Singapore Shenanigans from April

Hai from Singapore! I noticed that I still hadn’t posted pics from my LAST Singapore visit, so now is an appropriate time :)

We stayed at Clarke Quay, at the lovely Swissotel Merchant Court which was just moments away from the water.

The hotel room itself was lovely and very bright, with a great view of the quay.

 

I loved the Kopitiam food court in the nearby mall,  Liang Court. We ate there 3 times in our short stay! Sometimes for brekkie/brunch, or as here, for a refreshing Ais Kachang. More on food here in a separate post.

 

For our evening meals, we couldn’t go past Jumbo Seafood. Both times we went to the one further away from the bridge, because the tables at the bridge establishment were already reserved til way late! We elected to have Pepper Crab instead of the usual Chili Crab, and it was delish (more on Jumbo later too, in a Singapore food post to come).

 

After a short rest and freshen up, we glanced out the hotel window to see a load of people gathered on the bridge, seemingly drinking and chatting en masse. But wasn’t this squeaky clean and orderly Singapore? Do they allow drinking on the streets? In Sydney there’s an open container law which prohibits you from public drinking except in designated areas (like, in pubs or right next to them).   Dom popped out to investigate. And our eyes did not deceive us!

I scurried to get ready, then we raced out to mingle with the locals. We hadn’t arranged to meet anyone, though we’d met a few goths back in 2010 when we went to Heart of Darkness. Spotting a few black-clad suspects, we decided to loiter nearby, while beginning to enjoy our cold Tiger beers purchased from the nearby convenience store.

 

Erm yes, blurry – but then, that’s how we felt after a few beers! Before long we got chatting to the people next to us…and behold, they were goths and punks! One lovely girl called Prethi leaned over to say how nice my hair was, and that was it. Soon after I discovered that the Indian guy with the death hawk (see pic above) was none other than Philip Von Grave, who had been a facebook friend since we met back in 2010! Small world! (And poor memory).

Basically, we got to meet all their friends (a couple of whom I’d met at HOD before), and one of them got out his laptop to play some alternative tunes: Rancid, Clash, Bauhaus, the Cure etc. And we all got drunk and silly together and talked about gigs and albums we liked until the wee hours. I tell you, it really made the night for us!

 

On our second day, with cranky brainboxes we dragged ourselves back to Kopitiam for morning nosh and I had a delightful dish of silken rice noodle wrapped around small tasty prawns, before being smothered in a soya sauce. YUM! OK, so I also had some dim sum sides, while dom had some wontons with noodles:

 

After brunch, Dom went to Chinatown, while I headed to Geylang (see my Geylang/Joo Chiat post here). We reconvened for a meal @Central, before hightailing it to the Marina Bay Sands. OK, so we got off at the wrong stop and had to get back on the metro, meaning that by the time we got to the top, the sunset was all but over. It took a long time to walk through the complex, find the lift, wait to board the lift, disembark, join the queue, find a spot to take photos… Despite the rush I couldn’t help but marvel at the architecture once again, both inside the complex and outside at the city views.

 

The view, once we made it to the top, was stunning:

 

However, the delay meant we were late heading out to the Singapore Night Zoo, and eventually we had to admit defeat on that score. Not to worry though, let’s just head to Jumbo Seafood again!

I’ll soon be posting some of my CURRENT Singapore and Malaysian shenanigans…more soon!

Scoot off to Singapore! And go la, to Geylang!

Yes, I’ve succumbed to the temptations of the newest budget airline and am scooting off to Singapore…even though I just spent a few days there in late April.

Why? One-way fares of $121 for Sydney to Singapore are pretty hard to beat. If you’re in Australia you should really check it out!  From there I’ll be taking local flights to get around, and am planning to spend a few days on the lovely Tioman Island before flying to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia for some great eating and shopping.

Last time in Singapore I stayed in Clarke Quay, especially fun on a Wednesday night which is ladies night (more on that in a later post).  But where to stay this time? I’ll be travelling sans husband, and looking to downgrade from the Swissotel Merchant Court at which we stayed last time. I’m thinking of heading northeast.

In previous trips I’ve seen all the city sights, I’ve discovered the (touristy!) delights of Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, Marina Bay and Bugis area.  In April I decided I wanted something a little more exotic, yet still able to be done in an afternoon. What next?

