Monday, October 30, 2017

Uniquely Singapore!!

Travelling to Singapore cannot be anything short of exciting!! While all our previous travels have been with travel agents, the limited time they give us to visit pre-selected attractions without the leisure and relaxation we expect on a holiday, was a big let down. So, we decided to do Singapore by ourselves this time! The journey, they say, is far more exciting than the destination, especially if you have been involved in planning every step of the journey. By that measure, our journey began six months ago.

The Planning:

Duration of stay:

Most people told us 3 days would be enough, but since we had planned to explore the city on our own, we decided to give it 5 entire days!

Getting there:

You can get the best airlines deals if you book really early. Be that early worm and block your dates as early as you can! Singapore Airlines is one of the best airlines to fly with but there are local airlines like Indigo, that will fly you for a much cheaper fare. Also, flights from Chennai to Singapore are economical than from anywhere else, and domestic flights are dirt cheap if you book several months in advance. So if you are on a budget, get a domestic flight to Chennai and fly out of Chennai.


We were a group of 3 families, all of us vegetarians, so we zeroed in on Little India and areas around it for our accommodation, just so food shouldn't be an issue. While we were trying to get info on various hotels in that area, a friend who is a local, suggested that we try serviced apartments as an option. Though we were initially sceptical, we fell in love with the apartment when we saw the pictures.

That apartment in the background was where we stayed. With three bedrooms for the three families, a small kitchenette, and an amazing terrace pool overlooking the city, it was way private and cosier than any hotel room could have afforded.

Visa :

Applying for Visa is quite an easy process. Once you have your flight tickets and accommodation confirmation, all you have to do is submit the application locally, a month in advance. That's all about it!

Money exchange:

Of all the exchangers we inquired with Cox and Kings offered the best rates, but we found a local guy whom we convinced (read : bullied!) to give us better rates than C&K.

The Destination:

The guy who said that the journey is more exciting than the destination perhaps wasn't talking about Singapore, because, could this wonderful place be any less exciting? Because the destination was as exciting as the journey!! We visited during Deepawali week and my! what a scene greeted our eyes! The entire Little India area was decked up for the festival of lights! In fact, we got to enjoy an amazing South India festival thali on the morning of the festival, much to our delight!

Getting around:

The city is well connected by MRT and getting around is quite a breeze! And then there were the 11 seater taxis that seemed tailor-made for us! We alternated between these two means of transport according to the ease of travel.

The amazing part of travelling by MRT was that other than English and Chinese, Tamil was the third language of announcements!

Our first stop was Gardens By the Bay. 

The Super Tree Groves is a big attraction. By night, they look even prettier! They are like these huge canopies, towering above you. They are quite a sight at night time when they come alive with a sound and light display!

The Cloud Forest is another amazing attraction enclosed in an airconditioned dome. It takes you all the way up in an escalator and you can walk your way down enjoying the view of the bay and the park below. If you do not want to get on the Singapore Flyer, this would be your best way to look around the place. 

The Flower Dome and the Kids' garden is another great place for all your photo ops! Have a leisurely stroll enjoying flora in all its glory! 

 The Marina Bay Sands Skypark is just across the Gardens and is a climb of 57 levels above the city! Once you get to the top floor, you can enjoy an unending view of the city and sample some amazing food. Best viewed at night, this place also has an Infinity pool if you fancy swimming on top of the world! Across the Bay is the Clarke Quay riverside which is beautifully lit at night time. You can stroll around the place and grab a bite while soaking in the view.

The symbol of Singapore, the Merlion is also by the bay and makes for some memorable pictures standing on the deck. You can also take a ferry ride on the river which we skipped as we were dead tired to do anything else!

We had planned Sentosa Islands on Day 2. Do not miss the cable car ride to the island. You can take the Sentosa express too but I'd recommend the cable way.

I would also recommend that you keep a separate day for Universal studios though both are in the same place. Because combining the two does not let you enjoy everything that is there to see and do.

