October 27, 2015

Malaysian Chronicle : Kuala Lumpur With Batu Caves

After bringing to conclusion our Singapore leg of the journey, we proceeded towards our next destination, Kuala Lumpur. One piece of advise for those planning to club Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in a single trip is to visit KL in the beginning and then proceed towards Singapore, unlike what we did. Once you are used to the efficiency with which things are run in Singapore, KL appears to be a bit of a let-down. The way the city is run appears a lot similar to an Indian city rather than its southern neighbour. Therefore one would be finding shortcoming in each and every thing right from public transport to local mannerism to general hygiene.

Fountain opposite Petronas Towers

We took a late morning flight to KL from the top of the class Changi Airport. Once we reached our destination we took the 40 min non-stop express train into the heart of KL, named aptly as KL Sentral. KL Sentral is like the Majestic area of Bangalore, THE HUB. You get transport from here to all the places in KL. We took a mono-rail to our hotel in Bukit Bintang, the shopping destination of KL. The plan for the day included visiting the icon of Malaysia, the Petronas Twin towers. Again we took the metro to reach this place via the KL Sentral station and we specifically wanted to view these towers all lit up, hence we reached this place post sundown.

KL Bird Park

The tallest twin tower in the world looked majestic all lit up against the night sky and a hint of mist floating around the topmost section of the tower. It kinda reminded me of the clouds engulfing a Himalayan peak. We decided against going to the observatory floor since the entry fee is quite steep and there would nothing interesting to view from the observation deck since we would be already inside the most interesting building in the vicinity !!!!. Further we had already visited the Skydeck of Marina Bay Sands and were not much interested in repeating the same. After spending close to an hour in the vicinity of the towers including witnessing the musical fountain we went inside the KLCC mall in search of food. Found a Saravana Bhavan outlet and that settled our search for a vegetarian meal.

The following day was dedicated for exploring the KL Bird park, Sentral Market and Petaling street. Again we took a train to KL Sentral and from there to Kuala Lumpur station. From there its a 5 minute taxi drive to the bird park. The bird park was just OK and nothing in comparison with the zoos etc in Singapore. There was whiff of stink in the air with all the bird poop in the vicinity. Spent close to 2 hrs exploring this park which included a Bird Show which was mildly interesting, but kids would enjoy it.

Sentral Market

From there we took a taxi again to Sentral Market which is one of the prime souvenir market in KL. Its an indoor and air conditioned market and a perfect place to spend the hot afternoons hunting for souvenirs to take back home. One can find all sorts of local jewellery, handicrafts, cloths, accessories and even chocolates. After spending close to 3 hours at this place we moved to Petaling street or Chinatown which is just a 5 min walk from this market. Petaling street is more of a street market with cloths, shoes etc at dirt cheap prices. Post-shopping we waited till the lanterns were turned on post sundown, which was pretty nice. After that we left for our hotel.

Batu Caves

The final day of our trip in Malaysia and we had plans to visit the Batu caves. After checking out of our room we caught a train from KL Sentral which takes close to 45 mins to reach the destination. After that one has to climb nearly 270 steps to reach the top which can be quite taxing.  Batu caves can be logically divided into 2 sections. First is the religious section wherein one can find Lord Murugan's temple within the cave and the other part is the conservation area wherein they are trying to preserve the unique ecosystem of the caves. The temples within the caves were decent and there is no restriction based on ones religious beliefs unlike in Indian temples. But the most interesting part of Batu caves was the "Dark Caves Tour" which involves a guided tour into the restricted conservation area. We were guided by a very enthusiastic and passionate person named as Don and he explained in great detail the fragile and unique ecosystem of these pitch black caves. We found various types of bats, spiders, and other insects along with formation of the stalactite and stalagmite into works of art. This tour lasted almost an hour and it was worth the RM 35 entry fee.

