Most of what I write is from my memory 8 years ago. So some may have changed, some may be inaccurate in some sense.  But here it is…

Kyoto, was the erstwhile imperial capital of Japan in a time that I do not recall at the moment. To enjoy Kyoto in true light, a little context of Japan helps. Japan is a country whose tourism is not much sold in India. Like Sony television, which as a policy sells on its price and on its name, without hardsell, so seems to me the case with Japan in general. I have known many who visit Las Vegas, Sydney, Singapore, and those who have visited Japan. With all justice to these fine places, those who visit Japan and stay awhile there have commented on something intangible about the place which leaves a part if them there and brings a longing back with them that stays.  In fact I would refer to the Tom Cruise monologue in “The Last Samurai”,  “They are an intriguing people. From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seem such discipline…” Histrionics apart I would endorse that.

Kyoto, personifies that quite, hard working perfectionism, harmony of elements and that intangible, harmonious longing that Japan brings within a person. A well kept secret in some sense, Kyoto is about 300-500 KM from Tokyo and about 3 hours by the Shinkansen (bullet train). Compared to Tokyo, the hustle and bustle is nearly absent, except in some quarters and that too much more subtle. There are temples of a quiet, harmonious nature you can perhaps only find in Japan and then the whole place reverbrates a charm that I can remember to the last fahrenheit.   I had been there in March 2000 while on an assignment in Tokyo, taking a break after a hard 3 months of work, courtesy our team leader at the time, a Japan buff himself.

We missed the Shinkansen we had booked ourselves on. I remeber the heartbreak rush taking the Yamanote line from Ebisu to Tokyo central station. Rushing down the umpteen levels to where the Shinkansens stood. With little or no time to revel in the beauty of the Sinhkansen itself we had to board a moving one literally a.k. a India style and more, as we had missed our train, had to go part standing!

We had checked into a hotel, Japanese style, futons to sleep on the floor, Japanese style houses and a nice coldish weather to match. Kyoto has good wide roads, cleanliness that justifies Japanese perfection, greenery in an ample sense and a sense of histrory about the place that can make anyone a Japan buff. There is the Ginkakuji temple in the centre of the city and then on the whole there are 1600 buddhist temples and 270 Shinto shrines, quite a bit alright.  I rememebr Ginkakuji more than  the others because of the breathtaking Japanese gardens there.

Then there was Kiyomizu-dera, where we had Japanese tea and tofu served by elegant Japanese ladies dressed in traditional attire. The cleanliness and culture of the experience smacked of a rustic and sophisticated finesse at the same time that only one word  can describe best “Japanese”. There was much to explore in depth but we only had about a day and a half.

For moving around the city hire bicycles and ride the footpaths, its really lovely and cost effective to an extent you woudnt mind. When we hired them each biycycle cost about 600 yen a day. We stayed for 2 days but for a longer period a better bargain may be possible.

Recommendations to go – Spend 3 days, stay in a traditional Japanese lodge, stay close to Ginkakuji temple. Trek the hill up North of the city, and sleep under the pines in undisturbed brush, visit the buddhist temples, and let meditatation take you over effortlessly. Cycle around like a child unfearing of traffic, rivulets running by. But most importantly book the Shinkansen in time to get there and board it in time too.