The loop from Hongu Taisha to Hosshinmon-oji, on to Funatama-jinja and then on to Yunomine via the Akgi-goe section of the Nakahechi route is a very popular day walk. A short distance from Funatama-jinja, the route crosses over the Otonashi-gawa. A poem from 1158 reflects the spiritual significance of this place: Although the waters of the Otonashi-gawa are shallow, crossing them washes away the depths of impurity.
And with those words in mind, I should have remembered the fantastic Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau maps have one catch – the gradient diagram is not to scale! So for the next 45 minutes, Veronica and I trudged seemingly vertically up a zig-zagging track, just wide enough for one laden boot after another. Spectacular as it was to climb up, it was discomforting for your starting point to be still in sight directly below, but atleast receding. Not much time was spent reflecting on the task of pilgrims of years gone by hauling themselves and their spirits up this pass.
And I could not help but reflect on the taxi that we passed at Hosshinmon-oji – inviting walkers to cut the loop in half and road it back to Hongu. And then soon after the small group of long-distance walkers who flopped down to wait out the hour until the next bus to Hongu.
But once the ridge is reached and the muttering under the breath finishes, the relatively flat trek amongst ancient forests is a joy. And to finish up in Yunomine, possibly for a soak in equally ancient baths, is well worth it.
In July 2004, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes were registered as UNESCO World Heritage as part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” property. Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau has a great website with details about all the Kumano routes, sights and accommodation – as well as fantastic downloadable maps.