We were in Tokyo for around five days, our next stop was Hakuba – a village in the Japanese Alps. As we had no planned itinerary and we also had no intention of Skiing – Hakuba is a skiing destination - we had to figure out where to go.
There is no direct train to Hakuba. We took a bullet train from Ueno Station in Tokyo to Itoigawa and then two more JR trains from there to reach Hakuba. The travel took around 2 hours 15 minutes to reach Itoigawa. I liked Japan for the absolutely stunning nature it has to offer to the world. The view outside the train, with dense forests and the glimpses of far-away snow-capped mountains did not disappoint us. The seats in the Bullet train were very comfortable with a lot of leg space. There was train staff serving the coffee and snacks to the people, that was a paid service. I spent two hours, clicking pictures and convincing myself that I would come back to this magical place again. The forests passing by the side were waving at me, and I was smiling at them. There was a bond between them and me, a bond of happiness, a bond of gratification.
As we stepped down at the Itoigawa station, huge snow-capped mountains presented themselves. The wind was mild, and the weather was cold. Though it was spring, the day-time temperature was around 10 degree Celsius. We took another train to Minami-Otari and then one more from there called as Shinano-Omachi which took us to Hakuba. It took around one hour forty minutes to reach Hakuba from Itoigawa. Minami-Otari was a slow train, and it took us through varied and awe-inspiring landscapes. We crossed a dam and an abandoned village with empty & broken houses. We passed a river and a valley. The train went through a tunnel and on the other side of the tunnel we saw many small waterfalls.
This travel was so exciting that we wished that it could go on. The train had around 30 seats, and there were hardly four people on the train including we both, me and my better-half. The other two had a skiing kit with them. They were going to Hakuba, presumably, for Skiing. The Shinano-Omachi train was slow train, too. We reached Hakuba when it was around six thirty in the evening.
Hakuba is a small village in the lap of Japanese Alps. But even if you do not know much about Skiing, you can visit Hakuba for the fascinating and not much talked about scenery it holds. Hakuba station is a small station. Our guest house was at a five minute's walking distance from there. We freshened up and then decided to go for a stroll. The roads were empty and clean. Japan is known for its cleanliness, and strangely, it is challenging to spot a garbage bin anywhere on the road. Even thin streets and houses sharing boundaries leave no sign of dirt.
As it was already dark, we could not see much of Hakuba that evening; but I knew that Hakuba would not disappoint us. After strolling around for some time, we decided to have dinner. Though I am very selective about food, I enjoyed Japanese food as much I would enjoy Indian food. Ramen, Gyoza, fried chicken, pork cutlet, Tokoyami (also called as 'Octopus balls') are some of the dishes which a non-vegetarian Indian can enjoy. We decided to go to a traditional Japanese restaurant, EMU Restaurant, which was just ten minutes' walk from station. I ordered a chicken cutlet set meal which came with a generous quantity of chicken cutlet, rice, noodles & soup. The Japanese Saki, which is liquor, added its flavours to the dinner.
Next day morning, we headed towards the Happone mountains. There were very few people on the way. Weather was cold, but there was no wind. We reached Hakuba Information Center, and the guy there handed us the map of Hakuba & nearby villages and directed us to the Gondola station, which was around half an hour walk from the Information Center. A Gondola is nothing but a rope-way. On our way to Gondola, we grabbed a cup of coffee and enjoyed the snowy views around. In my opinion, nature gives us the perspective to see the bigger picture than to focus on small matters. The pure air, the look around, the calmness of mind, and my better half with me made me realize that we are so privileged to be able to spend time in nature. We are so fortunate to be physically capable of traveling to these places and appreciate what God has created.
There were all sizes of houses organized well by the side of the road. Outside every home, there were plant-lets placed neatly, and there were umbrellas, too. Sometimes water streams were flowing by the side of the road with some trees standing on the boundary of the water stream. I could hear birds chirping.
Hakuba is not highly populated. As we reached the Gondola Station and booked our tickets, we were directed to the rope-way, and in the next few minutes, the travel to the top of Happone mountain started. Snow has completely covered the mountain, however, on the lower side, where we began our rope-way travel from, presence of snow was inconsistent.
There were three levels on the mountain top, those who were not going for Skiing were advised to get down on level 1. There was irregular sun-light that day, and when we reached we could not clearly see the peak of the mountain. I A thick fog had covered mountain when we arrived, however, in an hour's time, Sun was out, and we were blessed with one of the best sights in the world with snow everywhere. t was the first time that I saw mountains covered in snow, and the experience was terrific. We were standing at the wooden platform, supposedly a terrace of a closed hotel, and could see mountain range had spread all over. Snow shined when sun rays touched it. The clear blue sky was adding its beauty to the scene. There was mild cold wind. Trees which were already dried were present intermittently on the mountain slope. Hardly one person apart from both of us was present on Level 1. We clicked some pictures there, talked for a while about the beauty around and then we decided to start descending the white mountain. We reached Gondola station on level one and took a rope-way to the base. This time we could see whole Hakuba from the rope-way. The lakes, farms, well organised houses, dried trees, roads and a cover of a clear & blue sky created one more unforgettable scene in my mind.
After walking for a few minutes, we came across a parallel road which was covered in trees and water streams on both sides. We decided to take that road, and surprisingly, it took us to a hundred-year-old shrine. There was a huge pine tree which was said to be thousand-year-old. There was a nice short walk from the entrance to the shrine. The pine tree was present by the side of the stairs. It was unusual, and I felt lucky to be able to visit that captivating and apparently lonely place. I love visiting shrines, as they are quite peaceful. In Japan, there are numerous shrines in every city; Japanese people have preserved their culture very well.
It was surprising how Hakuba was unveiling the secrets one by one in front of us. After spending almost half an hour roaming around, assessing the old stairs and of course, clicking pictures with the giant pine tree, we continued our journey. We decided to visit some scenic views in the village and took Google Map's help in finding our ways.
As we walked through the village, the roads were narrow and empty. There were farms around and sometimes small water streams. There were some clouds in the sky, but overall the weather was pleasant. We reached a small bridge and could see a riverbank of 'Matsu' river, which was filled with small & big rocks, bare trees and mountains, not the snow-capped mountains this time. We went to the riverbank and sat there peacefully appreciating nature's beauty around. The experience to see such a beautiful and isolated place was astonishing. There was no single person around. Water was cold, and the sound of the flowing water was cheerful. My heart was reluctant to leave that view and go home & owing to my stubbornness we spent around an hour there just sitting.
Google maps helped us reach home in half an hour after we left the riverbank. After the traditional dinner at a restaurant, we called it a good-night.
Hakuba had exceeded our expectations. The scenery, greenery, snow, and weather were excellent, and my love for Japan grew overnight. Before I closed my eyes that night, I thanked God for making me capable of wandering the places, for letting me be a 'Wandering Soul!!'.