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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Punggol and Orchard Road

I continue From Here 

Day-02... 30-April-2016


We woke up late and the wet windows indicated that it had rained that morning. We got ready and headed for our breakfast buffet at the hotel. The spread was very impressive. It had a few vegetarian options as well. At around 10:30, we went to the Krishna Temple behind our hotel. It was surprising to see that even Singaporeans worship the main deities but of course in their own way, by burning incense sticks. 


We then headed to the MRT at Little India and took a train towards Sengkang. At Sengkang, we took the light rail until Bakau. The north eastern tip of Singapore is completely a residential area filled with Government built apartment complexes. We met my school friend Anand at the Bakau station and he guided us to his apartment. It was nice meeting him after a long time and also to know his wife and sweet little twins. 

Anand explained to me that these apartment complexes are built such that a few complexes combined have a supermarket and park. The house has a special room built of metal that is a protection from Bomb attacks. Every house would have such safe rooms in case of emergency. The houses are very spacious unlike in HK. The citizens buy these houses but they have to stay there for at least ten years before renting them out. The public schools come at a subsidised rates for the citizens but the foreigners pay the regular fee. It was interesting to get to know the culture and lifestyle here. Anand and I also discussed photography and he convinced me to edit my pictures using the software named Lightroom. Another interesting topic was about the full time Indonesian maid they have at their place to look after the kids. Anand’s wife briefed us about the elaborate interview process before hiring a maid and how they are treated like an employee and are eligible to avail yearly leaves, medical coverage, yearly travel tickets to their home country and other amenities. The maids also come with a two page resume detailing out their experiences. It was interesting to hear that Government provides some interesting English and other vocational training classes for these maids on Sundays, at a reasonable fee, so that they can make use of their time-off in a constructive manner. 

In the evening, we took a cab to the Punggol point, which is the Northeastern tip of the country. There is a nice walkway created near the shore. The approach road to this area is filled with trees and gives a forest like feel. The area was filled with the locals bicycling, fishing, playing or trying the series of sea food restaurants. It was a nice sight, with very less tourists and more residents. 






On the other side of the shore we see Malaysia and Indonesia. 



We headed back to Orchard road and took a walk by the huge malls filled with very popular and expensive brands from around the world. The streets were decently crowded and we saw one or two singers on the street entertaining the crowd. 



You find a lot of small road side stalls serving ice cream wafers; seemed like a delicacy that everyone wanted a bite of it. We tried a few flavours ourselves. The shop was setup on top of a motorcycle. You could also choose the bread instead of wafers you you wish. 



We visited the ION Orchard mall which houses some of the biggest brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and others. 




After that long walk on Orchard road, we headed back to the hotel at around 10:30 PM.

Continued Here 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Little India, Singapore

I continue From Here 

Day-01 (Contd...) 29-April-2016

Post our much needed nap, on our first day in Singapore, we headed towards Little India. As it was only a kilometre away from our hotel, we decided to walk. I always love the walk that Lonely planet books suggest around a locality. It normally covers all the attractions in the area, including bazaars and local specialties. Our route followed thus - 

Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple - It’s a nice small Buddhist temple with a 15m tall Buddha idol. 



Right in front of it is another small Buddhist temple called Leong San See Temple filled with lots of glittering gold plated idols and statues. 



We took an alley to get to Serangoon road, that had some interesting graffiti on display.




On Serangoon rd is Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. The temple has a beautiful gopura. At the time we visited, the main shrine was closed. However, it houses a Vishnu idol as the name indicates. 



Further down this lane is Mustafa Centre, one of the most crowded and busiest malls. However, before entering the mall, we wanted to eat at Sarvana Bhawan. Upon entering, we noticed that it was empty and perhaps not authentic. So we stepped out and entered the neighbouring Anand Bhawan that seemed popular in the area.  A masala dosa cost you S$ 4 that is Rs200. So thats the kind of expense you are looking at. 



Little India, as the name indicates feels like India more than Singapore. Well, more precisely, it feels like Little Chennai than India; a cleaner Chennai perhaps. We tried some delicious dosas. The taste was equivalent to what we would get in India. 

Mustafa is filled with shops that sell almost everything under the sky. There are several floors and it resembles a big bazaar from India. The only difference being, that it is ten times bigger. 



Walking down the same road, we passed through Anguilla mosque and arrived at Veeramkaliamman temple. The place was crowded with idols of all the Gods and of course with Tamilians. The feel though seemed very south Indian. Unlike, in Sri Lanka, there were no distinguishable difference in the Prayer styles. 



