lørdag 10. november 2018

Beijing (Yiheyuan - The Summer Palace)

To get the visas to North Korea, we have to go to their embassy, which is located not far away from my hotel. We arrive too early, which in a way is fine. It gives me some time to sort out a problem that surfaced yesterday evening. I could not locate any ATM that accepted my credit card. Jo, on the other hand, had been able to withdraw money from his card and he had remembered which bank that worked for him. Now, only the task of finding the same bank in the area. Which went fine. Problem solved and we still had time for a coffee before returning to the embassy.

The gate and bridge leading to the Summer Palace going over Suzhou Street.

Suzhou Street.

Aquiring the visas is the simple task of filling in the mandatory forms and then wait for them to be processed. It goes without any problems. To the surprise of most, we find out that we from Norway pay almost half of what the others have to pay for their visas. Of course, you usually have to get an invitation from DPRK to be eligible for a visa. Well, we have now paid the entrance ticket to the country. Tomorrow, we will fly there for real.


The two towers of Four Great Regions.

With the necessities for today finished, I once again venture out into the vast expanse of this huge city. Looking at my map, I make a decision of where to go, but it is a long ride on the subway from where I am.

The Temple of Sea of Wisdom.

One of the Buddhas inside the Temple of Sea of Wisdom.

The Summer Palace (Yíhéyuán) is an Unesco World Heritage Site that consists of a large park and lake with several palaces and temples within its confines. Once an imperial garden, in the Qing Dynasty. The lake, called Kunming, covers 2.9 square kilometres and is all manmade. The Chinese used the excavated soil to create Longevity Hill (Wànshòu Shān), upon which the majority of the buildings of the Summer Palace was built.

Tower of Buddhist Incense.

View from Longevity Hill, Dispelling Clouds Hall and Kunming Lake below.

From the northern entrance, walking into the place is like walking into a separate world. You climb up and then stand at the bridge overlooking Suzhou Street. This street is a shopping street resembling Shantang Street in Suzhou. Only instead of a street with cars running between the shops, there is a river or canal. It is just as busy as a shopping street though, but a lot more scenic. I love walking along the canal on the narrow pavements.

The Pavilion of Precious Clouds.

The Bronze Pavilion with the Tower of Buddhist Incense above.

There is a multitude of paths leading up to the top of Longevity Hill, where the Temple of Sea of Wisdom resides. Some are actually paths going through the forest, but I still follow the winding stairs through the towers and pavilions of the Four Great Regions, made to resemble the Samye Monastery in Tibet. I suspect to fully see everything that the Summer Palace has to offer, you have to invest a lot of time. With all the various paths, Longevity Hill may appear like a labyrinth.

The southern side of the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

Bustling with people near a paifang at the Kunming Lake.

If you has read about my pilgrimage in Japan last year, you know that I am truly fascinated by the Buddhist pagodas. So, there is no wonder that it is the eight storeys tall Tower of Buddhist Incense that catches my eye at the top of Longevity Hill first. It is splendid. I really would like to climb to the top of it, but I guess that it is not possible. From the front of the pagoda there is a wonderful view over the Dispelling Clouds Hall and Kunming Lake below. I do not count the number of stairs I go down on.

Interior of the Great Opera Hall.

The Great Opera Hall.

Down by Kunming lake it is teeming with people, and the Long Corridor is filled with a bustling crowd. I had hoped to have time to walk around the lake, but seeing the size of it is making me reconsider that hope. I would be pressed for time. Anyway, I make my way through the numerous halls on this side of the lake and go towards the small island I had seen from the Tower of Buddhist Incense, Nanhu Island. Out on the lake there is a variety of boats, small paddleboats for hire and the larger ferries carrying people across the lake.

Kunming Lake with Longevity Hill.

Kunming Lake, Jade Spring Hill with the Jade Peak Pagoda in the background.

After going around Nanhu Island and visiting the temples and pavilions there, not to mention looking at Longevity Hill from across the water, I cross back over the bridge with 17 different arches on it. Abandoning my hope of going around the lake, I settle for taking one of the ferries across the lake instead. It is a pleasant alternative, going slowly over the water looking at the magnificent buildings of the manmade hill. I reach shore near a boat made of marble, which replaced a wooden boat that burned down in 1860.

Longevity Hill seen from Kunming Lake.

The Marble Boat.

Time has then left and I find myself again going through the maze on Longevity Hill, on a different path this time. I really did not know about The Summer Palace before I journeyed here to Beijing and so it was a truly wonderful surprise. My only regret is of course that I did not have enough time to see it all, but then, that is making a pretty good bait for a return trip to Beijing. And I might find some time too when I return from North Korea.

One of the towers of Four Great Regions overlooking Beijing.

Four Great Regions.