My top five things to do in Sentosa are the Luge ride, S.E.A aquarium, the Trick Eye Museum, Sentosa Merlion and the Wings of Time.

And yes, don't forget to munch on the Garette popcorn. It is Yum! I don't have a picture because we ate it all at supersonic speed before anyone could think of clicking it!

The Luge Ride is a two-part ride where you go down a hill in a Luge and come back in a Skyride. Didn't seem too exciting at first but trust me, one ride will not be enough! Don't be surprised if kids ask for a second and third round!

The S.E.A Aquarium is one of its kinds with over 800 different species of marine life and more than a lac sea animals! The jellyfishes were my favourite!

The Trick Eye Museum is one of the most amazing places we visited! You could not tell adults apart from kids! Before you go in don't forget to download the Trick Eye Art Cam app on your mobiles. You'll miss most of the fun if you don't. You don't need mobile data to use the app, so freak out clicking the most amazing pictures of your trip! 
The illusions are a lot of fun and we had a field day clicking pictures like never before! Only when our legs refused to carry us anymore, we reluctant carried ourselves outside!

The Wings of Fire is another lovely show by the beach. Using lazer and colourful strobe lights, it tells you an absorbing story of a bird finding it's way back home. It is assisted by two kids who learn the deeper meaning of friendship as they undertake this journey. It is mesmerising, colourful and one of a kind.  Make sure you don't miss this one!

On Day 3 we toured Universal Studios which is by far the best on the Island (have I used that phrase already? :-P) If you take the cable ride to Sentosa, you could try the Sentosa express to Universal Studios the next day. That way you get to enjoy both the rides.

My top five for Universal Studios would be:
1) The Transformers show (you just cannot miss this!!)
2) The Galactica twister ride (But avoid if you have a weak tummy and/or fear of heights, being hung upside down, speed etc etc)
3) The Jurassic Park water ride
4) Lights, Camera, Action @ Water World (Straight out of a Hollywood action movie!)
5) Shrek 4D.

You could avoid Madagascar unless you have really small kids who'd enjoy the show. The Mummy could get a bit scary for the weak hearted.

There's a lot of waiting time before every ride and the long queues and the unending wait could sometimes get torturous. But the wait is worth it, especially for the Transformers Show! If the queue wasn't so serpentine, we'd have gone in for a second time!

This is on the sets of Lights, Camera, Action at the Water World. With live action, gunfire, pirates, fires, and a lot more, you get the feel of being in the center of a Hollywood action flick being shot! The energy of the cast is mindblowing!

The boys are sure to enjoy this drama!

If you want to have the best of Universal Studios start early. You will need an entire day if you want to enjoy all the shows.

 We spent Day 4 at the Jurong Bird Park. Get in by 11am and you can enjoy the Bird show at the Pools Amphitheater. The kids loved the singing parrot, the trained to perfection macaws, hornbills and flamingoes as they went about their tricks!!

Don't forget to include the tram ride in your ticket. Walking through the entire park isn't such a great idea! You can hop on-hop off the tram and have a look at the birds. 

One of the Tram stops is the Lori feeding station. Buy a cup of bird feed and the colourful Loris will flock to you, sit on your head, shoulders, where ever, making for a delightful time with the kids and for the kid in you!

 We visited the Singapore zoo too. But I'd strike it off my list if I'd known it wasn't quite worth the visit. Book a tram ride ticket here too as walking can get your nerves. There's not much to see and our very own Mysore Zoo is way better!

The Night Safari on the same premises promises to be better, but it is quite a farce with the animals being put up on display under lights.

The Sea Lion show was the only saving grace at the Zoo. There are some more feeding shows but at specific times which don't really fit into the schedules of tourists.

Since we stayed in Little India, we hopped on and off into Mustafa's the mall every now and then, when we had the time. It is a great place to shop for souvenirs. You can also shop at China Town and Bugis and the MRT will take you wherever you wish to go!

