Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A walk into the bygone days

 After the cruise, our driver wanted to know If we were interested in city tour the next day. The itinerary in the city tour read botanical gardens, historical monuments, souvenir shopping and Singapore flyer. Most of the buildings were photostops. We decided we would explore the city on our own and so gave the city tour a miss. We also had to be back at the hotel by 2.p.m for our sentosa tour.
So, the next day morning, we decided  to  explore the fascinating towns like China town and Little India.  
We wanted to travel like locals and so walked to the nearby bustop to catch bus no 2. There were useful indicators and map  which was easy even for little children to understand and find way through the city. Our destination was Chinatown point. Once inside the bus, we had printed maps which gave us the route details. Also there was a led display flashing the bus stop name. My teens were excited and  enjoyed leading us by following the instructions and map.  
We roamed  around the streets of Chinatown and went to people’s center to get tickets for Universal studios, Gardens by the bay and night safari. People’s center has a good discount offer compared to the counters at the site. For instance universal studios is priced at 72$ at the site while it is 64$ at peoples center, similarly Gardens by the bay costs 18$ while it is marked 32$ at the gardens. Our next day plans were to visit universal studios till 5, then Gardens by the bay till 9 and then for the night safari. But the lady at the travel agency said, It may not be possible to plan so tightly and so we gave up on night safari plan.
From there we took a bus to Serangoon road, enroute I experienced a Singapore Indian’s view about Singapore. While we were traveling in the double decker bus we crossed the river quay bridge which we cruised the previous evening. My daughter immediately drew my attention to the river, while the passenger beside me who was a Singaporean Indian but settled now in Coimbatore india said, “This is nothing but Cooum( a dirty river in madras), they have beautified and turned it into a tourist place. Contrary to belief, Singapore is not such a beautiful city, the center of the city is beautified to draw tourists, the outskirts are dirty and you will find all the filth there”. That was a singaporean’s view who had stayed all his life here and now retired to his home town in India.
We walked through the serangoon road which had its history written on a board at the entrance. Serangoon road and its immediate surroundings  make up “Little India” Little more than 100 years ago, the area was swamp land but, in the late 1920’s the British government set up its own brick kiln and lime pits and their development attracted Indian settlement.
This area rapidly became the centre of Indian life because of the brick and cattle industries. In 1860,  the kilns were discontinued and the cattle were removed in 1936 but, to this day , many Indians still live and work in the area.
We walked through the lengthy road which reminded me of my grandparents place,  Mylapore of the 70’s and 80’s. At the end of the road was the much famous Mustafa. After all, what is a visit to Singapore without a visit to Mustafa. ( Our driver had discouraged us from visiting Mustafa the previous eve, but who was to heed his advice) . Well, this again was so much like Haniffas of KL but very popular in olden days when malls and globalization were unheard of.  
We came out  of Mustafa and the whole road was lined with Indian eateries especially plenty of vegetarian hotels. We chose Ananda Bhavan for lunch and walked back to our hotel 2 kms away at Arab street.
 It was an interesting and enjoyable walk into the bygone days. Within a small area, for example the town centre, the ethnic mosaic of the early settlers is reflected in these towns. The street names range from chinese to european to malay to arabic names and they are well preserved without the shadow of modern architecture falling on them. These towns  still retain their old world charm and are a gentle reminder that some things never change and are here to stay.  
Some pics from the walk where traditional shop houses and quaint curio shops adorn the road giving you an experience of the old and new.  

                                                 China town point & Little India

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fragrance from heavens - Jasmine of the sky

A few months back I walked out of my lift and crossed path with a friend who was enjoying the fragrance of a flower. She immediately brought the flower close to me and said “ Smell this flower, it has a lovely fragrance" .  I smiled back at her on inhaling its ethereal fragrance. I told her this flower is not strange or new to me and I have known it since my student days and  walked away but the lingering fragrance sent me to my pre-university days.

