Fall at Nara Deer Park

Through my early teens, I grew up consuming detective tales from the likes of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. These classics have led me into believing the concept of criminals eventually going back to their place of crime. My crime is that I fell in love with the heritage city of Nara. Since knowing it from the Fall season of 2015, I have tried my best to visit the city that has somehow stopped in time, to breathe in its pure air and enjoy its hospitality.

Nara was the first capital of Japan and has a rich history that has kept me captivated since I first set my foot here in the fall of 2015. Nara Park is the central attraction of the ancient city and also one of the most amazing places to enjoy the fall season in the Kansai region. The lavish park contains hundreds of Momiji (Japanese maple) trees that turn red, brown, and yellow imparting a vivid range of colors to the area. The wandering herds of deer adds a touch of fantasy to the already beautiful canvas created by nature.

Fall in Nara

In Japan, the fall season or Koyo starts towards the middle of September, just like in most countries in the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere. The Japanese maple or Momiji is native to Japan, Korea, China, and eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia. The northern-most island of Hokkaido is the first to experience the fall season and the leaves already start turning red towards the middle of September.

This phenomenon gradually spreads towards the south of the Japanese archipelago until the middle of November when it reaches the southernmost areas. Late November to early December marks the beginning of fall colors in western Japan, and even though Kyoto is where the real magic plays out, Nara is not bad either.

I and my wife, Mani were staying at the Piazza Hotel in Nara. It is kind of a lavish place to stay but it is also kind of difficult to find lodgings in Nara with most hotels booked almost 6 months beforehand. We woke up at dawn, freshened up, and after a hot cup of coffee walked down to Nara Park. The hotel is located adjacent to the JR Nara Station and it is at least a 20-minute walk to Nara Park. I was back after almost a year and the old memories of Sanjo-dori came flooding back as I made my way along the narrow road which had been a big part of my life when I used to live in Nara. On the way, we grabbed a couple of onigiris for breakfast from a convenience store.

Ukimido Pavilion

Our first stop was one of the hidden treasures of Nara Park – the Ukimido Pavilion, located in the middle of the Sagi-ike Pond. I call this place hidden because most of the tourists remain concentrated near the Todai-ji, Kasuga-taisha, and Kofuku-ji areas. Very few of them have the energy for the walk to this little place located in a corner of Nara Park.

The beautiful wooden pavilion looks as if it is floating on the pond’s water and is a tranquil place to visit. The early morning mist makes it all the more irresistible. The pavilion is usually lit up every night, which is when I love it the most. If you are in Nara in mid-August, do not miss out on the Nara Tokae Lantern Festival when you can indulge in the visual pleasure of a hundred lanterns lighting up the pavilion. That sight is guaranteed to take your breath away.

After capturing the pavilion, we hung around the place wandering about the Sagi-ike Pond since our next stop was Todai-ji and it doesn’t open before 8 am. Most of the trees surrounding the pond had lost a good part of their leaves during this time. Some of the trees that had started later were still hanging on to their colorful leaves.

Specifically, the word “oyo” refers to yellow leaves, and the word “katsuyo” refers to brown leaves.

The species of maple generally determine the color the leaves will change to red, yellow, or brown. Here in Japan, people refer to this phenomenon as Koyo. Although the word Koyo literally means “red leaves,” it is colloquially used to refer to the phenomenon of changing autumn colors, mainly when it occurs to the leaves of deciduous broad-leaf trees before they fall to the ground.

No visit to Nara Park is fulfilled without a visit to Todai-ji. We were the first couple to enter as the admissions booth opened. The temple attendants were still getting everything ready inside the temple grounds. It was pretty cold so we skipped the purifying ritual at the Chozuya and went directly towards the Great Buddha hall also known as Daibutsu-den.

Before entering we grabbed some incense sticks and lit them up at the altar in front of the Daibutsu-den gate. It is not required but recommended that you donate some Yen here before you take the incense sticks. The scent emanating from the incense slowly surrounds you driving your mind and soul away from worldly distractions. Please note that this is not how Todai-ji will be if you visit a little later in the day. The place is literally crawling with tourists as the day moved towards the after.

While climbing down the steps of Todai-ji, I clicked this shot of the Nakamon Gate with the Octagonal lantern in front. The lantern is as old as the temple itself. In fact, the wooden temple was recreated many times but the lantern has remained as is throughout the history of Todai-ji. I have written a detailed article on the history of Todai-ji, if you are interested to know more.

After paying respects at Todai-ji, we walked towards the back of the temple where I knew there was an interestingly shaped Momiji looking all beautiful in shades of red and yellow colors. The Momiji trees around Nara Park are kind of spread out, so you need to know from before the spots where they are the most alluring.

We gradually walked towards the front of Todai-ji, where near the Kagami-ike Pond, you can also find some lovely Momiji trees. Of all its close kin, this Japanese red maple is not only a sensation because of its brilliant fall color, but also because of the hues of red, it lends to the landscape throughout the winter.

The history of Momijigari

From Todai-ji we slowly moved towards a wooded area of Nara Park. This area is full of Momiji trees. Even though some of the trees had already become bare it was still a lovely sight to behold.

When autumn deepens and the leaves begin to turn color in the fields and mountains, hunting for autumn foliage is a popular pastime in Japan. Over the years it has become like a ritual with its own name called Momijigari – the Japanese tradition of visiting areas where leaves have turned red in the autumn.

