Nara does not feature on the popular tourist grid. Few international tourists choose to visit Nara – compared to Kyoto and Tokyo. But if you’re in Japan, a trip to Nara should definitely feature on your itinerary. What’s more, a day should be sufficient to see the major sights.
Nara is conveniently connected to Kyoto and Osaka. Since we stayed in Osaka, we took the Sakaisuji Line train, from Nagahoribashi Station to Nipponbashi Station. From here, we changed to the Sennichimae Line and got off at Osaka Namba Station. We changed to the Kintetsu Limited Express line and got off at Kintetsu Nara Station. Sounds confusing? But it’s pretty simple once you figure it!
The best way to explore Nara is on foot. As you walk from Nara Station towards the town, your first stop would be Nara National Park. Where else, would you see deer scampering in the middle of a town? We didn’t have time to enter this entrance of the park – but truly enjoyed the part of playing the curious onlooker. Children had a field day feeding deer and adults joined in occassionally.
A short walk from here are the Japanese Gardens – Isuien and Yoshikien . Yoshikien Garden doesn’t charge a visitor entry. In autumn, the garden is painted with bright red and orange leaves. One of the inner restricted chambers had a private tea ceremony. Take a break and sit here. Let tourists pass by and time as well.
En-route Todaiji Temple you will come across many smaller gardens. We chose to skip them and enjoy the small pleasures of walking. Todaiji Temple has an impressive front façade. At a distance, the main temple looks spectacular, especially across a backdrop of blue skies. I lit an incense stick and we proceeded towards the main hall. The main hall is a towering structure and houses an enormous statue of Buddha. Once you get over the magnanimity of the statue, you will realise what lies around it.
We skipped the museum and headed towards the main refreshment area. On our way, we stopped by the Ashoka Pillar. We were surprised to see it here. Built to commemorate, ‘The Thousand Priests Service’ on Lord Buddha’s birthday, this statue is inspired by the Ashoka Pillars (named after King Ashoka) in Sarnath, India.
After lunch, our first authentic Japanese meal, we climbed stairs to one of the viewing points at Nigatsu-do Hall. Below, Nara looked untouched, serene and peaceful. As we traced our steps back to the train station, we came across a riot of colours – in the form of trees, leaves and ponds. The sun was about to set and few tourists remained. The walk back – was one of the most scenic routes – we have ever covered.