Senjougahara Nature Trail: Nikko’s underrated charm
Nikko, a beautiful city nestled amidst the mountains in Tochigi prefecture, woos tourist from near and far. The extended weekend of Labor Thanksgiving provided the perfect opportunity to escape the usual drudgery and get lost in the quaint old city.
A cursory web search of Nikko would most likely throw up the usual suspects – The Toshugu Shrine, the Rinnoji temple and the Futarasan Shrine. These have been much glorified as ‘UNESCO World Heritage’ sites. Roam around central Nikko and every other sign board would invariably lead you to them.
Granted that these are historical marvels and for someone completely new to Japan, the temples and shrines does provide a brilliant perspective of Edo architecture. However, if you have stayed in Japan for some time and have already seen many such temples (as I did) before you visit Nikko, there’s a different side to Nikko that one may consider. A vast expanse of beauty that it hides gently.
On Saturday, after exhausting the shrines and deliberately losing ourselves in Nikko’s back alleys, we treated ourselves to some ramen, one of the best that I have tried yet in Japan so far. It is highly recommended to anyone visiting Nikko. Located opposite the Sunkus conbini , it is at a stone’s throw from the Tobu-Nikko station.
Thereafter, we retired for the night at a backpacker’s hostel. After soaking up the beauty of Lake Chuzenji early morning, we dropped off at Ryuzu Falls, which is the starting point of the 8 km quiet nature trail or hike as you may call it. Climb parallel for approximately fifteen minutes to reach the topmost accessible point.
Thereafter, the Senjougahara marshlands started to take shape. Senjougahara, which translates to ‘Field of Battle’, preaches a popular myth that the Gods fought over these marshlands eons ago. So surreal was the setting that it reminded me of those in ‘Game of Thrones’. It was a rugged melange of dried up trees, cascading waterfalls and wooden bridges.
There is even a warning sign that tells us to be wary of bears and monkeys. However, such an interesting confrontation was not in the offing! The trail, though a conveniently guided one, offered some detours as well such as Odasirogahara, another nearby moor.
Soon, a sea of shining gold at the foothills of the black mountains greets you. It was single-handedly the most captivating vision that is still etched in my memory. Perhaps this is what portions of African wilds or America’s national parks look like. Such was the all-encompassing nature of the landscape. Spend some time on the neat benches and soak in the aura that hangs in the air. If peace was your calling, this was your answer.
Just as those legs were beginning to wear down a bit, Lake Yunoko, perched on top of Yudaki Falls, at an elevation of 1475 metres, made its presence felt. The smell of sulfur was palpable. The lake, formed when the lava from Mount Mitsudake blocked the Yugawa river, is considered a ‘mecca of fishing’ and abounds in graylings, trouts and carps.
As we set forth for the quiet forest route girding the lake, the icicles strewn along the path announced the imminence of another frigid winter. At the end of it, the majestic Mount Nantai materialized on the western fringes. A trek up that one is due in the future!
At Yumoto Onsen, we reached the end of the hike to find snow-capped mountains in the background. It was an intensely rewarding day out of Tokyo’s bustle and a perfect one to soothe the tired nerves. Consider it for your next trip to Nikko!