Dark Cave Tour

Post the cave tour we returned back to KL. Since we still had some time left before our evening flght we decided to explore the area of Bukit Bintang for some last minute shopping. We came across a restaurant serving authentic Malaysian Veg and organic food and hence we decided to taste the local malay cuisine for the very first time. I ordered a rice dish based on the attractive display photo and after tasting it felt that I still had a long way to go before I start to like South East Asian cuisine :P.  Finally in the evening caught the express train back to airport and hence it was a curtain drop on the Malaysian leg as well. 

October 21, 2015

Singapore Journal : Flora and Fauna Tour

The final day of our trip in Singapore was dedicated for exploring the the flora and fauna parks. The first stop for the day was the National Orchid Garden which is a part of the much larger Botanical Gardens. By now we had become pros in traversing the streets of Singapore using the MRT system. We first took a train to the Botanic Garden station and from there it was a fairly long walk to the National Orchid garden.

The Botanical garden was huge, but with it being devoid of any flowers, it can be a bit dull looking place. The National Orchid Garden is in complete contrast with its parent and according to Trip Advisor reviews this is the best place to visit in the whole of Singapore. Even the entry fee of $5 is tourist friendly. One can easily spend an hour or two exploring the various types of orchids that this garden has managed to produce. On this particular day it was drizzling and making the walk through the gardens all the more romantic.

Apart from the various orchids which come in all the shapes, texture and color there was a section wherein certain subspecies of the orchids have been cultured and named after famous celebrities around the world. The only Indian connection we could find was the one named after Usha Narayanan, wife of the former Indian president K R Narayanan. Further there were certain sections of the park which were simulating unique ecosytems found in various parts of the world, such as the mountainous regions of the South American continent wherein we can find the carnivorous plants which feed on unsuspecting insects which get caught in their tubular structured flowers.

After exploring this unique garden we decided to head towards Singapore zoo, considered one of the best zoos in the world and it actually lived upto that reputation. In the vicinity of the traditional zoo there are other animal exhibitions with different themes such as the Night Safari, River Safari and the Jurong Bird Park. We initially took a train from the Botanic Gardens to Ang Mo Kio from there we caught a bus to the Singapore zoo (details). These attractions are infact the farthest from the downtown areas and one has to consider the significant travel durations to reach these places. We reached this place around noon time. We had decided to visit the main zoo and Night safari post sundown.

The zoo was unique in comparison to those I had visited so far. It didnt feel like the animals where put up in cages and on the contrary it felt like they were free to roam around. And in fact they did, herbivorous animals were allowed to roam around the park. So one wouldn't be surprised if we came across orang-utans, lemurs, kangaroos etc roaming around freely without any restriction. The other showcase animals were the giant polar bear lazing through its climate controlled pool, a white tiger couple, leopard, cheetahs and so on. We attended shows performed by elephants and a seal wherein the animals  are "trained" to perform in front of a cheering audience. But I cant complain because no matter what , we were still in a zoo. The zoo closes at sun down and from there we moved to the Night Safari area which opens at 7.30pm.

There was a huge crowd waiting for the Night safari area to open up and it was not even a weekend !!!!. We were welcomed into the safari by a couple of tribal fire dancers which was breathtaking. The Night safari can be divided into 2 themes. First one is where they take you around in an electric vehicle around the park. The second one is the foot trails which takes a completely different route than the one taken by the vehicle. We enjoyed both of these sections. The basic premise of this Night safari is to view nocturnal animal behaviour, wherein they are the most active , unlike during the daytime when they just laze around to avoid the heat. Each animal area is illuminated by minimal light , mimicking the light emitted by a full moon, hence one can expect close to near darkness when moving from one area to another. The initial tram ride lasted for an hour, followed by the creatures of the night show where they give educational information on the creatures of the park such as raccoons, hyenas, pythons etc.

Followed by which we took the foot trail exploring the section of the lions, tigers, hyenas, leopards, wolves, flying squirrels, owls and so on. But the only complaint is that sometimes the lighting will be too dull to view the animals in case they decide to hide away in the bushes. Anyway by the time we were done with the foot trails we were dead tired and it was close to 10 pm and we were able to get a direct bus from here to our hotel in Little India operated by a private entity and costing us 5$ and saving close to an hour over using public transport back to the hotel.

