A Day on the Old Silk Route

It was long travelling distances leading to high altitude destinations, where cold winds were abundant and oxygen levels lower. For those of us travelling across North and East Sikkim, it had been a long and a tiring trip thus far. Each day of our weeklong travel through this little but important Indian state had been a different experience.

This post is part of our weeklong stay in Sikkim covering Gangtok – Mangan – Lachen – Gurudongmar- Lachung- Zero point – Rumtek – Gangtok – Nathula – Zuluk – Siliguri

Long ago, I had seen a jaw dropping photograph of the old silk-route winding and passing through Sikkim. It had since been my wish to see that view in real. The old silk-route had once served as a major trade route connecting China with the rest of Asia and Middle east. During this trip in Sikkim, we decided to drive along that scenic route during our exit from this tiny state. Hence, the route chosen by us was: Gangtok > Tsongmo/Changu lake > Nathula Pass > Nathang valley > Lungthung village > Thambi viewpoint > Zuluk >Rangpo > Siliguri

The Details:

Only Indian nationals are permitted on this stretch of East Sikkim and an inner line permit was obtained from Gangtok on the morning of our departure.

It had been a cloudy day since dawn break and the drive for the initial stretch felt pleasant as we passed through the wavering peace flags all along the highway. We learnt about the significance of these peace posts in Buddhist culture while conversing with our taxi driver. The white flags are installed in memory of a deceased person by their kith. Similarly, the multicolored flags are believed to bring good luck. Ideally, these flags are supposed to be installed high up in the mountains where the winds are stronger. The wind is believed to free-up the soul of the deceased or bring good energy, depending on the flag’s colour. With reducing space for hoisting more flags and the ease of finding a hoisting place by the roadside, it is now common to find them all along the highways of this Buddhist majority state.

Sooner, the clouds cleared up making way for a gleaming sun in the blue sky. We arrived at the Tsomgo lake in a while. It is a serene lake that is popular among the tourists. We clicked a few photos with the yaks grazing around its periphery before proceeding towards the Indo-China border at Nathula pass.

Nathula was crowded. People were amok and erratic. They had no idea what to expect at an international border. Some were standing in attention with a salute to the Indian tricolor, some were touching and praying the fence that marked the border. Some were putting their feet across the barbed wire to get a feel of going to China and a few more were busy chasing the men in uniform of the Indian army for selfies. And for us, it was a urge to run back to the warmth of the heater of our vehicle 😛 It was biting cold even during the peak of the day. We walked up to the point, saw the border gates of both India and China, the respective embassy buildings, the Chinese and the Indian army camps posted high up and also got a distant view of the mountains that marked Bhutan. We did a quick walk through, taking in all the good views and returned to our vehicle as quickly as we could.

The view enroute Nathula pass
The view enroute Nathula pass Photo credit: Varsha J.

After squeezing out of the maddening crowd at Nathula, we continued our journey towards Nathang valley, only to be stuck in one of the worst traffic jams we had experienced in Sikkim. The last and the major destination on a typical touristy circuit is the temple of Baba Harbhajan Singh. Baba Harbhajan Singh is a folklore hero and an ex-army soldier whose spirit is believed to be roaming around the place, protecting the soldiers posted at this extreme terrain. There are old and the new temples dedicated to him, both maintained by the Indian army. We managed to find our way out of the choco block and continued towards Nathang valley.

Beyond the army temple, I can conveniently say that it was just us all the way. The roads were deserted, except for some BRO trucks and excavators clearing up the landslide prone path and laying new roads. We passed through what the army claims to be world’s highest altitude golf course, several army camps and tiny discrete civilian settlements along our way. Our drive through Nathang valley, thereafter, was something beyond comprehension for our senses, it was so beautiful!

All that we had envisaged of this journey at the time of commencing this drive was passing through a viewpoint and reaching Siliguri for the night’s stay. But as the journey unfolded, we were in for surprises. That day, the clouds had embraced the valley like never before. The road that we were driving on, seemed as if it was curving around the edge of the land. It was clear blue sky with the sun beaming bright and the thick clouds engulfing the horizon. The rhododendron plants had blanketed the entire valley, which I’m sure must be a visual delight during their blooming season. We stopped, like at every half a mile to capture the landscape in our cameras, alas justice be done to what the human eyes saw.

The drive through Nathang valley
Driving through the edge, above the clouds at Nathang valley

But by late afternoon, the sun had started to descend to the horizon and the fog had taken over again. Our visibility of the road ahead and the possibility to see the view that we wanted, had both now become zero. Our driver soon pulled off our vehicle at a tiny settlement enroute to enquire for availability of a place for us to stay for the night. Lungthung is a tiny village on the valley, with barely 3-4 houses, that too made with metal sheets. By staying in a homestay there, we were going to be the only outsiders for that night at Lungthung!

The mercury level was already below zero. But as the night rolled in, the winds too got stronger. The clouds cleared up and the stars and the planets shone brighter than ever. It was our last night at Sikkim and the coldest too! Even as we sat inside the host’s dining room, relishing the handmade thenthuk, we felt like our roof was going to be taken away by the winds. No amount of firewood could keep us warm. Even if we simply stood up for a moment to adjust our seats, they would freeze again. But as I said earlier, it was our last evening at Sikkim before we got back to the grind. There was no way we would hit the bed early. We sat outside, counting stars quite literally… The sky was clear, the moon lit up the road below and a lone filament bulb illuminated a roof at a little distance. Apart from an occasional goods carrying army truck that toughed it out on the slope, there was no civilization around us for miles together… It was an experience so wonderful that we hadn’t imagined about remotely, even a few hours ago… Not in my wildest dreams, had I imagined that I would live a day of my life ON the silk-route!!

