Saturday, 8 July 2017

Japan Tour (3 - 11 May 2017), Day 7 : Route 308

At the highest point on Kuragari Pass
Rolling out from our hotel
The quiet street outside our hotel
At the National Museum of Nara
Todaiji Temple
Rear view of the temple
The great bell tower
A well in the complex
Dabbing in the House of God!
Respect the Deer
Bus stop outside Sukiya
Smart bus conductors
Smart bus conductors
The start of our ascent
Nara city in the background
2 men enjoying the view

Extracted from a Japanese site
Extracted from a Japanese site
Route 308

Waiting at the traffic lights to turn left for Nara Deer Park, Claudine gave a loud shriek!!!! Her screams startled Bernie and the waiting cars. However, VT and Suzie had anticipated the whole drama. In fact, both had discussed about the black crow hovering above the trees, then reversed their bikes to save themselves. Both, did not considered telling Claudine to move away!

Our first sight of deer!
A black crow is a big bird and the droppings can be really heavy! It first fell with a loud plop on Claudine's helmet, before rolling down with a muffled thud on her shoulder. As the light turned green just after the launch, she had to ride on with the warm sensation all the way to Nara National Museum before any attempt to clean up can commence.

Considering that the museum shares the same ground as the deer park, we started spotting them even from the front entrance. These deer are not as people friendly as the ones on Miyajima Island but some do allow us to get close enough for photos.

Making our way to Todaiji temple, the deer continued to shadow us. Regarded as messengers of God in the Shinto religion, they roamed freely out of harm's way.

By Day 7, VT and Claudine were beginning to get bored with temples, despite the Unesco World Heritage status. However, Bernie and Suzie were bent on seeing the world's largest bronzed statue of Buddha. They entered the religious site while the former had a zen time by the pond.

We met this ex army personnel outside Sukiya. He served in Malaysia, during Dr M and LKY's days
Good and affordable chain of Japanese restaurant in Japan
Finally on the move again, we returned to the city center for a good tuck in at Sukiya. Thereafter, we stocked up on food supplies from the nearby 7 Eleven. Bernie had lamented many times that today's route is hilly but nobody could have prepared us for what stood ahead.

Cruising out of the city, the roads get narrower and narrower. Indications of bike paths started appearing in green paint in the outskirts of Nara. Out of the city, our ascend started gradually in grades of 1-3%.

Riding under a rail bridge, a motorcyclist slowed down to greet us. It was our bell boy from Hotel Fujita Nara! He could have warned us on our silly quest but sent us off with a "Good Day!"

After a slight pant uphill, through farmlands, we finally arrived at the foothill of Route 308. 3 wrinkly people in grey hair were sitting by the narrow road watching the day pass them by. They looked amused when they saw us, sending us off with "Gambateh!"

More thrilled on making contact with the old folks, the severity of this route had not dawned on us yet. However, 100 meters later, we were off our saddles and pushing our way up! A Rolls Royce parked in one of the homes here made VT wonder how it got there without scratching its fenders.

A couple of kilometers later, we crossed a narrow bridge that traversed the highway below. Looking through the wired fencing, Nara city lay to our left while another bridge, similar to ours was visible to our right.

Crossing over to the other side of the bridge we came upon rural homes. We continued our ascent, this time passing a bamboo forest. One or two cars passed us by with the drivers casting strange glances at us. When they came close, we had to move aside, sometimes even getting off the road to allow them passage.

After a good sweat out, we were delighted to cruise downhill. We were allowed a short run to a road intersection below. One side was a small paddy field while the entrance to Yamatokoriyama-shi park was on the other side. Instead, we headed for the narrow road that ran uphill through a forest. 

As we pushed hard, a handful of youths were jogging past us. Claudine offered them 500 Yen to push her bike up but all refused her offer! 

There was very little opportunity to ride from here on. The next 3 km to the peak is about 6.6% , some sections even going above 10% . Upon seeing our first vending machine was akin to seeing an oasis! We stopped for lunch, munching on our supplies and eager to throw off the extra weight on our bikes!

Looks like this place has gone out of business
Possibly a park with accomodations
Forest trails
Religious idols
We continued treading uphill after lunch. A shop which could have gone out of business due to lack of visitors still bears the route numbers "308" in lego blocks. We passed a few stone idols, a forest path and even a hotel???

