Gardens by the bay, Singapore

Travel post | Things to do in Singapore

Singapore used to be the first foreign trip that most Indians made in those days once they got their passports. Travelling on software work to the US, semi-bonded labour to Saudi wouldn’t count. Those were business trips. The first foreign holiday was usually Singapore. It was the same for us. Singapore fits the bill because it is closer home, is within budget and has something for everyone. I’ve only been to Singapore once. So I am no authority on the best places to visit in Singapore. I went with the collective wisdom of the world. I relied on my google research. I must say we had a great time at Singapore. The kids count Singapore among one of their favourite trips too. It’s been more than a year since we visited Singapore. So I will be hazy around specific details. Like with everything else, there was one song that was playing on my mind when we were on the flight to Singapore. The Ramaraj song set in Singapore – “Sorgame endralum adhu nammu ooru pole varuma…“. My first impression of Singapore was that it had such high high-rises, it was scary. Also Singapore could give Chennai a run for its money on the humidity angle. It was hot and sweaty. We visited sometime in September-October. We spent an absolutely fun-filled day at Universal studios. Jagan had a great time riding all the roller coasters multiple times on all our passes because we were too scared to go. We sipped slushies and ice creams and went on the slow rides that grandmas and tiny tots went on. I hauled my hefty DSLR around while petite, perfectly smooth legged chinese women nimbly extended their selfie sticks and expertly shot a few 100 pictures. I ducked and dodged to stay out of other people’s selfies. I didn’t want to be that out-of-focus beautiful fat aunty with the mookuthi in the corner of the picture. We were totally beat by the time we returned to the hotel that night. I had the most flavor-packed ramen bowl that night for dinner at a little restaurant at Clarke Quay that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. Universal studios is a quick cab ride from Singapore mainland. We had booked all of our tickets for Universal studios online right after we booked our hotel and flight bookings. We did the same for Jurong...
Taj Bekal

Travel guide to Bekal

Bekal is a small coastal town in northern kerala just off Mangalore. The Bekal fort is best recognized as the fort where Arvind Swamy in that iconic white and blue T-shirt sings “Uyire” against the backdrop of crashing waves and it is all you can do to not run to the screen and hug and pacify him. It is still about Bekal that we’re talking about. We travelled to Bekal earlier this year after our customary visit to Mookambika temple. It is just off the border of Mangalore, about 4 hours from Kollur, Karnataka. It was late March and it was hot. We stayed at Taj Bekal which sits just off the beach and on the sides of a lovely stretch of backwaters. This place was so charming, so tastefully done, there was little reason to venture anywhere else. We stayed busy the whole time. We ate, sat, gazed, ate, laid down, sat, watched, fell asleep, ate, sat, watched … all day. We did this out on the grass by the backwater, on the swing bed in the patio, in the pool and on the beach. The green all around soothed my eyes. I couldn’t have enough of the coconut trees, the gentle flow of the backwater, the silence interrupted only by birds and my kids. I sat there drinking in the quiet relishing the delicious prospect of doing nothing the rest of the day. I wanted to hold on to it, take it back with me. The property has lovely touches of kerala all over the place. Kerala houseboats are called Kettuvallams. These Kettuvallam style bamboo awnings adorn every entrance, veranda and roof. Little statues of elephants with the most adorable little umbrella stand guard in front of every room bearing the room number. Striking Pillayar (Vinayagar/Ganesh) sculptures greet you at every turn. People were canoeing in the backwaters, getting Ayurvedic spa treatments, making friends with other guests, dressing up for meals and broadcasting real-time to their social circles. I slept. You can try your archery skills, play cricket or stand in the pool and order cappuccino. Women had shopped specifically for this holiday. They wore tie-around the neck swimsuits, one side sleeved swimsuits and sunglasses and walked into the pool to stand and chat. They ordered cappuccino and fries. I was wearing Saroja Devi’s swimsuit with the frills at the thigh. I took in a long deep breath,...
Kodaikanal lake view