This tradition of Momijigari was born during the Heian Era (794 – 1185) among the aristocrats of Kyoto. The word comes from the two Japanese words Momiji and Kari. Momiji means red leaves. Kari originally used to refer to the act of hunting wild beasts, but over the years it came to be used as a word for catching animals and harvesting crops. You can find its use in Japanese words like “kudamono gari” (fruit hunting) and “shiohigari” (clam hunting).

Such alluring was the beauty of the fall foliage that the Japanese nobility became great admirers of this nature’s beauty. They borrowed the words Momiji and Kari and combined them to create Momijigari to mean “red leaves viewing”. Trees were planted specifically in continued rows for this autumn hobby of the era’s elite.

Poetry about Momiji

In Japan, the maple is said to possess a poetic, rather than visual, quality although I would beg to differ. Cherry trees are generally depicted in Japanese painting, but the maple is best described in waka – Japanese songs, and haiku – Japanese poetry.

As more and more trees were planted across each prefecture in Japan, it lent a fantastical beauty to the temples in the region. The ancient collection of Manyoshu poetry compiled in the eighth century includes numerous stories involving Momijigari.

If you have read the classical Heian Period novel “The Tale of the Genji,” the hunting for fall leaves also finds a mention here. A large section of the Kokin Wakashu poetry collection, compiled around the beginning of the same period, is dedicated almost entirely to autumn leaves.

Varying in size from large shrub to small tree, the Japanese maple is a species with many variations. You can enjoy the spectacular fall colors at the many historic shrines and temples at Nara Park. During Nara’s autumn foliage season, many places have various events, special viewing admissions, and scenic night lightings. As we kept walking we went past the wooded area into the wide-open spaces at the base of Wakakusayama with herds of deer grazing around.

The deer are generally gathered around this area because the tourists feed them the local Shika senbei. They love it! We also bought 5 packets, each costing 200 yen.

Be prepared! even as you open the packets, they will come charging at you sniffing the subtle smell of the pancakes from long away.

After feeding the deer, we walked to the base of Mt. Wakakusa where lay a couple of Ginko trees. Among the beautiful Momiji trees, the Gingko is another group of trees that make autumn brilliant with its color. Also called “ichō” in Japanese, they are completely different from Momiji as they are not red but bright yellow and do not have the same shape. Unlike the Momiji trees, the Gingko trees grow to long heights.

Ginkgo is an ancient species, so old that it is said to have flourished during the age of the dinosaurs. Around 1 million years ago, though, the population began to fall and it only narrowly avoided extinction. Until a few hundred years ago it grew almost exclusively in northwest Asia, but global cultivation efforts have brought numbers to such a level that the ginkgo was removed from the endangered species list.

The Ginkgo is a relative newcomer to Japan, having arrived from China around 1,000 years ago. It has thrived over the centuries to become a familiar aspect of Japanese life. The area takes on the appearance of being carpeted in gold – there’s something truly magical about it. The smell of the senbei quickly gathered a couple of deer to us.

Nearby you can find a wooden pavilion. We kept our bags on the benches and had a lovely time feeding the deer.

After an entertaining morning in Nara Park, we went back to get some lunch at Kasuga Chaya. Its located near all the souvenir shops before you reach the Nandaimon Gate of Todai-ji. It’s a cute ticket restaurant where you need to buy your meal tickets from a vending-type machine before you take a seat. I had a big bowl of Udon. The warm soup sure made me feel good after the early morning wandering in a cold and cloudy Nara Park.

In the evening we came back to the Park to catch a beautiful sunset at Nigatsu-do. Once the sun had set behind the mountains, we wandered about the grounds catching a few of the Momiji trees in the street lights

You can find this tree near the Kagami-ike Pond. It was getting pretty cold by then, so after we got a couple of shots, we started on our way back to the hotel.

Thanks for reading! One of the best aspects of travel in Japan is enjoying the natural beauty of the four seasons. Fall is known for its especially nice weather and is a season when one can taste many delicious foods, making it a great time for sightseeing. Just like with the sakura, this season holds a very special place in Japanese people’s hearts as it reminds everyone that everything is ephemeral and that we need to enjoy what is given to us before it vanishes.

The autumn foliage of Nara Park is exceptionally impressive. You can see beautiful autumn leaves in every part of the expansive grounds. The ability to enjoy seeing deer and maple trees while you gaze at the temples through the trees is unique to the park. I hope you liked my story. Please leave your comments or questions using the comments form below. I would love to know about your experiences at the park. You can also connect with me on Instagram.

What are the other places to enjoy the Fall season in Nara?

Apart from Nara Park, you can also visit these recommended spots:
1. Isui-en Garden
2. Hasedera Temple
3. Mt. Yoshino

What is the best time to enjoy Momiji in Nara?

Nara has a scattered fall where some of the trees begin to go red with the onset of November and some of them stay red till early December. It is always smart to come with a couple of days in hand because you will run into grey days with extreme cloud cover and intermittent rainfall.

Photowalk to Ukimido Pavilion

Ukimido is a hexagonal gazebo over the Sagiike Pond in Nara Park. The park is generally crowded with tourists all through the day, but they usually stay away from this area. The airy structure in the middle of the pond, surrounded by herds of deer, is one place where I can find peace at any time of the day.

I have been to Ukimido in Nara several times before but never during the evenings. A few days before I came across a flier at the Nara Tourist Information Center that had a cover photo of the pavilion at night. It looked so immersive that I couldn’t miss photographing this lovely gazebo.