In the evening, I join Roger and Paula for dinner and we got for a short night walk through the streets. Then we return to our hotel rooms for our last preparations before the journey into North Korea.

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<- Beijing, Tiantan Temple of Heaven

tirsdag 14. august 2018

Beijing (Tiantan - Temple of Heaven)

It did not come off with a good start. After a long flight from Oslo, through Copenhagen, I landed in Beijing and was instantly struck by the high humidity. Things did not get better as I had decided to walk to my hotel from the metro station and the map I had got from the website proved to show the wrong location. Should have taken a taxi. Instead, I spent over an hour trying to locate the hotel, getting wetter and wetter by every minute that passed. I finally found my hotel and although I should have washed my clothes already, I opted for finding a place to eat. It was late afternoon and I was hungry from the long flight. Not to mention, tired and far from being in the local timezone.

In the 'basement' of Galaxy Soho.

People dancing in the streets outside Galaxy Soho in the evening.

Not really knowing where to go, I just set off into the streets. I had got a map now, and armed with that I should find my way back again. After walking around for a while, which really is a fine and fun way to discover a city (of course, seeing all of Beijing this way would take a lot of time), I stumbled across a modern shaped crossover between an office building and shopping mall. Called Soho Galaxy. There, in the open basement, I found a small and nice little joint for having my first dinner in China ever. Nothing fancy, maybe not even a typical Chinese place, but it was a pleasant place nonetheless. I ate my rice and noodles with meat dish, washed down with some local beer, and then stumbled back to my hotel room for an early night. Dark outside, people had gathered outside the building for some evening dance in the streets.

Beijing nightline, from a pavilion in a park.

Various stands of adornments with spaces to sit in, in a shopping mall.

It did not really happen that way, though. Instead, I found myself walking through a park. People were also dancing in the park, for me that meant a pleasant evening walk in the park listening to the music drifting through the trees. I found a pavilion on the top of a small hill overlooking the skyscrapers of the big city. Clouds were lying heavily on the sky, so they stood like tall ghosts with lights alternating between visible and not visible. Then bed found me.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Tiantan, Temple of Heaven.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

I was to share room with the leader of the expedition, Roger Shepherd. Until he arrived, I had some time to do some sightseeing. I had travelled here to Beijing without a plan really, mainly being here for the transit to North Korea. So, the next morning I had actually no idea of what I wanted to see. Looking at the map, I decided to go to visit Tiantan, The Temple of Heaven. Should keep me occupied until I had to return to the hotel when Roger was to arrive. Later, we was to meet the rest of the group and go out for dinner to get to know each others.

Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Looking at the roof of the Imperial Vault of Heaven through the gate of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

The good thing about not having any actual plan is that I do not have any expectations, in that way I did not feel the need to stress around trying to see all I want to see. At Tiantan, I just wandered calmly around taking in the sights. Meaning the wonderful buildings making up the imperial sacrificial altar. Given the number of Chinese population, I was lightyears from being alone.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven on the other side of the Echo Wall.

Inside the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

Tiantan was constructed between 1406 and 1420 as a place for praying to Heaven for good harvests. The largest building in the complex is hence the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Following a 360m long raised walkway called the Vermilion Steps Bridge, you get to the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Similar in construction to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, this also is a circular building, but smaller. Those curious, can try to see if they are able to talk to each other on the opposite sides of the temple, as it is surrounded by what is called the Echo Wall. This wall can seemingly transmit sounds over large distances. Further south, you get to the proper altar, The Circular Mound Altar. The center of the altar is called the Heart of Heaven and is where the Emperor prayed for good weather. The complex contains several other buildings and structures, as well as a park, but these three structures are the most important.

Adornments of the roof of the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven.

Walking next to these old and wonderful buildings is great, but it is far from quiet and relaxing. In the gardens and park surrounding the temple, I find more peace. Here, the Chinese also seems to slow down and keeping it relaxed, unlike the busy throng visiting the temple grounds.

The Circular Mound Altar.

Gates of the Circular Mound Altar.

Satisfied, I return to the hotel, having lunch on the way back. Roger is however delayed, which does not matter. I am fine resting for some time, still not getting into the flow of time here. In fact, he does not arrive until the time we had set for the group to meet. By then, I had gotten time to say hello to Paula and Sinead, the two Australian women joining for the hike in North Korea. The remaining member of the team is another Norwegian, Jo. When Roger shows up, we learn that Jo would not be able to join us for the dinner.

And old oven or furnace at the Circular Mound Altar.

A gate to the park in Tiantan.

We go to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It appear that Roger and Paula has met before, as he had been guiding her on a hike in South Korea a few years ago. The evening is nice and it is good to meet up with the others, getting to know them a little, before we head out for the hike in a remote area of North Korea.

Dragon adornment of a relic in the Fasting Palace.

Dragon Ornament of The Fasting Palace.

