Fushimi Inari-Taisha.

Beyond the Torii, you will find the entrance gate to the shrine known as the Rōmon gate or Plum Blossom Gate, guarded with statues of foxes on either side. Generally, you will find a couple of lion-dog statues beside the shrine gate, but in the case of an Inari shrine, a fox statue is placed instead of the guardian dog. How the fox began being considered as the guardian spirits of the Inari shrines and messengers of the Gods. I will deal with a little later in this very article.

The Rōmon gate was donated to the shrine by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589

The Rōmon gate along with the entire complex burned to the ground during the Onin War (1467-1477) in the mid-15th century and everything you will see onwards from here is a reconstruction. Beside the Rōmon gate, you can find the Chozuya, to purify yourself before entering the shrine complex.

A brief history of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice cultivation and business success. This deity is said to grant a wide variety of prayers, from gokoku hojo (better crop output) to shobai hanjo (business prosperity), and in some regions of Japan, anzan (safe childbirth), manbyo heiyu (being completely cured of any illness), and gokaku kigan (prayers for academic success). Owing to the popularity of Inari’s division and re-enshrinement, this shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines (bunsha) throughout Japan.

Inari is a different kami to each believer, shaped by what each person brings of his own character and understanding of the world.

The earliest structures on Mt. Inari were built as early as 711 CE. It was originally erected as their patron deity by the influential Hatas, the descendants of the Korean prince naturalized in the 4th century. The day Inari Okami was enshrined on Mt. Inari is known as “Hatsuuma.” To commemorate Inari’s enshrinement, the Hatsu-uma Festival began to be celebrated every year. It’s been about 1300 years since and the custom is still maintained to this day. The shrine was later re-located to the base of the hill in 816 on the request of the monk Kūkai.

The shrine became the object of imperial patronage during the early Heian period (794-1185). In 965, Emperor Murakami decreed that messengers carry written accounts of important events to the guardian Kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines, including the Inari Shrine.

Inari was first worshipped in the form of three deities (perhaps because there are three peaks on Inari Mountain in Fushimi) and later, from the time of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), as five deities. There has been great variation in the priestly assignment of kami as the three main deities of Inari Mountain; the current tradition of enshrinement, standardized during the Meiji period, is as follows:

  • Lower Shrine: Sannomine Uganomitama no õkami
  • Middle Shrine: Ninomine Sadahiko no õkami
  • Upper Shrine: Ichinomine Õmiyanome no õkami

Another custom that developed during the Heian period was the “souvenir cedar” (shirushi no sugi), a term so popular it became symbolical with the Inari shrine. The custom required one to take a small branch from one of the cedar trees on Inari’s mountain and attach it to themselves as a kind of talisman. It was especially popular to do this on the first horse day in the second month (nigatsu no hatsuuma), the traditional day of Inari’s worship.

In 1875, the name of Inari Shrine was changed to Mizuho Kosha

From 1871 through 1946, Fushimi Inari-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines.

The mythical Fox of Inari

At Inari shrines, foxes (Kitsuné), are regarded as the messengers of Gods. The word Kitsuné comes from two Japanese syllables: Kitsu & ne. Kitsu is the sound of a fox yelping and ne is a word signifying an affectionate feeling. Each fox statue holds a ball-like object representing the spirit of the Gods, a scroll for messages from the Gods, a key for rice storehouses, or a rice ear in its mouth.

One legend suggests that an agricultural cycle is similar to that of a fox’s behaviors and habits, and the routes of the shrine gates are considered to be foxes’ routes. Ancient Japanese people seemed to believe that foxes had mystical powers.

According to the Nihon Ryoki, one of the oldest records, a great number of foxes lived in the national capital of Kyoto in ancient times. According to the Nihon Shoki, the Kitsuné were held in respect as an animal of good omen. In 720 a black fox was presented from the Iga province to Emperor Gemmyo (661-726 CE), the founder of the capital of Nara.

It is said that during the reign of Emperor Kammu ( 737-806 CE), foxes used to bark at night inside the Imperial Palace grounds and sometimes were even seen walking up the stairs of the palace. In the Edo Period (1603–1867), local people established the practice of erecting gates along the path of the foxes on the mountain behind the shrine to protect and fulfill their prayers.

