At a Glance
Singapore is a stunning and beautiful island strategically located in the heart of South East Asia which also happens to be world’s only island city-state. This breath taking island is one of the most popular and busy travel destinations in South East Asia. It is not only of great commercial interest but also a booming tourist destination as it sees travelers dropping in from all around the Globe.
Singapore boosts of an interesting mix of uber modern architectural marvels as well as age old temples and traditions. Not to be fooled by the size of this tiny island, it has a lot to offer with innumerable options to choose from. It is like a parallel universe residing together all in this small city.
On one side the city skyline is clouded with tall skyscrapers and modern state of the art structures such as Marina Bay Sands, a three-towered skyscraper that is a vital part of Singapore’s horizon, Resorts World Sentosa which is home to the very famous Universal Studios theme park, and the majestic Gardens by the Bay and many more such iconic places. On the other hand there are the humble century old buildings like the elegant Raffles Hotel still standing tall more than a century after being built. This island state was a former British trading post and colony and even after independence and the blend of cultures is ingrained in all aspects of life in Singapore.
The cultural blends are strongly visible in the food scenario most prominently. Cuisines from all around the world are available. Alongside world class fine dining restaurants offering international cuisines, the street food available here is also finger licking good. Due to its vicinity with other South East Asian countries the food culture in Singapore is an amazing confluence of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. One can escape the hustle and bustle of modernity in Singapore by visiting the very exotic Chinatown and Little India to get a flavor of the neighboring Asian countries.
How to get there
Visa & customs: For information on visa requirements and the Visa Free Transit Facility, you can visit and check with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority or the Singapore Overseas Mission in your city or country. The visa application form is available for free at all Singapore overseas missions. For detailed information and requirements for entry to Singapore you can visit the Official website for Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore
By Air: Changi Airport in Singapore is one of the most busy and well connected airports in the world. It sees over 100 airlines flying to more than 250 cities around the world. Most of the well-known international airlines have their operations in Singapore. Few local airlines operate from Singapore such as the renowned Singapore Airlines and budget airlines Tiger. The airport itself is very well maintained and conferred with many awards, it boosts of modern amenities and activities for tourists and travelers making it a world-class attraction in its own way.
By Sea: Singapore is an important port of commercial interest due to its strategic location in the heart of Asia; it is one of the world’s busiest cruise centers. Several cruise operators of various kinds like luxury, premium, and contemporary types operate from here. The newest is the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore which can accommodate the largest range of cruise liners.
By Road: Singapore is also very well connected by roads; it can be easily reached from West Malaysia through a scenic ride. Two checkpoints need to be crossed before entering Singapore; one is at Tuas in the west and Woodlands in the north. They both operate 24/7 facilitating ease of reach to Singapore via road.
Getting around Singapore: Singapore has one of the best public transport systems in South East Asia, it is fast, efficient and world class and is well connected; enough to make reaching the various places in Singapore easy and comfortable without much hassle.
By train: MRT (mass rapid transit) system in Singapore is definitely the most efficient and fastest way to commute around the city. The Rail network is extensive and connects almost all the key attractions in the city. Tickets can be bought for single trips, for a mix of both rail and bus network one can buy the Singapore Tourist Pass, a value card which will allow unlimited travel for one day (S$10), two days (S$16) or three days (S$20). Cards are available for purchase at the Transit Link Ticket Office at the following MRT stations: City Hall, Raffles Place, Ang Mo Kio, HarbourFront, Bugis, Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, Lavender and Bayfront. The MRT stations and trains are well equipped with facilities to make travel smooth for wheel chair users, visually impaired, as well as families with strollers.
By taxi: Taxis are also frequently used and a common mode of transport especially for the places not accessible by buses or trains. Cabs run on meters, although it is advisable to check with the driver because a lot of them charge based on time, location and destination of travel and might also add surcharges depending of the company the cab belongs to. Make sure to ask for a receipt at the end of the trip. Taxis can be boarded from the roadside at most places, or by queuing for any of the taxi stands found at shopping malls, hotels and tourist attractions. Cabs can also be booked by calling at a common taxi booking number, 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222), which than routes the call to any available taxi company’s call centre.