Roger has a lot of equipment with him for the trek. Our room soon looks like a command center for some special operations, there are lights blinking everywhere. Tomorrow, we will be going to the North Korean embassy here in Beijing, which is not far from the hotel. After that, I guess I will be back in the tourist costume again. Do not know what I feel about Beijing yet, even though the day has been quite nice.

Tiantan park.

Roof figures of the Animal Killing Pavilion.

Dette innlegget er opprinnelig publisert på min engelske blogg og gjengitt her i sin opprinnelige form.
 Beijing, Yiheyuan The Summer Palace ->

søndag 12. august 2018

Nord-Korea / DPRK: Paektusan Highland Trekking Expedition

It is not a hiking trip that comes first to mind when you hear the name of North Korea or DPRK (The Democratic Republic of Korea). However, this fall I was so fortunate to be able to join a group of foreigners travelling to North Korea to do exactly that. For six days we would be hiking across the pristine and untouched area situated below the sacred mountain of Paektusan, camping each night in our own tents.

This hiking trip is organized by Roger Shepherd, a New Zealander who now works as a tour guide in South Korea through his company Hike Korea. After several years of journeys in North Korea, he has earned such trust that he has been allowed to lead a group of what is supposed to be the first tour of this kind in the country. In North Korea, he has been travelling and hiking around to photograph the mountains. Especially around Paektusan mountain and those located on the Baekdu Daegan ridgeline in the north. He is displaying many of these pictures on his webpage: One Korea Photography. Roger Shepherd is also one of the authors of the guidebook to the Baekdu Daegan trail, which I hiked in 2014, and is how I came in contact with him and which eventually lead to me going hiking in North Korea.

Paektusan is the highest mountain in Korea, with Janggunbong at 2750m the highest point. It is from this mountain the Baekdu Daegan ridgeline begins from and goes through both North and South Korea, all the way to Hallasan on the coast of South Korea. Believed to be the sacred mountain for the Koreans, with the lifeforce called yi flowing down from the mountain and spreading out to the country through all its ridges, rivers, branches and tributaries. The hiking expedition would take us to Paektusan mountain itself, and then over the course of six days take us through the highland plateau situated below the mountain. This area housed many of the secret camps used by the partisans lead by Kim Il-Sung during the Japanese occupation under World War 2, and while hiking we would be visiting several of them. On Paektusan, we would also visit Chonjji lake (Heaven lake), which lies at the bottom of the caldera created by the 946 eruption of the volcano. After the expedition was over, we would travel to Pyongyang to do some sightseeing there.

Map of the Paektusan Highland Trekking Expedition, made by Roger Shepherd (taken from Hike Korea).

To get to North Korea, we was to meet in Beijing and fly from there to Pyongyang (to get the visas required, we have to go to the North Korean embassy in Beijing). Since I already needed to fly to Beijing, I chose to have some few additional days there before and after the visit to DPRK. Here you find my story of my hike in North Korea (I will continuously update the links on this page as I write down my trip reports).

travel dayTravelling to North Korea, Pyongyang and Samjiyon
DPRK hiking day 1:Paektusan
DPRK hiking day 2:Paektusan - Soyeonjibong Secret Camp
DPRK hiking day 3:Soyeonjibong Secret Camp - Ganbaeksan Secret Camp
DPRK hiking day 4:Ganbaeksan Secret Camp
DPRK hiking day 5:Ganbaeksan Secret Camp - Paektusan Secret Camp
DPRK hiking day 6:Paektusan Secret Camp, Rimyongsu, return to Samjiyon
travel dayReturn to Pyongyang
Pyongyang day 1:Pyongyang, Mangyongdae, Pyongyang metro, Tower of Juche Idea, Arc of Triumph
Pyongyang day 2:Pyongyang, Kumsusan, Korean Revolutionary Museum, Tomb of King Tongmyong, Mirim riding club
Pyongyang day 3:Pyongyang, Kaesong, Panmunjom
Beijing day 3:return to Beijing, Beihai
Beijing day 4:Beijing, The Great Wall: Mutianyu
Beijing day 5:Beijing, The Forbidden City, Jingshan
Beijing day 6:Beijing, Dongyue


Dette innlegget er opprinnelig publisert på min engelske blogg og gjengitt her i sin opprinnelige form.

lørdag 11. august 2018

Turrapport om GR1 Sendero Historico for Cicerone Press

I en epost-utveksling med John Hayes, forfatteren av guideboken for GR1 Sendero Historico utgitt av Cicerone, ble jeg bedt om å skrive et gjesteinnlegg for bloggen hans om turen min. Dette innlegget ble så godt mottatt at det ble sendt videre til Cicerone som publiserte det som en turrapport på sine sider:

Trekking the GR1, the Sendero Historico: A Trip Report

Innlegget kan også leses på John Hayes sin blogg (som også inneholder flere av bildene jeg sendte inn):

A Walk Among Ghosts – A Norwegian on the GR1 Sendero Historico.

fredag 10. august 2018

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage: Nyttig informasjon

If traveling to Japan and Shikoku to walk the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage is of interest, I have here tried to provide some useful information about the pilegrimage. Whether you would like to walk the whole trail or just a part of it. I will also try to update this page if I should remember or get hold of more information that can be useful for a potential henro. Otherwise, if there is anything else you are wondering about, use the comments field and I will try to answer as good as I can.