Night Photo-walk at Fushimi Inari-Taisha

The daytime experience at Fushimi Shrine is one of noisy crowds and chattering school children. Because of its close vicinity to Kyoto, the Fushimi shrine is always crowded with the daily wide-eyed tourists from different parts of the world who generally forget to respect the heritage place in their excitement. So this year when I decided to visit the shrine once again, I planned it specifically at night, when it truly becomes magical. The number of tourists also decreases significantly at this time and I can promise you that it will be a much better experience if you choose to do the same.

As you walk out of the JR train station, you will immediately notice a fox illuminated by a beam of light near the station gate, carrying a rice stock in its mouth.

Heritage structures at Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first Torii leads you to another. It is a beautiful sight sans the crowd.

The two-storied Rōmon gate is the building that makes up the main entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha and has been designated an important cultural property. It was not part of the earliest structures of the Inari shrine, but there is evidence that it already existed around 1500 CE.

The two-storied gate, built with a hip-and-gable roof covered with cypress bark thatching, is believed to have been built during the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the time from the Warring States period to the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Hideyoshi prayed for his mother Oomandokoro’s recovery from illness, and the gate was built in gratitude for her recuperation.

On both sides of the Rōmon gate are statues of gods called “zuijin” and they act as bodyguards for Inari Okami. Of all the Rōmon gates at shrines located in Kyoto, this is considered to be the oldest and the largest.


Just beyond the two-storied Rōmon gate, will find the Gehaiden, illuminated brilliantly by the lanterns inside. This brightly lit structure is used for various dance performances during festivals. When I visited the shrine in 2018, I was lucky to experience a dance inside the hall. The hall was then surrounded by hundreds of people and absolutely not like how it is presented below.

The Gehaiden is built with a hip-and-gable roof covered in cypress bark thatch. It is also a designated important cultural property. The iron lanterns hanging from the eaves (edge of a roof) depict the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Azumamaro Shrine

While facing the Gehaiden, on your right you will find a small narrow path that leads to the Higashimaru Shrine enshrining Kada no Azumamaro. On its left wall, you will find hundreds of omikuji and wooden ema plates left behind by visitors.

Azumamaro was active in the mid-Tokugawa period as a priest of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and wrote works including “On Opening Schools and Annotations” to Nihon Shoki. In the modern period, he came to be extolled as one of the four great men of kokugaku or the “Learning of the Imperial Land.”

Prior to Azumamaro, there was Ooyama Tameoki, a disciple of Suika Shinto of Yamazaki Ansai, who also served as the priest of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and studied Shinto as the Learning of the Imperial Land. Kada Azumamaro was from the Hakuro family and Ooyama Tameoki was from the Hata family, these two came from two competing priest families. Yet, they both tried to master the Learning of the Imperial Land through the interpretation of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.


Just behind the Gehaiden, lies the main shrine referred to as Naihaiden. It is very close to the Gehaiden at the base of the mountain. A small flight of steps leads you to into the red building. Here you can pay your respects by giving a coin offering, ringing the bells, and praying by bowing twice, clapping twice, praying silently, and then bowing once again. The Naihaiden was also burned down during the Onin War, and the existing building is said to have been rebuilt in 1499.

The main shrine or Honden lies just behind the Naihaiden. It is the holy building where Inari Okami resides. It is also where festivals and prayer rituals are held. The main shrine located within the Naihaiden was built in 1499 in the nagare-zukuri style with its streamlined roof. The 500-year-old building is painted vermilion and is an important cultural property.

Five kami, or gods, are worshipped: Ukanomitamano Okami, Satahikono Okami, Omiyanomeno Okami, Tanakano Okami, and Shino Okami. Collectively, these kami are referred to as Inari Okami. The gables in the entrance are Karaha-fu, a type of cusped gable, and each beam has beautiful Chinese firebirds and flowers carved into it.

Juyosho or Shrine Management Office

This is where you can buy souvenirs like ema plates, amulets, talismans, and the ever-popular omikuji. Applications for prayers, kagura performances, and offerings are also accepted here. The Ema plaques that they sell here are unique. They are called “gankake torii” which are shaped like torii gates. Usually, during the daytime, there is a long queue in front of the counter with a good number of young girls trying their luck at omikuji.

At the inner shrine and at the Gozendani, ema are shaped like white fox faces and called Gankake Myobu Ema. Ema (wooden tablets for writing wishes on) are very popular in shrines and temples around Japan. People write their wishes and leave the tablets hanging up at the shrine where the kami (Shinto deities) can receive them. Usually, ema have a more rectangular shape, but the special ema at Fushimi Inari Taisha is in the shape of a fox. The ema can be purchased at the shrine for ¥500. After purchasing the ema, write your wish on the back, and on the front draw the face of a fox. It is quite similar to Kasuga Taisha, where instead of a fox, you draw the face of a deer. It is very exciting to see all the ema lined up with the different faces that the visitors have left behind.