By bus: The most economically viable mode of transport in Singapore is the bus system which is extensively connected covering all routes to places in the city. It is also a great and comfortable way to explore and see the city also because most buses are air conditioned, a very important aspect for traveling in the tropical climate of Singapore. Singapore Tourist Pass is commonly used to pay for the bus travels by using the card reader located next to the driver as your board and exit. Cash payments are also accepted but need to be exact change amount.
Singapore Visitor Centre: Three Singapore Visitor Centres in ION Orchard, Orchard or Chinatown are available in case you need help. Information on tips and recommendations to plan your itinerary, purchase tickets to attractions and tours are available here, also you can pick up locally designed souvenirs and book accommodation for your stay.
To be continued in next post ‘Must Visit Places in Singapore’
Christmas in New York, the Rio Carnival in Brazil and La Tomatino festival in Spain all put together cannot beat the madness and magnitude of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata, India. It is almost impossible to pen down the experience in words, and if I do it would be a never ending post I am sure. To save all the trouble, here is my photo and video journal of my experience of visiting the stunning pandal in Kolkata during Durga Puja 2016 made with immense artistic work and manual intricate labour, it is an art kingdom on its own and would be any art lovers ticket to paradise:
Pandal in the shape of huge Manipuri dancers of India in Bosepukur Talbagan:
Tribal themed Durga Puja pandal in Tridhara Sammilani Sarbojanin:
The very famous and popularized World’s 1st Durga goddess with 1000 hands in Deshapriya Park:
Bhutan themed Durga idol and pandal in New Alipore Suruchi Sangha:
I do not remember the name of the place but the decor was made out of plastic dusting brushes, pretty unique and colorful:
Amusing figure of Ravana from the sky in Kendua Shanti Sangha club:
The Bengali wedding themed pandal in Bosepukur Sitala Mandir:
Mesmerizing serene and calm idol of Durga in Naktala Udayan Sangha depecting peace within chaos:
A divine pandal with decor of stone pebbles dropping fromt the sky in Badamtala Ashar Sangha Durga Puja pandal:
Intricate work and detailing on the pandal with dry fruit shells, wood shavings and betel nuts in Jatra Suru Sangha Durga Puja Pandal:
So next Durga Puja book your tickets to Kolkata to indulge in art of the most beautiful kind and admire the hard work and labor that goes behind these stunning pandals.
I have seen Kashmir in Bollywood movies and always wondered when I would get that chance to go there. It seemed like a piece of Europe in my own country India, enormous mountains, tall pine trees, rivers running in between the valleys, blue skies, shikara rides, gorgeous looking people and so much more beauty all in one place.
So I booked my flight and hotel tickets way back in the month of May to travel to Kashmir in September. September being a busy season in Kashmir and when I had booked my tickets in May the hotels were almost getting sold out. But as my luck would have it, curfew struck Kashmir in July. All the news channels and newspapers were flooded with news about the curfew. So I waited for a few months until August to check back on the situation, unfortunately not much had changed. Came September and a few days left for me to travel to Kashmir and by then the curfew had been on more that 50 days. With uncertainty and my wish to visit Kashmir, not knowing when next I would get a chance to travel to this beautiful place I decided to go ahead with my plans. I definitely did receive a lot of ‘are you crazy to go there now?’ type statements from various people I know. And so I did go..
As a result during my time is curfew stricken Kashmir I did end up busting a few myths about how Kashmir really is during curfew..Here is a detailed account of my days in Kashmir during curfew.
