Posted in Experiences, Travel

Paris and the Lord of the Rings Easter Eggs

I am a big fan of J.R.R. Toielken.His works, especially the Lord of the Rings Series, have the ability to transport you to a different realm- Middle Earth, as you dive into the books. To me, the best part of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of The Rings” was the journey that the protagonists undertook- going out of their comfort zone into vastly unknown and inhospitable worlds, and coming back a lot more “hobbitses” than they were at the beginning.

Perhaps this is what travel and journeys in large, do to a person. Traveling makes you a better person- a more “human” person. On all our travels, we have made new friends, eaten new foods, slept like a log at the end of a long day spent walking through unfamiliar streets, and most importantly- on all our travels, we have found a little bit more about ourselves. That is why we travel- to see how “other” people live, to gawk at the beauty and bounty of nature with open jaws, to see humanity in unremarkable places, to appreciate human ingenuity- in all the things man can make, and humbleness in all that he cannot.

Last year, we were in Paris- the undisputed City of Love (or is it the City of Lights?)Whatever she threw at us, we revelled in the City’s charm. Palaces, Cathedrals,Museums,City Squares & parks that can hold thousands of people at once- we were mesmerized and awed by it all. Then there was the River – the life-giver and harbinger of joy, the Seine. I thought to myself, “This is the lifeline of this city” as the batobus rolled and yawed on the tumultuous little waves.

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One night, we took the metro to watch the Eiffle Tower at night. A street musician stood in one corner of the square and played soulful music, singing along. The strains of music weaved a magic into the night. There was a crowd of hundreds of people at that time, but everyone was alone and at peace- everyone was at one with the music in the background, and the sparkling lights of the Eiffle Tower ahead.

When my friends ask “Why do you go to cities for a vacation? A beach or the hills are so much better to relax”; my mind goes back to this night- and to many quiet days and nights like this where you find solitude and harmony in the centre of everyday hustle. Every city has this oasis of peace- you ‘ve only got to find it.

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Later that night, we took the RER metro line to return to base- and behold, I made another discovery! There exists a city beneath the City of Paris. It does not have cathedrals and parks, but makes up for those in having miles upon miles of steel tracks. As we went lower into the abdomen of the city, the air grew warmer, but the crowds did not thin. Strains of music played by street musicians filled the air inside making the deep tunnels seem almost romantic and melancholic at the same time. By the time we were at least four storeys below the street surface, the stairs and tunnels opened up onto a large hall with a high ceiling that was supported by many tall columns. As people continue about their daily business, we realized that the population under the earth was more that above it! The station had been made to be able to accomodate the entire city’s population, if necessary. There were food stalls, and souviner shops, even fashion stores – all inside the belly of the giant that was Paris. An epiphany struck- this giant system, and not the Seine, was the lifeline of modern Paris. This treasure of steel and concrete and humanity is what drives the pulse of the city. The Paris we discovered that night- is a sleeping giant, built for life entirely underneath the surface of the earth. It seemed to me like the Dwarfs of Toilken’s works, are real and live among us- making their fascinating little cities underneath our mundane lives!

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Posted in Experiences, Travel

Travel Diaries- July 2013 (Part-3)

Day 1 [of 3] at KL

The KL List:

1) The Golden Triangle (Bukit Bintang Walk, KLCC and central business district)

2) The Lake Gardens

3) Batu Caves

4) Old KL City Centre (Petaling Jaya (ChinaTown), Medreka Square, Brickfields)

5) The KLIA Express Ride

6)  Jalan Alor & Street Food

7) The Administrative District of Putrajaya

8) View of the city from Menera KL

We looked at our list and then at the Map of the metro lines- popularly known as the KL Rapid Transit Line. While the public transport system is very efficient, fast and comfortable, it can be a bit confounding at the beginning! There are a number of lines, with many interconnections to make- if you are to see the city…

KL Transit Map
KL Transit Map

“ We are at the Chan Sow Lin station- an interconnection point between the Yellow(Ampung –Sentul Timur)  and the Green (Sri Petaling- Sentul Timur) Lines. We can go to Masjid Jamek, change lines to the Pink Line (Kelana Jaya- Gombak) to see the Golden Triangle.”Said Bee.