The moonlit view of the silk route as seen from Lungthung homestay
The moonlit view of the silk route and the clouds as seen from Lungthung homestay

Anyway, not really being able to sleep due to cold temperature and the noisy sheets fluttering outside our room, we still rolled into our blankets and set an alarm to wake up early. Our host at the homestay had recommended to walk down the road for sunrise…

The following morning, it was almost impossible for me to even think of coming out of the blanket. I snoozed the alarm a couple of times. But then something happened. My eyes had one glance at the window glass, and it was enough motivation for me to get my butt off the bed. It was a breaking dawn…. The sky had a streak of deep red, visible right at my window, seen from my bed…. It was for sure, unusual from any normal day. The view made me forget the cold and barge outside to not miss the complete visuals of an unfolding day… I woke my brother up and my friends and we all raced towards the viewpoint that we were told about. We didn’t mind slipping down a couple of times on the frozen roads.

The sun rising over Kanchenjunga at Thambi view point
The sun rising over Kanchenjunga at Thambi view point

At such high altitude and low temperature, the running didn’t help to warm us up. As we reached the viewpoint, we were panting for breath and had our jaws dropping. We were gasping, awestruck in amazement at the sight around us, chattering due to the freezing temperature and everything else happened to us at the same time. The moment is inexplainable!

The old silk route at Zuluk valley
The old silk route at Zuluk valley, as seen from Thambi view point during sunrise

We were standing at Thambi viewpoint and had lost the sense of place for that moment. The Kanchenjunga had lit up in crimson in just a few minutes and the winding roads through Zuluk valley appeared deep down in a while. It was a day and an experience like never before! It was our last day at Sikkim and I could only say that the best was indeed saved for the end!

This article has been featured in Deccan Herald National daily’s Travel supplement on 29-May-2022 Edition. Click here to read.

The Story of my Solo trip is an e-book now

My visit to the arid land of Spiti was my first solo trip in all sense. I have previously spoken about its beautiful landscape and the wonderful people through my blog posts. But, on a personal note this travel has been one of the most impactful trips of my lifetime. So, here is the entire story in the form of an e-book.

Through this book, I seek your company while I backpack alone on a trip to the mountains. I want you to join me when I gate crash a mountain wedding and dance to the first snow. I want company when I confront a mummy and when I visit a vault full of millennium old paintings. Stay with me as I return home with an unsettling chaos running in my tummy. As you read through the pages of this book, you can bite into the juicy apples of Kinnaur all along, walk with me meeting people and go on a virtual trip to the Spiti valley and back.

You can get your copy of the e-book on Amazon by clicking on the image or the link below:

Click on image to buy the copy of ‘My Spiti Sojourn’

Yes, I know the language could have been tuned a little more and the English, could sound a little more polished. But, due to reading the same story over and over again, a few mistakes have outflown, my humble apologies! This book had been compiled in the first covid lockdown (Apr 20) and I have been procrastinating to publish it for over a year now, even post 2nd lockdown I (Apr 21). So, finally it had to be done….. But, I promise that my intention of sharing my story and experiences from the road has been compiled to the best of my abilities. I wish you all read, enjoy your virtual trip to Spiti and share your honest thoughts about it…

Two Premier Institutes of India- A shared history

HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Asia’s largest and India’s first aerospace establishment was founded and is headquartered in Bangalore. If you want to walk down this journey of how aviation industry has evolved in India, a visit to the HAL Aerospace Museum, India’s first aviation museum located at the HAL premises is highly recommended. From the first aircraft, Harlow PC to be assembled at its stables to manufacturing the most modern helicopters, planes and equipment for present day requirements of the Indian airfare, navy, railways and space research, HAL’s journey has been a long one. One is bound to get amused in another world by taking a walk between vintage planes, flight simulators, mock ATC and all things associated in this subject of fantasy at the museum hall. Now, this place leads me to my next destination: The IISc (Indian Institute of Science).

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An exhibit of the Pushpak aircraft at HAL

That morning, I had ordered a plate of idlis at this little restaurant on the IISc campus. Just like any other day at that restaurant, the environment was abuzz with the chitter chatter of the people I was surrounded by. A typical scene on any given day includes the best scientists of India and abroad discussing new experiments over a plate of food in what is one of the premier research institutes in the country! Irony has it that similar discussions happened under the same roof, sometime in history. But back then, the discussions were about something more strategic and destructive. It was right here that a bunch of people discussed a war plot. What is now the top-of-the-notch science and technology institution in India, served as a hub for maintenance and repairs of the aircrafts during World-War II.

In the late 1930s, a factory meant for automobile maintenance was setup by an industrialist named Walchand Hirachand in the present day IISc campus. History has it that on his way to China, Hirachand chanced upon a meeting with William D. Pawley who was attached to the Intercontinental Aircraft Corporation of New York, an American aircraft exporter. This connection lead to the procurement of the necessary tools and equipment from the US to setup an aircraft production line in India. It was in December 1940, with funds from the Mysore state, the Hindustan Aircraft Private Limited came into being. The plan was to manufacture the Harlow trainer, Hawk fighter and the Vultee attack bombers at this factory. However, this required huge manpower that was trained in Aeronautics which lead to the establishment of the department of Aeronautical engineering.