When
The best times to walk the pilgrimage is in springtime or during the fall. These are the times of the year when the temperatures are the most preferable for walking, and the weather is at its most stable. Although, do not expect to walk in any season and not encounter any rain when walking on Shikoku. In the summer it will be very hot, with high humidity, and it is also the time of year with the most rain. July is the rainy month in Japan, but if you want to be brave, it is the month to go. Beware that after heavy rainfall, some parts of the trail going through the mountains will be unwise to walk on. Winter is cold on Shikoku and snow can also be expected, especially on the higher parts of the trail. Services may also be limited during this time. However, it is not so that you should not walk in the summer or winter.

Springtime however, will offer better temperatures and weather. And it comes with the additional beautiful magic of the cherry blossoming in Japan. Be sure to check out the charts for when these wonderful flowers will blossom if you choose to walk in the spring. Autumn on the other side has the fiery red kouyou to boast about, as the foliage will explode in vermilion colors. However, to experience it in full you have to start quite late. November is the best month for this feature, but it will also be colder then. Fall does not come without any warning though, as typhoons are likely to hit the island coming in from the Pacific, but they usually goes quiet in October.

When. Walking in Shikoku in Fall can be a walk in a landscape adorned with different colors. Here from the climb up to Ishizuchisan.

Accommodation
There is nothing in the way of doing the pilgrimage going on a low budget. Camping is generally well accepted on Shikoku, although normal conduct applies. If you are carrying a tent, be sure to carry one that does not need to be pitched to the ground, but are self-standing. With a self-standing tent you can camp more freely, and make better use of the several rest huts and other places on the way that does not have any soft spot available if you are walking with a tent requiring tent plugs to be pitched.

Another low budget option is the various rest huts you will find along the way at several places. Many of these has ample place to sleep inside of, but be aware that the walls of these huts are usually open. Some of the huts you will find is part of a special project called a henro hut, where each hut has it own specific architecture. Not all of these are suitable to sleep in, but they are interesting to check out nevertheless. Some can also be combined with a tent to sleep in, a good combination sometimes if it is raining.

For paid accommodation there are no shortage of options along the route. If western style of accommodation is what you are looking for, there are numerous hotels and business hotels (kind of smaller hotels when it comes to the size of the rooms). However, for the experience of being a henro, choosing the traditional guesthouses used by the pilgrims are recommended. These includes various guesthouses, but most common is a minshuku or a ryokan. If you compare this pilgrimage to the Camino in Spain, these are the albergues of the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage (although private). These offer a single room with tatami mats and a futon to sleep in. You will usually get a dinner and breakfast shared with the other guests at the place. Compared to the albergues in Spain, these are more expensive, but the dinner and breakfast is included in the price. They normally has a private bath available for the henros as well.

At the minshukus or ryokans serving food it is necessary to book before you arrive, at a latest in the morning of the day you will arrive. This might prove to be a little hazzle during your walk sometimes. Although, some places might allow you to stay if you do not require food. Custom is that you arrive before 17 o'clock, and call if you will be late. A stay at a minshuku or ryokan is sort of mandatory to get the full experience of pilgrimage. The difference between a minshuku and a ryokan is apparently the level of service, but truth be told, I have not been able to spot that difference. Booking a place can be difficult if you do not speak Japanese, but an easy way to do it is to make the place you are staying at book the next place.

Accommodation. My sleeping bag inside the zenkonyado next to the Kamojima Onsen, Kamonoyu.

When walking the pilgrimage you also should at least spend one night at a temple. The temples on Shikoku offers two ways of accommodation, shukubō and tsuyado. Staying at a temple (shukubō) is quite similar to staying at a minshuku or ryokan, accommodation-wise, you get a same type of room as in those. However, the temples has a private onsen, or bathhouse, that is more extravagant than the guesthouses. In addition, the temples holds ceremonies, both in the evening and morning, which is worthwhile to attend and make for a special experience of your pilgrimage. You need to book here too, to be sure to get food and a bed (futon). One recommended temple to stay at is temple #6, Anrakuji on the first day, they have a very special and great evening ceremony.