We also witnessed a Bhangra dance performance being performed at a local park. The performers invited the Indian audience to join in but everyone hesitated. Perhaps, most of them were south Indians who normally are not as expressive or extroverts as North Indians.  I liked this park with fake trees and colourful umbrellas replacing leaves.






We continued on Veersamy rd and turned left on to Kampong Kapor rd; passed through the methodist church and on Dunlop st, we visited this beautiful mosque. Many were performing their evening namaz. 



Dunlop St also has some good hostels and pubs. We next walked by the Tan house and Tekka centre filled with stalls selling vegetable, meat and more food. 

There are a lot of budget Indian eateries out here. If you are someone who hesitates to try new cuisine and would like to stick with Indian food, then Little India is where you need to stay in. It is slightly crowded and might get noisier on evenings and weekends. But, the biggest downside of staying there, according to me, is that you shall feel like you are in Chennai. 

However, continuing the comparison with HK, it is interesting to note that in SP, the Indians seem much more well behaved. People do not stare at you or they do not bother you like they do in HK. In HK, we always saw a bunch of Indians, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis grouping together near metro stations and staring at people. Sometimes approaching you to buy something or try food at their restaurants etc. The indian community in SP are much more well mannered in that regards. The Indians, mostly south indians, are very polite to the tourists from India and very accommodating. They do not show-off or pretend to be aliens to the natives like we see happen in most developed nations. 

We  stopped at a MRT station and bought the EZ-Link card that has discounted fare for trains and buses. It is very similar to the Octopus card in HK but not that friendly. An Octopus card in HK can be used everywhere - in shops, trains, buses or hotels etc. But EZ-link is only meant for transport. It costs S$12 and an additional S$5 for the card which is non-refundable. You can top it up at any MRT stations as and when required. 

All together this has been a great day and we seem to have got a flavour of this city already. Can’t wait to explore it further. 

Continued Here 

Singapore!

Day01...29-April-2016

We arrived in Singapore at around 6:00 AM this morning. A feel for the countries amazing hospitality was experienced while flying Singapore airlines. Additionally, may it be navigating inside the airport, immigration process or money exchange and buying a local SIM card, everything was extremely easy. As usual, I use my Debit card to withdraw some local currency in the country I visit. That works better. Almost all Tourist SIM cards are comparable. I bought a plan with Singtel. Starhub also has similar offers. 


We took a taxi to the Ibis hotel in Bencoolen, which is in the downtown. I picked this location over Little India and Chinatown for better connectivity and to avoid a concentrated community.  Ibis offers a midrange price if booked well in advance and for those who prefer quiet and central locations, this is an amazing place to stay. The taxi charges are relatively cheaper than any other developed countries. Tips are not expected in taxies or in restaurants. 

At the hotel, since we were 6 hours before our check in time, we were provided a hospitality room to relax and freshen up. We left our luggage at the hotel reception and stepped out to explore a nearby Hawker centre. Hawker centres are open-air complex that houses several stalls that serves variety of inexpensive food. 




There are a lot of options for non vegetarians but for me, like always, its an interesting adventure to explore the vegetarian side of any particular cuisine. Our first Singaporean dish was - Rice balls with Ginger soup.The rice balls had sesame paste filings. it was delicious. 


The old lady serving it was very kind and explained to us that everything she served was vegetarian friendly. I could not help comparing Singapore(SP) with Hong Kong(HK). People in SP are friendlier and almost everyone can speak English. I understand that this is more tourist centric country than HK. Also, the locals of SP are more interactive. 

At another pure vegetarian food stall, we tried rice and some vegetarian dishes. One of the dishes had an ingredient, that seemed suspicious. We asked the lady serving, if it was meat. She said that it was mutton. When we told her we could not eat it, she clarified that her foods were Vegetarian and halal friendly and they did not serve pork or chicken or any meat. Finally it was clear that she was referring to it as mushroom and not mutton. Noting that we did not like it she just picked that particular ingredient and threw it away. Anyways, the food was very tasty. The gravy had Indian or thai influence. Some soya milk and tea completed our brunch.


On our way back, we stopped at  this buddhist temple right behind our hotel called Kuan IM Thong Hood Cho Temple. This temple was very crowded and filled with the aroma of gradually burning incense sticks. There were a lot of fortune tellers outside the premises and many locals seemed curious to know their future. A few studied the devotees palms and others worked on a horoscope like sketches to predict. The site was a scaled down version of the temples we had seen in HK. 