A 1942 file photo of the HAL main gate
A 1942 file photo of the HAL main gate. Photo courtesy: HAL museum gallery

The structure that housed the aeronautical engineering department was designed by German architect Otto Koenigsberger. Otto Koenigsberger was a young Jew who had fled his country during the Nazi regime and was later in time, employed as the government architect of the erstwhile Mysore state. His architectural design is an amalgamation of European and traditional Indian styles and can also be seen in the present-day metallurgical department and the hostel office on the IISc campus along with many structures across India. Talking about the aeronautical engineering building- it is an oblong structure with high ceilings and narrow corridors that integrated natural climate control. He has also designed the closed-circuit wind Tunnel, the first of its kind in India and hydrogen plant among other things that are associated with aircrafts. With all the technical back up from IISc, it was in 1941 that Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) assembled the first aircraft in India: A Harlow PC-5.

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Meanwhile, the threat posed by Imperial Japan loomed large in the on-going World War II because of which there was a need by the British Royal Air Force to boost its military hardware supplies in Asia. With all likelihood, HAL was most suitable as a base for the South East Asia Command of the allied forces for servicing their aircrafts. Hence, all the aircraft manufacturing plans in India were abandoned to support the repair and overhaul services of the American aircrafts and the factory was eventually taken over by the US Army Air Forces in 1943. This led to rapid expansion in the facilities and became the 84th Air depot for overhaul and repair of American aircrafts during WWII. The very same hydrogen plant on the IISc premises was used as a loading dock to supply hydrogen for the American aircrafts. Later in 1964, the factory was taken over by the Government of India and has morphed into the modern-day Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in its present-day location. However, the original Aeronautical engineering department continues to contribute enormously towards research and has its own little airstrip on the present day IISc campus.

As I finished my plate of idlis, I wondered how unassuming I was. This deceptively functional place had just served my meal that had just been cooked inside a hydrogen plant that powered the military aircrafts during WWII.

This article featured in the ‘Spectrum’ supplement of Deccan Herald National daily, on February 01, 2020 edition.

Treading the living root bridges- Nongriat

As kids, we always imagined fairies with wings flying amidst colourful gardens, rope like creepers hanging across the forest thickets, rainbows emerging on the tranquil sky. Do you agree when I say this is how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales ? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

A pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna in Cherrapunjee. That’s where the tarmac ends and our car had to be parked. Further, we trekked down to the Nongriat village: where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ exists. One needs to climb over 2500 steps each way, so that this piece of marvel can be seen at close quarters. Root bridges are created by inter-weaving the roots of the rubber tree by the tribal folks who live in the deep forests of Meghalaya for their local commute across the bloated rivers during monsoon. A bridge fit for usage can take a minimum of a couple of decades and it only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya and most of them continue to be untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness. We were here, to tread on some of the most popular living root-bridges of Meghalaya.

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The route to Tyrna village

Although, there is a well laid out path of stairs all the way, we thought it was wiser to have a localite who would enrich us with the facts and figures that we wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. At Tyrna, we met a Khasi villager from Nongriat who agreed upon to guide us through our trek. We passed through several sacred groves and areca farms belonging to the villagers. After decending about 1000 steps, a small deviation to the right indicated the way to Nongthymmai village. We took this deviation to reach the ‘Ritymmen root bridge’ a single bridge and another old one next to it which has taken its toll due to the negligence by the localites. Our hearts were jumping with joy at the first experience of treading on a living root bridge, that we had only read about until then… I decided to throw my shoes away for a while and enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot on the bridge.

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The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek and our new friend cum guide, continued to enlighten us about the rich traditions and culture of the Khasis. We stopped by for a quick breakfast at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles and lemon tea. Further, a short climb of stairs continued only to be awestruck by the marvel of indigenous engineering: The double decker root bridge, the main motivation for us to trek this far. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale: creepers hanging across a little waterfall, fed by a pristine river in the middle of nowhere! It was tempting to get our feet wet as we watched a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes around the root-bridge over the previous night and enjoying their swim in the cold waters. However, spending some time admiring this piece of absolute marvel, we decided to move ahead, towards our next mission: Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. Rainbow waterfalls being one of those. The small number of tourists who make it till the double decker bridge seemed to have had disappeared there onwards. The tiring path ahead was going to be tiring, we were told. But, nothing comes easy.

I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, we were greeted and accompanied by butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge (the local name for the double-decker bridge) till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking, clear the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little winged beauties. The path was so full of butterflies, that it cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense: I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing at least 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flowed down with its seductive clear blue waters. After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature unfolded itself, from amid the greens…

We stood there in AWE….. the green trees and bushes had opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums added to this heavenly scenery! On a clear sunny day, there could be 50-100 spectrums around the waterfall, giving the place its name: Rainbow falls! We enjoyed a couple of hours in calm just by sitting beside the naturally formed swimming pool as we were the only people in this fairyland and restoring our lost bond with nature that was shared long ago.

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The Rainbow falls

As described by our guide, camping at the Mawsmai caves (2hours trek further) and climbing up the hill to be greeted by the Nohkalikai waterfalls, the highest waterfall in India would have been a complete story! Unfortunately, we hadn’t known much about the enchanting beauty of this trek before embarking on it and had no preparations now, to have it extended further. So now, it was well past afternoon and distance that required to be walked back was long. The sun sets early in this part of India and that meant that we had very less time of daylight left. During our return, we stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for a late lunch where we relished a simple Khasi meal of rice and bitter lime curry.