The other accommodation offer you can get at a temple is tsuyado. This is a free place to stay for the night for the henros. Usually, it will be a simple room only, which at need must be shared with other pilgrims. Staying at a tsuyado usually requires that you carry with you what to sleep in (such as a sleeping matress and sleeping bag), but some has futons (#34 Tanemaji for instance, it also has a shower). Toilets are available at a temple. Nothing more is however offered, you either has to bring food with you or go to a place nearby. I would also highly recommend to stay at a tsuyado too on your pilgrimage. Not all temples have tsuyado, and knowing which one is also difficult. Some of the recommended tsuyados that I know of is the already mentioned Tanemaji (#34), Kiyotakiji (#35) and Unpenji (#66). Unpenji is located high up, with several creepy Rakan statues to ne scared of in the night.

At last comes the zenkonyado. If walking on a budget, they are true bliss and heavensent. These are accommodations provided by people or the community that are free for the henros. They will vary in level of comfortion and availability. At a bare minimum these will be a simple space where you can roll out your sleeping matress and bag at, but some do offer amenities such as futons, blankets, air conditions, washing machines (for clothes) and more. Not all of them will be easy to find (some are actually shrines along the way where you can spend the night at, but at so looks like shrines and not places to sleep in). Some of the recommended zenkonyados are Kamonoyu (next to the Kamojima Onsen) and the one provided by Sakae Taxi in Kokufu.

Food
If you are not very picky about what you eat, food will nearly be the least of your problems. There are a multitude of restaurants, cafés and stores on the route. Although, be aware that there will be some days during the year that they will be closed. If staying at a traditional Japanese 'hotel' or guesthouse (such as a minshuku or ryokan), remember that dinner and breakfast are usually available. Plan accordingly and you will not run out of food.

When walking there is one kind of store that you will come across a lot, and that is one under the moniker of a combini/conbini. It is sort of short for a convenience store. Commmon brands are 7/11, Lawson Station, Family Mart and Circle K (but there are some others too). Like the name implies, they sell everything (almost). At a combini you can get more than the food and drinks you require, they sell everything from electronics to clothes. Or if you need a toy to keep you occupied when not walking. Although it may not be the best culinary experience, the food you can get from a combini is more than sufficient for your needs. They sell both hot and cold food, as well as prepared dishes that you can take with you and heat up at where you stay, or they can heat it up for you. It is not uncommon that Japanese eat at a combini.

Food. An example of what you can expect to be served for dinner at a Japanese guesthouse.

Most of the combinis you will find is marked on the maps in the guidebook, as well as other stores, supermarkets and restaurants. By paying attention before you venture into the mountains, where these services are usually more rare, you will have no trouble finding food along the way. Remember that even how often you will come across a place where you can get food, it is always smart to carry with you some sort of an emergency ration in your backpack. Places do close at times or is not open when you come by.

Water and drink
Getting hold of water on the pilgrimage is usually not a problem, except for a couple of sections. Some mention the long walk down to temple #38, Kongōfukuji, for example, especially during the summer. In the summer it is also very hot and humid, so pay close attention to how much water you carry with you. If you see you are starting to run out of water, that is the time to fill it up again. Always fill up on water when you leave your accommodation before you depart.

Of course, getting water at the combinis, stores and restaurants is no problem. Not to forget the temples (the water in the purification basin is usually good to drink). Water sources are however more scarce on the forest paths and in the mountains. Drinking water from the rivers and creeks up in the mountains should probably be ok, as there will be little of human infrastructure up there (in Japan most people are actually living crammed down in the flat areas between the mountains). On the path up to temple #12, Shōsanji, there is a spring available on the way (marked by a paper note of all things), and there is also water next to the resthut near the Ryusuian shrine.

Most notably though, is the considerable amount of vending machines you will find when traveling or walking in Japan. These will sell water too. Not to mention all the other assortments of both hot and cold drinks. The cold drinks will be marked with a blue color, the hot drinks with a red, although I have come over machines where this does not come true. There are also water that have added flavors too.

Know where you are going, the distance to next place to get water, and plan accordingly.

Water and drink. You will find vending machines selling everything from cold to hot drinks all over Shikoku.

Level of difficulty
This is always an individual question sort of, as it depends on your level of fitness. There are some factors that determines the difficulty though. The length of the walk is of course one of them, almost 1200km is taxing to the body. Another issue is the amount of walking on a hard surface.

Most of the walking will be on relatively flat ground, with just moderately degrees of elevation. When the route is taking to the mountains however, the path gets steep. However, rest assured, there are really no places where you will be walking on an exposed path.

Level of difficulty. On the steep path up to Nyotaisan.