Fascinated by both Malay and Peranakan culture, my researches led me to Geylang Serai, a predominantly Malay area with great hawker food and Joo Chiat, home to old Peranakan style shophouses (a la Penang).  The shophouses stretch all the way down Geylang Road, where the area becomes known simply as Geylang – Singapore’s Red Light District.  Oo er missus! This place was looking juicier by the day.  Never heard of them? They are well worth checking out (and see the map here to get your bearings).

Geylang/Joo Chiat, while not as close to the city as Chinatown & Little India, is nevertheless quite easy to reach by MRT. I changed twice to get to the closest station Paya Lebar, which takes around 30-45 minutes. From THERE it’s just a moderate walk…but it wasn’t for me on MY first visit (see full sob story below).

So, what is there to see? Up until late 2011, there was a Malay Village eponymously titled Geylang Serai, which housed replicas of Malay kampong houses and aimed to preserve Malay culture and promote tourism. Alas, the 10 million spent was never recouped, and the village closed late September last year.  I highly recommend the Remembering Singapore post on Geylang Serai for more background on this. In its place a new Civic centre is being built, to be completed around 2016.

What is there now?

Malay Market in Singapore

Blooming amidst the ubiquitous high-rise complexes here is a fantastic Malay Hawker Centre and clothing market (albeit catering to Muslims and predominantly carrying Baju Kurungs and headwear). Known as Pasar Geylang Serai, it has the structure of a Malay longhouse, all A-framed gables with wide overhangs, embellished with traditional diamond design wooden panels, and incorporating decorative ventilation screens so the air can circulate and keep the place cool.

There are beautiful batik motifs and intricate patterns adorning the walls, inlaid stone featuring floral motifs on the floors, and everywhere a sense of craftsmanship that is missing from modern malls. But enough about the architecture, right?

On the ground floor is a series of stores ranged around the perimeter, with a wet m arket in the middle. On the first floor, reached by stairs, lift or escalator, is the food centre. THIS is what you come for.

Apologies for the bad quality of photos – not wanting to stand out, I snapped quickly with my little point-n-shoot. Note it was mid-afternoon, hence not too many people there post-lunch and pre-dinner.

You may be able to see in my first photo a banner proclaiming healthier choices. In late April when I was there, Peyar was one of 3 hawker centres to take up the challenge. Stalls in these hawker centres have started using whole-grain noodles, brown rice bee hoon, healthier oil and salt, and selling drinks with lower sugar content. Read more in the Straits Times article.

Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang and Geylang Briyani Hall are some of the well-known stalls to  try. Apparently at breakfast time, GS Oli Thosei & Food Stall is a great place to enjoy Appom (Indian rice dish), Dosa (Indian pancake) and Masala chicken (spiced chicken). Be sure to go early for these dishes often sell out before noon.

As for me, I had limited time to spend there as I wanted to SHOP! So I just grabbed a teh tarik from the Al Karim Teh Tarik Corner (above). Next time I would do the sensitive thing and cover up – at least wear short sleeves. As it was so humid, I was wearing a strappy tank top, and while no-one looked at me sideways, I felt people studiously NOT looking at me – know what I mean?  Were I dressed appropriately, I think I would have talked to people aside from the stall owner, and likewise felt more comfortable taking photos. A word to the wise.

Next it was time to check out the cloth and clothing markets.

There were quite a few ladies shopping here, although I avoided taking pictures of them so as not to offend. There were beautiful batik patterned pieces of cloth that one could buy to make up into skirts or pants later (and indeed I was wearing pants made of almost identical batik cloth).

As I mentioned earlier, the main fashion favoured by Malay women is the Baju Kurung – a knee length tunic over a long sarong skirt, paired with a head scarf. While the purpose of the dress is to cover up, the colours are often joyfully bright, with detailed embroidery and silky lustre.  I was fascinated and yet could only admire from afar. While tempted by the beauty of some of them, I could only make the pieces work separately back at home, and managed to resist buying any.

You can also see here a lot of childrens clothing.  Hey, if you don’t believe in contraception, then everyone’s got them, right?

Pasar Geylang Serai has become a hub for not only Singaporean Malays, but also those of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, serving as the ‘Malay Emporium of Singapore’. The Wisma Civic Centre when built, will no doubt become a place where Malays come together as a community, enjoying shared activities and celebrations.