Among the many trees that adorn the avenues of Bangalore, this flowering tree (Indian cork tree) adorned my walkway to my pre-university college in Malleswaram. All along the pathway, the trees that were tall and giantly had clusters of fragrant blossoms hanging from the top that  almost spread its perfume into the whole neighbourhood and even maybe heavens. The beautiful flower clusters which were pristine white in color were called by so perfect a name ‘Akasha mallige’ or ‘Jasmine of the sky’. With even a slight breeze, the flowers would shower on you like  scented  blessings from heaven. 

The sweet smell would tingle your nasal senses and spread its beautiful fragrance all over in no time. I and my friends would enjoy walking past it to get lovely whiffs of its ethereal fragrance. We have tried to put them between the pages of the book but the waxy sap of the flowers would leave a stain on the page and so we avoided that. So,  I and my friends would pick them from the ground and smell it on the way to our  college or back home.

                                       PC: google
I’m still  so in love with this simple unassuming scented wonder of nature called "Jasmine of the sky". It's scent is subtle and pleasant that it can linger on you long after you have passed through the stately trees. Sometimes, like  Pooh  said of (Winnie the pooh fame) " the smallest things take up the most room in your heart" and many times,  creations like this sweet smelling ‘akasha mallige” takes up a lot of room in my heart .

 This tree grows in my neighborhood now and during spring season I walk over to the place just to catch the lovely whiffs of this heavenly fragrance. I also pick some to float them in urulis and the lovely fragrance fills the whole room, cloaking me with warmth and tranquility

Written for Indiblogger's " Inspire a fragrance"  in association with 

An enchanting cruise on the singapore river

 As told Matthews was at the lobby by 6 and so were we. Off we went to Clarke Quay(pronounced key) for the cruise on the Singapore river.
All along as Matthews pointed to the landmarks and  well-preserved buildings, I soaked in the sights of the marvelous city for like I said before It was love at first sight with this city for me.
We reached Clarke quay which was one of the jetties from where the boats take off for the cruise.We walked along the quay where it was buzzing with life and activity. It was a Friday evening and so there was the TGIF spirit. There are an ecletic mix of restaurants,pubs and clubs which are famous for al fresco dining. There are also entertainment spots, adventure sports and many retail shops. Yet again, Mathews seemed to be delighted to share singapore’s story. It was not his job to walk and guide us to the quay, but it must have interested him to share the story.
Some 100 years ago  this place served as a dock to unload cargoes. Due to the proximity to the mouth of the Singapore river, Clarke quay was the centre of commerce. When Raffles signed the agreement for the title of free port, the port had immigrants from neighbouring countries. Within a few months this quay became a hotspot for trading and that was the starting point of all that is Singapore today- affluent, hardworking and today almost matching the developed countries in economy. Later, under Lee kwan Yew, the trading was shifted outside the city and the dirty river was cleaned up to promote tourism. Today, this river tourism earns major tourist revenues for them. 
We reached the jetty and boarded the bum boats. It was a closed boat with an open deck. The seating arrangements were in the enclosure where a video with Singapore story was played. I for the first time was not interested in story or history. I headed to the open deck, did’nt mind the drizzle and wet seats. I sat down and looked around me. The boat sailed and there was a delightful mix of ancient and modern all around me. To my back were the waterfront godowns which bore witness to a time when it was a fishing city and in front of me was the contemporary architectural marvel called Marina Bay sands. To my sides, raffles landing, merlion  park, , various museums, and so many commercial and resort style hotel, water front living condominiums and buildings were vying for attention. What do I see and what do I leave?

 The sights this cruise threw in the twilight hour  is inexplicable. I will leave you with some photographs with which again we did not do justice as we were busy soaking the magical sights and experiencing the aura of this enchanting place. Still I will try to share the delightful mix of ultra modern and traditional architecture which reminds of its rich heritage and a vibrant future.

Now a long visual post alert!

Most of the pics are taken from a sailing boat and may lack focus. click on them to feel the place.
                                              This is where we began our journey Clarke quay

the old ware houses which are now mostly restaurants/hotels and you can experience waterfront living by staying in those houses.
Wow! i have never liked glass and chrome buildings but like they say when you are in love everything seems fair and nice.