For the forest and mountain paths, difficulties will occur when it is raining or has been raining. Then the paths can quickly turn slippery and treacherous. They become henro-korogashi or henro fall down. In the guidebook, most of these sections are marked as that (henro-korogashi). Strangely enough, though, it does not mark the descent from temple #84 (Yashimaji) as it, but be aware that it is one of the steepest descents on the pilgrimage and probably should be avoided during or after heavy rain. Rain might cause and has caused erosion where the paths goes on soft ground. Many will recommend going on the road, if available, instead of on the forest and mountain paths in these conditions.

In the summer, the heat and humidity will prove to be a level of difficulty too.

Maps and guidebooks
If you buy the English (or the Japanese) guidebook, you will have all the maps you need for the pilgrimage. As the guidebook is essentially a book of maps with the route drawn on them, with annotations of most of what you need marked next to the route. Be aware that the maps in the Japanese guidebook are not centered in any particular direction, but that they are centered towards the north in the English. I will however, base my information on the English guidebook as it is probably the one you will use.

In the English guidebook the trail will be marked as a red stipled line. It features small markers on the map, with the distances between them, so you can easily calculate how long you have to walk to a place. All the temples (of course) are marked on the map, with some useful information about them, most useful are the information whether the temple provides shukōbo or not, and how to get to it if you are not walking. The distance to the next temple is also marked next to a temple, which is very useful. Accommodations are marked as a purple square, with the name and phonenumber you can use for booking. The maps are very detailed, but beware of the scale of the maps. They vary between being 1:30000 and 1:60000, and may change from page to page (sometimes I did find myself wondering why I suddenly spent so long time walking, only to find out that I had not noticed that the map had changed scale).

Maps and guidebooks. Example of a page from the English guidebook, essentially a mapbook.

In addition to the maps, the guidebook provides general information about the pilgrimage. It will give you a general information about Kōbō Daishi and Buddhism (Shingon school). Most useful is the information about the henro attire (what items to buy and wear as a pilgrim) and the temple rituals (what to do at a temple), and also info about how to get to Shikoku. There is now also a German guidebook available, written by Oliver Dunskus, that aims to be a practical guide on how to organize the trip, where to stay, important things and a description of each of the temples including the 20 bekkaku temples, no maps in the guidebook though as it is meant to be a companion to the English guidebook with maps. It can be bought from here https://shikoku-tempel-reisefuehrer.jimdosite.com/.

Navigation
Navigation on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage is rarely a problem. The path is very well marked, and in conjunction with the well-detailed maps in the guidebook you should have no trouble finding your way.

Navigation. A waymarker from the early part of the pilgrimage shows the way to temple #2 Gokurakuji.

Waymarkers on the trail comes in a wide variety. The Camino in Spain has its yellow arrows, here they are red (and smaller). Often a little henro figure is present on the path, both with or without a red arrow next to it. Once you get to know them, which should be no problem, you will quickly learn to find your way. Know that the type of waymarkers may change from area to area too. Also be aware that there are very few signs written in English, so you have to learn to use the markers written in Japanese. However, I did not find it difficult. Many of the waymarkers are made by voluntery groups. Note that they are placed in order to do the pilgrimage in numerical order, so if you are doing it the other way around (called Gyaku-uchi or Saka-uchi and is considered more difficult) you will not usually be able to see the waymarkers.

That said, you can expect to come across some places where the waymarking is not so good, but in overall you should be fine.

Getting to and around Shikoku
Assuming that you will be starting from temple #1 (Ryōzenji), Tokushima is the easiest (big) place nearby it. Ryōzenji is located close to the tiny train station at Bandō, which is reached by a short train ride from Tokushima on the JR Kōtuku Line (takes about 20 minutes). There are several ways to get to Tokushima. From Tokyo, I took the Shinkansen to Osaka, and from there an expressbus to Tokushima. You have to take a short one stop train ride to Osaka from the Shin-Osaka station for this. Of course, flying to Osaka instead of Tokyo will make it a tiny bit easier. There are also inland flights to Tokushima airport. Another option is to take a train to Wakayama Port and take the ferry to Shikoku and Tokushima, which is a two hours ride.

Getting around Shikoku is also quite easy. The island boasts a good railway structure, which will be able to bring you to or close to the places on the trail. Some of the trains are also small and is something of an experience in itself. Buses also runs quite frequently between the big cities, with smaller bus lines filling out potentially necessary gaps. The English guidebook has a good overview of the train and bus lines, and often seemingly up-to-date timetables for the most important and useful of them.

Getting to and around Shikoku. Inside the small train going to and from Wakayama Port.

Wildlife
There are two animals that a henro should be on the watch for when walking, one a warm-blooded herbivore, the other a cold-blooded carnivore. The animals that has proven to be the most lethal to henros are the wild boars. They might be aggressive if caught unaware or with their cubs. The small bell (jirei) you buy for the temple rituals is a good thing to use to make them aware of your coming.

