Singapore to Kuala Lumpur

KLCC Park
It was CNY 2014 and with everything shut down in Singapore it was time to hit the road. We were quite late in getting our bookings done so settled upon going to KL by road.
When we checked online there were several bus services available. We chose Luxury Coach and got the tickets done. The price was higher due to CNY costing us approx. 60 S$ one way whereas the normal is usually 40 S$. The bus starts from Concorde Hotel at Orchard Road and drops you at either Dorsett Regency or Hotel Istana in KL, both of which are centrally located.
 
For the hotel we didn’t have many choices again because everything was booked in advance. We finally made our booking at Hotel Royal at Bukit Bintang. Except for the great location you can avoid this place.
 
We started at 8:00 AM and reached around 2:00 PM as traffic was heavy. Normally it takes about 4 hours from Spore to KL. We didn’t mind it so much though; because the bus was 25 seater and so lots of leg space. Besides, the seats were really comfy with entertainment screens! We checked-in and headed for lunch. It was a treat to see several options right outside the hotel.
 
 
 
Later, we headed out towards KLCC/Petronas Twin Towers. There was an elevated walkway very close to the hotel and we started out on foot. We stopped by at the KLCC Park where you can sit around by the lake with the fountains running. It nice and cheery in the evenings.
 
Went to the Petronas concourse but all tickets for the day were sold out and they do not do advance bookings. Advance bookings are available online though. We settled on admiring it from down below, which was also nice by the way 🙂
Spent the rest of the time at Dome Café and window shopping at Suria KLCC Mall.
Our day closed on a happy note at one of the many Hookah bars that dot Bukit Bintang.
A slow paced and fun day it was … just as we had intended it to be.

Related Posts:
Central Market, KL
KL Tower (Menara KL)

Singapore to Bali

I finally got a job here in Singapore! Before I had to start at work, I thought it would be good to go for a short trip, just to have some fun before routine starts … again!

Out of the numerous travel destinations in South East Asia, we settled on Bali, Indonesia. I’m always a believer of budget travels. What’s the point of staying at a luxury hotel/resort when you spend maximum time away? We looked at some of the top suggestions on Trip Advisor and booked the AtanayaHotel on Sunset Road in Kuta area. It was a neat and clean hotel with hospitable staff and a roof top infinity pool.
When the plane landed on a runway surrounded by sparkling blue sea, somehow I knew I would enjoy this place!
Here is how we explored Bali in the 3.5 days we had at our disposal:
 
Day 1: checked in at hotel at 11:00am. Relaxed for a bit, freshened up and changed. Headed out to Semniyak street for lunch – went to a great vegetarian café called ‘Earth café’. It’s a cozy place with a rustic feel and serves a range of super healthy food and drinks.
Headed to  Kuta Beach on foot. This beach is quite long and there are plenty of vendors for renting out sun bathing recliners. It was good to spend time on the beach but I would think twice before entering the water there. It’s great for surfing though due to the high waves.
We spent the evening roaming around on semniyak street, window shopping at the various stores and finally landing up at Mykonos, a pleasant little restaurant serving Greek cuisine.
 
Kuta Beach
Day 2: at 3:00 am in the morning, we headed to Lovina for the Dolphin watching trip. We had booked a tour the night before, arranged by our hotel for 1 Mn rupiah or approx. 120 SGD. It included taxi ride to and back from Lovina, the dolphin tour in traditional boat and a stop at Lake Bratan on the way back.  
It took us about 3.5 Hrs to get to Lovina beach from Kuta. From there at around 6:30 am we got into one of the traditional boats and headed out to catch glimpses of dolphins in their natural habitat. It was a breathtaking view that early in the morning as we headed out to the sea and had the pleasure of witnessing a beautiful Bali sunrise.  There were about 10-15 other boats along with ours. After spending some time on the water we started to spot dolphins. We saw pairs and families and even saw them do those quick jumps out of the water. It was fun and exciting and we enjoyed it a lot! What I didn’t like about the trip – as soon as someone spotted dolphins all boats started speeding in that direction. My guess is that this will scare them away or annoy them. In my opinion, the boats can head out to sea and anchor at some place. Since, there are so many dolphins in that area, most likely tourists will be able to spot them better if they are quieter. Also, this will not annoy the creatures.
 