The Fullerton hotel, reminded me of Faluknuma palace of hyderabad
The business district, marina bay financial center?
Their guardian of prosperity, The icon of singapore - Merlion ( mermaid base with a lion head) spouting water form merlion park

                                            I am not sure what this foreground building is
                       The singapore flyer and the marina bay sands resort and park . The latter is designed according to chinese vaastu, the hand shaped building is their art exhibit center.
Merlion has witnessed the city’s growth from a fishing and trading port to todays’s affluent city. The replicas and miniatures of this icon of singapore are sold as souveniors. I too bought one for myself and many for my folks. There are 5 merlions in the city.
Will save my experiences about this architectural wonder for another post. I generally hate modern buildings but there are some exceptions. This is one such:)

Esplanade theatres on the bay, shaped like the Durian fruit. It is the city's performing arts venue featuring   operas and concerts

Do you see The founder of Singapore? Sir stamford Raffles 

Some more water front living

One of the bridges you sail under

                        And yes, the banks of the river are famous for al fresco dining. One of the lighted areas front of  a restaurant. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My wishlist city - Singapore:)

From  Golden mile complex (final stop of our bus from KL) to our hotel near Bugis junction,  it was drizzling and so I could see Singapore only through those hazy window panes of the taxi.  Unlike my mood in KL during my landing, I was excited and did not want to miss one single view through those window panes. For this was the city that was on my wishlist since my school days.

During school days,  map  reading was one of my past time. I would spread the atlas in front of me and run my fingers through all those places which my geography teacher had mentioned as beautiful valleys,rivers, volcanoes, plateaus, deserts and cities.

One of the cities that fascinated me was Singapore. It has been an inspiration for lyricists( joyful malaysia, colorful singapore,,,goes the song) and moviemakers who  introduced me to this city as  a beautiful, clean, litter free and disciplined city. I have read that the civic values and  values like punctuality, discipline were not instilled in people overnight. It took them more than 20 years of public education through handbills, films and other media to convert this fishing city into a clean green super city.

I now could see whatever I heard about the city. I saw the discipline on the roads.  At the traffic signals, the cars aligned themselves in a matrix of 3  in the 3 way lane. The pedestrians only crossed at the pedestrian crossing and never ran across the road by holding their hand against the car. There were no puddles or water logging on the road despite rains. Where did the rain water drain? No wonder they must have had good road layers and drainage system.

As I was observing all those city scenes, My taxi   slowed down in the portico of the 18 storey hotel which was to be my place of stay for the next 3 days.  Luckily, this time we and our children got to stay on the 18th  floor on the opposite sides.  After the touristy things like check in,  We took the lift and when we opened our rooms and I went near the window to watch the city below. A huge lawn unfolded in front of my room beside a government primary school.  The  green well maintained lawns were public property.  No one dared to walk over the lawns everybody went around the lawns which was not even fenced or guarded or there was not even a notice board telling people not to walk over the lawns. Yet another example of their  sense of discipline and respecting government laws.

I  then crossed the corridor to my teens room and they had one of the best views of the city – the boats bobbing in the bay faraway with the Singapore flyer. The sky was still grayish  but the drizzle had stopped.

There was  so much to see and do for me in the dream city for the next 3days, I should getover the glamour and poshness of the 4 walls within the room and move outside the hotel to see what’s in store for me. We refreshed and went to the base of the hotel to see the glitzy Arabian mall which had arabian lifestyle products and culture on display. We finished our window shopping and moved towards the hotel lobby by 6.

I  recalled our driver Matthew’s voice when he dropped us.  “We singaporeans are punctual and respect time, so please be  here at the lobby by 6. We will leave for the Rivercruise"

My next post  will be on my cruise  experience down the singapore river.

                                              the traffic alignment that i observed at most signals

There are buttons on the traffic signal lights to halt the traffic so that the pedestrians can cross the road. the traffic halts for 90 secs. Very safe.
there are no puddles or water logs.