A local friend recommended the Laska noodles, but I can't say I enjoyed it. I guess it had more to do with our tongues being accustomed to the Indian version of Chinese food which made the authentic Chinese taste tricky!! But there are tons of Indian restaurants in the Little India area if you are missing home food.

 And before we said our goodbyes to Singapore, we treated ourselves to a visual delight at Changi Airport. We took an MRT to T2 to witness the amazing Kinetic Rain - a synchronized movement of over a thousand tear shaped brass droplets forming different patterns. Our terminal T4 had the Enchanted Garden where we clicked our last few memories!

Did you enjoy reading this? If you have visited Singapore before, what was your favourite part? Tell me in the comments section below. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Fault in our Stares.

Ah! The thrill of spotting a rainbow!

Like, it had chosen for her to see it, not the other way around.

She had drawn umpteen rainbows while in school. Finely arched lines on a blue sky, seven colours beautifying its outlines, slanting rain drops in the background, a smiling orange sun, its rays scattered all around, birds flying across the rainbow and a few puffy clouds to add to the was always the same. As she had grown up, the smudging had given way to cleaner lines, the blue sky got speckled with grey tones, sometimes, orange and pink too, the clouds became ill-defined and natural, puddles and umbrellas dotted the scene and a whole other paraphernalia came into existence on paper. But the seven coloured rainbow was always a staple on the rain scene.

As she looked at the rainbow today, she noticed for the first time how faint and indistinguishable the colours were from each other, how sepulchral the sky looked even in face of such a joyous moment sweeping across it, how life seemed brighter on one side and darker on the other side of the rainbow and how the rainbow was the brightest just after the rain. There was no orange sun smiling from behind the puffy clouds - just a subtle trace of its presence somewhere, no slanting rain drops and no birds flying across the rainbow. And if she looked closely enough, she could even spot a twin-rainbow.

The reality was so different from what she had been imagining all along! That a rainbow could give her such a deep and defining moment, was not something she'd have thought. The fault had really been in her stare! 

Join me and fellow bloggers as we run a fortnight of blogging marathon madness at BlogAThon!! 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Does time heal?

Time heals, they say!  Little do they know the meanderings of the nimble heart and the fickle mind. They tease and challenge one another, and they tear and scream but there are days when they leave no trace of that animosity. It is almost as if they are conniving to work in tandem. While the heart will nurse so many wounds that healing becomes impossible, the mind will keep the wounds fresh by scratching them periodically, never letting the healing process to begin.  How long is long enough to know it's time for the healing to begin? Honestly, I don’t think there’s an answer to that.

It’s funny how you never let go of the memories, of the times gone by. And everything you do is a constant reminder of the past, no matter how good, bad or ugly it had been.  The game of blame, the passing of bucks, the if onlys and what ifs, the rewinding of the memory tapes, and replaying it with a better ending each time. The scratching of the wounds never really stops, does it?

You try to think what you could have done differently, what you could have done better, and how you could have reacted - the possibilities are numerous and the outcomes are as numerous as the possibilities. Sometimes, you see endings just like the way you envisioned them to be, but mostly, the endings are the same – a reflection of the present. There are times when you hate the circumstances more than the person responsible for it and at other times you hate the person with an equal vengeance. Many a time, you hate yourself too.

It’s a cross you have to bear on your own, the burden of shattered dreams, of dark nights and darker days, of loneliness, of tears, and that feeling of futility that never seems to go away.

No, time doesn’t heal. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

A to Z Reflections...

When the challenge was announced this year, I had almost made up my mind not to hop in this year. First, I had not been writing much in the past three months, second, my hands had been full with everything under the sun, and third I did not even have a theme in mind.