So, at around 5 pm I walked down to the park. I had with me some acorns that I had gathered at Nagoya Castle grounds. The deer love munching on these acorns.

On my way, I went past the meadows beside Todai-ji temple where the deer were busy munching on the green grass. I was a bit surprised to see so many gathered at a single place. A couple came running towards me hoping to get some tidbits. I fed them the acorns I had stuffed in my cargo pockets. The sun was on its way down, so I hurried towards the floating pavilion.

Ukimido, Nara Park

It was almost sun down by the time I reached the pavilion. Some elderly ladies were sitting inside the dimly lit structure. The sunset was playing its magic creating a blend of purple and orange sky.

I stayed around till the ladies moved away after having their fill of the enchanting surroundings. During the summer evenings the floating pavilion is illuminated and it feels very relaxing sitting in the center of the pond amid dimly lit lanterns. I took a few shots of Ukimido Pavilion until the sun had fully set.

Once I was done taking pictures, I went back the along same path towards home. With the fall due in a month, some of the trees had started to turn red already. The lanterns along the Sagiike pond lit up the trees casting a reddish glow over them.

Nara Park is lovely in the day, but its mesmerizing at night. If you are in Nara, try to visit the place at night. Kofukuji and Todai-ji grounds remain open all night. The five-story pagoda at Kofukuji looks like a painting with the moon rising behind. The Todai-ji temple closes at around 5-5:30 pm depending on the season but you can still enjoy the beautifully lit park surrounding the temple. On certain days Todai-ji does remain open during nights. I was lucky to visit Todai-ji on New Years Eve, one of the rare times when the temple is opened to the public at night.

Thanks for reading! In a couple of days, I go back to India but in these few months, I have been so captivated by the rich culture and traditions of Nara, that I am certain that I will be back soon to complete my understanding of this western island of Japan. I would love to know about your experiences. Please post your thoughts using the form below or connect with me on Instagram.

A stroll to Jozenji-dori

Jozenji-dori is the soul of Sendai, the city of trees. Zelkova trees line the boulevard on both sides for about 700 meters, running east to west through the heart of the city. We were double lucky to be there at the time of the Tanabata festival when the entire road leading to Jozenji-dori was filled with colorful Tanabata decorations.

Our day starts from the quiet town of Tendo.

We took the train to Yamagata and from there caught the Shinkansen to Sendai.

Sendai Station was adorned with Tanabata decorations.

We were in the city for just a few hours, so we decided to take a walk to Jizen Dori, one of the popular tourist destinations in the heart of the city. The Sun was quite sharp as we came out of the station.

From the station, we followed the decorations along the streets as we made our way towards Jizen Dori.

There was a never-ending show of tanabata decorations and the streets were crowded as hell.

We kept following the decorated street.

Until we were finally at the popular statue of Jizen Dori

This is an iconic statue of Sendai

After resting for a few moments, we took a bus back to the Sendai Station.

We bid adeu to Sendai, as we left for Matsushima, our next stop in our tour of Tohoku.

Thanks for reading!

Plum blooms of Kairaku-en Garden

Catching the Hitachi at Shinagawa Station

Mito Station

A statue of a farmer on the way to Kairaku-en

Entrance to Kairaku-en

Toko Shrine

Hina Matsuri dolls

Tokiwa Jinja

Entrance to Kairaku-en Plum Garden

Kairaku-en grounds

Mito Hakkei

Kobuntei House

Pink plum bloom near Kobuntei House

Plum garden

White Plum bloom

Going down towards the lower part of the garden

Plum trees

Plum flowers


White Plum

Close up

Going back up to the garden

Viki at Mito Hakkei

Leaving Kairaku-en

At Mito Station to catch the train to Tokyo

Back in Tokyo

Catching the Shinkansen to Kyoto

Thanks for reading!

The illuminated Kenrokuen Garden

This weekend Mani & I head off to the gasshō-zukuri villages of Gokayama. On the way we planned to stop at the lovely Kenroku-en garden, located in Kanazawa, Ishikawa. The Kenroku-en garden is regarded as one of Japans three most beautiful gardens, along with Kairaku-en in the city of Mito and Koraku-en in the city of Okayama.

Ride to Kanazawa

After two solo trips to Shirahama and Nachi, I was bubbling with confidence. I was ready with the train information as we reached Osaka from Nara. Mani had taught me well. We took the Thunderbird train from Kyoto. This route does not run any Shinkansen trains. The Thunderbird limited express trains are the fastest way to Kanazawa from Osaka, travelling over the Tokaido Main Line and then moving on to Kosei Line and eventually up the Hokuriku Line.

Along the way we passed the lovely Lake Biwa. It was a grey day and the grayness made even Lake Biwa look depressed. As the train entered the Fukui area, we saw a bit of snow along the tracks.

We reached the Kanazawa Station at around 1 pm. The station is huge with a sprawling shopping center. Outside the gates there is a huge dome. Towards the front of the metal dome there is a wooden gate named “Tsuzumi-mon,” in the shape of a traditional Japanese instrument called Tsuzumi (hand drums).

The bus stand is just beside the Tsuzumi-mon gate. We took the next available bus to the Kenrokuen Garden. The bus dropped us off near one of the gates to the Park. The one way ride from Kanazawa Station takes about 20 minutes and costs ¥200 per head on the Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus. The bus honored my JR Pass and I didn’t require a ticket.