September 23, 2015

Singapore Journal : Sentosa Island With Universal Studios

Sentosa Island was the most exciting and fun part of our Singapore trip. This island has so many attractions packed into one tiny area that it takes a minimum of 2 days to cover all of them. Some even go to extent of recommending 3 days for these islands. But based on the 2 day pass we had obtained we decided to go for a 2 day tour. A small piece of advise for those planning to visit these attractions is to avoid the weekends like hell. After seeing so many reviews in Tripadvisor we decided to visit in the middle of the week when the crowd and the waiting time would be minimum.  We had booked a 2 day fun pass which includes a full day pass to the Universal studios. This costs 139 $ /head (link), and value for money if planning to spend 2 complete days in here. Else it is better to select individual attractions and pay for those.

After having breakfast at Little India, we caught a train to Harbourfront station. From here one can either walk the distance to Sentosa island or take a monorail to the centre of the island. I would recommend taking the monorail since it saves time and energy. Day 1, we decided to explore universal studios for the entire day and reserved the attractions of Sentosa island for the next day. Universal studios is divided into various sections based on unique themes and each theme is inspired by some movie/s. For adults the most attractive regions are Ancient Egypt, Sci-fi City, Lost world and for the kids its Far-Far Away and Madagascar.


As it is obvious that we loved the first 3 theme areas with the best rides being the Transformers, Battlestar Galactica and Revenge of the mummy. In these rides they have gone miles ahead of the usual 4D experience that we usually get in the Indian theme parks and they give an almost life like experience. The transformers ride has us trying to escape megatron and effects were stunning. Battlestar galactica has 2 duelling roller coasters the first being the human and the other being alien simulating the dog fights between 2 fighter jets. The g-force endured during these rides makes one actually believe that they are in a dogfight. The human coaster even though much faster than the alien counterpart doesnt go upside down unlike the alien, hence we decided to go for the "human" coaster and it was without a doubt , downright awesome. Revenge of the Mummy has an indoor roller coaster running completely in the dark !!!!!.  Each of these rides had waiting times of lesser than 30 mins and we went through the Transformers and Mummy ride twice. Had wanted to go through the Alien version of the Battlestar Galactica ride , but by then the park had closed.

In front of Revenge of The Mummy Ride

Had our lunch in a eatery in Ancient Egypt, wherein one can find the only pure vegetarian items in the menu. Checked out lots of other rides of the park notably the live stage show of the Waterworld enacted by live actors, Rapids Adventure, Lights Camera and Action show and other rides in the kiddies section. Overall a must visit place in Singapore.

Shark Tank

Day two of exploring Sentosa island we went beyond the Universal studios. The fist stop of the day was the S.E.A Aquarium which houses mind numbing number of species that delve in the deep oceans right from the ferocious Sharks to the glowing jelly fishes. The first thing that greets you when you enter this place is the underground glass tunnel right through the shark tank which houses all types of sharks including the bizarre hammer-head shark and easily one is impressed. There are lots of colorful fishes held in smaller tanks and finally in the end is a super huge water tank almost twice the size of the cinema screen holding innumerable number of sea creatures including  giant stingrays and super huge fishes. Following this area is the area of creatures which have made the bottom of the ocean floor as their home such as jelly fishes, octopus, star fishes etc. We spent close to 3 hours exploring this place.

Jelly Fishes

After this we went to trick eye museum where one can take funny pics in front of some painting or installation which almost looks life like. After this we went to Madam Tussauds museum and Images of Singapore LIVE and the later show was one of the few shows/rides wherein we actually felt bored. The other things we tried was trying to ride the Segway, which was fun but difficult to do at the same time, the bit hair-raising para-jump wherein one leaps off a 5 floor building in order to simulate landing from a parachute, tiger sky tower which gives birds eye view of the entire island, luge ride wherein one rides a engine-less kart down a hilly slope, 4D Adventureland which had 3 4D rides including a log ride, ride based on Journey 2 movie and a interactive shooting ride and finally the Combat Skirmish which was super fun and very similiar to paintball fight but instead lazer tags are used and hence completely painless. Two teams were formed with 4 and 3 in each team and surprisingly all of us were Indians :D.