We walked by the local markets and also the expensive malls around the area. Almost every shop in Bugis street seemed to serve the same items. Lots of identical souvenirs, women's clothing, fruits and vegetables. Occasionally we came across  some nice bakeries that served delicious looking baked items. The high-end malls had great collection of expensive brands but unlike the previous street markets we had visited  these malls had scarcity of customers.



The weather was humid and hot. However, a late afternoon shower made it cooler. We returned to our hotel, checked-in and took a nap to catchup with our lost sleep. We decided to explore Little India in the evening. 

Continued Here 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Makalidurga Night Trek

When the temperature in Bangalore refuses to reduce, the only way out for the trekking enthusiasts is to go on night treks. This time with my friends from French class and the summit we chose to conquer was Makalidurga. We were 10 to start with but few hours before the trek 4 of them dropped off. So, in two cars, we set off towards Yelahanka. Mir and I met Manohar at Yelahanka, where he lives. Dipali and two of her friends, Anusha and Kapil met us there. Thanks to our friend Aman for lending his car! At Yelahanka, around 11:30 in the night, we struggled to find a petrol bunk that was open. We searched for several kilometres and finally found one. That search seemed like forever though. We had another stop for some tea before we finally headed towards the hill base near Doddabalpura. 

By the time we reached Makalidurga base, it was 2:30AM. The reason I chose Makalidurga for this trek was that the route is well mapped on Google maps, including the trekking trail (Type Makalidurga Trek Trail). Considering that for everyone else except me, this was their first night trek, I wanted to be safe and avoid any unnecessary adventures. Moreover, I had been here once before, during daytime though.  There were two cars parked at the base hinting the presence of another group at the summit. Thanks to few previous trekkers who have marked directions on rocks, there was less possibility of getting lost. We followed the mark and took sufficient breaks to enjoy the night sky and the cool breeze. Conversing in French was a bonus on this trek. we reached the summit at around 4:30AM. There was a light green snake at the fort entrance to welcome us. I was about to set my foot on it when I saw it. It froze for a while when I pointed the light on it and then moved away. 

Listening to Mir’s hilarious narration of some the events from his childhood, the time just flew. We were rolling over the floor laughing at the monkey and nipple story. So thanks to him sleep was driven away and we witnessed the sky gradually turn brighter. Sunrise was beautiful and it was time for some pictures and selfies. There is a railway track running next to the hill and the summit presents an amazing view of the trains swirling on the tracks.






We met two other groups who had trekked during the night as well. While, we were heading back, two more groups were climbing. The descent was not very hard either. The lush fields and orchards in the villages below looked magnificent and a few peacocks screamed from the bushes. Before the sun could get higher up on the sky and burn us all, we were at the base. 





We stopped at Doddablapura for some breakfast and parted ways. It was an interesting trek filled with some great conversations; specially between Mir, Manohar and I, we discussed a lot of topics during our drive. By the end of this trip all of us had conquered one or the other fear we might have had. Fear of darkness, of bears, ghosts or snakes; fear of trusting, of accidents, of strangers or of taking risks with people. That is what I like about such adventures. You always return back losing one or more of your fears that has been clinging on to you for God knows how long. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Upbringing

To my parents!

Recently, my father had to receive some unsolicited advice from a conceited relative. He was told that his children did not conform by the social norms as much as expected and it was a consequence of a bad upbringing. This saddened my father and he expressed it to my elder sister and me. The comment was responded with silence from us, considering all the differences we have between ourselves.

My issues with my parents, especially with my father are now not a repressed emotion. Both of us have openly expressed our disagreements with each other. My father complains that I do not interact with him as much as he would expect me to. On the other hand, I feel that he was not affectionate towards me during my childhood, which made me feel neglected, and makes it harder to change my opinion all of a sudden. However, for years, I had kept these feelings within myself and brooded over it.

Now in my mid-thirties, when I no longer need to hide my emotions, I began opening up with my sister and some of my friends. And what I found out was that every single person I spoke to also had similar issues with their parents. Sometimes-even worse. 

Somebody's parents were over possessive of them and others were dominating; some displayed biased affection between children thus boosting sibling rivalry and few were always complaining and comparing them with other children, some of them felt pressured by parental expectations while a few others felt neglected. That sad revelation was rather relieving and the magnitude of my own differences with my parents seemed relatively insignificant. I knew now that I am not the only one experiencing this. However, as we grow older, we realize that the bad memories supersede the good ones and form a miasma of misunderstanding that refuses to clear, thus promoting a fallacy that life is just in those unpleasant memories. And by constantly reminding myself of it, I might be creating a similar haze of sad impressions for my parents. But we all recognize that life is not only in those unhappy recollections because there are the thoughtful ones too. Further, it is astonishing to note how an unwanted advice, driven by vanity, from someone insignificant can set you down the memory lane to find those.