It was lunchtime, so we decided to take lunch and then visit the garden. The wide road was lined with shops on both sides. A few had snow boots on display, though it didn’t feel like it had snowed recently. I had been thinking of getting one for myself for the tour of Hokkaido, but didn’t find any cool ones. At the corner of the road we found a Subway restaurant. We had a light meal of fries and sandwiches and then began our walk towards the garden.

Kenrokuen Garden with an area of 25 acres, is located on a hill in the central part of the city of Kanazawa, right next to Kanazawa Castle. We entered the park via the Gyokusen Inmaru gate. It leads up to the Gyokusen Inmaru Garden.

Gyokusen Inmaru Garden

The garden was abandoned in the Meiji Era (1868–1912) and was lost to the ravages of time. Not too long ago in 2013, it was reconstructed with the help of a five-year excavation survey that began in 2008. Various old drawings with literary descriptions helped in bringing back the garden as it was during feudal times. In order to preserve the remains of the original garden, new soil was laid over the entire area of the old garden and the new garden was constructed over this layer. The reconstruction was finally completed in March 2015 and public were able to view this lovely work of art that used to be a favorite relaxing place of past feudal lords.

At the other end of the garden, a fleet of stone stairs took us to the Castle grounds. The sprawling snow-white Kanazawa Castle is spread across a huge area.

The castle was originally founded in 1580 and has been razed to the ground in multiple fires. Today the oldest existing structure on the castle grounds is the Ishikawa Gate from 1788.

The castle was first founded by Sakuma Morimasa, who laid the foundation of the moats and the castle town. After the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583, Maeda Toshiie took control and initiated the building of the beautiful castle. Kanazawa’s growth is largely dedicated to the growing power of Maeda Toshiie from 1580 to 1700. It was but a small town of only 5000 people before Maeda and his clan’s continuous efforts put the city on the trade map.

The Maeda clan ruled over the Kaga region from Kanazawa for 14 generations until the coming of the Meiji Restoration. Near the castle, there is another small pond. We sat there for a bit. The best thing I love about being in Japan is there is so much peace and tranquility.

After some time we moved on towards the garden. It was late afternoon by the time we reached the entrance to the garden.

On the road beside the garden there are various shops selling souvenirs and daily use items. Some eateries were exhibiting a special gold dust flavored ice creams. They were quite expensive at ¥800 a piece. We walked along the street, waiting for the evening to set in, since that is when the garden would be illuminated.

We went inside the garden at around 4 pm. There’s an entrance fee of ¥310 per head. The garden is on an elevated hill and one can see the sprawling city of Kanazawa from up here.

The Kenroku-en garden was first established in the 17th century by the feudal lords of Kaga as their private garden. The garden belonged to the Maeda family, who reigned over Ishikawa and Toyama areas during feudal times. It was only after 1874 that the garden was opened to the public.

Kasumiga-ike Pond

Right after we entered the garden, we found ourselves in front of the Kasumiga-ike Pond. It is the biggest pond in the garden and contains many beautiful elements arranged around it such as the Uchihashi-tei tea house, Kotoji lantern, Niji-bashi bridge and the huge Karasaki pine tree.

Kotoji lantern

The stone lantern beside the pond is designed in the image of the Japanese koto (harp). The lantern symbolizes the Kenrokuen Garden and can be found pictured on most tourism pamphlets for Kanazawa. I found the scene of this lantern with the surrounding trees most impressive.

Uchihashi-tei Tea House

On the opposite side of the pond one can find the Uchihashi-tei. It is one of the four tea houses in Kenrokuen. The house is supported by the stone legs but looks as if it is floating on the Kasumiga-ike Pond.

There was still time for the lights to come on so we wandered into the deeper areas of the garden.

Plum Grove Garden

We came across a plum grove where some trees were just beginning to flower. Beside the plum grove one can find the Funanoochin Arbor – a boat-shaped resting area. Sitting here, tourists can enjoy the beauty of plum and cherry blossoms in spring. It must be a fantastic experience sitting in the arbor and reading a book, surrounded by all those plum blooms.

The plum grove was landscaped in 1968, as part of a project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Meiji period. Saplings for the plum grove were gathered from various places across Japan. There are now about 200 trees of different varieties in the grove.

In winter, visitors are treated to the glorious view of snow-covered landscape with yukitsuri holding the pine branches together in beautiful geometric patterns. Yukitsuri is a method of protecting the branches of the pine trees in the garden with ropes attached in a conical array to the trees in order to prevent the branches from breaking. It snows heavily in winter in this region, and the yuki-tsuri keeps the branches of trees from breaking under the weight of snow. Unfortunately there wasn’t any snow around.

Dusk was drawing nearer, when it began to snow. This would be surprising to many, but it was my first experience of a snowfall. The tiny flakes were floating in the light wind, and as I walked, some of them caressed my face gently. It feels so different from the depressing rainfall. Unfortunately within a few minutes, it had started to rain pretty heavily. It was impractical to stay on any longer at the garden, so we headed back to the station.

Update: The Kenroku-en Garden Illumination

I went back during the week to capture the illuminated garden. The kenroku-en illuminations are too good to miss. It was evening by the time I reached the garden. The main gate was closed and visitors were directed towards another gate on the side. A queue had formed very quickly. Most around me appeared to be seasoned photographers, ready with their tripods and flashes. We were allowed entry into the garden at 5 pm. Being a weekday, they had waived off the entry fee for the day.