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A metal rope bridge near Rainbow falls

The walk back from there onwards was taxing and it is a very steep climb up the 2500 odd stairs.. I stopped several times at the little homes and stalls put up by the villagers on the way to keep myself hydrated with the local energy drinks and fruit juices. I cannot forget the way our guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna, even while there was sufficient sunlight for us to drive back to Cherrapunjee.

A small deviation from Tyrna will lead one to ‘Ummunoi root bridge’ in the Laitkynsew village, one of the oldest bridges in the viscinity. It has been truly a very refreshing way to explore ‘the abode of the clouds- Meghalaya’.

Conclusion remarks:

  • For all trekking enthusiasts, a two day trek covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai is highly recommended.
  • Although, we missed to trek up to the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight at a spot facing this waterfall and caught the view of the sun rising over the Nohkalikai waterfalls!

Famous Attractions in Singapore That You Must Checkout

Singapore is a place of technological marvels and skyscrapers. With the highly illuminated lights that dance around at night, showcasing the contemporary building, it almost feels like the stars have descended here. Singapore is well-known for its quick development, as well as the numerous opulent hotels with breathtaking views that are being developed there as well as new and beautiful retail malls.

There are numerous clubs that will have you moving, as well as a vibrant nightlife that you can enjoy with your friends. In the middle of all modernity, Singapore boasts a number of nature trails. At the Botanical Gardens and Pulau Ubin, you may explore Singapore’s verdant side. Budget-conscious tourists should definitely visit this location because there are numerous amenities that will make you feel at home.

Singapore is home to a wide variety of attractions, including neighborhood dive bars, busy temples, verdant gardens, and cheap marketplaces. Scroll down this list if you’re seeking for the ideal location to visit in Singapore.

Singapore Night Safari

By exposing visitors to the residents’ nocturnal lifestyles, Singapore Night Safari gives the classic zoo experience a fresh spin. There are four distinct habitat areas in the park, each with a route that allows you to see these secretive critters going about their “day.”

In addition to the expected presence of leopards on the Leopard Trail, additional wildlife include lions, flying foxes, civets, and porcupines. The pangolin, binturong, and other common and endangered species are among the native Singaporean creatures whose habitats are visited on the Fishing Cat Trail. Malayan tigers and spotted hyenas are featured on the East Lodge Trail, and the Wallaby Trail educates tourists to Australia’s marsupials.

There are private excursions, buggy rides, informative seminars, as well as once-in-a-lifetime experiences like a feeding session for Asian elephants, available.

Jurong Bird Park

The largest bird park in Asia, Jurong Bird Park, is home to more than 5000 birds representing almost 400 different species. The Waterfall Aviary, which covers 20.2 hectares and is the largest walk-in aviary in the world, is the main attraction.

Gardens by the Bay

Many people have heard about and admire this location. Every traveller should put it on their bucket list. Gardens by the Bay, a well-liked tourist destination, will take you to a fantastical location. The magnificent Supertree Grove, which is located in Marina Bay, is at its most stunning at night.

You have the sensation that you are in a magical location while you are there. There are numerous places to see, such as Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. This elevates the experience to genuinely outstanding. There are three sections of the Gardens by the Bay complex: the centre, east, and south. When the trip becomes too exhausting, you can use the promenade to pause and grab a snack or a cup of coffee.

Little India and Arab Street

Little India and Arab Street are well-known tourist destinations. You’ll feel quite at home there, apart from the busy metropolis, among its quaint shops, inviting cafes, and old-fashioned mosques. Arab Street is renowned for its distinctive architecture and marketplaces. It also serves genuine Arabian cuisine.

During the colonial era in Singapore, there was an Indian community known as Little India. Little India includes a wide range of markets, Mosques, and upscale retail opportunities, similar to the Arabian Streets. The most well-known Hindu temple you can visit is Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, and there are also eateries serving Indian food.

Singapore Flyer

Singapore is best viewed from the air. You see the entire city from the air. Consider making a stopover plan. Or you might just sit still and observe the sun go down (if you are lucky enough to be there at sunset). Asia’s largest enormous wheel, the Singapore Flyer, which is essentially an observation wheel that reaches 165 metres.

The flyer gives you a look at the technology that powers the vehicle as well as a brief overview of Singapore’s past. It’s a good idea to brush up on your information throughout the travel. This location offers breathtaking views of the Singapore skyline, Gardens by the Bay, the F1 track, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other regions of Malaysia.

Universal Studios

Sentosa Island, an exciting tourist destination in Singapore, is home to Universal Studios. Unquestionably, this is one of the most well-liked destinations for family vacations. The ideal spot to go for a day of fun is Universal Studios. There are several eateries, cafes, and retail spaces that serve delectable cuisine and provide entertainment.

You can also go to Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame” to take pictures with well-known movie stars. Additionally, you can go to the “Walk of Fame” to take pictures with famous people. The Lost World of Dinosaurs, Sci-Fi City, Ancient Egypt Zone, and many other attractions and events at Universal Studios will keep you engaged.

Botanical Gardens

It is highly recommended to visit Singapore’s Botanical Gardens. You will feel rejuvenated after visiting this charming location with so many beautiful green areas. The first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Singapore is this garden. There are indigenous and rare species there. Lover of the outdoors will adore this well-known tourist destination. The national flower of Singapore, the orchid, can be found inside the park.