“Why don’t we see the Masjd Jamek area first? It’s also on the list…”

“Let’s get there first and then decide”

So we took our tickets, and walked to the platform – just as a train was moving in. “Run- see if  you can make it” Teased Bee as he ran with me to get into the last coach right before the doors closed! “You did that on purpose! Why did you make me run?” I panted – feigning mock anger. “Why DID you run?” He continued the banter…

We looked out the big glass windows as lush green meadows fleeted past us. Then, it struck both of us simultaneously- “Shouldn’t there be more streets and less fields- we are going towards the city centre, right?”

The train had reached the next station- Cheras- we were on the wrong train!

“Bee, let’s get out, Quick!”

We stood outside laughing at our folly… but otherwise pretty happy with the little adventure! (See, it’s the small things in life that count) 🙂

As we finally got on the correct train, I couldn’t help admire Bee’s uncanny ability to get a hotel whose location would always be amazing- first in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, then at Bangkok and now in KL… every hotel he had booked would always be conveniently located next to a metro station, or a bus station, or a taxi stand; and it would always have a 24hrs convenience store right across the street! Though I have never admitted it to him before, but yes- he does amaze me with his choices pretty often! 😉

So, Old City Centre- we were finally there! Just as you get off the metro, you can see the Jamek Mosque sitting pristinely along the banks of the two rivers that give KL its name.

The Masjid Jamek is the oldest mosque in KL
The Masjid Jamek is the oldest mosque in KL. It is located at the confluence of the Klang River and the Gombak River (previously k.a. Lumpur River)- which give the city its name

The lovely sight took me back to the research I had done on the internet a week before our trip began…..

[FLASHBACK MODE: ON (Fictitious Account)]

The Time: 1930s

Place: At a river bank

“They have named it right- Sungai Lumpur- the Muddy River” Thought the China-man. He was one of the hundreds who had landed at the confluence of the Klang and the Lumpur River that day of 1862 . It was the Tin. They were miners and were sent here to mine the Tin. The mining posts were far flung from this area – located at Pudu, Ampang and Batu areas. There were not the first to arrive. Many more from his village had been here- to earn cash. Not many of them had returned. He found his way among the hundreds to the frontier town and enlisted his services at the counter.

He met his cousin in the shantytown, as they caught up on old times. “It’s a pretty hard life out here” Said cousin Li, “But the pay is good. We have set up a neighborhood here. So have the other guys – from Hakka” He slurped on the remaining noodle soup and continued ” There was a fire a couple of weeks back. We are still trying to set up the affected houses. Let’s go now, you will find out the rest soon enough.”

As the years plied on, there were more fires, and gang wars regularly broke out between the Hakkas and the Hoikkens .  “Last year’s flood did more damage than those bloody fires did” spat out Li angrily. As more and more of his country men came to the doomed place, many more were dying in the treacherous land. If something was not done soon enough, riots and fires would destroy whatever little remained.

Even the British, who owned and ran the mines, knew this. They had to do something soon.

“They appointed a Chinese Headman to administer Kuala Lumpur. Things did not change significantly during the administration of the first two Kaptains. Things looked gloomy as ever. Then, the third Kaptain came to power.

Yap Ah Loy was a leader of men. He took the development of Kuala Lumpur as his personal target, and worked very hard for its development.  And succeeded ! In 1880s the capital of the Selangor district was moved from Klang to Kuala Lumpur. We have never looked back since then” Smiled the China Man – as he re-counted his days to his grandchildren.

[FLASHBACK MODE: OFF (Back to where we left off)]

“Bee, I am hungry!”

“We have just reached… how can you get hungry now?”

“But I AM hungry ! Feed Me!!” 😀

We walked out to the streets, which were filled to the brim with a sea of humanity. And this sea was serviced by an even greater variety of food vendors! There were the local food trucks, small shacks offering local delicacies and even large eateries and restaurants ! The Mosque itself lay across the street, separated from it by a small channel of water.

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We grabbed some food at a street stall and started clicking away (like most tourists around were doing right the)! As we walked around, we found ourselves on the road to China Town, or Petaling Street!

We found the way to Petaling Street, a.k.a. Chinatown of KL
We found the way to Petaling Street, a.k.a. Chinatown of KL

The streets of Chinatown are as amazing and colourful as the the name suggests. It was filled with people (mostly Chinese and Malay, but also with a lot of tourists), Hotels, Eateries, Banks & other public buildings.. It even had its own bus depot. The place was bustling with life and energy ! There is no way that anyone visiting this place cannot be affected by the sheer pace of this part of town !

Colorful Buildings are easy to spot in Chinatown !
Colorful Buildings are easy to spot in Chinatown !

