Romance of #thepinkcity #jaipur in #rajasthan

For two years I’d wanted to attend the #JaipurLiteraryFestival. Ironically, when I lived in Delhi, I was so busy with my job that I couldn’t make the time to go there. Only after I moved back to Goa I was able to have the mind space to plan a trip there. My Jaipur visit was part of a long-held dream of wanting to visit the Pink city anyway. So, it made sense to couple my visit with a literary-festival-author-talk binge. I’d been to Jodhpur years before, but again, for work. And everyone knows a work visit isn’t quite the same as a holiday visit. There’s a different kind of focus.

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At Jaipur Lit fest 2015

I booked a room with a heater (it was a cold, windy January in the Rajasthan desert at the time) in an old haveli that was kept together by a few family members and some strutting peacocks. They were all over the place, the peacocks, that is.

The literary festival itself was fun, though packed full of people. I managed to get a seat to most events I wanted to attend and learned about a few new authors that sounded interesting. I listened to Jeet Thayil interview Will Self, heard Hanif Kureishi talk about his writing, watched a fascinating presentation by Simon Singh about the show The Simpsons and where all the mathematical principles presented in the show come from (the show’s writers are all Ivy League graduates in Maths), heard ex-president Abdul Kalam speak to a packed audience that almost caused a stampede. I saw travel writer, Mark Tully, and Welsh novelist, Sarah Waters, strolling around the grounds and attended the launch of Granta’s ‘India’ edition, presented by Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan books.

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Simon Singh’s presentation on Maths in The Simpsons at JLF

I took two days out to rent a cab for a tour of the city and saw these gorgeous highlights, in photo form below:

Hawa Mahal (the palace of winds): 

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Amber Fort:

Exterior views –

Interior views –

Jaipur city Palace:

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If you have time to only see one thing in Jaipur, its the Four Seasons doors at the City palace.  Pay the entry fee and wander deep into the palace till you find the courtyard with the four doors.  You’ve got to get close-up to each one to spot the unique detailing and vibrant colouring of each one, that tells a story of its own.  These photos below barely do it justice.

Blue Pottery:  

Ok, I openly admit that I have a fetish for Blue (and Iznik) pottery.  I spent a couple of hours at the place below buying soapfishes, coaster tiles, bowls and toothbrush holders.

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The Albert Hall museum (state museum of Rajasthan): 

They had a LOT of beautiful objects that I whisked past due to limited time, including an armoury with medieval weapons and lots of interesting earthenware.  There was a floor of fascinating folios from a version of The Panchatantra that I loved.

And I spent an entire afternoon at the Anokhi showroom, buying ethnic wear in print block patterns (yes, yes, another thing I have a fetish for!) and stocking up on their gorgeous blank diaries.

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Block print pattern journals from Anokhi

Visited Jaipur in Jan 2015

My #Bali high, #Indonesia in pictures (no filter)

My visit to Bali was a last-minute proposal from a friend I hadn’t seen in three years and we decided to meet up in this gorgeous South-East Asian paradise, full of colour and surprises.  I hadn’t ever been before and had no interest in exploring #SouthEastAsia (yes, inspite of Gilbert’s best-selling travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love), something I’ve pointed out before in my post about Singapore.  However, after my short 10-day visit, #BeautifulBali turned out to be one of my top five favourite places to visit in the world, after Florence and Venice.  A few photos of my stay are included below.

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Late morning on Seminyak beach
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Bright colours – Seminyak beach
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Offerings to the Gods – flowers, fruit and candy…and coral toe-nails!
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Ubud streetscape, scooters & coconuts included.
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Sunset view from Ku De Ta beach club
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Kima Bali Surf camp (Seminyak) breakfast of delectable rhubarb yoghurt & honey pancakes
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Candy, rice grains, fruit and flowers as offerings – slightly trampled on in a side street.
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Cafe Nomad in Ubud, popular with expats who live here
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Rice terraces of Tegalalang
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Outside the Temple cave of fruit bats
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Spot the fruit bats asleep in the overhang.  Good thing you can’t smell their acidic guano!
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Entrance to Goa Gajah

Below is a Civet cat in a coffee plantation that produces #kopiluwak, the most expensive coffee in the world. The coffee is processed from the civet cat’s excrement, after the cat eats coffee cherries.  The bean’s skin is digested away, leaving behind an intact coffee bean that then goes through processing (picture on the right).  Yes, I tried some Luwak coffee.  No, I didn’t like the taste.