By 5.30 pm the lights had started to come on. I too had brought along my tripod. I set it up and took some shots near the Kasumiga-ike Pond.

After taking some shots, I walked towards the opposite side of the Kasumiga-ike Pond. From there I shot the below photo of the Pine trees with their reflection falling in the pond.

On the left, beside me the Uchihashi-tei Tea House appeared to be a boathouse in an enchanted forest.

I went around a full circle back to the pine trees. A large group of people had gathered there by then. One by one they would take selfies and move out in a very orderly fashion. I waited for a few minutes and found a moment to capture the glowing pine trees.

Back to the story

After the rain stopped us from enjoying a romantic evening at the Kenroku-en garden we went back to the station. We still had some time for the train to Toyama, so we walked into the shopping complex. The basement is huge and used for holding events and such.

The name Kenroku-en means ‘Six Attributes Garden’. A garden that possesses these six attributes of “spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas” is believed to be the perfect garden. Kenroku-en has them all! I had a lovely time at the garden and would highly recommend going there during winter illuminations.

Thank you for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I walk in knee-deep snow at Ainokura village.

Claim to fame

Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.

When was the Kenroku-en built?

Kenroku-en was built in the Edo period. It used to be the outer garden of the Kanazawa castle.

Who built Kenroku-en?

Kenroku-en garden was created by the Maeda family over three centuries beginning in 1676 CE with a landscape garden called Renchitei. This garden was destroyed by fire in 1759, but was restored in 1774, and in 1822 the garden acquired its current name Kenroku-en.

What is the admission fees to enter Kenroku-en?

320 yen (free during early admission hours)

What are the visiting hours for Kenroku-en?

Regular Hours:
7:00 to 18:00 (March to October 15)
8:00 to 17:00 (October 16 to February)

Early Admission Hours:
From 5:00 (April to August from 4:00, November to February from 6:00)
*Early admission visitors must exit the garden before the start of regular hours

A Walk through Nara Deer Park

The sun was shining and it was a lovely day for a walk in the Nara Deer Park. Nara Park is a huge park in central Nara. Established in 1880, it is the location of many of Nara’s attractions including Todai-ji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofuku-ji, but the star attraction is the herds of Deer roaming freely all over the park. We left our home after a quick breakfast at Nara University Cafeteria.

Nara is best experienced by walking. The closest temple on the map is Kōfuku-ji, around 10 minutes walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. A narrow alley beside the Station connects the road to Kofuku-ji. The road to the temple is lined with souvenir shops and eateries on both sides.


Kōfuku-ji is a Buddhist temple that was once, one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, in the ancient city of Nara. The temple is also one of eight Historic Monuments of Nara inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Kofuku-ji temple area contains 3 main buildings, the biggest being Gojunoto, the five storied pagoda. The first monument we noticed is a three-storied pagoda named Hokuen-do. A flight of stairs took us to  Tokon-do, another temple. Both Hokuen-do and Tokon-do have been designated National Treasures of Japan. There is a stone wash basin just before the Tokon-do temple where one can wash their hands in sparkling cold water. Before praying to the Shinto deity, worshipers are required to purify themselves of impurity. The washing of hands with water is called Temizu. Most shrines have similar stone wash basins where visitors can rinse their hands before approaching the deity.

Just beside the hand-washing fountain/basin is a wooden board where numerous people have tied their prayers on small wooden plaques. These plaques, sold at the Shrine, are called Ema. Worshipers buy the plaque, write their wish on it, then hang it on the Ema stand, in hopes the shrine deity will grant their wish.

The beautiful smell of incense sticks drew us towards the Tokon-do temple. I got one for Mani from a stall beside the temple. They cost 100 Yen each. Mani later told me that the incense was for “Happiness” There were others meant for praying for health and peace too. After lighting the incense, we went directly opposite, towards the five-storied pagoda.

Kofuku-ji was initially built in 1426 in accordance with traditional Japanese construction techniques. Since then, the present building has been rebuilt over time. It measures 50 m in height, making it the second tallest pagoda in Japan. We admired the awe-inspiring architecture for some time. I am short of words to describe the beautiful and majestic pagoda. I have never seen a more huge wooden structure in my life.

Nara Deer Park

A small path towards the back of Kofuku-ji directed us towards the main Park area also known as Nara Koen. The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city. According to the legend, Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto, the kami of the Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki, was once invited to come to Kasuga Taisha, in Nara. He arrived in Nara riding a white deer, and since then the deer are considered sacred beings, divine messengers of Kami. Nara’s deer are tame, although they can be aggressive, specially the male ones, if they think you will feed them. Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed.

We walked past Kōfuku-ji on a narrow path laden with soft pebbles. We bought some Shika Senbei, deer crackers from one of the several stalls. The deer keep loitering around the stalls and they came running towards us as we walked away from the stall. The path opened up into a small meadow where several Deer young-lings were feeding on the green grass. We stayed there among the deer, feeding and playing with them. One of them softly landed a couple of head butts on me. It was fun and will be one of the fondest memories of my life.

After a while we got hungry too and went inside a Ramen shop to have some food.