Invigorated with this burst of fresh energy, we walked our way to the Merdeka Square (Independence Square).  This is where the  National Flag of Malaysia has been unfurled on Independence Day (31 Aug) since 1957. The National Parade also takes place here every year.

The Square itself is situated right across the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. It currently houses the offices of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia.

A view of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building from the Merdeka Square
A view of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building from the Merdeka Square

Right opposite to the Sultan Abdul Samad building, across the Square is the Royal Selangor Club.Founded more than 100years ago, this club owned the Merdeka Square area, before the same was taken back by the City Hall!

The Royal Selangor Club as seen from the Merdeka Square
The Royal Selangor Club as seen from the Merdeka Square

Among the other notable (and famous) buildings that surround the club are The KL City Hall and the KL Library.

KL City Hall
KL City Hall
The KL Library
The KL Library

We clicked some more pictures. I experimented with Shutter Speed at the Fountain on Merdeka Square 🙂

My experiments with light and shutter speed !
My experiments with light and shutter speed !

“Bee, I want to see more than just buildings” My patience and energy was wearing out with the city sights already. Bee didn’t answer just yet. He seemed lost in thought.

“Bee.. you ‘re not listening to a word of what I just said!” I complained.

“I heard every bit of it. I am just trying to get my bearings right, so that…” “Where shall we go now” I must admit, I was very impatient now, or maybe just weary ! 😛

He looked up from his smartphone. “Do you want to see the Bird Park?”

Posted in Experiences, Travel

Travel Diaries- July 2013 (Part 2)

Passport – Check

Visa – Check (Multi Entry one for Malaysia & since Indonesia has visa on arrival for Indian citizens- so didn’t really have it when we started!)

Dollars- Check

Bee & Mee – Check!!!

“Why haven’t you taken maps, Bee?” was my first question- even before the flight took off. “We ‘ll get them once we get there” came Bee’s calm reply.

“I know you won’t !”

“You ‘ve got all the technology of the world and you still want to kill trees..” We continued arguing till they brought the food in- after which, I decided we had had enough arguments for the evening and took a nap!

Bee, meanwhile, did what he always does on flights- read the in-flight magazine, watch a movie & listen to some songs on his Tablet,  go over his best laid plans once again –and wait for me to wake up (so that we can resume the discussion, or begin a new one!)

By the time I woke up, it was 9:30PM –Indian Standard Time (00:00AM KL Time) and a carpet of lights on the ground below meant we were flying over the city centre.  The Kuala Lumpur International Airport- KLIA, is located in the Sepang district of Selangor, some 60Kms South of KL. This meant we were still a good 10-15 mins away from landing. As I sat up, Bee pointed out the iconic Petronas Twin Towers , standing out from the rest of the lights below us!

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We immediately got our camera out and tried to capture the moment- but alas ! we did not quite get the shot we wanted !! (You see, I might have inadvertently turned the VR settings to OFF- and might therefore be slightly responsible for the blurry image that we got… apart from the fact that I actually did click this one!) 😉

We landed at the airport at close to 00:30AM, and were pretty worried about how we would get to our hotel! While the KLIA offers many transportation options, getting from LCCT to the main KLIA terminal is a good 20Kms drive! Also, the trains (which are the fastest way into the city) run from 5AM to 1.03AM daily from the main terminal to KL Sentral- which meant, we could in no way get the last one on time. Our research had shown that the LCCT has bus services like Skybus and Aerobus to KL Sentral, but we were not quite sure of the timings of the last bus. Oh, and we did not really want to risk taking a taxi in the middle of the night, in a completely new place – just the two of us (Most Indians, especially those living in & around New Delhi, will understand our predicament) … So, we had to hurry- to see if we would get that last bus before it moved out of the Airport.

As we completed the immigration process, collected our bags and exchanged our currency, we ran into another couple- from India. We had met them at the Calcutta Airport earlier that day and had chatted about our travel plans. We met them again- hurrying to make it to that last bus out of LCCT- just like us! “What a coincidence, Bee” I gushed as I saw them heading the same way as us. “Not coincidence, dear- they were on the same flight as us. You fought, ate and slept on the flight, remember? We talked this part of the trip- getting from the Airport to the City, while you were sleeping” Smiled my ever vigilant husband at me.

I frowned at his remark outwardly – and blessed my stars for having him around !