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Ku De Ta beach club

The week we arrived, we didn’t realise it, but the Balinese Hindus were celebrating ‘Nyepi’ or the Balinese ‘Day of Silence’ where devotees burn huge demonic effigies.  It commemorates the Balinese new year and this is just one of the rituals and celebrations that happens before and after the day of silence, when even tourists are asked to stay inside their hotels and the streets are conspicuously empty and silent.

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Balinese ‘Nyepi’ parade of plaster effigies
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Balinese dance in traditional costumes
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Exterior – Balinese palace and temple

I can’t wait to return one day soon 🙂

Visited in March 2015

My (long-ish) list of what to see/do in #Singapore

For decades, I’d never been able to muster up any excitement to travel to #SouthEastAsia.  When the option to visit a cousin who’d moved to Singapore came up, and I asked a few people about it, the overall consensus seemed to be, ‘It’s known for its Financial district and it’s too sterile and boring.  You’ll think so too.’  I went anyway and maybe it was the lower expectation I had, but my first time there was a blast!  I’ve been to Singapore three times in all since then, and each time has been more wonderful than the last. Here are some of my best memories and recommendations from each trip:

First trip: 2009

  • We posed for photos by the Merlion with a grand backdrop of the 1928 Neo-classical style Fullerton Hotel in the background.
  • We also had a night-time river ride down Singapore river and back. The financial district was all lit up like London’s Canary Wharf and made for a garish nightscape along the river.  But some might think otherwise and really love it.
  • If you like theme parks, visit Sentosa island. We loved the Aquarium!
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The Aquarium on Sentosa island
  • We had our first experience of Korean BBQ at Red Pig restaurant on Amoy street which, unfortunately, is now closed down. It was so much fun watching the chef grill our meats on the hot grill at our table itself.  Great recommendation, glad you took us there Pinaki B 🙂
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Korean BBQ at the Red Pig
  • We visited the National Museum, where audio guides were included in the price of our ticket. The museum was deceptively larger than we realized, but also very interesting as it described the development of Singapore from pre-historic origins right through colonial times and into modern Singapore. The displays are vibrant and informative and the audio guide is quite comprehensive about each object it describes.
  • We went to Raffles hotel to sample its famous signature drink, ‘The Singapore Sling’, at The Writer’s Bar and the manager kindly offered to take our photograph. He even directed us to the inner room where framed writings of Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham are hanging on the wall. They were early customers at Raffles when it was just a bungalow with guest rooms started by a couple of Armenian brothers who were hoteliers and businessmen.
  • We sampled some mall food courts, which served cheap but tasty, quality eats from across South East Asia
  • We shopped for souvenirs in China Town and had relaxing cups of chai in Little India, after devouring Fish Head curry, one of Singapore’s signature dishes.
  • Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade is great for night-time walks and the Esplanade had lots of night-time entertainment options in its ticketed arena – it’s a lovely place to catch a show if that’s your thing.