I have always been a rebel. I did not hesitate going against the society or my parents if they were found to be wrong according to me. In spite of belonging to an upper caste, in the Hindu religion, I did not think twice before making friends who belonged to the lower castes or another religion and I frequently invited them home. That was a very sensitive subject during those days and perhaps still is in my part of the country. Though that broke a few rules of an orthodox Brahmin family, I was allowed to continue with it without any remark from my parents. Moreover, when my parents had a major quarrel with some of the relatives or neighbors, they would discontinue all association with them. Though never explicitly mentioned, being part of the same family, I was probably expected to follow the decision. However, I was never the one to blindly obey such assessments. I had to evaluate my relationships and decide for myself. Thus, I often rejected my parent’s resolution, as their animosity with a certain individual did not seem to affect my relationship. That must have disappointed them but they never objected it. They let me do what I wanted to do despite their displeasure in my act. I strongly believe that they permitted me to be myself and in many cases supported my decisions.

When I expressed a keen interest in painting, my mother recommended that I learn from my uncle who was a renowned artist. Due to his old age, he had stopped taking additional students and thus refused to have me over. But my mother was not the one to give up. Her repeated request finally convinced him. My father happily accompanied me to his cousin brother's house and introduced me to my teacher. Subsequently, they took pride in the results of my creativity.  Moreover, whether it was my entry to one of the best pre-university colleges in Mangalore or my admission to one of the best tuition centers, my parents played a significant role in making that happen.

Graduating from an engineering college during a recession (2001) was not easy. My mother played a crucial role in finding me, my first job. My father requested my aunt and arranged for my stay in Bangalore. Additionally, they rescued me out of a trouble that I once found myself in.

I once rejected a job offer. As a commitment, the company had collected my tenth grade marks card and refused to return it if I did not join them. The greedy HR manager demanded Rs 50,000 and then tried to negotiate. But, for me, time was running out as my new company expected me to travel to the US immediately. It was my father who had to deal with the fake corporate world to acquire my certificate back, while I flew to the US.

My stay in the US made me independent and vitalized the development of my personality. This independence permitted me to further define my values and principles based on my own experiences in life and not necessarily by what were taught by the others. Of course, the cultural background I had received from my parents supported my evaluation. Thus, independent opinions that existed since childhood strengthened and were reinforced by experiences. Some of which dissented from certain customs followed by our religion or caste. That did offend my parents but they did not force me to change my view. I would like to believe that they respected my beliefs despite its divergence from their own.

Today, I am passionate about traveling; painting makes me feel transcended; I take comfort in expressing myself through writing, and I enjoy gardening, learning new languages, photography and making short films. And my parents secretly admire all that I do. Of course, they might have their disagreements with some of my decisions, specially related to my refusal to assist the annual family events and my indifference towards certain religious rites and rituals. However, I strongly feel that my visits to Mangalore have to be counted by the visits I make to see my parents and not by my attendance to the annual family events. For me, my parents are more important than those rites and rituals. Nonetheless, what I do not fail to notice is that my parents never turned their beliefs into an obligation for me. One may prudently note that these disagreements between us affirm the fact that over time I have developed a personality for myself.

After so many years, if there is one thing that I can confidently speak about my upbringing, it is that, today, I have an identity of my own. I can think for myself and I can be who I want to be. This would have been impossible without my parents who always allowed me to be the person I chose to be. The freedom I received as a child to do what I wished, allowed me to develop a personality for myself, just like I desired. How many people can perhaps claim that?

Many I know are living an illusionary life, considering an identity unique to them. However, most of it is predetermined by the society they live in. They and their life, nearly resembles that of the person walking next to them on any given street in this country. Closely observing some of my relatives and friends, it is easy to infer that they have been raised in an authoritarian surrounding that is often made to deceivingly appear protective. They are told what to do, what to speak or how to dress or which profession or hobbies they could have. They are constantly expected to report their life and decisions to their parents and sacrifice all their wishes for the need or demands of the family or even worse, society. Additionally in the name of cultural and tradition, they are tamed to carry over the thought process to the next generation. What saddens me the most is that they (the children) have not even developed a capability to comprehend that. Some of them do understand it and decide to live a life in hiding. When I came of age, whether planned or not, my parents provided me the space I needed to explore myself. However, I won't tell that my parents are always right or that they are perfect. I do not claim that I necessarily agree with all their acts. But then nobody is perfect. No family is.