But again, as they say, old habits die hard! So, after three years of participation, the itch to participate had slowly begun to grow, fuelled by fellow bloggers posting their curtain raiser posts! As I reread some of my own older posts in the hope of landing an idea, I came across a list post I had done long ago. I zeroed in on the theme purely by accident and based on this I did my curtain raiser post albeit a bit late. The real challenge was now to find a 'list of 5' for each of the alphabets. Unlike the last three years, where I was completely ready with some posts and most of the words to begin my posts with, this year was my most unprepared one! But again, writing every day brought me back to my 'form', as they say in cricket.

Yeah! I survived!!
Since I was writing every day, it left me with little time to blog hop, but I think I did pretty well with visiting an average of 12 -15 blogs per day. If I regret something, it is the inability to reply back to the readers' comments. I have always felt the need to reply back to someone who has taken the effort to visit my blog, read my posts, and leave a comment, but I just couldn't manage with the limited time. So forgive me for that. Maybe being more organised next time will help.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing these lists of 5 this year. I struggled with keeping my posts short as I knew there's limited time spent on posts during a blog hop. I even hated myself for restricting the words in many of the posts, but it also taught me to be as brief as possible, which admittedly, I am not very good at! But it gave me food for thought, it let me pick threads from my own life and experiences and left me with ideas for more elaborate posts on some of the topics.

I thank everyone who has been a part of my A to Z journey, nudging me to carry on, on days I have wanted to give up, turning up every day to read and encourage and giving me some brilliant posts to read in return!

Until next year, Ciao!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

When the hills beckon...

When the Shivalik beckons, dare we say nay? When namma Bengaluru was blowing hot and hotter, the hills coaxed us to come visiting, and there was little we could do other than tempting ourselves to be lured. So off we went packing - bags and bums to Shimla.

The route.

There was no direct connection to Shimla, the nearest airport being Chandigarh. From Chandigarh, we drove up the mountains. The toy train was tempting, but it only takes you from Kalka to Shimla. Also, it takes about 5-6 hours by train. Tourists who take that scenic route vouch for the ride but our stay was in Kufri, so we’d be stuck with the pricey, money minting cab drivers in the hills if we chose to travel by train.  Hence the wiser option was to take a cab from Chandigarh and retain the cab for the duration of our stay. 

The climb.

Pine trees stand tall on the mountain slopes, defying gravity and as you go up the winding route, you cannot but escape being drowned in the sheer beauty of the Shivalik. Slowly, colourful houses in pink, green, orange, blue and every other delightful shade start making their appearance and one can only wonder how they manage to balance themselves so precariously on the slopes! 

The best time to visit.

You can visit Shimla any time of the year. 

The place gets covered under snow during December and January, and many people love visiting it during the winter months. There are a lot of activities such as skiing that you can do during the winters. 

Shimla is famous for its apples. If you want to take a tour of the apple orchards and the pomegranate-laden trees, June and July are the best times to visit. The apple trees start flowering by April and May and get fruit laden by June and July. 

And if you just want a place to cool off, summers are great.   

The best place to stay.

Our room
We stayed at Kufri at the Kufri Pacific resorts, which is quite a distance from the main town. But it is an idyllic place to stay, and the temperature is much lower than the rest of Shimla. It is also the center for adventure sports. So, staying here is fun if you don’t mind the ample travelling up and down the hills.

But if you are looking for a central location, Mashobra is ideal because it is surrounded by the other tourist spots and travelling is less stressful.

Shimla town as such is too crowded and I wouldn’t recommend it as an ideal place to stay.

The best things to see and do.

The climb up is via Solan. Mohan Shakti Heritage Museum is on your way up in Solan and is a wonderful place to visit. Your cabbie might have to take a slight detour for about 3 km but it is totally worth your time. Not many people know of this place and hence it is not crowded and allows you to admire the tall statues, the pristine cold marble, the chequered lawn, the landscape and the gardens at leisure!  

Moti, the white one and Tarzan, the brown
Kufri is home to the Himalayan Nature Adventure trek and sports. A 3km trek on horseback takes you to the top of the mountains. You’ll have to book your ride and the activities you wish to undertake before setting off.  