With an anxious heart and partially worried head I finally arrived at the Srinagar airport. I was greeted with the impact of curfew the moment I landed in the Srinagar Airport. While I was waiting for my luggage to arrive I happened to get acquainted with a local woman from there living in Delhi, we started chatting and boom came the question ‘What brings you to Srinagar?’, when she heard I was there travelling for leisure, she was totally livid! How could I plan to travel to Kashmir during the curfew, my reply as usual was that my tickets were booked way in advance and I wanted to take the chance. This was just one of those many discouraging conversations that followed later during my days in Kashmir.
My houseboat owner arranged for my travel to the houseboat from the airport. On my way to the houseboat I noticed that all roads were totally barren and all the shops were closed. Except for the army personals there were no other people on the roads and not even one shop was open. I reached my house boat and was greeted by the keeper with a warm smile. After taking some rest I discussed with the hotel people on what are the places I could visit.
The Mughal Gardens:
So for my first day I visited the Mughal Gardens. There are 4 gardens which make it up to the Mughal gardens. I would say a few of the gardens were beautiful with lovely blossoms of various kinds, although don’t expect too much, I must admit I was a little disappointed by a few too. None the less all of them are well maintained and have a heritage value so these are more than just gardens and rather monuments, lets put it that way.
Next I went to the Sankaracharya temple, it’s a beautiful climb up the hills, it’s a 800 year old temple, clean and very well maintained, due to the curfew it was ONLY me who was there at that time, there were no tourists at all. And I loved the experience to be able to take in all the beauty all by myself. I realized I had not been in so much silence in a long time. The view from the top is breathtaking, the entire Dal lake and Srinagar could be seen from above, the peace and serenity of the place is contagious, I wish they would have let me click a picture of the view, I could not click any since it is a high security zone and cameras and phones are not allowed.
Sunset at Dal Lake:
On my way down, I spent some time at the Dal lake. The sun was setting and it was a mesmerizing view to behold, as the sun was setting the shikaras formed a silhouette and a perfect vision to take away with me for life.
I planned to shop a little and since most of the shops were closed, our taxi driver took me to an underground store belonging to the co-operative, I must say the place was a steal, huge collection and very reasonably priced. I almost bought everything in the shop! It should be a must visit place for anyone who plans to go shopping. I retired to the houseboat after this, on my way back I could see a few shops were open since the curfew would usually last from 6am – 6pm. Few shops were open and for a change I could see some locals on the streets which was welcoming to see. Although my plan to dine somewhere outside failed since all the eating places were shut down. So I settled in for a homely dinner at the house boat. I did enjoy my first day in curfew stricken Kashmir.
Airport to Houseboat transfer: Rs 500
Day tour of Srinagar: Rs 1500
Continued in Part II…Coming soon!
Darjeeling – My Muse
As a kid I remember waking up to the beautiful aroma of Darjeeling tea everyday along with morning chatter and my Dad sipping on to it while reading the newspaper. It is since then that ‘Darjeeling‘ has enchanted me. When I grew up, inevitably I too took to this drink as my favorite cup of tea. I had visited Darjeeling on many occasions earlier as a kid but that was more of a holiday with family. This year I am visiting Darjeeling again after 12 years, but this time it is with a different mindset, it is with the knowledge that this is the place which was the reason for my morning enchantment as a kid and continues to be, it is with desire to see the hills that bear them.
Darjeeling is classically beautiful, it is beauty that never ages, it is evergreen and elegant.
As I drove up towards Darjeeling from the Bagdogra Airport in a taxi few hours ago, the spiral hilly roads only added to my anticipation of seeing this old colonial hill city yet again, which was once the summer resort for the British during their rule in India. It is the British influence that I could immediately seen once I reached Darjeeling.