My parents too might have made mistakes but so have I. It could have been driven by our own insecurities, bad judgments, and poor communication or by the societal pressures and hence the differences, just like in any other family. But all I want to convey is that if there were anybody who can question our parents about our upbringing it would be only my two elder sisters and me. A relative or anybody waking on the street cannot come over and point fingers at my parents because we did not abide by a certain rule of the society. Because they neither have the complete understanding of our life, nor do they have the right to do so.  They as well might be the reason for such a demonstration by us. And the irony is that these people have surmised that they have been perfect parents because their children are obedient to them, like dogs are to their masters. Thus they continue to fail in understanding that the verdict on them needs to be passed by their children and not by themselves.

Moreover, we have to grow beyond a perception that religion, caste and society can dictate our identity and lifestyle. A demonstration of eccentricity to a certain way of life does not become a misfit to the society. Every individual has a story that has shaped him or her to be what he or she is and if everyone is let to defend oneself, it might become a crucial step to change the society itself. Hence, it would be utter stupidity to abide by the rules of a society by suppressing ones own personal peace and harmony because the society itself is an unstable entity that has been constantly changing or hopefully evolving over the years. Irrespective of all these thoughts on the society, I am an extremely social individual.

I have always enjoyed the company of people and I have always looked forward to make new friends and to me a society can exist peacefully only when there is mutual respect. However, I also know someone who thinks that social gatherings are fake and the people who attend them are phony and would prefer to remain in her own comfort zone. I perfectly understand that and I would regard that as her respective choice reinforced by certain experiences known perhaps only to her. The people who criticize her behavior might have also played a crucial role in the formation of this view. Forcing her or expecting her to behave like us would be dogmatic and believe me; nobody likes it, including the individual laying those rules.

Despite the difference in opinion we have, that is bound to exist in a  relationship; for allowing me to be the person I wanted to be; for not moulding me into a replica of yourselves; for giving me the privilege of developing my own personality (that many children in India do not get), I cannot thank you enough, my parents!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Shivagange Night Trek

I joined my colleagues who were trekking Shivagange on the night of April 1st. At around 10:45 PM, I picked Charan from his home and drove to Tumkur road and waited for the others to join, at Chandu Dhaba. The others had their dinner and then, 12 of us drove towards Shivagange. 


A few kilometres before Dabaspet there is a left deviation to Shivagange which can be easily missed. If you miss it, you could always take the route through the Dabaspet town like the other car with us did. Google maps will guide you though.

However, this earlier deviation is very deserted and interesting than the other route. In the dark, it was very spooky and thrilling to drive on this road. 

We reached the base at around 1AM and immediately started to climb. A dog accompanied us. After a while, it invited its friend too on the trek. "Hey come along", it must have told the other one. " I bet they have some goodies for us. Humans don't travel anywhere without food." It must have added. So they joined us and in many places led our way and guided us. I named them Moti and Koti. 

The climb is not very easy. There are a few steep climbs. Steps are cut on the rock and railings are provided to hold on too, which can make the climb a little easier. I had been here earlier during the day but this was my first trek during the night. As we got up, the night sky appeared spectacular and an orange crescent moon rose into the sky, creating a magical view. 

Photo Credit - Subashchandra Rai

We were at the summit by around 3:30 AM. There is a nandi statue on one end of the summit and a temple on the other. It was extremely windy on the top which was refreshing at the beginning to beat the hot Bangalore weather but got really unbearable after a while. So we looked for some shelter. Couple of us cramped into the small temple veranda and others picked open areas to relax. Having had a very tiring day, I took an undisturbed, two hour nap. At dawn, the cold became unbearable. We woke up around 6 AM, right on time to watch the sunrise. It is always a good feeling to be somewhere away from the usual, to watch the sunrise. 




The cloud formation below the summit was also a wonderful sight to be viewed.




The return as usual was easy and quick. 





Back at the base, at a local restaurant, we had several cups of tea and some hot and tasty thate idly. We returned back to Bangalore by 10:30 in the morning. 

Couple of advantages of a night trek is that you get to see the lovely moon rise up the sky; away from the city lights, you can watch millions of star lit up the night sky; you could avoid the scorching hot sun and enjoy the cool breeze up at the summit or enjoy the sunrise and then come back home for the most peaceful sleep you have ever had. That last part is my favourite.