The real adventure is riding on horseback up and down the steep hillside. You aren’t sure if your horse will topple even as it gallops at a steady pace. There were a few mishaps, and we saw a lady fall down. But if you have a good guide, like ours, you are in for luck. Our guide, Satpal expertly ushered his horses, talking to them lovingly while familiarising us with them – Moti, Tarzan and Lovely, on which we rode. He offered us interesting tidbits about the place, about how to balance ourselves on the horse on slopes and luckily, we rode to and fro without any hitch!

The horse takes you to the telescope area, where you’ll see guides offering to show you around the place through their telescopes. I thought it’s more a scam, but look if you want to anyway. For 200/- per person, I thought the prices were too steep and the telescopes did not have the expected zoom. They showed us the Indo-Tibet border, which looked like a row of white coloured houses and nothing to prove that it was indeed the border we were looking at! They showed us the Shimla Vaishno mata temple, Kali mata temple, and the house of Ranchod Das of the 3 idiots fame, besides a few more spots.

That's me, zipping under a cloudy sky!!
A jeep takes you to the adventure spot. You can enjoy Ziplining, Valley crossing, Zorbing, go-karting (in winters), rope bridge, commando net etc. 

For about 2000/- per pack you can enjoy the whole gamut of adventures or even opt for a sharing pack if you wish.

Ziplining was on my to-do list and I did manage to get myself harnessed on the line in spite of the flicker of fear in my heart! But it was totally worth the effort! The adrenalin rush and exhilaration of gliding several hundred feet above the ground is something to be experienced in order to be felt! 

Atop a Yak!

Once you are done with the adventure sports, the jeep drops you back to the horse pick up point, where the yak men await you with their hairy beasts. 
You can take pictures dressed in Himachali attire, complete with a Yak, gun and hat to go with it! 

There was this woman with a basket nesting a python, offering to wrap the reptile around us for a fee! Ugghhh! I wanted to have none of that slimy, slithery, serpent near me!    

And did I mention that we got to enjoy a plate of steaming hot maggi and tea at the end of our trip?
Ah! The happiness of savoring hot food when you are freezing! 

Shimla is famous for the Mall road where you can shop, eat and visit the Hanuman temple at Jakhoo. Two lifts take you up to the Mall road. You’ll have to buy tickets to go up and down in the lift. Enjoy the fresh cherries, and shop for woollen clothes if you like, on the Mall road. There are some good eateries too. There’s an old Christ Church and the Ridge which gives you a lovely view of the hills. Then there’s Johnny’s wax museum, a la Madame Tussauds, on Mall road if you like to see.  

Near the church, you’ll get tempos that’ll take you further up to 8000 ft above sea level, to the famous Jakhoo temple. Here, the world’s tallest - 108feet Hanuman statue towers over in deep orange colour. Legend has it that Lord Hanuman rested here when flying to fetch the Sanjeevani mountain. 

There are plenty of monkeys who will not hesitate to rob you of anything ranging from your dupatta, spectacles, goggles, eatables, bags etc. So be careful.

There are plenty of museums, and the two worth seeing are the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies museum and the Army Heritage museum if Indian history interests you.

You could get a tour of the apple orchards if you visit in the monsoon. But, also be prepared for heavy traffic jams caused by apple laden trucks and slippery roads due to rainfall.
You can also go skiing in the winters, and enjoy other winter sports too.

Chail was on our way back to Chandigarh. So, we visited the Kali mata temple and the world’s highest cricket ground at Chail. I think you can give it a miss, because there’s not much to talk about it. The cricket ground does not resemble a cricket ground and is more like a school playground for the kids of the Army school in the campus. 

Overall, the experience was good. It was a break away from the scorching summer heat. But the winding roads did make me sick. So, if you are averse to the twists and turns of the mountains, take adequate precautions. A light meal and some sour candies should keep your tummy from flipping over.

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