The Botanic Gardens also have a number of lakes that are home to ducks and swans. This is the ideal location for admiring Mother Nature’s splendour and unwinding to the calming sounds of birds, wind, trees, and swans. Popular places to escape the busy metropolis include this Park.

Chinatown

In the midst of the busy market, China Town is vibrant and alive. A trip to Singapore without stopping through China Town is considered incomplete. The colourful shops offering traditional Chinese goods are found everywhere in this bustling resort, along with its authentic Chinese cuisine, bright red lanterns, and bustling streets.

Additionally, the area is home to the magnificent Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple. These are two of the most well-liked attractions of China Market. To top it all off, you must visit Thian Hock Keng, one of Singapore’s most vibrant Chinese temples. The oldest temple in Singapore is this one, which the Chinese constructed in 1820.

Singapore Zoo

A fantastic site to visit is the Singapore Zoo. You will be astounded by the variety of rare and stunning species that call its confines home. A terrific spot to take the family is the Singapore Zoo. Giraffes are among the 300 species that it is home to. To accommodate various animal habitats, various zones have been made.

Polar bears, racoon dogs, and other arctic animals live on the frozen tundra. Insects and beetles abound in the lush rainforest that occupies Fragile Forest. In Fragile Forest, flying foxes can also be spotted. Lion-tailed Macaques and Java Langurs can be found in Primate Kingdom. It’s a terrific idea to spend the day at the Singapore Zoo. Numerous additional activities are available, including the Splash Safari Show, the Orangutan Exhibit, and the Jungle Breakfast.

Changi Museum

Singapore’s Changi Museum is a well-liked attraction. More information about those whose history involved Japanese occupation during World War II can be found here. The museum conveys a narrative through its pictures, sketches, and letters. With a gift store and chapel in the middle, the museum can be divided into five sections. Each zone has a number of murals that Bombardier Stanley Warren meticulously recreated from the originals. The Changi Museum also offers audio tours that you can take. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum are also noteworthy institutions.

S.E.A Aquarium

For both kids and adults, the spectacular SEA Aquarium on Sentosa Island is a fascinating and instructive attraction. More than 100,000 marine creatures are housed in this welcoming environment for families. Sharks, turtles, and bottlenose dolphins are just some of the magnificent marine creatures you will encounter on this trip.

In addition to the incredible aquatic life at the aquarium, the complex has other other attractions. Dolphin Island offers encounters with dolphins that are interactive. To swim with many different predator species, including sting rays and manta rays, you can also dive into the Shark Seas Habitat. A trip to the SEA Aquarium will be an amazing experience during your tour of Singapore.

Changi Beach

One of the best things to do in Singapore is take a day trip to Changi Beach. The oldest park in Singapore is the beach park. Between Changi Point (Changi Ferry Road) and Changi Point sits the calm 28-hectare beach known as Changi Beach (Changi Ferry Road). A 3.3 km long park is present. This tourist destination provides a range of entertaining pastimes, such as a stroll along the beach on a nice day.

Here, you may also take your family on picnics. And from there, you can even see the sunset. A excellent place for camping and BBQ gatherings is Changi Beach. Nearby is Bistro@Changi, a restaurant. Changi Village offers a wide variety of tasty seafood alternatives.

Are you rich?

You know what rich people do?

They make their money earn for them. A series of wise and sensible investments in form of real estate, development of existing real estate, deposits, shareholdings in companies, etc. People who were born with money or born rich enough are made known that it takes an effort to stay rich. Rich people have a strong enough financial backup if things go awry. It’s okay to lose a little money in the name of learning because they can afford not to repeat it.

What do people who become rich in a short duration do?

Spend their money on things and experiences they might not have had previously. They spend it like water without a thought for saving up for contingency, because they are blinded by the glitz and glamour the short fortune is showing them. They become used to the artificial sense of being rich and try to fit among the actually rich people, regardless of their personal financial background. So one fine day, when the income stops or rather their luxuries surpass their income, hell breaks loose, because they weren’t prepared for the struggle of remaining rich without a strong financial backing.

Salaried people without any strong financial background are more prone to the above scenario, when they start earning more than they what they expected in a short period of time. Not necessarily salaried people, there are lots of other people who can be like this. They fall into fake reality of being rich wherein, they are living their life on a month to month basis, solely dependent on their salary.

If you ask me which one I belong to, I honestly don’t know. I am a citizen of Bangalore born to working parents (pure middleclass upbringing). I never have money, yet I’ll have a little.

Bioluminescent Experiences in Karnataka

Karnataka is “One State Many Worlds, without a doubt! To explore a different aspect of travelling through this beautiful state, I take you on a path that is en-Lightening, in literal sense- ‘Bioluminescence’. Bioluminescence is a naturally occurring phenomenon of production and emission of light in living organisms. Apart from the visual treat to senses that they offer, the presence of these organisms can tell a lot about our environment as well.

With the Arabian Sea forming the entire coastal belt and the Western Ghats forming most of the green-cover of Karnataka, it is easy to witness bioluminescence anywhere in the state. Traversing a path from the southern rainforests of the state to the northern plainlands through the coastal beaches across all the seasons, here is a list of the different kinds of bioluminescence that one can experience in Karnataka.