Just across the road from Pasar Geylang Sera is the Joo Chiat Complex – a multi-storied shopping mall again featuring a lot of clothing stores, but also fabric, curtain, carpet and other homewares stores. You don’t even have to cross the road – there is a covered walkway stretching from the first floor of the food centre across to Joo Chiat.

Look at the outside – isn’t it a lovely festive building in thjose varying delicious shades of green? Inside too, is very modern with a soaring vaulted ceiling and open central area accentuating the height of the structure.

I checked out a few of the stores, but realised quite quickly that there really wasn’t anything for me. (The question “why didn’t I go to Orchard Road?” did, I admit, rear its ugly head right about now. “But you’re here for CULTURAL reasons”, I admonished myself, while mentally slapping myself upside the head). To be fair, there were some shoe shops which were cheap and cheerful – just not to my taste.

On the ground floor I nosed around the curtain stores for a bit, then headed outside to the adjacent building.

Here there were interior designers, custom curtain makers and generally more desirable and upmarket things to buy. I was almost certainly going to purchase some very luxe-looking gunmetal-silver fabric with turquoise central asian motif embroidery (to match my new wallpaper). But then I looked at my watch. Oh my. I had less than an hour to find my way home to meet the boy and head out to Marina Bay Sands. Bugger. Why did I waste 45 minutes just GETTING to this place?

So I left the store and decided to get a few snaps of the surrounding area on Joo Chiat Road. What beautifully restored shophouses there were!  To the side of the Joo Chiat Complex was the Joo Chiat Hotel – similarly painted in bright pops of green with orange and brown thrown in for good measure.

 

Looking down Joo Chiat Road  I saw row after row of well maintained shophouses, and felt there was a very villagey atmosphere about the place.

It just felt like a place I would like to spend more time in, even if I wasn’t a Malay or a muzzie.

And so it comes as no surprise at all to read that Joo Chiat has become Singapore’s first Heritage Town.  In fact, just a few days ago on Saturday 30th June the  Joo Chiat Heritage Night was held to celebrate this victory in preserving Peranakan culture.

I won’t repeat it all here, but there are many great stories about the area’s past, and the original Joo Chiat’s great-grandson has a fantastic blog, My Choo Jiat Story – go have a read.

With all this in mind, and searching for hotels for my upcoming trip, I noticed many cheaper options were in Geylang, just a tad further west of Joo Chiat. Not at all put off by the fact it’s a red-light district after dark, I’m keen to explore the many eateries and shophouses there.

I haven’t shared much about Peranakan culture here, as I am quite the novice myself. Hopefully I’ll learn a lot more and have some good quality photos after this next trip.

Now, for those who were interestd in my sob story, here it is…

*Insert wiggly lines as we go back in time*

Having arrived at Paya Lebar station, it should have then been a moderate walk to the Joo Chiat complex/Gaylang Serai food centre – had I not listened to the advice of locals at the station.

Wanting to check I was about to walk in the right direction, asked “is this the way to the Joo Chiat Complex? Various people told me it was too far to walk and I needed to get the bus, so I looked it up, and waited.

And waited…and waited.

About 6 buses and 10-15 minutes later, I boarded the bus. Another 10 minutes later, I asked the bus driver, “Is the Joo Chiat complex near?”

Oh no. Wrong bus.

We’d passed Joo Chiat Road or Joo Chiat Lane, which the driver thought I wanted, but were now nowhere near where I REALLY wanted to be. Doh.

Off I jumped, walked a bit, clueless, then spied a hotel with a cab rank out the front. Joy!  I only had the afternoon to explore and time was running out. Except there was already a queue, with people in front of me.

I waited another 10 minutes for my turn and then after a 5 minute cab ride was dropped to the centre I’d been trying to get to for so long. It turned out to be pretty darned close to where I started out :/

I didn’t know this until I’d finished shopping, and asked locals how to get back to Paya Lebar MRT. It took about 10 minutes to walk it.

OH THE PAIN.

Geylang Serai Food Centre
1 Geylang Serai #01-K1
Singapore 402001
1800 222 2121

To Tour or Not To Tour – independent vs group travel

When it comes to planning your next holiday adventure, one question that may arise is: “do I plan my own itinerary and do all the bookings myself, or do I join an organised tour?” 