Sunrise at Lovina
Dolphin watching tour, Lovina

Dolphin Watching Video

An hour or so later we returned to the beach and had a good breakfast at one of the many seaside cafes. As we headed back to Kuta, we started to see hills at a short distance. I asked our driver to switch of the air con and rolled down the window glass. The air was nice and cool. It was such a refreshing splash of pure cool wind that it woke me up and enlivened my senses. That’s what is so great about Bali – there are beaches and then there are hills, making it an attractive destination for all sorts of activities.
Stopped at Lake Bratan for about 30-45 mins. It’s a nice Lake with Ullun Danu temple built at its edge. It was pleasant to just stroll around there but there is nothing much to do here unless you have a picnic lunch packed – so we hit the road soon. Back at the hotel, we crashed!
Went to Central Kuta in the evening, sat on the rocks by the beach for sometime, then strolled around in the Discovery shopping mall in the area. I wanted to buy this nice looking jute bag at a souvenir shop but didn’t , thinking I’ll get something better elsewhere. But, I never did … it was so pretty! Landed back in Semniyak and had dinner at Sasa Ristorante. Just two phrases are enough for this joint – great food, pathetic service!
 
Day 3: Lazed around at the hotel by the pool side in the afternoon. Then headed out for the most awaited and wonderful experience of the whole trip – we were going to get a Balinese massage … yay! After all the travelling and walking around we thought it was the best way to conclude our trip. We had booked massages at this spa called Bali Green Spa. Nothing very fancy about the place but not bad either. They give you massage in your own private gazebo with attached bathroom. The massages were excellent! It relieved so much stress. After the massage, I felt so light, almost zen like! Then we were served this hot tea with ginger and honey, it was quite nice actually.
 
Private gazebo at Bali Green Spa
In the evening we headed to Nusa Dua. We had heard that beaches in this area are quieter and cleaner. And, in fact that was the case. We went to the geger beach and it was prettier and bluer than Kuta. Spent the rest of the evening back in kuta shopping around a little bit. Just a few things like a jute handbag (yes, I bought one but not the same one), bali chocolates and stuff.
 
Day 4: Went to check out these sports factory outlets selling regular casual wear, beach wear and accessories. A couple of them had a good collection with moderate prices. Deepak picked up a couple of t-shirts and shorts. Then back to hotel and to the airport … ciao Bali!
 
We had a great time on this trip where we combined some activities with a good amount of time carved out for chilling out, and also getting ourselves pampered at the spa. And with Deepak, I always get to try great food! There is so much more to do in Bali, we can easily go on another trip and I’m sure we’ll have loads to do.
 
Related Posts: Eating it out @ Bali

Bangalore to Coorg

Peppers at Coorg
The restless Travel Bug in me was set free, yet again as we embarked on our journey to Coorg. This was an extended weekend and we decided to visit Coorg only a week before. As we started calling the various resorts, cottages and homestays, we realized we were a tad too late. Everything that had good ratings on Trip Advisor was booked! But, what came to our rescue was a referral by a resort to this particular homestay. So we spoke to the owner, looked at the pictures on their website. Satisfied enough, we transferred a certain amount to the owner’s bank account and we had our booking done. This was the ‘Coorg Bamboo Grove’.
 
Where we stayed: Homestays are very common in south, particularly hill destinations. Many are not the authentic homestays though. Several cottages/rooms built on a tea/coffee estate and run commercially are also termed homestays these days. However, we stayed at a proper homestay in the Ammathi, Vontiangadi area of Coorg. We were with the owner’s family in their house; having meals with them and sharing their personal space. Of course we had a room to ourselves with an awesome balcony. The experience is akin to visiting some distant uncle’s house. It’s a bit weird in the beginning but you get used to it as Coorgis are really friendly, open and a hospitable lot.
How we travelled: We set out from Bangalore at 6:00 am in our car and reached the stay at 12:00-12:30pm (distance of approx. 260 km). The drive wasn’t much though. The road condition is pretty pathetic in some stretches. Some patches are so bad it’ll make everything you’ve had since morning squished and churned into a frothy foam.