Second trip: 2015

  • Marina Bay Sands hotel and a handful of cafes in their retail space with a skylight lightening things up – that feel of being outdoors even though its grey and overcast outside.
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Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Science Museum next to it
  • My first sight of Singapore’s latest tourist attraction, Gardens by the Bay, with the zany, metallic flowers reaching into the sky. Quite stunning! It’s the first view you get if walking from Marina Bay Sands hotel on the walkway towards the flowers and you can get some gorgeous pics of the flowers from the height where you are!  Thanks to Patty B for taking me there 😀
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Gardens by the Bay
  • The Asian Civilisations museum had some eye-opening displays that I just loved and if I’d had time, I would have visited the Peranakan museum too
  • Changi Prison and museum was three bus rides away from where my cousin lived, but it was a lovely day out for us both as we walked around the small, free museum with displays about the history of what happened in the little village outside the city, and how people coped when the prison was set up by the Japanese to incarcerate WWII Prisoners of War. There isn’t much else around the area, so plan for lunch or a snack in the museum’s restaurant to keep you going.
  • Sri Mariamman temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic temple – I loved them both and took lots of photographs of the stunning visual details and architecture. Both located in Chinatown area.
  • Had amazing seafood at a popular restaurant (the name of which I can’t recall) while in search of chilli crab but had to settle for chilli crayfish instead, which was just as good I think.  Kudos to locals Ronnie and Gloria for knowing we’d have a great time here!
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Garlic prawns at the seafood restaurant
  • La Pau Sat is one of my favourite spaces in the city, especially when the lunch crowd arrives. Great for people-watching, especially those not glued to their phones. There’s a system of leaving your stuff on the table to ‘book’ seats and going in search of the stall (from over 100) that serves what you want to eat. I couldn’t believe that people were happily leaving their valuables behind to book their seats. When I asked someone about it, they said that no one would dare steal here. Hmmmm. This system wouldn’t work in any place I’ve been to in India.
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La Pau Sat in the Financial district
  • Had my first Coldstone Creamery icecream ever – knarly concept.  Thanks for the intro, Lisa A!
  • Loved the Singapore Art Museum – they were having an open exhibition of contemporary art by local students and artists and it was pretty interesting innovative stuff including installations and sculpture.

Third trip: 2016

  • Din Tai Fung has the best dim sum and noodle-soups around and because it’s a chain, you can find one across the city, and probably even abroad as its starting to go global. And if you have the chance, book a table at Paradise Dynasty restaurant. Try the soupy dimsum, which is a specialty there. Thanks for taking me ther, Bobby K!
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Xiao Long Bao (soupy dimsum) from Paradise Dynasty restaurant
  • I went nuts buying poetry books from local poets at Kinokuniya here. The Japanese bookstore is one of the best brands to be exported across Asia. My first Kinokuniya encounter was in Dubai mall and Singapore has a couple of stores in different malls. They’re great for a sheer variety of books but also for local reads. Very pricey though!
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Singaporean poets from Kinokuniya bookstore

My next trip?

Next time, I’ll visit some of the independent bookstores, more independent cafes, the Chinese Heritage center, see Little India again, visit the Botanic gardens and the Peranakan museum. I’m not sure what it is about the city, but the cultural heritage is so rich and the city has made great strides in putting it on display so that visitors can learn and enjoy the variety, encouraging open spaces as creative hubs so that contemporary modern mixes well with the old. It’s an interesting city with inarguably lots to see and something for everyone. It’s the kind of place I wouldn’t mind staying for a year. Yup, that should give me enough time to really get into the feel of the place and explore it properly.

#Coconut Naan on #Palolem beach

Yes, I live in Goa but I have no sensible reason why it has taken me this long to visit Palolem beach. I visited in January 2017 thanks to a friend dropping by Goa from abroad, and him wanting to hire a cab to check out the beach for a day. It was a lo-ong ride from Benaulim to Palolem, even with a taxi driver who drove like he was a Grand Prix racer. We got there by 11am with a plan to just find a café/restaurant, plant ourselves and chill. beach access full of desperate entrepreneurs desperate for business. ‘Do you want dolphin watching?’ asked one. ‘Boatman?’ asked another at my elbow until I said No firmly enough for him to get the point.   Everyone needed business now that money flow was improving too slowly after the country’s recklessness of demonetisation.