Once on the bus, we relaxed a bit and enjoyed the hour-long ride into the heart of KL. I had assumed the frantic pace and madness around would be limited to the Airport- I was wrong! When we got off the bus at KL Sentral, we were immediately surrounded by a crowd of taxi and mini-bus drivers—each one trying to entice the late-night passengers by offering every “package” possible- from a drop at home or a hotel, to a 2-3 day KL tour (including the Titiwangsa Lake & Batu Caves visit)! We said our goodbyes to Tanu & Abhi (the couple we had befriended on our way to KL) and sought a taxi that would take us to our hotel at Fraiser Park on a meter! As in any city, the night charges for taxis – even with a meter is usually 50% more than the actual charges. Yet it was way less expensive than the non-metered cabs that had surrounded us at the Bus Depot!

Eventually we reached our hotel-one of the newest babies in the Accor Family- the Ibis Styles, Fraiser Park- at close to 2:30AM and checked in.

Bee at the Reception of Ibis Styles, Fraiser Park. We were checking into the hotel (pre-booked, of course) at 2:30AM in the morning!
Bee at the Reception of Ibis Styles, Fraiser Park. We were checking into the hotel (pre-booked, of course) at 2:30AM in the morning!

Our first day of travel had begun early when we started from our house in Jamshedpur at 5:30AM (IST) to catch the morning train to Kolkata. When we finally hit the sack at 3:00AM, we were too excited to sleep! it was only the beginning !!!! 😀 😀 😀

Posted in Celebrations, Experiences, Travel

Travel Diaries- July 2013 (Part 1)

“Why Malaysia?” Someone asked us. “What is there to see in Malaysia?” the bewildered questioning continued.

Well, Why not- We asked

Ranked the World’s 10th most visited country in 2012  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Tourism_rankings), Malaysia holds a lot of charms for the tourist and for the traveler alike ! (Yes, there is a big difference between those two terms). Located partly in Peninsular Asia, and partly in the North-Western part of the Island of Borneo, Malaysia offers a vast multitude of experiences to suit every taste and every pocket! The rush of big city life in Kuala Lumpur, a slightly slower pace in a historic city of Ipoh, the centre of Malaysian cuisine at Penang, the picture perfect beaches of Lankawi… All these were options to choose from Peninsular Malaysia. (Eastern Malaysia offers a variety of National Parks, Diving City Experiences and arguably the world’s most beautiful islands- The Perhentian Islands!)

Malaysia- Truly Asia
Malaysia- Truly Asia

Exploring all these beautiful sites will take at least a couple of months! But our regular jobs do not really allow for such luxury (Though it’s the same regular jobs that helps pay for these stunning escapades every once in a while- so no complaints here!!). Argo, we chose 2 places and dedicated 4 days (+2 days of travel) to our Malayan Sojourn. And the places we selected were…… Kuala Lumpur (3 days) and Melaka (a day trip from KL). 6 days, 2 cities …. Somehow, it wasn’t enough! It sounded like appetizer with no main course !!! We looked up at each other- the same look in our eyes, and went back to the drawing board… err… map (specifically, the map of SE Asia) and further research began in earnest!!

Map of SE Asia

The trip would have to be at least 15 days long, out of which 6 days had been accounted for. We had a big city, a historic town… we could do a beach or a hill station or a national park, maybe…. After brainstorming for what seemed like hours, our eyes fell on that big group of Islands…. With over 18000 islands (6000 of them inhabited), lying precariously on the infamous “Ring of Fire”, containing ethnicities and wonders that range from man-made monuments to natural beaches and volcanoes…. We knew our next destination would have to be Indonesia!

Wonderful Indonesia
Wonderful Indonesia

Since our trip already had a mega city, we decided to skip Jakarta for this time. Instead, we would focus on the Special Province of Yogyakarta- the gateway to the Famous Borobudur Temples and the Prambanan Temple complex (It is also very close to one of the world’s most active “Decade Volcano”- the Mount Merapi). Yogyakarta is also famous for being the cultural center of the Java Island. (More like, the soul of Java!) So, the next 3 days of the trip would be spent seeping in the culture of the Java at Yogyakarta.

This meant there was a spot for just one more place (either in Malaysia or Indonesia- for all practical reasons like Visa and Return flights)…. And we settled on the Island of Bali for the last leg of the journey (Looking back, it was truly the icing on the cake!) We had been to Goa a few months back, and assumed we knew all about beaches and beach holiday- so this would be a re-run of our older holiday—or so we thought ; and we were never more wrong ! There’s so much to Bali, that it would take not less than a month at a time to see it and experience it …. And still want more of it!

That’s it then—plan in place, visas in hand, hotels & flights booked…. 6th of July, 2013- we set off on another adventure !!!