What we did: This March, it was really hot during the day, so mostly it was morning walks amid-st the coffee estates, lazing around in the homestay balcony or verandah. A visit to the Cauvery river nearby in the evenings and driving around on narrow roads surrounded by green. We did drive down to Madikeri with plans to check out the various tourist spots (Abbi Falls, Raja Seat, Dubare, Bhagamandala etc.) But after our visit to Abbi Falls and Dubare, we realized they were nothing out of the ordinary. Things we can easily skip without remorse. And with the heat killing us, we did a U-turn to our cool homestay retreat.
 
Cauvery River

Tips: According to our homestay owner and several coorgi colleagues, the best time to visit is, in the monsoon months; June to August. Just laze around on a hammock, chill in the breeze or sit by a sparkling bonfire; its really what one does at Coorg. And the more, the merrier it’ll be!

Chilllax-ing and Eat-ing is what you can do best at Coorg. Pandicurry anyone???

Yeay It’s Diwali

There is something about Diwali. It makes me all happy and warm inside. It livens up my spirit and makes me want to decorate the house with tiny lights and fragrant candles, makes me want to clean and cook and dress up for the evening. It makes me want to light up crakers, just some … as a token, for the spirit of Diwali. It keeps the child in me living …
 
 
I don’t know why Diwali does this to me exactly … maybe it’s got to do with fond remembering from childhood. Our anu chacha’s enthusiasm was infectious and got us all kids excited. He is the one who raised the funds from my dad, grandad and nani. Then he would add his own contribution and we would have a huge corpus for Diwali shopping.
The way we went cracker shopping from wholesale shops in Agra, then laid them all out and admired them before lighting them up. The way I was so possessive about Anaars, my favourite fire cracker; and selfishly sneaked 1-2 only for me.
It was fun to decorate our house with flowers and impatiently wait as our driver and anu chacha put the lights all over the house. It was exciting to place flower petals in a rangoli and place diyas around it. It was fun struggling to make the candles stand with my siblings as the hot wax dripped on our hands; and then fight against the wind to keep them lighted. And after everything was lighted it was fun to run into the street and look up at our house and sigh at the gorgeous view.
It was fun fighting with the neighborhood kids trying to steal our patakas. It was fun to put the anaars in a row and light 3-4 at the same time; people struggling with their ‘reel wala’ cameras to take that perfect shot. Boys displayed their bravado by jumping over chakris and blowing off red ladis in their hands. It was fun to cringe and cover my ears as I saw sparks from a bullet bomb about to go off. It was fun to turn around and wait for the sutli bomb to blow off and then feel my body jerk with the impact.
It was delightful to take a break from all the cracker bursting and have a hearty meal. Hot pooris being served by mom with me occasionally helping out. And Aloo, Paneer sabzi, boondi ka raita, dahi vada to go with it.
It was fun to finally go to our terrace and light all the rockets and our special items. Special items were the most expensive ones … parachutes and umbrella crackers which we saved for the very end. Sort of like a grand finale … from the terrace we would call out … “mummy, dadi … jaldo aao, hum special items jalane waale hain” …
It was fun to discover that even after lighting crackers for hours, till we were tired and spent with aching limbs; we still had some crackers remaining … it was exhilarating to realize that we would be able to light crackers the next day as well …
The next day after Diwali we would collect all the paper and cardboard, empty out the contents of the burnt crackers (barood) and set it all on fire … then waited for our painstakingly collected barood to go off in a huge puff of smoke and feel as if we had achieved something extraordinary… a pleasure other kids were incapable of, lighting just their usual crackers … we were the great minds

Diwali is this and more for me. Being away from home for so many years and not being able to be with my family for the past few Diwalis, I’ve realized it’s also about being with your dear ones and sharing the love, joy and excitement … and creating cherished memories. It’s about smiling, rejoicing, living for yourself, lighting up your life. Diwali 2012, the first one after shaadi (even though not with our family) was wonderful with Deepak … together, we have created and captured memories we will cherish for years to come 🙂
Here is wishing all the readers a very happy and joyous Diwali! Hope you all had fun!