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Colourful cabanas among the coconut trees

Right away, as I started to walk the slight curve of the shoreline, past the line of restaurants and colourful cabanas lining the sandy beach edge, I fell in love with the beach’s unique features. The sand was different here – flatter close to the edge, even though it wasn’t wet and fluffier the further it got away from the water’s edge. It was a different texture and colour too, to Benaulim beach sand; less coarse, almost flakier and more golden. In the distance, I could see a lump of rock, rising out of the water, forming a nice little cove to hide behind if you were in the water swimming or in a kayak. That was another thing, you could hire kayaks and go out onto the water for a short jaunt. We strolled through the sand until we found a restaurant called ‘Blue’ with cover that opened onto the beach but was still deep enough in the shade to keep us cool.

One cold coffee later and out came my laptop so that I could scratch my itch to get some long overdue writing done. My friend donned his bathing suit and disappeared into the water for a couple of hours. Before he melted into the Arabian Sea, he mentioned that when he’d visited Palolem before, he’d noticed that the beach was split into informal enclaves. To the left of the beach entrance was where the Russians hung out. Menus were in Russian; so were signboards. To the right, where we were sitting at that moment, was the British and Israeli part of the beach. After my friend left for his swim, a few families sat down a short distance away, occasionally looking up from their phone screens to discuss what they’d like to order from the menu. They were speaking a language I couldn’t comprehend and I realized that they were speaking Hebrew. I turned to the back of the menu and there it was, staring me in the face – the entire menu translated into Hebrew.

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And what a fabulous menu it was – Indian, Continental and Chinese staples were there, but I spotted the occasional oddity that I’d never seen before on any shack or restaurant menu in the Benaulim area. Coconut naan bread jumped out at me. I’d never heard of it before, let alone tried it. I ordered a plate along with a rum and coke. A hot steaming platter of over-fresh naan sprinkled with shredded coconut arrived. As I chewed the doughy bread, shots of coconut flavor overtook the gentle heat of fluffy carbs and made my tongue ecstatic. I ordered another bread basket when my friend returned to the table and got him to try some. He ordered a third one! We basically spent a couple of hours filling up on fresh coconut naan bread and drinks until our stomachs rebelled against the lack of protein and veg in our system. We ordered a few other menu items which turned out to be less impressive and it was sunset all too quickly. We had a couple of sundowners to celebrate a wonderful day out and the joy of being alive and on a beach, sharing the pleasure of each other’s company.

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Coconut naan

Manila traffic

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My first introduction to the country was in 2006 where I got to stay over at a Christian guest house, ate homely, simple food and had not much else to do but shop when we weren’t working, in one of the many malls there .  I bought pearl necklaces, scarves, fake brand bags and watches (just a few as gifts) and that was my first introduction to buying cheap accessories in Southeast Asia. Years later there’s still a t-shirt or two lying around, hippy necklaces that I still have.

We went for a walk along the promenade, had seafood out – our host knew where to take us.  What was disturbing to see was very young, beautiful women walking hand in hand down the promenade with older, unkempt, obviously middle class white men – some had children.  The myths aren’t myths and the reality of white Caucasian men finding submissive, pleasing wives was everywhere around me.  Maybe they’re both happy.  Who am I to judge what they’ve each given up for this arrangement?

Exactly ten years later I visited again for work and this time the traffic was the introduction.  It took two and a half hours to get to a place about half an hour of a drive away from Aquino airport.  I didn’t have time to shop or budge out of the hotel this time.  Luckily, Go Hotel Ortigas, where I was staying, was right next to a little restaurant called B&P where I had breakfast, lunch and dinner while I worked.  Mornings were of an eggy-bacony type breakfast with cappucinos and the Ruskin Bond book, Landour Days, that I was reading.  I recommend the book, by the way!  Great sense of place and very simple style of writing, though very much of the British Raj tone, it must be said.

 

I still saw older white men strolling around with beautiful, young Filipino women on their arm. And frankly, was relieved to leave the city when I did.  It’s not my cup of tea, but that’s just me.  The country is known for its hospitality and its coastal tourism is picking up slowly but steadily.  Many people visit the Visayas, for example, just one of the scenic places to visit in this country of over 7000 islands with a rich and varied heritage that makes it one of the more intriguing places to visit in South East Asia by many a tourist.