For some this question would never come up, as they consider tours to be somehow a less authentic way to travel, or for those who are tourists and not real “travellers” like themselves. You know the type, right? *Roll eyes*

I myself IN GENERAL choose to organise all my own flights, accom, internal travel etc… but not always. I have quite a few times taken tours that have turned out to be amazing experiences…and occasionally one or two that weren’t. This topic is quite close to my heart, having taken a 14 day tour recently in India. Let’s look at pro’s and con’s, shall we?

Pro’s of Organised Tours

  • No stress in organising accommodation or travel. It’s all done for you, so you just turn up, see the sights, and get driven/trained to your next hotel at the end of the day. Some places don’t have trains or buses that go to your selected destinations, or not without difficult connections.
  • Certainty in your itinerary. You know you’ll get all your selected destinations covered. You won’t get stuck in a city for days because all flights and trains are booked out due to a religious festival (as happened to us in Vietnam during Tet). Or get stuck because the infrastructure is still developing and there is no regular transport (see point one).
  • Meeting new people. Solo travellers find they have a rent-a-crowd, if you like; company with whom to enjoy the travel experience. Some female travellers may find themselves feeling safer in some places travelling in a group.
  • You often get to see and do things you ordinarily wouldn’t have thought of.
  • You have a tour leader to explain cultural nuances, and answer any question you may have.
  • Restaurants chosen are ones that are known to be safe – for some people travelling in developing countries, this is a great plus.
  • Financially you know most of your costs ahead of time, and they’re taken care of, leaving you with less money to have to drag around.

Con’s of Organised Tours

  • Lack of freedom with itinerary – You can’t just jump off at a certain destination and spend x more number of days there; you have to stick to what’s on the itinerary.
  • Lack of freedom with daily scheduling – You may be expected to meet up with the group for dinner, say, just when you want to explore the new city.  You can’t just cop out on something you’re not interested in either, but be expected to join in.
  • Boredom – you may not find the fellow tour members very interesting, and then you’re stuck with them for weeks!
  • If you get sick on tour, it can be a drag to continue going to all the different pitstops on the tour when you really just want to stay holed up in your hotel room.
  • The accommodation is fixed, so if you get a dud room or just don’t like the hotel you may not be able to go elsewhere.
  • Foodwise, you may be more into street food and hawker stalls, but for the sake of other less adventurous souls in the group may always be attending safe but less authentic restaurants.

 

I’d like to share some of my own experiences as they relate to some of these key points.

Years ago I travelled on the Oz Experience bus several times to Byron Bay and Cairns. Despite the rest of the bus being backpackers, I had a fantastic time. Being a solo traveller, I was glad to have company when viewing the sights and at mealtimes (gawd, I often hate eating alone). I could also have a few beers and not be worried about getting back to the hotel safely, being in a group.  Oz Experience though is unique in that it’s hop-on, hop-off – so you really can choose to stop at a fave town, city or beach, stay a few days, and then call them when you want to get picked up (subject to bookings).

Likewise in Western Australia a few years ago, Dom and I opted to go with a backpacker group. Given that we had vast distances to cover between Perth and Ningaloo Reef/Exmouth, it got us to all the places we wanted, for cheaper than a Greyhound bus that would just drop us off somewhere in the middle of the night. Again, travelling with the backpackers was great craic, and made the trip immensely more enjoyable. It was only for 4 or 5 days, mind.

In Vietnam, a trip to the beautiful hills of Sapa and then Halong Bay in the little time we had left at the end of our honeymoon was made much easier by joining a tour. Each was only for a few days, and having someone else worry about trains, drivers, and booking the Village Stay and boat trip, just made sense.

  

Our most recent trip to India was one which I initially thought would be organised by ourselves. I can speak and read/write basic Hindi, have been there 4 times before, and the country has good trains and general infrastructure in the tourist belt. However, as I looked again at the distances between sights and cities in Rajasthan, it became apparent that it would require a LOT of trains. The luxury tourist trains to these areas were way expensive, so local ones would be the way to go. 

Looking at Intrepid, World Expeditions etc, showed that there were tours that visited the places we wanted…and it just seemed easier to let them do it all for us, bar the first and last few days in Delhi. One thing we weren’t too sure about was the fact that it was off-season. We went in April, which was really going into the hot season for India, with October to February being the cooler and drier months. The temperature could quite possibly hit the 40 mark, especially in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. Only a camel could enjoy that…and maybe not even him.