                     A quaint quarter of singapore, Arab street(above and below) on which our hotel stands. The other side of the hotel opened to victoria street.

                       The first 3 floors of the hotel is an arabian mall belonging to the hotel group. A window to Arab 'Maal'
                                  /                          the entry to the hotel
  the room view ( the faraway bay and the singapore flyer on the banks of the bay
                                      The lawns in front of the hotel where no one walked again a room view.

To my little princess

The horlicks bottle in the cupboard,  the purple water bottle and tiffinbox that I packed all these days,the towel on the laundryline, the school uniform, the books stacked on the cupboard all remind of me of you sweet heart.

I am not in the present since you left for college and hostel today morning.  I am turning pages of your 17 year old  past since the day you touched our heart and changed our world forever.

I am reminiscing about the times you started gurgling,, the first smile, the first step you took, your first day to school, the way you took care of your little bro, your walks with thatha and patti to the temple for kovil prasadam, to the park, the day you stood on the wooden stool and practised for your first recitation poem " the foreign lands" which got you second prize, the day your photo was published in " the hindu" for the "dance" garam chai ki pyali ho" at age 5 at town hall,  your first film shooting forthe kannada movie " Amma ninna tholinalli", your zest to join the dance class at Dinky's, music class with Pankaja aunty, though you were conventionally young to join. the first prize for cursive writing, the many all rounder awards you received. 

So many of your growing  memories are playing in my mind that my work has come to a stand still.  Your interest to participate in all co-curricular activities, the day you went for your first school trip to nagarjunasagar, the birthday parties that we hosted till the age of 9 and when on your 10th birthday you said you want to celebrate it by feeding the poor, your playtime with your friends and brother( also your fights), our huggies and pampers time where i hug tightly for a few minutes and pamper you both before going to bed, our quiz time with my tummy as buzzer, our story time with karadi tales, your fight time with your brother, your food tantrums and so many more.........  

You brought/ bring so much of joy to us, your smile, your maturity to handle thing and your profound talks always awe us.You are like a ray of sunshine for somebody who has lost his/her hopes on humanity.

I admire the way you make use of every opportunity that comes your way and light up everything and everyone you come in contact with. Your address seems to be your sweet smile for that is how you are identified with “S, the girl with that sweet smile”.

 You put in you heart and soul into whatever you do and to see you enjoy is the joy of my life.

We taught you to believe in yourself, we gave you wings to fly. We made it as strong as we could by providing you the best possible, so that you can take that steady and healthy soar towards your dreams and aspirations.

 But i know as you leave the nest and take your solo flight for your studies , I am sure you will face  the world boldly, confidently, excel and be happy..
The world might see you as a beautiful 17 year old but for me and appa you are untouched by time, You are our cute little princess occupying the throne forever in our heart.

Best wishes to you sweet heart, have a happy flight towards your dreams. May god always have his protecting hand around you. Love you loads that i have no vocabulary to write, tears are welling up my eyes. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Zen garden - Conversations with pathmakers

I am back to reading physical books and am enjoying  page turning and the feel of the paper on my hand. Both reading on screen and physical books have their own pros and cons. But now I feel the joy of reading physical books outweighs the flickering screen read. Moreover, I  dont strain my ageing eyes anymore.

There are so many writers and books today that one is clueless as to whom to invest time and money on.  At times like these I rely on reviews by voracious readers and bloggers like Shilpa, Swapna and my own sis. I am yet to get hold of some of the books that they have reviewed since my local library or friends from whom I borrow dont have them.  But One book I decided I must own and not borrow was  Zen Garden – conversation with pathmakers by Subroto Bagchi which was reviewd by Swapna.

During my last visit to Landmark, I bought the book   zen garden by subroto bagchi.