 

A visit to Tacloban, in the Ring of Fire

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyyan (Yolanda) hit the Philippines with winds as high as 230 km/hr resulting in over 6000 fatalities and over 1000 missing persons.  Damage was estimated in billions of dollars.  For a country that lies at the centre of The Ring of Fire (called this because it is beset by almost every natural disaster known to man, except for avalanches because there’s no snow) this was one of the most devastating typhoons that hit land.

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Sunset over Tacloban, the Philippines

In October 2016 I was privileged enough to visit Tacloban for work.  It was one of the areas hardest hit by oncoming winds.  Rooftops to hotels and other structures were swallowed up whole during the typhoon, but when I visited three years later, the city was back on its feet, coping with the extensive damage including to infrastructure that was still evident around the city.

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Coastline next to my hotel

I was running two sets of intensive training workshops for leaders in the local community so that they could better prepare and protect themselves during times of disaster.  So I was holed up most of the time in Leyte Park Resort hotel with a stunning view of the coastline nearby.  I was told the hotel had replaced the rooftops, but was still limping back after the typhoon had damaged quite a bit of the hotels structures and grounds.  An evening walk around the periphery of the hotel revealed twisted metal rods sticking out of the grounds and newly grown shoots around tree stumps where broken off trees must have struggled to keep going in high winds before being snapped off.

I struggled with the food.  Philippinos love their food, it was evident, and their breakfasts were protein and carb-rich; full of meats, fried fish, congee type soups and rice.  I was happy to get a bit of fruit, some toast and an egg with my coffee.  The restaurant menu wasn’t appealing and unfortunately most of the continental dishes were not being made by the chef/kitchen, which was annoying.  I wasn’t given any reason why.  I was grateful when my hosts offered to treat me to their version of ‘dim-sum’ (what’s I’d call a Chinese hotpot of sorts) which was buying a combination of raw meats, seafoods and vegetables the throwing them into a huge vat of boiling water and making a lovely, hot, tasty soup of cooked items to share with each other.  Seasonings on the side.  If I had to go to the Philippines again, it would be for work, though their coastal tourism and beaches are picking up a lot of popularity.  It can’t be denied the combination of their lush greenery, pristine breaches and famous hospitality makes the country an attraction to be tried at least once in your life!

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A face made of crab-meat peering back at me from my soupy meal

 

Stepping out in Ahmedabad

At the end of 2016 I had to do a couple of short trips to Ahmedabad for some personal work and while I was there, decided to cross a couple of items off my perenially growing travel bucket-list: Sabarmati Ashram and the Adalaj stepwell.

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Gandhiji’s wooden sandals and Eyewear in a glass display at Sabarmati Ashram

Sabarmati Ashram: The Ashram is an open air, free entry museum along the Sabarmati river with nothing but a few bare essentials that belonged to Gandhi on display – his spectacles, a walking stick, some chappals and a spinning chakra.  That’s about it.  You get to walk around his house and courtyard and get a sense of where and how he lived.  The open air museum just built next to it is a nice structure full of opinionated propagandist writing about Gandhi posed in the form of leading questions – with the answers provided.  I’ve never before seen such a blatant display of biased historical information that is looking to preserve its established hero in formaldehyde.  Oh well, at least I’ve been there now.

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The Adalaj stepwell entrance

Adalaj stepwell: This was my first visit to a stepwell anywhere in India and I didn’t regret it for one moment.   I took a cab there to the village of Adalaj, about 30minutes by Uber just outside the main city centre, and back. It didn’t take more than an hour to walk around the fantastic structure full of ornate details painstakingly carved into every pillar and post.  It was around the time of the Diwali holidays so there was quite a mob of people milling around in the late afternoon.  Go in the early morning when I suppose its quieter.  The stepwell’s beauty lies in its carved details as well as the slightly asymmetrical architecture that cuts deep into the earth’s bowels.

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At the top of the stepwell stairs