It was late afternoon when we walked beyond the meadow, up towards the forested Wakakusayama Hill. The path up the hill took us towards Kasuga Taisha. The approach path is lined on both sides with scores of stone lanterns. The lanterns are lit up in times of festivals and it must look awesome. After walking for a few minutes the meadows gave way to a more dense forest as we climbed up the Wakakusayama Hill. Located a short walk towards the Kasuga Shrine main complex is the Kasuga Taisha Shinen Manyo Botanical Garden. This garden displays about 250 kinds of plants described in the Manyoshu, Japan’s oldest collection of poems which dates to the Nara Period. A large part of the garden is dedicated to wisteria flowers which usually bloom from late April to early May. The sun was on its descent so we decided to skip it, hoping to come during spring when the flowers will be in full bloom.

Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. The shrine’s offering hall can be visited free of charge, but there is a paid inner area which provides a closer view of the shrine’s inner buildings. Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns, which have been donated by worshipers. Hundreds of bronze lanterns can be found hanging from the buildings. The lanterns are only lit twice a year during two Lantern Festivals, one in early February and one in mid August. At the gate one can find many souvenir shops. Girls, dressed as beautiful priestess attend to the visitors.

There are many smaller shrines in the woods around Kasuga Taisha, twelve of which are located along a path past the main shrine complex and are dedicated to the twelve lucky gods. Among them are Wakamiya Shrine, known for its dance festival, and Meoto Daikokusha, which enshrines married deities and is said to be fortuitous to matchmaking and marriage. Rather than going inside Kasuga Taisha, we decided to walk along the forest towards these smaller shrines. The path kept going up. It was exciting walking by ourselves surrounded by the dense forest. After reaching  the end of the path at Shin-Yakushiji-Temple, we started our descent back to civilization. Back on the road, the tourists were sparse, so we decided to pay a quick visit to the Todai-ji temple.


Unfortunately the temple had closed at 5 p.m. so we just loitered around the grounds of the temple.

Todai-ji is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple’s influence on government affairs.

Along the approach to Todaiji stands the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate watched over by two fierce looking statues. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, the statues are designated national treasures together with the gate itself.

It was going dark fast. We took some pictures of the gate. Towards the side of the temple is a lovely garden with wooded seats. The heavy camera bag had made me tired. We sat there for a while looking at the beautiful landscape. The slightly chilly winds at dusk felt really good. At 6 p.m. except for the street lights, it was totally dark, so we head back home.

I later went back for a photowalk to Todaiji a couple of times to witness the great Buddha in all its awesomeness. I was also lucky to celebrate New Years Eve at Todaiji when it is opened to public at midnight. If you cannot make it on new years, one can still enjoy a lovely walk in summer evenings at Todaiji when the park is illuminated.


Photo walk in Lal Bagh

It was a beautiful sunny day with streaky clouds and a blue sky, kind of perfect to get my gear out. Mani was taking her JLPT examination so I dropped her off at Christchurch College and took a public bus to Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens.

Lal Bagh is one of the major attractions “within” the city of Bangalore. Spread over almost 250 acres of landscaped terrain, this beautiful garden was laid out in 1760 CE by the famous Mysore ruler, Hyder Ali. The admission tickets are cheap. You also take a guided tour on an eco-friendly buggy, or like me, just stroll around at your own pace.

Initially designed as a 40-acre garden, it boasted plants imported from places like Delhi, Multan. Lahore and Arcot. Because of the gardens many roses and other red flowers, Hyder Ali named it “Lal Bagh” or “Red Garden.” Tippu Sultan, his son, further enriched the garden by introducing seeds and plants from countries such as Afghanistan, Persia, Turkey, and Mauritius. In particular, it was during his time that the pines and oaks from South Africa were introduced into the garden. Thereafter it passed into the care of the British, who added their own touch to the beautiful garden.

The effort put in over the centuries has an immediate effect. Right after buying my admission ticket at the counter outside the gate, I found myself walking through a tunnel of sorts, created by overlaying branches of Bougainvillea. Depending on the season you will see it laden with flowers or just dried branches. Whatever be the case, you will find it enthralling going through this long tunnel.

Lal Bagh Hillock

Once you exit the Bougainvillea tunnel, you will find yourself in front of a granite hillock. Signage placed at the base of the hill declares this rock formation as a “National Geological Monument.”

The hillock was formed by a process known as Peninsular Gneiss – a geological term for a complex mixture of granite rocks extensively developed in peninsular India. The Peninsular Gneiss is among the oldest of rocks on the Earth dating back to 3 billion years. The antiquity of these rocks has attracted geologists from all over the world.

The hill is easy to climb and is also a good starting point. Take a breather at the top and plan a path to your liking as you can view the whole area from here.

This hillock is said to be one of the oldest rock formations on earth, dating back to some 3 billion years!

At the top of the hill, there is a small tower called the Kempe Gowda Tower. This tower is connected to the origins of the city of Bangalore.

Bangalore came into significance in 1537 CE, when Kempe Gowda laid the foundation of the city by building a mud fort. The fort occupants consisted of people of different vocations.

Heads up for tourists wanting to visit, they should start early since as day passes, it gets more and more difficult to breathe on the polluted road to this beautiful garden.

Kempe Gowda established four cardinal towers or mandapas defining limits to the “city.” This Kempe Gowda Tower is supposed to be the southern end of the city. I need to point out that currently, Bengaluru has very much outgrown these boundaries and the tower is now more of within the heart of the city. After Kempe Gowda, Bangalore changed many hands – from the Marathas to the Mughals, followed by Hyder Ali and then his son Tippu Sultan and finally, the British Empire. They have all left their imprints on Bangalore and in turn Lalbagh.