The lazy person’s guide to Kodaikanal

I can feel the excitement of the school year finale in the air. We’re in the middle of the annual exams. We’re ripping out tattered covers of books knowing they need not be covered again. We’re using up extra notebooks as rough books. I am already dreaming of late mornings and leisurely toilet time. As usual I have a whole lot of things I want to do this summer including vathal making, de-cluttering the house, teaching kids some basic cooking, signing them up for some fun classes, re-arranging some of the furniture, catching up on 6 months’ magazines, finishing all the un-read books in the bookshelf/kindle, maybe going on a short vacation.. I may have planned for the next 5 summers. I am getting all tangled up just thinking about them. Talking about vacations, we went on a mini weekend vacation to Kodaikanal last month. It was quite a last minute thing. I did not really believe a 2-day vacation would amount to much. I am happy to say I was wrong. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, relaxing vacations in recent times. We didn’t do any of the regular sightseeing. We skipped all the viewpoints, waterfalls and must-see places. With summer vacation around the corner, I thought it might be useful to share my lazy person’s guide to kodaikanal. Find a nice spot, sit and simply look at the lake We checked into Carlton that’s just along the lake and were lucky enough to be staying in a beautiful lake facing room. We’ve been going back to Carlton Kodaikanal for several years now. Mornings, we woke up early, went out to the balcony and quickly ran back in shocked by the ice cold floor outside. We’d head back wearing slippers, sit down hugging ourselves in the nippy air and look across at the misty lake mesmerized. It’s still early, much before the cycling and boating enthusiasts are out. It’s quiet and peaceful. We wonder how life would be for the family that lives in that house across the lake. We order coffee through room service, not wanting to leave the setting. Snack and walk around the lake The kodaikanal lake has an almost 5km circumference and is usually crowded with tourists. You can hire a cycle and cycle around the lake. Or you can walk around the lake. When you’re hungry, stop for a snack...

Travel Post – Vintage charm at Chidambaram and Tranquebar

I enjoy reminding Yuvan that school starts in just a few weeks, just about a week now. And that I am really excited that he will be starting full working days. It irritates him no end. He’d charge at me. Now he pretends he hasn’t heard. Although the beginning of the school year brings joy and an overwhelming respect for school teachers, I am also worried I may break the school’s record for late-coming, that Hasini may turn me in and the principal may punish me, make me stand in the verandah/on the bench,  for being the most incorrigible parent. I am too ingrained in the summer holiday routine now. We haven’t started on any of the holiday assignments. They whiled away the summer holidays, colouring, watching cartoons, playing at the beach, in the swimming pool, decoding everyone’s mobile pins and using up their data plans, hijacking the ice-cream vandi and not letting the lady move until somebody bought them ice-creams. I whiled away the holidays contented not to have to sit through homework time. We happened to go on a small vacation at the beginning of the holidays in April. We were going to a dear friend’s wedding in Chidambaram and we decided to turn it into a mini vacation. I’ve been waiting ever since to share some of that experience here with you guys. This is a photo-heavy post. Please be warned. I don’t know if you know that I am mad about antique stuff. Antique rosewood tables, grandpa clocks and typewriters make me weak in the knees. Dressers and Almirahs make me dizzy. Brass vessels, high ceilings and cane armchairs make me babble in joy. This particular vacation had most of these elements, which is why I thought I had to share. There is a small heritage bungalow just off Chidambaram called “Lakshmi Vilas Heritage hotel” that must have been some zamindar’s place long time ago. It has been beautifully converted into a heritage hotel complete with “Ammi kallu” (traditional grinding machine of Tamil Nadu) and Ural and Ulakku lining the corridors, the reception desk at the entrance set beside a large spacious thinnai, a wooden swing at the far end and a couple of employees stretched out beside it. The staff were all one family, really. The receptionist was a petite girl in her early twenties from the same locality. The security cum general helpers were...