 

The Changing Hues

Bengaluru is a city anyone will love for its weather. It’s called an air-conditioned city for a reason. The mornings are pleasant and sometimes so chilly that I need hot water for my bath. 
And the evenings many a times are enchanting spreading dramatic hues in the sky and absolutely stunning vistas. Once such evening I couldn’t resist bounding up to my terrace camera in hand, almost missing a step and tripping over, lest it turns too dark for some pictures. Here are a few captures … 

Awesome! Aren’t they???

Into The Wild: Visit to Gir Forest

Looking at pictures of the Gir Forest by a colleague reminded me of my own trip to Gir with my office colleagues/friends in Nov 2010, while I was working in Gujarat.

We wanted to go for a good trip after months of monotony.  One of my friend suggested visiting Gir Forest and also covering Diu on our way back. It was a good idea and different from visiting the usual places like Ahmedabad, Mumbai etc. We welcomed a short stint away from city life!
There were four of us and we had hired a Taxi, Indicia. We set out after work on Friday night from Baroda so that we could reach Gir early morning and catch the morning safari. All arrangements of taking a safari (the permit) and our stay were made in advance by our colleague. 
We set out in high spirits, listening to music and all excited about the trip. The travel was longer than anticipated and we entered Gir early morning on Saturday.  Even though we had travelled the whole night I was fresh with excitement … the weather was slightly chilly and the air was fresh due to the forest cover. It felt great!
 


We were allotted one of those Safari Jeeps and we set-off into the jungle. The road tapered till there was just a narrow muddy track. On n On it went taking us more into the depths of the protected reserve. The first animal we spotted was the deer. Abundant in numbers and easy to spot.  The jungle was full of them. Ample of food for the lions I guess :-p

 

We rode on further, spotting owls and some varieties of birds, sambhar, jackals and wild boars. The main attraction of Gir is ofcourse … The Asiatic Lion! The only place it’s found today! We hadn’t seen any yet! We had to see the lion, otherwise this trip would be incomplete! The guides in the other jeeps exchanged info. if there was some lion spotting so they could take their tourists to the spot as well. There seemed to be some alertness among them, the way they signaled to each other.


We moved on and a few meters ahead we saw about 4-5 jeeps parked, everyone very quiet and peering at something behind the trees. Our guide declared … “lions”. Whaat I thought … Where … I couldn’t see any … I looked into the direction where everyone was looking … still I couldn’t see anything … then slowly my vision became clearer and I spotted a full grown-up lion … it was so very well camouflaged in the trees and bushes. Along with him was a lioness sitting opposite to him. Our guide informed us that it was a mating pair. Wow I thought as I looked at these majestic creatures, in their natural habitat, so much at ease. What if they come charging at us like right now? There was pin-drop silence at that spot but my heart was beating with joy.  We hung in there for sometime along with the other jeeps. Clicked pics and willed for the lions to roar. They never did! Lazy creatures! We completed our safari and went back to our resort for a shut eye. YaY for spotting the elusive lion!

Shortly post lunch it was time for the evening safari. This time it was a different route. Unfortunately, we did not spot any lions this time. Actually winter is not the best time to visit Gir. Summer is better because the lions come out to the man-made tanks for water and spotting is easier. Also, the shrubs and trees dry out and you can see much farther inside the jungle from the tracks. However, the most amazing aspect of this route was that the forest opened up into this magnificent lake. It was so beautiful … although there were crocs criss-crossing in it … in hundreds … which reminded me of khoon bhari maang … lol! And we could GET DOWN (that’s something!) from the jeep and go to this observation tower. 

 

We came back out to for a splendid late night in front of a bonfire in our resort!

Heavens fall Here! Winter Visit to Manali



The onset of winter brings back memories from last year! There were six of us. I don’t know how we ended up making up this crazy plan of visiting Manali in the December of 2010. Our initial plan was Goa … Warm sunny beaches and the works. But, one thing led to another and we were headed for Manali instead. I had never seen snow in my life and the prospect was exciting! It took us a good 16 hours from Delhi in an Innova. We started off from Delhi at 4:00am and reached our destination at 7:00pm. 

On the way we sang and talked and laughed and ate and slept and on and on we went. On the way, we stopped at this lovely river bank and had Maggie sitting around a small fire.