Soon, we began to roll downhill again. At the foot of the hill was a footbath facility next to a few blocks of flats. Provided free, it tapped on an underground hot springs. Clean toilets were also made available in the compound.

Old and new stone paved road
It began to drizzle when we were enjoying the footbath. Making our way up Kuragari pass, our next mountain, the drizzle continued to come and go. Being part of Japan's national highway, it is the only remaining stone paved road in Japan!

House with collapsed foundations just next to the road
High vantage point with view of Nara city below
Toilets and vending machines along the route
As part of the mountain ranges of Mount Ikoma, the climb on the east side i.e. on the Nara Perfecture side was a mean 10.7% grade on Strava. Some sections on this stretch can be as steep as 26%. No wonder we were stopping every 50 m or so, even on foot!!!

Almost to the top of the hill, the landscapes changed and became more tantalizing. Terraced rice fields decked the hill slopes. A wooden water wheel drew water from the river to irrigate the fields. A quaint looking cafe sits at the top, teasing us!

Help yourself to the eggs. Just place the money in the basket
Did they mean fertilized eggs? If yes, are they similar to balut?
Cautious that it could be a tourist trap, Claudine entered the cafe to check out the prices. The whole menu was in Japanese and it was impossible to communicate. But the refrigerator outside has a bottle of Coke going at 150 Yen which was reasonable as vending machines were already a minimal 130 Yen.

Deciding to take a well deserved break we made the stop and was surprised at the warm hospitality we received. The owner invited us to park our bikes inside the empty cafe and even allowed us to use the toilet in their own house! Using google translate, they managed to ask where we are from!!!

This route was even featured in the local magazine!
Route 308
Our cafe lady!
Throughout the way, Bernie had used his handphone to navigate. His battery level was on an all time low by the time we arrived at this quaint cafe. Itching to do a live video, we soon discovered phone signals on top of the hill is intermittent. Posting a photo on FB can take more than half hour!!!

Recharged, we left our cafe and made our way through the underpass. Coming out on the other side, was a few shops! A Japanese lady came out eagerly when she saw us but sadly for her, we were not ready for another coffee. Instead, she offered to take our group photos on the Osaka side of Kuragari pass! You see, we have crossed the state border!!!

Little did we realize, we will soon commence our descend. It had started to rain and the weather was quite chilly. Initially excited, we soon began to worry. The downhills were steep and our brakes were screeching. At one point, the descent can be as steep as 33%. The rain was making the stone pave road wet and slippery.

Midway downhill, we came upon a temple. The electronic thermostat there stated the temperature as 16 degrees Celsius! Bernie made a stop there to readjust his brake calipers as the brake pads were wearing out!! Our rims were hot!!!!

Further downhill, horizontal ridges between each stone slab made our bikes go "thud" every time the wheels rolled over the grooves. Each time, we prayed hard our tyres will not burst.

Bernie and Suzie were the daredevils. They rolled down most of the way. VT and Claudine were more cautious. Sometimes they rolled, other times, they chose LIFE!!!

Peering ahead later, Claudine was curious why the couple ahead were waiting by the side of the road. The ridges had become as wide as a small drain and they had thought better to caution the other party.


We soon see the river that ran parallel to the road. Then, we were back to civilization, leaving the forest behind. However, our downhill journey continued all the way to the railway line below.

Osaka City
VT got left behind when the lights turned red!
Bike path on a busy road made us decide to use the pedestrian walkway instead!
Finally on level ground again, we had to make our way to our hotel in the city. With another 20 km to go, we were practically weaving through after work traffic in the city. Stopping at every block's traffic lights, our journey to the hotel was painfully slow.

A well deserved medal
We took 7.5 hours starting from Nara's Sukiya all the way to Hotel Rihga Nakanoshima. Backpacking man claimed he did it in only 7 hours from Osaka's side while Nigel did it in 8 hours!!! A journey of only 32 km, we certainly had no idea it will take us this long to complete!

Rihga Nakanoshima
Rihga Nakanoshima
First contact, Rapha Osaka

Photo Credits ;
1. Suzie Juliet
2. Romeo Bernie

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