For many people, however, it is the snake known as mamushi viper that is the most scary. They are potentially lethal to humans, but antidotes are available. It is good advice to pay attention to the path ahead of you when you walk on the forest or mountain paths, but be aware that snakes can also be found in the middle of civilization too. Know that there are more snakes than the mamushi viper that you probably will meet.

Wildlife. A couple of wild pigs is seen on the road not far from the Iya Kannon shrine on the way to Yuki.

Other creepy crawlies you will encounter are the numerous spiders. There are supposedly no venomous spiders for humans in Japan, but with the rise in globalisation there are some stowaways. The large millipede known as mukade is not lethal, but you do not want to be bitten by one (you should seek medical attention if bitten though).

What to do at a temple, the temple rituals
The English guidebook gives a detailed walkthrough of the temple rituals with a description of how to resite the sutras. The only missing sutra is the one that is specific to the main deity or honzon of the temple. However, in short, this is what you should do at a temple:

1. When you arrive at a temple, you should bow once at the templegate facing the Main Hall.
2. Then you should wash your hands and mouth at the wash basin, then put on your wagesa and juzu.
3. Ring the bell in the bell tower to announce your arrival.
4. Worship and resite the sutras at the Main Hall.
5. Worship and resite the sutras at the Daishi Hall.
6. Receive the temple stamp and calligraphy in your nōkyōchō-book at the temple office.
7. When leaving the temple, face the templegate again and bow once.

To worship and resite the sutras you should do the following (both at the Main and Daishi Hall):
1. Light intense and a candle.
2. Ring the bell once.
3. Place a nameslip (osamefuda) in the corresponding box.
4. Give a donation to the offertory box.
5. Put your hands together and resite the sutras.

What to do at a temple, the temple rituals. Here I stand resiting the sutras at the Nagaoji temple.

Do not view the amount you pay to get the temple stamp as a fee or payment, instead it should be regarded as a donation to the temple.

One important thing to be aware of when doing the pilgrimage is the opening hours of the temple office. It closes at 17 o'clock. This essentially means that you cannot go any or much further if you arrive at a temple after closing time. Then you would have to return to the temple in some way.

Pilgrim / henro attire and items
As opposed to the more famous pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago, in order to be regarded as a proper henro in Japan and on Shikoku, you need to put on a specific pilgrim attire. Note that this is not mandatory and you will be able to complete the pilgrimage without doing so. On the other hand, if you choose not to wear the henro attire, people will not recognize and welcome you as one. Walking with the pilgrim attire will make the local people be more open to you, and assist you on your pilgrimage. It is entirely your choice. Again, the English guidebook gives a full description of what you need and I will here only list the items in short:

1. Sedge hat (sugegasa).
2. White vest (hakui).
3. Bag (zudabukuro), use this to store the intense, candles, nōkyōchō-book and other necessary items in.
4. Rosary (juzu).
5. Pilgrimage-book (nōkyōchō).
6. Pilgrim-staff (kongōzue), note that you should take care of the staff before yourself, the end of the staff should be washed when arriving at a place to stay and you shall not tap the staff when walking on a bridge (as Kōbō Daishi might be sleeping underneath it).
7. Nameslips (osamefuda).
8. Bell (jirei).
9. Stole (wagesa).

Pilgrim / henro attire and items. All the henro attire and items I bought laid out on a bed, with the exception of the staff.

If you start from temple #1 (Ryōzenji), you can get all the necessary items at the temple shop there.

For my own part, I chose not to buy the rosary and the pilgrim-staff. However, I did buy the staff at temple #80 (Kokubunji), so to at least walk some of the pilgrimage with the staff. I did this because I felt that the staff would be too much in my way otherwise, as I like to have my hands free when I walk.

Nōkyōchō-book
A few words about the pilgrimage-book or the nōkyōchō. This serves as a proof that you have visited each temple on the pilgrimage. For each temple you visit, you receive a temple stamp and calligraphy after you have finished resiting the sutras at the Main and Daishi Hall. The calligraphy is handmade as you watch. When you have finished your pilgrimage, you will have an unique souvenir from your adventure. I love getting the Compostela and the pilgrims passport with the stamps in from the Camino de Santiago, but this is way more precious to me.

Note that instead of the book, you can choose to use a scroll or a white vest for the same purpose. If you choose the scroll, there are temples (in Kōyasan for instance) that can mount your finished scroll in a beautiful clothed frame to put on your wall.

Nōkyōchō-book. A view of my Nōkyōchō-book.

Equipment and clothing, what to bring
The most important decision in order to know what to bring with you of equipment, is where you want to spend the night at. If you plan to stay at paid accommodation (such as a minshuku, ryokan, hotel or temple), you will need less equipment and clothes. If you also want to stay at some of the free places along the route (such as a zenkonyado or tsuyado), you will have to bring some additional items (such as sleeping bag and matress). If intending to camp, you will need more.