The Gonden is used as a temporary home for the kami when the main shrine or other buildings are being repaired. It is a lot smaller than the size of the main shrine, and it is made in the Gokensha Nagarezukuri style, an asymmetrical gabled roof style with six pillars. It too is a designated important cultural property. The current building is a reconstruction built in 1645. To the left of the Gonden hall, you will find a series of steps that go up the mountain. Climbing this stone staircase marks the beginning of “Inariyama Mikamiseki worship.”


This is the Kami-Massha shrine. The big torii to its left goes towards the Okumiya shrine from where the series of torii gates start.

Okumiya Shrine

At the top of the wide stone steps, you will find the Okumiya shrine dedicated to the same Inari Okami as the main shrine. It used to be called the Kamigoten and is made in a different architectural style than the other shrines in the precinct. It also is a designated important cultural property.

To the left of the Okumiya shrine, somewhat hidden by the trees you can find the first of the series of giant torii gates leading through Senbon Torii to the Okusha Shrine.

Continue along the large torii pathway called Myobu Sando and the path will split into two routes with torii gates that stretch tunnel-like. When going to Okunoin from the entrance, pass on the left side. On the other hand, when going down from Okunoin, pass on the right side. That is, we should always keep to the left in the direction we are going.

Senbon Torii

As I mentioned before, the highlight of the Fushimi shrine are the rows of torii gates, known as Senbon Torii. Those who have heard about the Fushimi Inari Shrine, immediately think of the Senbon Torii, or the thousands of red torii gates leading pilgrims up the sacred mountain. The word “Senbon,” literally meaning a thousand is just used here to represent many many more, closer to 10,000. They are so close to each other, that they form an almost perfect tunnel that completely conceals the outside world. Some of the old Japanese literature describes Senbon torii as a tunnel, similar to a birth canal from which a true believer is reborn onto the sacred space on the Kami’s mountain.

Even though I have been here multiple times, I have never thought about counting these torii gates. It is said that there are about 10,000 torii gates lining this road up the mountain to the shrine at the top. This sight of the torii, all lined up is magnificent and, perhaps one of the most iconic views of Japan.

Currently, about 10,000 torii gates stand side by side along the entire approach to the mountain.

After passing through the “Senbon Torii”, you will arrive at Okusha, commonly known as “Oku-no-in”. Legend has it that if make a wish in front of the stone lantern here and lift the empty ring (round-headed stone) of the lantern. It is said that if the weight you feel when you lift it is lighter than expected, your wish will come true, and if it is heavy, it will not come true. From here we turn left and head up into the mountain.

The gateways here are of a brilliant vermillion and black and are engraved with inscriptions from the donors. The custom of donating a torii began in the Edo period (1603-1868.) At times tightly packed and at times irregularly spaced and several yards apart, the torii lead visitors on the 3 km hike up, along the steep hillside, past an assortment of smaller shrines. Strolling up one of the torii tunnels, you will feel lost in a magical red world. It is an almost unreal sensation that washes over you as you venture yet further into the belly of the mountain through this surreal passage.

Some 30 thousand torii are said to have been donated by various people seeking Inari’s blessing on their businesses over the years. Merchants from all over Japan pay large sums of money to get a torii installed dedicated to them, at the shrine. As you move into the next set of torii gates, it does not feel like a tunnel anymore as the gates begin to get separated little by little. The gates here are a little more orangish.

The gates space out more as we head towards the summit. As the torii spread out, the outside light begins to pour into the tunnel and my attention was drawn to the forest that I had entered almost without noticing. The gates here are also not illuminated from the inside so you only have the lights from the street lamps to move around in the dark. The emerging space in alliance with the sequence of columns and beams creates a crisscross of patterns of light and dark.

The path continues upward through the dense cedar forest passing various clusters perched on the hillside until you reach the end of the torii gates.

This area is generally quieter with only the dedicated tourists making it up this far. Being late at night it was almost deserted apart from a couple of young Japanese visitors. A fleet of steep stairs will take you up to a four-point crossroad. The path to your left goes up the hill. On your right, you will find a very narrow lane called the Tamahimesha.