Appam and Stew on the mind | Holiday in Kerala

Suitcase loads of clothes washed, folded and arranged in cupboards, suitcases shoved back on to the paranai (loft), tired and exhausted but looking forward to the grind, to thinking of what to cook tomorrow. Can you say I’ve just been on a holiday? After a week of winding through Kerala’s highways, up mountains, down gravelly goat tracks, getting stuck on muddy, slippery paths and having a large group of toddy high Malayalee chettas heave the XUV forward, staring at google maps all day, legs cramped and butt sore, crashing on to the hotel bed every night dreaming of Puttu, egg curry, Fish moilee, Appam and vegetable stew… All I want to do now is stretch my legs and then make some Appam and vegetable stew. I lost one and gained 2 (kilos of course). I painstakingly lost one kilo after weeks of heavy restraint and mild exercise and then I went on this holiday. I ate my way through kootu curry, puttu, egg curry, karimeen pollichathu (spiced fried whole fish), Kerala chicken roast, Malabar biryani, Chemmeen Ularthiyathu (prawn roast), Fish Moilee, Appam, vegetable stew and unlimited papadams. Appam and Vegetable stew Everyday! Oh My, I love Kerala food. I am hopelessly smitten. I can’t get over the delicious food. I am going to have to make all of these at home. I got in the swimming pool and unsuccessfully tried to invoke my muscle memory and realized my muscles are as absent minded as me. I don’t know how I swam as a little girl. Did I? I am beginning to doubt. I can’t get my head into the water without flaying my arms, gasping and freaking out. I just can’t swim. But I can get tanned. I returned home cast ironed (not bronzed). Wayanad was one of our destinations. It is a nice, quiet place, beautiful when rainy and pleasant otherwise but a bit of a bore for me. It has the usual touristy spots that plague most hill stations – lots of view points – different angles of the same mountains – maybe of interest if you are the selfie type and you want to choose the best selfie from the different angles or  if you are nature person and if you are not afraid of heights. I am selfie challenged and shit scared of heights. There are a couple of waterfalls (some of them closed to public),...

Danish Display – Wonderful little Crafts Store in Kodaikanal

 My son’s peeing partner I am a souvenir fanatic, I have to buy stuff wherever I go but as it turns out most often, it is not actually the specialty of the place or even worse it is available in Pondy bazaar or the numerous “handicraft exhibitions” that are put up in many places in Chennai. You are sure to find chennapatna wooden tops, semi-precious jewellery, traditional Rajasthani outfits for kids, carved wooden corner tables, centre tables etc. in these handicraft exhibitions in the city. No item is exclusive to any place anymore. Most things you find in a tourist place are already available somewhere in your own city. As long as what I buy is unique and I like it, I don’t mind buying coloured glass chandeliers in Goa, painted terracotta ganeshas in Kodaikanal or silk coin purses in Darjeeling. I found those silk coin purses so enchanting I bought one for everybody in the family. Imagine my embarrassment when a few months later I found heaps of these purses being sold on Pondy bazaar platform. This happens a lot to me and my husband is ever-ready to point out my blunders. But I don’t mind. He never stops me from buying anything, so I guess that more than compensates for his pointy behaviour. Danish display however is a really cool crafts store unlike your usual Indian touristy shop that you’ll find inside most 5-star hotels – pashmina shawls, semi-precious jewellery, carved elephant you get the picture? If you are going to Kodaikanal, you should visit Danish Display especially if you love crafts, knickknacks and pretty things. Danish Display has a wide range of things, I loved just looking though them. Most of their stuff is quite unique, although they have the usual wooden bangles and jute jewellry also. They have these tiered crocheted lamp shades I couldn’t resist buying although I knew I wouldn’t be using them in the near future. My kids would use it to swing from dining table to fridge top and back. Top of the fridge is the only surface in the house that remains untouched by their antics.  Terracotta Bird whistles There are some delightful little terracotta toys which are quite ingenious. The “little peeing boy” is one such and it looks so cute too. You need to dunk the little terracotta boy in hot water for some time and then in some cold water....
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