  1. Fireflies: An aerial illumination for spectators, these insects produce light to attract a potential mate. Abundant during the months of pre-monsoon showers and summers, the untouched sacred groves and the organic farms of Kodagu and Malenadu offer a post sunset visual delight. A good number of fireflies indicates the good soil and air quality.
  2. Bioluminescent planktons: These light emitting micro-organisms are present in the sea water. They produce a greenish-blue light when disturbed. This means, they produce light irrespective of day or night but can be seen with normal eyes after dark. These glowing waters can be viewed at their brightest best on a no-moon night between two consecutive monsoon months. But what is not the brighter about it is the fact that the brighter the sea glows due to these planktons, the poorer is the health of the sea water.
  3. Bioluminescent fungi: This can be the hardest find of them all. Enter the core of the rainforest during the peak of the monsoon season, with a slow and careful walk and without use of any torch or flashlights. Only if you are lucky, you can spot these glowing sticks or the fallen barks covered by the glowing fungi. Documented sightings have been found in Karnataka, but I’m sure the Western Ghats are home to more species of luminant mushrooms.
  4. Glow worms: These are larvae of some insects that can be largely found along the banks of streams, rivers and under the foliage on moist ground. An indication of healthy soil, these worms emit light to ward off predators and visually offering a delight to the human eyes.

Have you witnessed any other bioluminescent experiences? Are there any specific place that you wish to share your stories about? Do let me know in comments below!

A Rare Connection of Hockey Between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

I have been fortunate to meet many like-minded people online, through travel blogging. Recently, I happened to meet one of such friends offline, during his visit to Bangalore. He greeted me with a souvenir, a nice palm leaf box containing chikkis. He explained that it was the ‘panai olai petti’ containing the famous candies from his hometown. After I returned home, a little bit of online browsing about this souvenir unfolded some interesting facts for me.

The palm leaf box containing the Kovilpatti chikki
The palm leaf box containing the Kovilpatti chikki

Talking about the southern states of India, two neighbours have a lot in common. What triggered this thought were the names of places starting with the letter ‘K’, one from each state. Kodagu and Kovilpatti from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. Meanwhile, the ‘C’ is what makes these two ‘K’ places famous. ‘Cauvery’, the holy river originates in Kodagu and ‘Chikkis’, the peanut candies of Kovilpatti has earned a GI tag for itself. Enough is written and done on the internet about either of the places.

Palm leaf boxes of Kovilpatti mithai being Repurposed as planters
Palm leaf boxes of Kovilpatti mithai being Repurposed as planters

But what turned out to be more surprising and a rather rare connection between the two ‘K’ places of these states is their common love for the National sport of India- Hockey. In my earlier post, I have mentioned how the largest festival in the world dedicated for any sport (hockey) is celebrated in Kodagu. But what I learn now is that Kovilpatti too, shares its history with Indian military and the influences of the British to have a strong hockey culture. With at least a dozen hockey clubs and several players making it to the Indian national team over time, the people of Kovilpatti have an unabated enthusiasm for the national sport.

What I do know is, that there are several other lesser-known places in India where people celebrate sports other than cricket. Only initiatives by governments, support from sponsors and adequate media publicity can encourage and motivate more people to nurture a sporting culture in our country, anything other than cricket.

I Belong to Everywhere: Uttarahalli

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Napoklu

‘Uttarahalli’ translates to ‘Northern Village’ in Kannada. The irony is, it is located in the southern-most part of Bangalore. This is the current place of residence of my family and is also the last post in this series. This home seems like a perfect retirement plan for a family that seeks a little bit of nature in the midst of a bustling metropolitan city.

With very little vacant space available, my parents try to grow their own vegetables and fruits, welcome birds and squirrels to have meals with them and sip their ‘kaapi’ while watching the sun go down. These are some among many other things they do to keep themselves running through the day.

The sparrows in my portico
The sparrows in my portico

The area is soaked in rich history as well.. While the ‘Vasantha Vallabharaya swamy temple’ dates back to the Chola era, an adjacent cave is believed to be the place where Rishi Mandavya had meditated.

The Turahalli forest is a small patch of lung space nearby, that joggers, cyclists, conservationists and the realtors all seem to have an eye on!

The latest addition to the landmarks is ISKCON’s ‘Krishna Leela theme park’ located on the Vaikunta hill. The sunrises and rainbows on cloudy days are mesmerizing, adding a backdrop to the view of this temple from my doorstep.

Annual fair of Vasanthavallabha temple, Vasanthapura, Bangalore

This is the last post of this series: “I Belong to Everywhere“. I hope you all have enjoyed time travelling with me hopping on- and off from Bangalore to Kodagu. Which place did you like the most? What place would you want to go after reading my posts? What more do you want to know about, from these places?

I Belong to Everywhere: Napoklu

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Yelahanka

Napoklu is a small town located in Madikeri Taluk, in the northern part of Kodagu district. I have spent several memorable holidays here, living a high energy childhood. There are several places of interests for tourists and local pilgrimage that are centered around Napoklu. Some of them are ‘Sri Makki Sastavų temple’, ‘Chelavara waterfalls’ etc. The ‘puttari festival’ is one of the best and the most elaborate one celebrated by the Kodava clan native to Napoklu.

Puttari festival at Kolu Mand

If any of you find a tinge of madness in me, it is likely that it has been due to the influence of my cousin who hails from this town. He has been my closest friend as we both grew up together, roaming farms, fields and streams. On weekends when he didn’t come to our grandparents’ house in Madikeri, we would be roaming together, around the other places that are mentioned in this series of posts.