This is the Tamahimesha area where you can find many shrines dedicated to Inari. There is a place called Yotsuji in the middle of Mt. Inari. This is a perfect place to rest and you can enjoy the view of Kyoto. The view at sunset is especially beautiful!

Lit candles at a Kanmidokoro Takeya.

This was as far as we went. We didn’t go beyond this point and started our descent back to the base of the hill. During daytime you can hike further to the top of the mountain. While descending we took a different route.

As we reached the base, the Gehaiden was looking absolutely stunning in the night.

It was pretty late at night by the time we started to leave. To my surprise, I could still see some people making their way into the shrine. Yes, the shrine is open 24 hours with both the approach to the shrine and, the Honden itself, illuminated all night. So you can visit anytime you want.

Contrary to general assumption, the Inari Shrine does not own the entire mountain and a number of religious establishments on the mountain are totally independent from the Fushimi Shrine. It is impossible to tell though, which belongs to the shrine. Most guides are also not aware of this division between shrines and private areas.

The pilgrimage tradition at Fushimi’s Inari Mountain that started in the Heian period is still thriving. There’s something to be said about Japan’s almost seamless blend of new and traditional. Never have I seen such a balance of modernism from such an industrious country, all of their technological advances, infrastructure, media, and corporate lives don’t depreciate their respect for tradition and history.

Thanks for reading! Please leave your comments or questions using the comment form below. I am now going to double-check my shopping list before I disembark for India in a couple of days’ time. If you like my stories you can also connect with me on Instagram.

Admission Timings

Open 24/7

Admission Fees



711 CE

Annual events at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fox-feeding (Kitsune-segyo)
A custom prevailing in Osaka and vicinity. Believers visit their local Inari shrine carrying a small paper lantern shouting “O-segyo! O-segyo!” a call to the fox that it is feeding time. On their way home, they leave the fox’s favorite food of azuki-meshi, fice boiled with red beans and fried bean curds on the banks or any other place where foxes are expected to go.

Rice Planting Festival in Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Rice has been very important for Japanese people for centuries, and farmers have always worked hard together to cultivate rice. At Fushimi Inari-taisha, you can get a brief glimpse of this ancient Japanese culture. The Shinto rituals for prosperity and good harvests include seeding, planting, and harvest festivals are held respectively on April 12th, June 10th, and October 25th.


Zenkō-ji is a Buddhist temple located in the city of Nagano, Japan. The temple was built in the 7th century. The modern city of Nagano began as a town built around the temple.

Catching the train to Nagano

Nagano countryside

Nagano Station

Niomon Gate

Souvenir shops

Sanmon Gate

Incense Urn

Rokujizo Statues

Main Hall of Zenko-ji

Temple grounds

Sutra Depository

Wooden idols inside Sutra Depository


Statue of Shinran

Bell tower

Last shot of Zenko-ji before leaving

Waiting for the train to Nagoya

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Great Buddha of Shoho-ji

After a beautiful morning at Gifu Castle we were ready to proceed to our next destination in Inuyama. But before we left the area, we dropped by to see the Shōhō-ji Temple – a rarely visited Buddhist temple near Gifu Park.

Shōhō-ji Temple

Shōhō-ji Temple lies at a 5-minute walk from Gifu Park. If you are already here visiting the Gifu Castle, you might as well take out a few minutes to explore this unique Golden Buddha created using dry lacquer.

For a building that houses a 13-meter high Daibutsu (Buddha), the temple building looks very innocuous from the outside. On a stone pillar near the entrance, the words “Nihon Sandai Daibutstu” (Japan’s Third Great Buddha) are engraved. It goes on to say that Gifu Buddha is regarded as one of the three great Buddha portrait statues in Japan along with Todai-ji in Nara prefecture and Koutoku-in in Kamakura.

The temple does not face the road. You have to walk around to the back. You can find the ticket booth on the left side of the entrance gate to the hall.

The admission fee for adults is ¥200. The lady at the counter also gave us a pamphlet in English, explaining various things about Shōhō-ji and the Daibutsu. This was my second visit to the peaceful temple and both times, the area was completely devoid of people.

Brief history of Gifu Buddha

As you enter the darkened room, it will take you a minute to adjust your eyes to the surroundings. To the left of the door lies a small bench, placed parallel to the wall. It is the best place to behold the powerful presence of the “Great Buddha”, with its imposing size and golden body, leaning forward over me with a comforting subtle smile. The statue’s kind and solemn expression combined with the calming nature of the temple in which it sits make for a soothing, comfortable atmosphere.

