Hiking the Afterlife: Kumano Kodo Ogumotorigoe
If I had to choose the most memorable section of the Kumano Kodo, one that I could not forget even if I tried to, one that my mind unconsciously keeps flying back to like a magnet...if I had to choose only one, then it is, without a single doubt, the Ogumotorigoe Pass between Koguchi and Nachi. Even now, the area stands – or rather floats, like a gigantic cloud – at the top of my consciousness.
The Kumano Kodo’s Nakahechi Trail is filled with superb hikes, unforgettable landscapes, charming villages, magnificent torii gates and ancient shrines. I love a thousand things about the Kumano Kodo, a thousand things that hold a dear place in my heart, but none of them come close to the haunting memory of the Ogumotorigoe walk.
Crossing the eternal green corridor of the Nakahechi trail’s last hike on my own, I saw Nature’s great power come into play. From the very start at the trailhead in Koguchi, those discreet dark, moss-hidden steps felt like a secret stairway leading to the gates of another realm. Here, when I took the first step, I knew no side routes or shortcuts were possible; there was no turning back. I just had to keep walking up these ancient steps, passing titanic rocks or stepping over monstrous roots waving across the trails like the tentacles of a deep-sea monster. In the early misty morning, I felt like I was being watched. In the afternoon, I understood I was being tested.
The Ogumotorigoe is a challenge of perseverance, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, trying to catch a new breath between each one. The Ogumotorigoe is a path to acceptance as you see the signs which dot the trail and realise that the goal is still a long way ahead of you. The Ogumotorigoe is also a fight with yourself, a quest to find the inner strength to move forward, to show the Kumano Gods you truly are worthy of the rewards waiting on the other side.
Step after step after step, as I was slowly but surely getting closer to the clouds, something started to change in me. I stopped feeling tired. I no longer felt the pain in my legs and feet. The backpack on my back became as light as a feather. The rocks, the roots and the trees, gloomy at first, became allies. The wind howling through the giant cedar trees turned into an enchanting melody. The silent misty mountain seemed to awaken from her sleep, peering with curiosity and care at this tiny adventurer climbing on her back. Halfway through the trail, as I was settling onto a bench for my long-desired lunch break, I had the feeling of living my first moment as a new man.
People say that you come to the Kumano Kodo to be purified, to be reborn, to awaken your true self. At the final steps of the Ogumotorigoe Pass, entering the Nachi precinct more than 7 hours after my departure from Koguchi, I stopped walking at last. Breathing the fresh air, gazing at the great Nachi Falls now visible in the distance and overwhelmed by pride and joy, I finally understood why people told this tale of being born anew. The Ogumotorigoe, as the closing chapter of the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route, is, in itself, a pilgrimage and a lifetime achievement in my eyes. Walking the path of another world through a deep forest full of mysteries, crossing mist and time, making your way to the other side to discover your final goal: a place of wonder built by Nature and Man alike.
The Ogumotorigoe Pass greedily hid treasures far beyond my expectations. Treasures whose beauty only those who have walked the trail can fully realize. The incredible woodwork masterpieces of Seiganto-ji Temple, the natural elegance of Nachi Grand Shrine, the godly sight of Nachi Falls and the gorgeous primaeval forest surrounding it are the very highlights of the Kumano Kodo. After the long journey, the sense of arrival as I reached paradise in Nachi is a tale that I will proudly share with my children and grandchildren, a precious memory in the annals of my existence. I am sure that this feeling is shared by many other people who have challenged the Ogumotorigoe hike.
Here I was, in one piece, taking my time to finally sit down and enjoy the scenery. I had no stress, no worries, no fear: I might be leaving here soon, but here sure won’t leave me.
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