I will skip the part on where and which hotel I checked into because I will detail about my hotel & details of my stay in a following blog post as and when I travel around Darjeeling, since Darjeeling cannot be talked about in only one blog post. In this post I only want to sink into admiring this hill city right now as I stand there. I checked into my hotel a while ago, it is almost sun down now. In the same airport taxi I got dropped off at the next place I could not wait to get to, the Mall Road. Mall Road is a small stretch of road which ends with a huge open space with a stage at the very end which has an enormous live screen playing amazing music videos along side it. The place is busy with tourists and locals lazying around either sitting on the side benches or on the stairs to the stage. There are many horse keepers ready with their horses to take people for a ride around the mall road for a nominal charge. The place is so infectious as if it is inviting me to come, sit, stay and just stop for a while and take a break. Just down the road is the ‘Clock Tower’ with this huge clock standing tall in the heart of the city. It immediately reminded me of some Bollywood movies that were shot around the clock tower (latest Bollywood movie being ‘Barfi‘).
As I strolled past the several antique stores by the road the clouds came descending down to kiss me as if to say ‘you are welcome back’. There is a CCD cafe right in the heart of the mall road facing the valley below.
For now I am sipping onto a lovely cup of Darjeeling tea sitting on a couch telling you all about my first few hours in Darjeeling, while I watch the clouds form a garland in the valley below and I contemplate on my itinerary for my stay of next few days in these hills whom I call ‘My Muse‘.
Things to DEFINITELY do in GOA in an all girls trip
Why travel blogging is fun and useful!
Well, let me be honest, I am a pretty lazy person, having said that I am making it obvious that blogging really wasn’t my first choice or idea, the very idea of blogging meant hours of typing, hours in front of the laptop, lots of editing, posting, reading etc. As characteristic to lazy people I took the easier way out, like sharing my travel experiences on Facebook, Instagram, or rather let’s say social networking websites, or if I really was in the mood, maybe take to TripAdvisor to pen down my experiences, having a full time job in the IT industry and other interests to go with it, made it more so obvious due to lack of time and energy.
So what made me change my mind??
No 1. Travel journal
On an average I travel 10-12 times a year, and by travel I mean leisure travelling, not business or work related trips. So having a weak memory, inspite of travelling to a lot of places I would usually not remember a lot of stuffs about my trips. It was infuriating and disappointing at the same time. The obvious answer to this was a travel journal. Very soon I realized that the last time I held a pen in my hand to write something down was 6 years back. So basically my handwriting was too disinteresting for me to find the courage to read the lines ever again. That meant the obvious solution was an online journal. Once I was convinced I would be maintaining a travel journal, why not as well a blog that would also allow me to share my experiences and interact with others like me.
No 2. Extreme travelers
Frankly, I am sure a lot of you might agree or disagree that the travel blogs usually out there online are by extreme travelers. What do I mean by extreme travelers? The travelers who are usually long term, backpacking travelers or the professional travel bloggers. What I found amiss was the regular next door, working class travel bloggers. I definitely am not surprised though that maybe the other half are too busy to take the time out to write things down, but then somewhere there remains a gap. The criteria’s of travel for a full time salaried person and an out and out professional travelers are very different. For me the travel is more budget, time frame and convenience targeted. So getting to know travel experiences from that perspective is really something I would like to contribute to.
No 3. Biased posting
Sometimes when I really liked travelling to a place or have a great experience, I have tried posting in open travel review websites like TripAdvisor, etc. but it seems half of my reviews go unposted. I don’t blame them though, I am sure they need to maintain a certain decorum. But by trying to write down posts that seem postable to them maybe I would be compromising on my honest experience sharing indirectly, which definitely I have a problem with. In my own blog I can write honestly, no pleasing or screening.
No 4. Its Liberating
I never imagined how liberating it could feel to be able to share and express ones thoughts or experiences. What started as a way to keep my travel experiences organized, now has me totally hooked on to it.
The one most interesting part of India is the North East India. Gorgeous waterfalls, one of its kind world famous One-horned Rhinos, the mighty Brahmaputra with the worlds largest river island called ‘Majuli’.
I found myself in Meghalaya recently on my trip to North East. It is home to Scotland of the East, the mighty Elephant Falls, the highest rainfall receiving place of the planet and a network of caves. Caves have always intrigued me. Mysterious and complicated as they are. Cherrapunji which is also the highest rainfall receiving place on earth houses many exotic caves. Mausmai caves being the oldest and the most mesmerizing caves and the newly opened Arwah Caves. These 2 are the most tourist frequented caves in Cherrapunjee.