The Gifu Great Buddha (岐阜大仏, Gifu Daibutsu) in Shōhō-ji is one of the larger indoor Buddha statues that I have been privy to in all of Japan. It was conceived by the 11th head priest of Kinpouzan Shōhō temple, Ichyuu, around 1790 CE, in hopes of averting large earthquakes and famines in the area.

Pursuing this dream to erect a large image of Shaka Nyorai, he traveled far and wide collecting donations, most of the time on foot. Unfortunately, after spending 25 years working on the Great Buddha, he passed away in 1815 CE without seeing its completion.

With his predecessor in mind, Ichyuu’s successor, the 12th generation head Priest Kohshuu completed its erection 13 years later in 1832. Overall it took 38 years of construction to finish the Gifu Buddha.

The noble messenger of the Owari feudal clan attended the completion ceremony of this Great Buddha when it was commenced to the public in April 1832. The turnout for the completion ceremony was as grand as when the famous 16th-century ruler Oda Nobunaga gained control of Gifu and first moved into Gifu Castle. Sadly that grandeur is no more and the temple lies in a debilitated state.

The making of Gifu Buddha

The Great Buddha of Gifu is unique due to the method of its construction. Though most Daibutsu statues are made of metal, this statue was made using a technique called mokushin kanshitsu zukuri, where first a wood and bamboo “skeleton” is built, then paper or hemp cloth dipped in urushi (lacquer) are woven through the bamboo and allowed to dry before being guilt in gold.

Urushi is lacquer, made from plant extracts; when this sealant hardens it creates a water and acid-proof finish on the surface of the object.

The construction of the statue began with a central pillar, 1.8 meters in circumference, from a ginkgo tree. The Buddha’s shape was then formed using bamboo lattices. The bamboo was covered with clay to add shape and the statue was then covered entirely with Buddhist sutras. For this reason, this statue is also known as the “Kago Daibutsu” (the basket Daibutsu).

Finally, the scriptures were covered in lacquer and gold leaf, giving the Buddha the appearance that it has today. Because priests and many others prayed for people’s happiness by using Buddhist sutra scriptures, placing the many scriptures onto the body of the Great Buddha was very important in its construction.

However, a significantly large amount of Buddhist scriptures were necessary to completely cover all of the massive statue. Priest Ichyuu traveled by himself to collect sutras, asking for contributions all around Japan.

Gifu’s Great Buddha was eventually completed at 13.7 meters tall. It is now counted among Japan’s Three Great Buddha Statues and is the largest in Japan to be made of lacquer.

The Daibutsu is built leaning slightly forward, giving the impression that it’s trying to draw nearer to the worshipers who visit it. With its plump cheeks and almost closed eyes, the overall impression exuded by this Buddha is one of kindness.

This Daibutsu is characterized by a very long earlobe. The length of the ears is as long as 2.12 meters. Ear lobes longer than the chin are rare.

Daibutsu statues generally have their right hand opened, but the Gifu Daibutsu has its right hand tied with a fixed seal called “Seppoin“, which makes a ring with the middle finger and thumb, striking a pose that looks like an “OK” sign.

In the belly of the Great Buddha of Gifu, a statue of Yakushi Nyorai is enshrined.

On the right of the enormous image of Buddha lies the Binzuru-sama, the Buddha representing the concept of “mubyō-sokusai” (無病息災) or “being in a state of perfect health”. He is one of the most charming characters in Buddhism. His power to heal was matched by his love of drinking 😅.

It is believed that if there is a part of your body in poor health if you rub the corresponding part of this Buddha’s body, your illness or injury will be healed. But of course, be very careful when touching the statue.

Inside the Great Buddha Hall, about 108 statues of Rakan are lined up on the left and right walls so as to surround the Great Buddha. They are known as the Gohyakurakan – the disciples of the Buddha. Each statue has a unique expression, so it is said you can find at least one stone Buddha that resembles you, your parent, or a friend.

Originally there were more of these figures but many of the Gohyakurakan were severely damaged over the years by earthquakes and, as a result, the ones you see here are all that have survived.

The temple does not take long to explore so if you have the inclination for some non-flashy heritage places, this is a must-go. The temple might lack the charm of a Todai-ji or the fame of Kamakura, but it is an interesting place to enjoy history without the distraction of massive crowds.

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Built in

1832 CE

Built By


Admission Fees



9:00 – 17:00