 

But as it was the only time I could get off work, we booked the tour. After a few days at a hotel of our choice, we moved to the hotel in the itinerary to meet the group. And promptly discovered it consisted of just ONE OTHER COUPLE. Yikes. Who were in their mid-to-late FIFTIES. Double yikes. And one tour leader in his 40′s. Dom and I are very young at heart, so this really was a blow. That night at dinner, we met up with some of the group before us who had just returned – and there were some girls in their 20′s & 30′s who were vibrant, funny, inquisitive and great to chat to. They assured us we’d have a brilliant time – oh, but if only we’d come 2 weeks earlier, we thought, and travelled with you.

Now, the couple were nice people, and the first few days were OK, bar the awkwardness of talking to new strangers. But when it was the SAME people turning up to meals EVERY time, and the same people in the van for up to 5 hours at a time, it began to get a bit old.  The male got sick a week in, and then it was just the female and tour guide coming to meals.

Another issue was the itinerary. We’d agreed to the overall itinerary, but didn’t realise we were locked in to having to meet up with the others every night, and at a time the tour guide suggested. This proved really restrictive for us. When we got to Jaipur, we’d been travelling for HOURS from Agra. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived, and Dom and I were keen to get out and see the new city. We went off to explore, discovered fantastic street stalls and markets, chai shops and spice shops, and just enjoyed talking to the Indian people in the street.

  

Only problem was, we were supposed to meet up for dinner at 7. Sadly we turned around at a certain point in time, to go back for dinner, knowing that we wouldn’t get out after dinner and this was the end of our day. Disappointing.

On our 2nd night in Jaipur we played hookey and in the bollywood movie intermission, declared we’d like to troop off without seeing the second half of the 3-hour (non-subtitled!) film. Unfortunately we still felt we had to go to the dinner place the guide suggested for dinner, which turned out not to be so great. Hurrumph. But we did get to play silly buggers with Ronald McDonald!

 

At other times we stayed in hotels that were fabulous in themselves, but were way out of town, so that we’d have to get a taxi if we wanted to go in and interact with the locals. One such we renamed the Shining Hotel, because it was large, empty and spooky – and we were the only guests there. Another one that was out of town we discovered did have a vibrant street area a few blocks away…but discovered this just as we had to return for dinner. Doh.

In Jaisalmer we snuck out after everyone had said good night, to go get some beers. Despite the bottle shop being closed, I spoke to the dodgy guys hanging around outside and we managed to come back with the booty (that story will be in another post). But we felt very naughty.

In Udaipur, which has one of the most spectacular sunsets you could hope to see, being situated right on the lake, we only had two days scheduled. At dusk on the first day, instead of enjoying the sunset, we had to attend a puppet show and dance show, which took until nightfall. We did have a lovely boatride on the 2nd day..but discovered a lovely vantage spot that would have been brilliant to have discovered the day before, at which to get great shots. Ah well…

  

On our final afternoon we arrived back in Delhi, and Dom and I were keen to go to a big outdoor market complex in South Delhi with food and wares from around India. The tour guide as usual started to say, “let’s meet at 7 for dinner…”, when I offered “why don’t we head to the rooftop restaurant now? We’re all starving”.  This would mean we’d all get a final meal together, and then leave us the night free.

But neither he nor the other couple were interested; not saying no, but just keeping silent.  We all stood around awkwardly. Dom eventually just said “well, we’re heading off to the markets; don’t wait for us tonight if we’re not back”. If they weren’t going to flex, neither were we. It was only 4.30pm or so, and it would be another night wasted if we ate at the hotel and then just went to bed. In fairness, I think the other couple were quite relieved, being just as sick of our company as we were with theirs.

We did indeed attend the markets, bought a beautiful sari, and then headed to the rock bar called Cafe Morrison, after which we got some street food, met a TV presenter in the queue and had a hilarious ride home in an auto. Give us adventure any day.

 

One other major issue we had was that at virtually every fort/temple/sight, we had local guides explaining everything to us. In India, the guides seem to learn by rote, and feel they have to get all the information across to you, or they’ve failed. Our eyes would constantly glaze over as all this detail and dates we didn’t need to know came spewing forth from their lips. Honestly, we would rather have discovered the temples for ourselves. Or used an audio-tour, as we did at one fort, where we could go at our own pace, or fast-forward if we wished. We could see that it stimulated the local economy to employ local guides, but it ruined the experience for us on a few occasions.