Trick Eye Museum

The day ended with the Wings Of Time show , which includes lights, lazers, projections on mist, fireworks etc and was stunning to say the least. This lasted for close to 15 mins and by then we were tired and done for the day. If one has just a day to explore this island then the recommended place is the without doubt the Universal Studios.

September 17, 2015

Singapore Journal : Marina Bay Sands

In order to celebrate our first anniversary we decided to go for a weeklong trip to Singapore and Malaysia. Thanks for booking very early prior to the travel dates, we got a very good deal on the flight tickets. This was a self planned and executed trip and according to my rough estimates the cost of self planning resulted in close to 40% saving when compared to similiar package tours offered by the popular tour operators such as makemytrip etc. We had planned for 4 days in Singapore and 3 days in Malaysia with a customized itinerary based on our interests.

Supertree Groove @ Gardens By the Bay
We took an overnight Airasia flight from Bangalore to Kuala Lumpur and took a connecting flight from KL to Singapore. Landed in Singapore close to noon and took a metro service to a station closest to our hotel in Little India. One general piece of advice for everyone planning to go to Singapore is that , everything is damn expensive. A km ride from the metro station to our hotel room costed us close of 250 rupees (converted to INR). Therefore carefully select things and places you want to visit instead of visiting a place irrespective of your interest. Further Singapore is well connected by metro trains so it is advisable to use them extensively like we did.

Marina Bay Sands From The Gardens
According to me Singapore is the only country in South Asia which can be termed as developed. Developed in terms of not just the great infrastructure or the the service provided , but also the attitude of the local population to work for the greater good of the country rather than their individual selfish motives. So you would expect lot of young and healthy Singaporeans standing in public transports irrespective of whether seats are available or not, so that when someone who is actually in need of them can directly occupy those and for the fact that they take instantaneous feedback right from the immigration process to the person who cleans the toilet, so as to provide flawless service.

Gardens By The Bay From the Skydeck Of MBS
 Landed up at our Hotel 81 situated in Little India, checked into our 10X10 windowless room at a cost for which one can easily afford a 4 or 5 star room in India. However we got a 50% cashback for our room rents, hence making it much more easier thing to digest. The room eventhough was small was neat and clean and perfect for a couple who would be utilizing it just for resting in the night. Further if one is looking for access to good vegetarian food in Singapore then Little India is the place to be with options like Ananda Bhavan, Woodlands, Komala Bhavan etc. Little India is the hub of the Tamil population who had been brought by the British in the heyday.  After resting in the room a bit we left to check-out places situated around the Marina Bay Sands or the Bay area or the downtown area.

Singapore Downtown Area From MBS Skydeck
Took a metro to this place and at first we explored the Gardens By the Bay. It can be described as a modern garden with a generous servings of the sound and light effects especially in the night. We strolled around the garden for much of the afternoon , exploring the most notable icon of these gardens, the Supertree Grooves which look stunning especially in the night. There are some indoor flower gardens which we didnt explore because of the mindnumbing entry fee and also for the fact that we would be visiting the much older and better graded Botanic Gardens much later in the trip.

Ongoing preparation for Singapore Night Grand Prix
When it was close to sunset we decided to go to the skydeck of the stunning Marina Bay Sands hotel. The skydeck is actually situated in the part which is projected and hanging outside the 3 main buildings holding the ship shaped platform. Incidentally Marina Bay Sands is the second most expensive building in the world with a construction cost of close to 6 Billion USD. With a 23$ entry fee the view from the top was stunning. Birds eye view of the entire downtown area is something which shouldnt be missed. We were able to see the downtown area against the setting sun and stayed long to view the brightly lit downtown area with countless number of skyscrapers. From the top we caught the 7.45 show of the Garden Rhapsody where the Super Grooves are lit up brightly and synced with some lively music. At 8pm we caught another light show, the Wonderfull show filled with lazer lights, projection on mist and so on. Even this was stunning.