The book is a compilation of  the very best conversations the author had with influential pathmakers and it talks aobut the qualities which sets a pathmaker apart from a follower. Some ot them featured in this garden are very popular and most of us know the famous pathbreaking  stories like that Nandan Nilekani, GR Gopinath, Kiran Mazumdar, Aamir khan, Dr. Devi Shetty, Kris Gopalakrishnan etc.,

But there are stories of lesser known pathmakers who have maintained a low profile. Their stories are mostly that of  people from humble backgrounds who come from small towns  and have made it big. 

The book decodes the qualities that best describe the qualities of pathmaking. The conversations which were a regular feature originally in ForbesIndia for three years has been presented in twelve clusters with qualities that define pathmaking. Like the quality of determination, vision, love and competence, pain, altruism, wisdom etc.,

For instance, in the cluster on innovation, he talks about the people with innovative spirit. What does the innovator do? What makes him or her restless enough to toil, try, fail, then get up from the mud to succeed only a little, before starting all over again.In this cluster, we read about the founders of Neemrana hotels,make my,biocon, etc.

In the cluster on compassionate leadership he features doctors who have made a huge difference to the society. These doctors( Dr. Devi shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya, Dr. Sharan patil of Sparsh and and Dr. Rao of LV Prasad eye institute have believed that the profession apart from being a source of  personal livelihood is a force of change to deliver long lasting values to the society.Dr. Devi shetty believes that great surgeons come from poor backgrounds as it gives them fire to stay focused.

So many more stories of people whose products we use in our daily life but dont know the story behind it like Wikipedia(Jimmy wales), Orient craft( sudhir Dhingra), eastern treasure India tours(sanghamitra jena) , Rana kapoor(Yes bank) VG Siddhartha (café coffee day), Patu keswani( lemon tree hotel) Badri seshadri),google(Ram shriram)Sujatha keshavan ( indias first design graduate and owner of RAy+keshavan) etc., There are also the pathmaking stories of Cherie Blair, Dalai Lama and Jaggi vasudev.

I didnt read this book in one go although I could have. I read and re-read because I found some of the lines  powerful  and laced with human conscience. For instance, in the conversation with Nandita Lakshmanan who is the founder of "The PRactice", a Public relation company. To Bagchis question on what is her biggest learning she says the words of Infosys co-founder Narayan murthy a clear conscience is the softest pillow and, when in doubt, disclose.

Many such nuggets of wisdom and unique insights made me re-read the book .  The book  makes you believe that ordinary people can do extra-ordinary things. It decodes that unique quality that led to the path makers to the  path of success where power and wisdom combines to give more to society than take from it.

That said, one could be critical about the book saying there are many more pathmakers and if a few people like Ekta kapoor, Sanjna kapoor, shashikant shetty deserved to be featured there were many more too. But Subroto Bagchi himself has said these are the people whom he conversed with in the Zen garden. There could be many more pathmakers and perhaps we can await part 2.

Overall, Zen garden is a valuable addition to my home library. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Malaysia to Singapore by land

Another unique and first experience for me in this trip was crossing an international border by land, from Kuala lumpur to Singapore. It was around 8.30 in the morning, when we checked out and drove to the nearby Berjaya times square. We boarded the Starmart express coach after filling the immigration forms. After continuous running around for 3 days, it was now time to sitback, stretch and relax on the massage couches of the coach.

I was expecting lot of scenic views all along but for a long time after I left the city, there were palms, palms and only palm trees. The travel time was around 6 hours with a short break of 10 minutes at Malacca and 2 stops for immigration and customs check. 

My son urged the driver if he could drive fast, but the driver said it was GPS driven and monitored at the HQ and he could not exceed the speed limit. So, it was smooth and steady drive with no traffic interruptions, no jerks or sudden brakes until we had to stop for stamp of exit at Malaysian border. We got down with our passports and waited for our turn in the queue at the customs and immigration office. The queue here was short and so things moved quickly and we boarded the bus again after our passports were stamped. 