Although I have spoken about how I developed the awareness for conservation of wildlife in one of my earlier posts, but it is in Napoklu, that I originally imbibed the qualities of empathy for animals. Apart from the cattle, dogs and cats that I was surrounded with in Madikeri, my cousin had birds, fishes, tortoises, rabbits and poultry in his house. They shared a unique bond with him. While during the days, we caught dragonflies with aquarium nets, we chased fireflies at night and trapped them all together in empty glass jars to create a mini ecosystem of our own.

Beetles and ladybugs
Beetles and ladybugs

If you wonder how I know some names of celebrities from across the globe, it is because we followed them. I watched Formula-One, WWF, Tennis and Cricket without missing a single match or a tournament, because the TV remote would always be with this guy and I had no option. The craziest automobile geek I had ever known, much until I became an automobile engineer and met a few other geeks along the way, was this cousin alone. We traded ‘trump cards’ and fought each other over the ownership rights of the rarest WWF and Cricket cards. We still hold back some of these treasured collections and often reminisce those good days of innocent fun. These are the same things that trigger little momentous joy to me even today and that which helps me spread positive energy.

To be continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Uttarahalli

I Belong to Everywhere: Yelahanka

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Jalahalli

In this post, I’m going to tell you about my connection with ‘Yelahanka’, an area located on the northern side of Bengaluru. It is rather popular for the air force station located here. And that’s also why Yelahanka has my heart with it.

This is where my engineering college was located, at very close proximity to the Airforce base. My love for airplanes has a separate post dedicated to it. This is also where the Aero- India show happens, a biennial display of India’s air might.

The campus of Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology
The campus of Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology

One of the camps of the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) is located at a little distance from my college. So, most of the morning drives to college were alongside the CRPF troops running on their daily fitness routine. The sight of camouflaged men (at least a hundred of them), marching or running in a single line, with rifles in their hands, weight bags on their backs and the tapping of their heavy boots were just enough motivation for a girl whose little heart goes numb in front of any man wearing uniform of the forces.

And then there are days when we bunked classes and we set out on adventure activities: Adventures of sneaking into random grape vineyards around the college campus, grab a few bunches before being pelted with stones by the farmers if caught 😀 It was sort of days of co-existence between the farmers / local villagers and the students. The students just lived up their share of fun from their college days and the villagers were just entertaining themselves with our tactics.

Some structures at Gantiganahalli, Yelahanka
Some structures at Gantiganahalli, Yelahanka

The Yelahanka we know today wasn’t the same back then. There were hardly any good restaurants, cafes or any place where we could hangout apart from the college canteen. Some of the addas that the students would swear by are the railway tracks, the lake, the stables and Balaji. Well, mention these places to any student from this college and watch their expression: These were not just places, these were emotions.

And the most fun rides were those when we wanted to bunk classes and to find transportation to reach to wherever we wanted to go (out of Yelahanka). Back in those days, the college bus was the only available mode of transportation from college until the airport road / highway. If any commutation was required during the day (if we bunked, that is!), the only options were to either hitch a ride or walk to cover the distance of almost 4-5 kilometers. On some days we sat pillion, some days a bumpy lorry, on some days were cars with AC and some days, we sat on haystack and tractors that carried firewood.

Gantiganahalli lake, Yelahanka
A view of the Su-30 on the otherside of the Lake.

Yelahanka is where I have spent four memorable years of college, a place that has made me worthy of a human being and that has guided me towards earning my own food. Yelahanka will always be closest to me, because my heart will always be wandering around my college (in the form of fighter planes :P)

To be continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Napoklu

I Belong to Everywhere: Jalahalli

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Theralu

Jalahalli is a locality in the Northern part of Bengaluru where my family stayed for a brief period until I finished my graduation in Yelahanka. Being involved in sports, languages, music, travelling and so many other things along with regular college, some of the busiest days of my late teens were spent here.

On a lighter note, our family lived with a confused identity for all the years spent at Jalahalli. We were surrounded by employees of BEL and HMT in majority, and none in our family worked at either of these organizations. More often, we struggled to decide which side to take when we had friends from both these companies sitting on either side of a discussion table 😀

The seven signature clocks of HMT
Above: The seven signature clocks of HMT placed in different cities of India Below: Floral clock at Lal Bagh, Bangalore

The BEL sports ground was one of our favorite places, where I accompanied my father for his evening walks and my brother for his hockey matches, while catching up on conversations with some of the who’s who of Indian hockey. The Ganesha temple in the BEL colony was one of the go-to places when my family wanted a shot of calmness, not in praying but by simply soaking in the tranquility of the silent atmosphere.

The HMT sports complex, HMT hospital, HMT theater, HMT employees’ quarters and the HMT shopping complex were less just concrete structures and more like emotions.

A racing heart while entering the ‘Jalahalli Airforce station’ would calm down only after a plate of parathas from the air force canteen and some tasty samosas and Sondesh at the Bengali sweet meat stall at Gangamma circle. Catching up with friends mostly happened on the new-BEL road or at Malleswaram.

The entrance to Jalahalli Airforce Station at Gangamma circle
The entrance to Jalahalli Airforce Station at Gangamma circle

Well, Jalahalli is a place which reflected the importance of having a friendly neighborhood. Even when any of us had to stay alone at home, there was always someone from the neighborhood checking on our safety and sharing food with us. The months of yuletide were especially memorable because the carol singers came to all houses and we all made merry together.