And I remember this crazy thing we did as we neared Manali. The whole while we kept searching for snow covered peaks. We craned our necks and looked out the window after each bend, each curve. We mistook sand for snow and yelled like lunatics let loose in the free world. Our driver kept telling us, “abhi aage dikhega baraf”. But, to our disappointment we reached our guest house in Manali and we still hadn’t seen any snow. The grounds were bare, the trees were green and there wasn’t one speck of snow to be seen. Our driver comforted us by saying that the next day we would visit Rohtang Paas which has a permanent cover of snow. That evening it had started to rain. The locals said that there was a good chance of snowfall. We all had dinner and went off to bed!

The next morning we were woken up by the guest house keeper knocking on our door urging us to look at the falling snow. “Madam, Sir … baraf gir rahi hai … bahar aaiye, dekhiye”. Whaat!! I was up in an instant … Me and my sister went berserk, squealing like crazy we put on out shoes and jacket and cap and ran out the door anxious to enjoy the snowfall while it lasted. It was a first for all of us and we went about clicking pictures not caring about our socks and gloves getting soaked. We were ecstatic! After a while we had to get back in … it was soo damn freezing outside! We then had a goood breakfast of aloo parathas and garam chai. Heavenly it was in that weather! Our driver informed us that we will set out for Rohtang once the snowfall stopped.

But the snow just wouldn’t stop. The snow fell and fell and fell intermittently the whole day. By evening it had become thicker and the trees, bushes, railings and slopes of houses had a thin layer of snow. We considered ourselves extremely lucky. We strolled outside. Clicked more pictures and played snowfight! It was great fun! From our window we could see the snow falling and it was such a pretty sight. That day we obviously could not venture outside. Tomorrow we thought excitedly, we get to ride on a sledge at Rohtang!


Same tree as in the picture above, now covered with heaps of snow

But that tomorrow when I looked out the window in the morning, I was bowled over looking at the amount of snow there was now! Our guest house keeper informed us that it had snowed the whole night! Only a day ago there was nothing, now there was about  1-foot cover of snow. We ventured outside once again covered from top to bottom. And it was acutely ch-old yet it was breathtaking. The landscape was now white … the mountains, the trees, the houses … everything … all stark white yet so beautiful! It was one of the most gorgeous sights to behold. And it continued to snow …



After talking to a few locals and the people in the guest house, we decided that we should head back downhill as the weatherman predicted more snow. And that meant that the roads would be blocked and we might be stuck here for another 3-4 days. By now there was at least a 3-feet snow cover. Our guest house was situated on top of a small hill. Our main concern was how the hell we would get down to the main road, with all our luggage, to where our taxi was parked (thankfully, our driver and the boys had managed to get the taxi down the hill the previous evening … that’s another adventure they will be able to tell you better … one that involves a few slips, a couple of misses and the taxi almost falling into a ditch 😉 ).

We got ready as if we were going on a mission! It was one actually! We had to wade through 3-feet of snow, 2 km downhill, in minus degree temperatures carrying our luggage! It was going to be a one hell of a trek for us! We started off … one after the other … carefully … step by step. Our breaths sending puffs of vapor in the air. As we moved ahead, our bodies warmed up with all the physical work. We weren’t cold anymore and started enjoying the trek. Every now and then someone would lose their footing and fall flat in the snow. We all went laughing mad each time that happened. I fell a couple of times too, and let me tell you, it didn’t hurt at all! It was so damn amusing!  It was hilarious! And the scenery was beeeautifulll! I don’t have words to express how it felt like … in the midst of all that beauty … that environ. You have to be there to understand it in totality! And when I had a fall again I just felt like lying there in the snow and just be there!
We finally reached the main road and there ensued a round of snowball fighting! Our target was each other’s bum! 😉

Our taxi arrived, we got back in … and started off on our journey back home ooh-ing and aah-ing at the picturesque snow covered slopes … We had now seen the snow … much more than we had anticipated  … much more than we had imagined! 🙂

What an experience it was!!!!! Once in a Lifetime!


There are some other details of this trip that I can’t share here but, it was a helluva trip. Thanks to Anhad, Aadhar, Gurpreet, Astha and Deepak for making it truly amazing. Cheers!!
Let’s plan Leh-Ladakh soon! Who z Game … err … Is Goa better … ?????