Once you pass the immigration building, the palm views give way to some resorts, backwater views with beautiful water villas  till we reach the second checkpoint.  Here the driver announced that we must unload our baggage for scanning, passport and visa check for our entry into Singapore. The time given here is just 30 minutes. One has to get the processing done and reach the exit gate within 30 minutes to board the same bus, failing which the bus will leave, but the next bus( whenever it comes) will carry the passengers.(the buses are allowed only 30 minute parking time). There were many passengers from other buses at the immigration office, but plenty of counters and swift officials helped speed up the process. So once again it was a smooth sail and we reached our bus well within time. But it is difficult, if you are not agile or drag heavy luggage.

While the trip was longer due to these checks, it was a great experience. The journey threw us sights of the huge Malaysian peninsula which was worthwhile. The blue back  waters,  the water villas (fishing homes)  and the drive on the second link expressway  which links Malaysia with Singapore over the straits of Johor was memorable.

The link way ended in a remarkably green area. The water views gave way to city views of streamlined traffic, majestic MNC buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens. And, I knew I had arrived in the city of merlion, my dream city Singapore. 

It was raining when we entered singapore and it was a drenched Singapore that i saw till we reached the Golden mile complex which was  the  final stop of the bus.

Our starting point

wanted to capture the water villas but the bus was moving and so moved to the next frame

                                There you see the Singapore city a busy  port  from the second link express way
                                                      You can't escape the toll fee anywhere
                                     Singapore through a rainy window
                                        MNC buildings surrounded by  gardens
                                  This is one of the most majestic and world's costliest building
And that's the Singapore flyer equivalent to London eye, They are two of a kind.  Again taken from a moving bus

And I reach Singapore, will take a break from my travelogue which i enjoy writing, my next post a book review of a book i enjoyed reading recently

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The signature of KL- Petronas towers

One of the ubiquitous feature in KL skyline apart from KL tower is Petronas towers or the twin towers. One can’t go around the city without  crossing  this tower. So by the end of the trip,  one could be tired of its sight which is visible from most parts of the city . My first close visit was during the KL city tour. It was around noon when the clouds were cast. The walls of steel reflected the clouds and the building looked like a shiny steel gray building. We  stopped here only for  a photo session. Our driver said that he could get tickets for the following morning to go up the tower. We were open to this idea and thought it would be nice to go up the skybridge to have a view of the city.
Since our itinerary was very tight the next day, we decided to skip the skybridge  as by then we had viewed the sprawling city from the observation deck of KL tower.
But we often awed at the lighted version of the twin towers when we passed through it and decided we would come here on the final day  to click some photos.
And so on the final day, in the evening we went to Petronas. I was initially reluctant to walk till there as i was tired of its sight. But I was wrong,  seeing it from afar or even by the day and seeing up close in its lighted glory are two different things.  And you would struggle trying to get the entire building in one frame on your camera.
It was funny to see people around lying on the floor and squatting to get the picture in one frame.

As for me, I loved watching the lighted twin towers sitting in the small platform in front of it.  Besides, me were so many  foreigners who silently watched the  gargantuan glory. The lighted beauty, the well-maintained garden, pathway   and   the  sound of only  the  fountains radiated  a sense of peace in me.  Unbelievable but true, cos just behind me,  across the glass tile  wall was the traffic of the city.  For that magical  feeling alone, Petronas deserved a separate post from me.  It was very difficult to pull myself out of the place. Absolutely  sublime moments those!

                                                             From the road
                                              See the facade of glass and steel reflect the sky

quite a task to get the towers in  a single frame from close quarter
After many attempts we did or my family did get them in one frame. we got better pictures when our family posed. 

The suria KLCC mall which stores world famous brands
                                         Loved the sound of the waterfall from the fountain. Do you see them below the flash light
                           I turned back to find this festive bunting on the road. Our driver said this is a permanent fixture. And don't miss KL communication  tower standing shyly in the frame
                                         The DBS bank right opposite KLCC. The whole area around looks lighted.
                                 That is the platform in the foreground where we sat and experienced the magical sight

                                           You can read about KLCC tower, its architecture and constituents. This was a hurried pic from my handphone. so could'nt capture in full
                                             The rest of the details about KLCC park are here, in case you are interested.

My next post : KL to S'pore by road.