I started my journey from Shillong. A taxi to the Cherrapunji caves is easily available from the police bazaar taxi stand in Shillong. A full small car as taxi should cost one around Rs 2000 for round trip. Personally I preferred to go in the monsoon season so that I could enjoy the beauty of the place on Earth receiving the highest rainfall, and Boy! was it raining?! Its was an unforgettable experience, it was raining so hard that rain had the effect of fog like haze out as we looked out of the car window screen. It had been raining non stop for 3 days already. We left early at 6:30 am for our trip to the caves with enough buffer time considering the excessive rain and low visibility. The visibility was as low as 1 feet. It took us a good 3 hours to reach the first cave on our list, the Arwah caves.
The make shift huts have mannequin type villagers stationed to give a human touch to the place. As we entered the cave, cave entry being wide enough, you get the mysterious feeling already. Then a flight of steel staircase took us beyond, which we had to climb down which took us further into the cave. They had water flowing at the floor, and since we went at the monsoon season it was not just water but a strong force of water sweeping our feet, clean and cold. The guide informed us that the water from the caves was drinking water and could be used for the same purpose. The first section is wide and high, it has lights fitted as well, also there is something like an upper deck of caves network as well that can be climbed from this section using staircase installed there. We did climb up into one of those smaller caves, gives you quite an attic like feeling and makes for an adventurous one as well. Once we climbed down the guide helped us further into the caves.
Further was a very narrow and high passage into the caves where there are no lights and only torch light was the source, with water sweeping our feet we reached this large hall like opening. The guide told us the water flowing inside the cave was pure and fit enough for drinking. The guide also showed us fossil print embedded into the walls of the caves. Further inside, the guide pointed towards fresh stalactite formations with shape edges and shiny surface. Its was a thrilling experience. A must visit I must say.
The next one on our list is the Mausmai caves and is one of the oldest caves that was discovered and has been a tourist attraction for a really long time. We reached the location when it was raining tremendously.
The entrance to the cave was only a few flight of stairs and which us inside the cave. The maturity of the caves is prominent as the stalactites & stalagmites have huge formations and some have a glittering effect as well. Although the opening as we entered was not too big.
Then comes the interesting part, where the caves form a very narrow tunnel like passage that took us further. It is highly advised that obese and aged people avoid getting through the passage, as the way into and out of the narrow passage to the other side of the cave is slippery and also needs good balance of feet. One could easily get hurt if not careful. The narrow passage took us further into the cave where there was a pretty big opening but a very small area and then we walked out of the cave. The way out is spooky, the exit took us out to a walking track with dense trees around, and as we made our way out it got dark got pretty creepy as well. It seemed like a scene out of some spooky Hollywood movie I must say 😉 Over all a pretty adventurous place and a again not a place one should miss if visiting Cherapunjee.
Last year during one of my trips to Meghalaya, I happened to learn about the Living Root Bridges from one of our taxi drivers, not only did the name find my interest, but the way the taxi driver described it was equally interesting and fascinating.
So once I got back I googled and read a lot about it. The more I read the more I wanted to go visit this mysterious place. So finally after a little bit of planning I took off to this majestic place.
Meghalaya’s double-decker and single-decker root bridges are unique in the world and one of its kind. The bridges are a brilliant examples of bio-engineering. The secondary roots of the Ficus Elastica trees are entangled in such a way, done so by the Khasi people ages ago, that after many years they grow across streams or tiny rivers to form what we now see as the Living Root Bridges. These root take around 15-20 years to grow into bridges strong enough to hold many people together.