We left Jalahalli and thus, North Bengaluru to finally come one full circle by making South Bengaluru our forever home (where we currently reside at).

To be continued as “I Belong to Everywhere: Yelahanka

I Belong to Everywhere: Theralu

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Chamarajpet“.

This is a small village in South Kodagu that is closer to Kerala borders than it is to Madikeri. This is where my maternal cousins originally hail from, and they went to school with me at some point while staying together at our maternal grandparents’ house. So, it was natural that I too would accompany them to their native village on several occasions when they went to their parent’s house at Theralu.

Apart from the expansive Tata tea estates and the Kerala borders some of the other popular landmarks that I enjoyed day tripping here were Irupu waterfalls, Mrithyunjaya temple and the Nagarhole National Park.

For all that I can remember from those visits were that there were people speaking and following different culture than I was familiar with. All the workers that worked in both my maternal and paternal hometowns were from the local tribal communities who spoke and ate quite same as what I did at home. But those working at my Uncle’s estate in Theralu spoke so many different languages. The larger group had almost created a mini-Assam in the site of their labourers quarters. They had built so many structures, equipment, tools out of bamboo (the most common site in all over Assam) and ate food that was made with ingredients that we in Kodagu didn’t know were edible until we saw them.

The Glenlorna tea estate Coorg
The Glenlorna tea estate Coorg

This is also where I was introduced to Tamil language and their movies. A large group of workers came to work in the farm at Theralu during the peak coffee harvest season and returned back to Tamil Nadu after the season ended. During evenings or on weekends, these workers often came to my cousins house to watch TV. Although I didn’t know their language and didn’t comprehend with most things they communicated, I picked up names of the stars whom they clapped hands in enjoyment or sounded a “Shhhhhh” to express disappointment while watching their favorite stars on the screen. In spite of not understanding a word of what the movie or tele-serial was about, it was an inevitable situation for me to sit and watch through whatever was being played 😀 Looking back at the days, those stars from the early 2000s are the only few whom I can associate with while talking about movies with a Tamilian!

Assamese kids enjoying their shower in a small stream in the estate
Assamese kids enjoying their shower in a small stream in the estate

With limited means of communication, the major exposure we had in this small hill-district was just limited to living in estates or serving the army. Here, I saw migrant workers coming from faraway places in search of ANY doable jobs, saved a portion of their limited income and sent it to their families back in their hometowns and still lived a life of modesty. I learnt that life was not all easy for people living in other parts of the earth. It always made me think and reflect how unequal and different life was for everyone. Theralu taught me lessons of gratitude for the life I am living!

To be continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Jalahalli

I Belong to Everywhere: Chamarajpet

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Malleswaram

Chamarajpet is one of the two well planned residential areas of Old Bengaluru. Chamarajpet is in the South whereas the other one is Malleswaram, in the North of the original geography of Bengaluru. Chamarajpet is where my parents lived and worked through all the years at the time of my schooling at Madikeri. So, this locality is like my 1.5th home 😛 (first home is in Madikeri and 2nd home was at Vasanthanagar). I came to Bangalore (and thus, to Chamarajpet) only when I had a long vacation from school. Twice a year, to be precise: Once during the monsoon and once during the summers).

One of the earliest memories I have from this locality is of my family and all our neighbours watching and distributing drinking water and snacks to people who gathered for prayers during festivals at the ‘Eidgah grounds‘ and for the all-night harikatha renditions that happened at the ‘Male-Mahadeshwar temple’ in 2nd main. A large jamun tree in the premises of our house was often mobbed by kids from the entire locality for its fine fruits and the aroma of Rasam from the ‘Vataaras’ of 3rd main are some unforgettable memories.

Eidgah ground at Chamarajpet
Eidgah ground at Chamarajpet

There were several things that I saw on TV (Doordarshan) and wanted to learn along with regular school while growing up. But there was unavailability of trained people who could teach me any of these extra curricular skills in the small town (Madikeri). Whenever I visited Bangalore during vacation, my effective time spent with my working parents were mostly for eating out in the evenings and making day trips over the weekends. A major chunk of my Bangalore visits was mostly meant for attending summer schools. With a very large community of literary scholars living in and around Chamarajpet, I could learn different art forms. I attended crash courses across various streets of Chamarajpet (and Basavanagudi) to learn sketching, painting, dance and music.

Every stone, structure and lane has history in Chamarajpet. Makkala koota, Bangalore fort area, Tippu’s palace, all the temples around the fort and the old pete area: Talk about them to my mother and she would be in tears of nostalgia. These are the places she saw every day during her career that spanned nearly four decades.

A scooter decked up in a Sandalwood theme (Kannada film industry)
A scooter decked up in a Sandalwood theme (Kannada film industry)

Talking about my family’s favorite eateries, many things have changed and so many old-world structures have been erased now. However, Karnataka Bhel house in 3rd main road along with Gajanana fruit juice center and Iyengar’s bakery in 4th main have managed to stand the test of time.

My family has lived here for 15 years and there is a bond with every lane and its people that we share in Chamarajpet. Here live so many friends, who are more than family to us! Going to Chamarajpet every time is nothing less than travelling to our hometown! So, it is definitely difficult to quantify how much part of me belongs to this area!

To be continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Theralu

getting lost in traveling through places and time…

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