With the Symbol of Singapore: The Merlion
After the show we came down the building and walked by the banks of the reservoir which is a pleasure to do so in the evening. Preparations were going on for the Singapore Night Grand Prix wherein F1 cars would racing through the streets of Singapore. Our walk finally ended at Merlion statue, the symbol of Singapore with a couple of mandatory pics clicked with it in the background. We again caught the 9.30 slot of Wonderfull show but now with a different perspective of the Marina Bay Sands in its backdrop. Even then it was stunning. With the quality of the infrastructure provided in order to attract the masses we can only assume their emphasis on tourism. After this we caught train from the nearest station and thus ended our first day in Singapore.

August 21, 2015

Jazz One : Shivanasamudra and Talakad

Took my Jazz on its first long spin to Shivanasamudra and Talakad. Having visited these regions way back in 2009, it was a trip down memory lanes. Was accompanied by my wife and my parents on this day trip, but unfortunately the falls were still not in their full glory, thanks to deficit monsoons this year. There are 2 routes to this area from Bangalore , one via Kanakpura (NH 209) and the other one via Maddur (SH 17). Both these routes have their own pros and cons. The route via Kanakpura is a good 2 lane road with minimal traffic but one doesn't have access to good eateries like those available in Mysore road. Hence it was decided to take Maddur route in the morning and while returning take the Kanakpura route in order to avoid the Sunday evening Mysore-Bangalore maddening traffic rush.

Selfie @ Barachukki
The morning drive was good till Maddur, within which we had our breakfast and packed our lunch. After Maddur the route to Malavalli is kinda ok with a lot of construction activity and road widening going on. At Malavalli we joined the Kanakpura National highway and after this it was a smooth drive. Normally at many instances a person who doesnt know a local language would face some difficulties in navigating through an area, but in my case it was the exact opposite !!!!. At one place we say a huge kannada board showing a left turn towards "Shimsha (shortform of Shivanasamudra)" and without thinking much we took the left turn and within no time we were lost :P. This route was actually the access road to the "Shimsha" Hydroelectric plant (the oldest in Asia !!!) and not towards "Shimsha" falls. Hence after riding through a lot of deserted and restricted roads (but scenic :) ) we finally managed to join the main road to the falls without any untoward incident.

The first falls one encounters from Bangalore is the Gaganchukki falls. In this particular falls one just gets a bird eyes view of the falls and nothing else. From Gaganchukki falls we came back to the main road and after travelling 10-15 kms on this picture-some road running along the river Cauvery, we took a left towards Barachukki falls which is synonymous with the "fun" falls since its in here one can get down to water. Initially we had a coracle ride wherein one is taken till the mouth of the falls and gets lightly drenched with the suspended water particles in the air. But the major disappointment was that they have cordoned off the area where one can directly walk to base of the falls and get drenched. That was one of the highlights of our previous trip, but still anyhow we still managed to play in the water and had a good time.

From Barachukki falls our next destination was Talakad. For this one has to come back to the main road (NH209) and then take a left which is clearly marked by the tourism department. Overall the roads everywhere were great and not a pain point unlike the experience the previous time around. We parked our car by the riverside and were approached by a guide who said that he would guide us to all the temple attractions of the place. This guided tour was very good, recommended and lasted for an hour or so. The guide clearly demarcated the facts from fiction and this impressed me the most since many guides elsewhere try to "masalafy" their stories in order to attract more customers.  The pancha linga temples are Pathaleshwara, Maruleshwara, Arkeshwara , Vaidyanatheshwara and Mallikarjuna temple.

After the interesting guided tour it was time to travel back to Bangalore. There was another direct route from Talakad to Malavalli instead of taking the route we had taken earlier in the day to visit the falls. The drive back was eventless and the Kanakpura road even though was a 2 lane was great to drive in. Finally reached home at around 8.30 pm. Overall a great first drive experience on our new Honda Jazz.

Nandi Statue : Observe the torso in shape of a bulls face
Total Travelled Distance >  310 kms.

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