Reaching this place:
Well, to begin with this place is not the easiest to reach. Reaching Guwahati is easy, Guwahati is one of the most prominent cities in the North-East of India, it is well connected by air, rail and bus to all major cities and also some international locations. Once you reach Guwahati, you have the option of either going to Shillong or Cherrapunji directly, we chose to go to Shillong as it is my obvious favorite place to stay. Shillong is the capital city of Meghalaya, the state where the Living Root Bridges are located. From Guwahati airport there are several options of transport. My suggestion, if you are alone or 2-3 people, take the Winger service, its basically a big traveller van, spacious and comfortable for a 3 hour journey. They charge Rs 400 per person for an air conditioned winger service. If you are a larger group, hire a car for Rs 2000. We stopped at Nongpo for tea and snacks, Nongpo again is famous for its various pickles available for sale there, we saw an abundance of pickles of various types, my favorite one was the fish & bamboo pickle. I found the rates at the restaurants not very cheap and the food not very yummy, but it works fine as a stop over. On your way we passed the Bora Pani lake, one of the largest lakes and very beautifully maintained, it is kept really clean as well. It took us a good 3-3.5 hours to reach Police Bazaar in Shillong. After a quick check in into our hotel in Police Bazaar, we took to the streets of Shillong in the evening. Police Bazaar is the main hub in Shillong and one can find several taxis and drivers standing there in the taxi stands. As soon as we approached one of the drivers we had a crowd of drivers ready to bargain. We fixed one taxi at Rs 1500 to take us to and fro from the Living Root Bridges. It was a good bargain since it was monsoon season and off season at this time of the year. Usually one can expect the hired taxis for 4 people to cost Rs 2000 – 2500.
Next day we started our journey to the Living Root Bridges at 8:00 am after breakfast. Since we were travelling in the month of August, we were greeted pleasantly by heavy rainfall and why not so, Meghalaya is after all the land of the rains. The roads were not as bad as we had assumed them to be. Apart from a few landslides on the way which caused no harm to the roads, we also came across several tiny waterfalls formed due to heavy rainfall, after which we reached Sohra. Post Sohra the road gets a little bumpy as we took a right turn which headed towards Tura village. It is not even a proper road, it is basically washed out due to heavy rainfall. In total it took us 3 hours to reach Tura, the village from where the trek to the bridges start.
At the Living Root Bridges:
When we reached, the rains had subsided, you we found a couple of shops at the beginning of the stairs going downwards, selling biscuits, chips and one could also hire a local guide if required for around Rs 500, which might be bargained to Rs 400 for a to and fro trip to the Living Root Bridges and back.
We started our trek with the local guide, who unfortunately only spoke his local language and broken English. The first few flight of stairs are properly cemented, wide stairs. As you further walked ahead the stairs start getting narrower until we reached a flight of twisted stairs taking a plunge downwards providing majestic views of the hills around with multiple natural waterfalls found during monsoon season.
We found the local guide helpful since he voluntarily helped us carry one of our bag packs. And since it was raining non-stop there were no locals around to ask for directions, so we definitely would have got lost since the direction markings were not very proper and lets not even talk about GPS guidance. After a certain stretch of stairs we reached a rocking hanging wire bridge, with water gushing below it, it was and absolute thrill crossing it I must say.
In total there are 2 hanging steel bridges we had to cross and a series of unpaved natural stairs to reach the magnificent Living Root Bridges. It took was 1.5 hours to reach to the bottom inclusive of considerable time we spent clicking pictures in the hanging bridges and around. We spent a good 2-3 hours there soaking in the surroundings and admiring the intelligence of these ancient people who had mastered the art of using natural resources of engineering.
On our way up we stopped by a local shop selling tea and omelette. Although funny thing the lady did not know how to make an omelette, so we helped her make one. It took us 2 hours to climb back up the 3000 stairway.
I felt this beautiful piece of bio-engineering was way under hyped and not known to a lot of people even in my own county India. I hope more people take a journey to this beautiful bridges, it is once in a life time experience for sure.
Some more snaps from my trip:
I would recommend staying @ Review: Eee Cee Hotel