From the hilltop, I started walking towards the south. Lalbagh’s rock is a favorite sit-spot for many visitors. Several Bhutta (roasted corn) and peanut vendors hang around Kempe Gowda’s Mandapa. A decade ago, the Mandapa was not fenced, visitors were able to sit inside the historic monument.

Surrounded by lush grass you can find some lovely pink Tabebuia trees over here. I will try my best to give brief information about these trees as I move through the garden.

Tabebuia avellanedae

Common Name: Pink Tabebuia
Origin: Paraguay & Argentina

A Tabebuia tree is a medium to small flowering tree that is native to the West Indies and South and Central America. This South American import is colloquially known as the ‘pink trumpet‘ or ‘pink lapacho‘ trees and can get up to 49 m tall. Although the gold blooms are most common, the garden features more of the pink variety.

It was the first time I saw the pink Tabebuia in full bloom. I felt rejuvenated in a way I had not in a very long time. Looking at hundreds of those pink trumpet-shaped flowers silhouetted against the clear blue December sky felt like a balm for both eyes and the soul.

During my on-off stays in eastern Japan, I have been blessed to have experienced the blooming of the cherry blossom during spring. An event worthy enough to dedicate an entire festival. Hanami as it is referred to is the Japanese custom of mindfully observing and appreciating the flowers and their transient beauty.

What makes this bloom even more magical is that the trees lose their leaves just before embracing their bright pink flowers. In its homeland South America, the inner bark of the pink trumpet tree is regarded highly for its healing qualities by the indigenous people.

Although Lalbagh dates from 1760, it reached its apogee under two Kew-trained superintendents, John Cameron from 1873 CE to 1908 and Gustav Herman Krumbeigl from 1908 to 1932, who was successively appointed as caretakers of the garden.

I came down the hillock and decided to take a left on the well-laid walker’s path that runs along the periphery of the park.

Lalbagh Lake

Further on I could see quite a few morning joggers. Apart from health enthusiasts, Lal Bagh gets anything around 6,000 to 7,000 visitors every day including quite a few foreigners. Lalbagh Lake is man-made and was earlier just a gorge. The lake project was commissioned in 1890 to provide water to the garden’s plants. There are benches all along the peripheral of the lake, where one can sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the two islands on the lake.

The path goes through a wooded area with many trees. This path is referred to as Walk Trail 2.

After the nursery, there are some wounding paths lined with street lamps. This part of the trail is referred to as ‘Walk Trail 3.’

Parallel to this trail, beyond the short wall on the left, there is a narrow carriageway that runs along the perimeter of Lal Bagh. A signboard will tell you its name- Krumbeigel Road. Not too many of the thousands who traverse this road every day would be aware of the history behind its name. It’s not insignificant that Krumbeigel Road adjoins the precinct of Lal Bagh. If there was anyone — apart from Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan – who contributed more to make the garden what it is today, it perhaps was Krumbeigel, the botanist.

Krumbeigel was invited by Maharaj Nalvadi Krishna Raj Wodeyar to take over as director of the famed garden in 1908. Wodeyar could not have picked a better man for Krumbeigel saw Lal Bagh as the last word on modern botany. He wasn’t interested in beauty alone. He also explored the science of plants. It was under the leadership of German horticulturist Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel that the saplings of these trees and seeds were imported from Indonesia by the Mysore Horticultural Society. 

Even to this day, Lalbagh has the best possible collection of hibiscus and bougainvillea. It was Krumbeigel who brought the concept of a nursery to Lal Bagh. From a mere ornamental garden, Lalbagh was transformed into a scientific park, thanks to Krumbeigel. It was he who began the concept of marking and naming trees by their scientific names.

You can find many photographic opportunities in this area. I loved how this creeper displayed the tiny leaves.

I took some other macro shots. I don’t know the name of this flower. Let us just refer to it as the white hairy flower 🙂

This purple-white budding flower looked beautiful.

After going a full circle, I found myself near the Rose Garden. The wind picked up and I was able to take some very nice shots here. It took me around 2 hours to go a full circle of the lake. If you are just out for a quick walk it will take a lot less.

Here I found some Ixora shrubs. Ixora is native to Asia and its name derives from the word ‘Ishvara‘, a name variously meaning God in India. It is a branched shrub, up to 1 m tall and the leaves are mostly stalkless. Flowers are borne at branch-ends, in dense corymb-like cymes, flower-cluster-stalk very short or absent; bracts about 8 mm long.


Common Name: Flame of the woods / Jungle geranium
Hindi Name: Rukmini
Origin: Southern India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka

After capturing several photos of flowers I walked along the trail to reach the Hibiscus Garden. Near the Hibiscus Garden, you can find many beautiful trees including some Petrea Voluilis.

Petrea Voluilis is a vine or semi-climbing shrub with puberulent stems. As a climbing plant, it grows to a height of 12 meters, but as a shrub, it grows to 4 meters tall. It is found especially on the banks of rivers and streams, from northern Mexico to Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay in the Antilles and Venezuela. Depending on the climate, it can have up to two blooms in the year.