By any means, a tent is not necessary to do complete the pilgrimage. It will however, provide you with a greater level of flexibility when it comes to find a place to stay for the night. It kind of all depends on what level of budget you are having. Remember that it is essentially not a mountain hike. If you bring a tent with you, it should be a tent that is self-standing and does not require tentplugs to be pitched. You only need to carry with you a sleeping bag and matress if you sleep in a tent, or plan to stay at a free accommodation along the way.

Unless you really really want to cook your own food, or love the sound of a cup of something warm brewing, I would not recommend bringing with you a stove. Getting food is really not difficult, and the various conbinis (and some stores and supermarkets too) will happily warm the food you buy from them.

Bring raingear, whatever the type you prefer, but bring it. It will rain at some point of your pilgrimage. It will be wind too, so if you use a poncho, use a solid one. The sedge hat (sugegasa) is also quite convenient when it rains, as it will bring cover for your head, but when there is a strong wind it could be more troublesome.

Use lightweight shoes for walking, and that has solid soles. The surface you will be walking on will mostly be on hard road, but there are also long stretches that goes on soft surface like forest or mountain paths.

Bring some light and good breathing clothes for the walking. And a lightweight set for the evening. A sweater for cold evenings is also nice to bring, depending on what time of year you will be walking. It will start to be colder in late october. Getting your clothes washed is usually easy. Most accommodations offer laundry to the henros, sometimes for a small fee, sometimes free as osettai to the pilgrims. And there are also laundries available.

Equipment. Bring this, the English guidebook.

On a slightly funny sidenote, most of the paid accommodation offer you a yukata (sort of a pajamas) to use in the evening. With good planning you might then only need to bring what you need of clothes for the walking, and just stick to wearing the yukata in the evenings (you cannot, however, wear it if you leave the accommodation).

Osettai
As a pilgrim or henro on Shikoku, you are very likely to be met with what is known as osettai. This is aid and gifts given to you by the locals (or other henros at times) to help you along on our pilgrimage. Osettai can be everything from foods, drinks and candy, to money or an offer to give you a lift to the next temple or accommodation (very often offered when the weather is bad).

Remember that when you are walking as a henro, you will be walking with Kōbō Daishi (Dōgyō Ninin). So when people are giving you osettai, they are also giving to Kōbō Daishi, hence it is considered rude and impolite to decline the offer of osettai. One thing that is a common courtesy, which I unfortunately learned too late, is to give an osamefuda (nameslip) with your name on as a token of gratitude to the person offering you osettai.

Osettai. After leaving Yuki and Tainohama Beach I received this pack of hot buns with red bean paste as osettai from a passing car.

Options for the visit of Kongōfukuji
Temple #38, Kongōfukuji, is located out on the tip of Cape Ashizuri-misaki. To reach this temple and go the next temple, there are several options. Most pilgrims opt for walking out to the temple, then returning by the same way and go to temple #39 (Enkōji) on the route going from the Shinnen-an shrine (this is the shortest route). If you choose to do this, staying at a guesthouse near this shrine is recommended, as you can ask to leave your backpack there while you visit Kongōfukuji.

However, if you think the same way that I do, it will be nicer to see something new rather than the same scenery that you already has seen. I would recommend walking around the Cape Ashizuri-misaki and opt for one of the three routes leading towards Enkōji after Tosa Shimizu (there are several accommodations in this town). I found the western side of the cape much more beautiful than the eastern side. Be sure to visit the wonderful Ryugu Shrine all down by the cliffs next to the sea, if you do this.

I opted for the walk over the Imanoyama mountain and never did regret that decision. On the way, you can visit the lovely site of the Fujito Yorodori shrine all the way down at the riverbottom. If you walk further to go any of the two other options, you can see the special Tatsukushi / Minokoshi varegated shoreline.

Now, if you still opt for the route leading from Shinnen-an, then at least walk around to Tosa Shimizu before heading back over the eastern side of the cape.

Options for the visit of Kongōfukuji. View of the clifs on the western side of the Cape Ashizuri-misaki.

Useful sites and blogs about the pilgrimage
Here I have gathered some useful sites on the web, as well as some nice blogs to read about other peoples adventures on Shikoku.

Sites with useful information about the pilgrimage:
http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/.

Blogs and tales from other people that has hiked the trail:

Elly Jührend
Following the Arrows (Kat Davis)
Walking Henro (Taryn Bravo)
Henro - Walking my Life
Randomwire
Tali Landsman Art
Ellie Bennett's Blog
Due Cicloamici In Giappone
"Walking Our Camino(s)"
From Hanko to Tokyo - Shikoku 2018 (Timo Nevalainen)

Dette innlegget er opprinnelig publisert på min engelske blogg og gjengitt her i sin opprinnelige form.