Petrea Voluilis

Common Name: Purple wreath / Queen’s wreath
Hindi Name: Nilmani Lata
Origin: Tropical America

A few meters ahead, you can find one of the oldest trees on the grounds. This is a kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) also known as White Silk Cotton Tree. The girth of the tree, measured at a height of 1.30 m, is around 23 m. Its height is around 26 m (Jun 2, 2012, Measurement on a photo, Cesare). This tree was planted around the year 1800, which makes it at least around 200 years old.

Ceiba pentandra

Common Name: Kapok, Ceiba, White Silk-Cotton Tree
Hindi Name: Safed semal
Origin: Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean

There are about 15 silk cotton trees spread around the garden. Two of them are near the West gate, half a dozen near Siddapur gate, and the remaining around the Glasshouse. White silk-cotton sticks obtained from fruits will be used for making pillows and beds. The wood is very light, hence used for making match sticks and packing cases. Thick roots form hollow spaces large enough for an adult human to hide.

Near the Topiary garden, you will find this Band stand.

Band Stand

The band stand is a circular wooden structure with an artistically elevated roof supported by wooden pillars, which are fixed to a granite platform. Located almost in the center of the garden; it is surrounded by lush green lawns encircled by parapet walls. The garden around the band stand is in the form of a terrace. A panoramic view of the Glass House towards the East and the Topiary garden towards the West can be seen from the band stand.

Near the rest stop, there are also ample opportunities to capture some beautiful flowers.

The Jarul has erect clusters of spectacular flowers that don different shades – mauve, pink, or lilac. The tree is small to medium-sized when it grows in the city, so it is common to see it planted in parks and pathways. However, when it grows away from the city near water bodies, the tree can grow to a great size.

Lagerstromia speciosa

Common Name: Pride of India / Queen Crepe Myrtle
Hindi Name: Jarul
Origin: Tropical Southern Asia

Petals of the flowers are crinkly, like crape and the fruits are oval, woody capsules that stay on the tree for a very long time. The tree is also known by the name Pride of India and is locally called ‘Hole Dasavala‘. There are a couple of beautiful specimens in Lalbagh, on the way from the band stand to the glasshouse.

In earlier times, the Band stand used to be the venue for flower shows.

White-red flowers.

Tiny pink flowers.

From here it is a small walk to the fountain.

Although Hyder Ali initiated the gardens his son, Tipu Sultan, further developed and completed it. The garden has quite a few trees and plants imported from several countries. Along the path are rows of benches with Red Cedar trees on either side providing a wonderful shade on both sides.

Lalbagh Glasshouse

Along the way, one can see the Glass House, built during the British Raj and is said to be modeled on London’s Crystal Palace. It was desolate, but it serves as a venue for Horticultural Shows twice a year on Independence Day (15th Aug) and Republic Day (26th Jan).

Of the many artistic structures in Lalbagh, the Glass House is the most famous one. It is a magnificent structure modeled on the design of the Crystal Palace of England. John Cameron, the then Superintendent of Lalbagh Gardens conceived the idea. This impressive iron and glass glasshouse was designed, manufactured, and shipped to India by Walter Macfarlane and Company of Glasgow, Scotland. It was erected in 1890 partly to accommodate the spectacular flower show that had become a key feature of the garden’s annual calendar. The annual age-old tradition is continued to this day with the flower show organized every year on Republic Day and Independence Day.

In the beginning, this structure was called the “Albert Victor Conservatory” and intended for acclimatizing exotic plant specimens. Now it is popularly known as the Glass House and is being used for conducting the popular biannual Flower shows. It was further extended by the Mysore Iron & Steel Company in 1935.

Walking back towards the entrance you can find some wood sculptures created using the dead trees in the garden. Every year in Bangalore strong winds during October leads to the felling of many large trees.

In 2019 many very old trees got uprooted, some of them over 200 years old. The usual practice used to be that the horticulture department that manages Lalbagh would auction or sell off the deadwood to timber merchants and wood dealers to be chopped up. This time, owing to the antiquity of some of the trees, the department decided to get artists to turn them into sculptures that would be housed in the gardens for public display.

Here lies a beautiful carving of the Buddha. In my opinion, it is a wonderful initiative of making the dead trees come to life again.

I am not posting all the carvings so you find a motivation to visit the garden yourself to see these beautiful works of art in person.

Near the statues, you can also find some more flowers bunched together in different areas of the garden.

White flowers

Right at the exit, I saw a sweet dog trying to get some shut-eye on the bench.

The botanical garden is enriched with numerous native and the exotic flora of wide-ranging diversity, by way of introduction, acclimatization, and multiplication from various parts of the world since its inception in 1760. Today, 2150 species of plants belonging to 673 genera and 140 families can be seen in Lalbagh. The collection of such diverse types of plant wealth has made Lalbagh, a veritable treasure house of plants.

The Lalbagh Botanical garden is a lovely place to relax, unwind & be amidst nature. The Park is a big one but it’s definitely worth it. I went solo and enjoyed every bit of it. Even on a regular weekday, you can find lots of families entertaining themselves. The park contains some eateries. Outside the Lalbagh gate, stalls are selling fresh fruit juice in the morning. Battery-operated buggies are available for the elderly. The park is well maintained and truly worth a visit.

*Updated: July 2021

Admission Timings:

Morning 9 AM to Evening 6 PM

Admission Price

Admission fee is Rs. 30 for adults and Rs. 10 for children.

Is there a camera charge at Lalbagh Botanical Gardens

Yes, since August 2014, there is a Camera charge of Rs.50 per camera. Mobile phones are not subject to this charge.