On the flip side I have to say we did things we wouldn’t usually do – like attending the Sikh temple, even going into the kitchen where they cook up the meals for attendees. We stayed in hotels far ritzier, and more full of character, than we would have chosen. We were driven around for hours a day, so that we could sit back and enjoy the scenery.  We saw far more forts and sights than we ever would ourselves (though a few more than I’d have liked). Most of the places at which we ate were really good; some in remote places we would never have found on our own.

 

What would I do differently next time? Probably hire a driver ourselves to take us around. Then we would have the power to say stay or go, depending on our whim. Or have a more customised tour which drops you at a place and lets you do what you want each afternoon/night. We will certainly be more careful in future and ask lots of questions, recognising that we have this need for freedom once we get to a place. I may well not go on a tour that’s 2 weeks long again. And I wouldn’t go in the off-season.

So my advice to you when considering a tour is: first ask yourself what sort of trip you want, and how much autonomy you need.  Consider if the organisation and travel offered is beneficial to the point it outweighs the benefits of organising your own trip.

If you do decide to go with an organised tour:

  • Read the itinerary and other literature thoroughly and ask lots of questions.
  • When actually on tour, if you find you have a very small group, be open at the very start and see if you can negotiate more free time if that is what you’d like.
  • Also negotiate whether you can visit some sites unassisted, rather than having a local tour guide.
  • Book your trip quite late, as a) the prices reduce as the tour date approaches, and b) you’ll already know the numbers of people booked to go with you.
  • If you’re going to go in the off-season, ask some friends you know well to come along, as you may very well be the only ones on tour.

Have you ever gone on an organised tour you wish you hadn’t? Or conversely, done your own thing only to get stuck somewhere and regret it?

The fabulous Taj Mahal

Finally in April this year, I got to visit the stunning white marble edifice that is the Taj Mahal.

Can you believe, I’d been to India four times in my twenties, and failed to get there?  Unfortunately, I’d somehow had my plane ticket home swiped out of my bag – lucky it wasn’t my passport!  Back then, there was no internet booking to confirm you were on a flight, and so, the day my friends went to Agra, I spent all day queuing in the Air India offices for a new ticket.  Oh boy, was THAT ever fun! I think it got to 6 or 7 hours. Anyways….

Early in the morning we met our tour group (more on that later), and were driven to Delhi Station to get our train to Agra. There are quite a few trains each day, and you can easily do it as a day tour. However, we had accommodation in Agra so we could relax afterwards.

First we visited a fort, from where you could see the Taj at a distance…but it was all such a tease! We were all kicking to get to the real thing. And then…there we were. With this towering monument of a man’s love for his wife in front of us. Sometimes photo-taking gets in the way of truly experiencing a moment, and so, I just stood for a few moments taking it all in.

I have to admit, despite its beauty, it did not elicit awe in me as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap had. I did not feel a hush of spiritual awakening, or whatever other wafty stuff you hear from some people. But it is still VERY impressive, and very beautiful.

And then it was time to head into the fray. Join the other tourists/pilgrims on their quest to capture the ineffable. Take photos. Lots of ‘em.

 

At first we just took pictures of each other, and the spectacular architecture.

 

 

We hadn’t got very far when a wizened little old man in white dhoti and turban popped up, grabbed my camera and started motioning for us to pose. It did occur momentarily that he might run off with the camera…but there is enough security in the complex to make a getaway difficult, and, well, he wasn’t running anywhere.

He pointed at us to stand here, there, pushed us hither and thither, even moved our arms into acceptable poses or pushed us to sit down, all the while clicking away. Without stopping to focus, I might add. Or even get the shot straight. Ah well, we still got a lot of shots we otherwise wouldn’t, including those darned novelty poses, like these:

 

You get the idea. When we’d had enough Dom got out 100 rupees to give the guy, but he said “TWO hundred rupees!” Even 100 is a lot, given how hard a rickshaw driver has to work to earn that, so we knew we weren’t ripping him off. We just walked away with his cries of “200 rupees” ringing in our ears.

So we whiled away the afternoon strolling around, seeing the various parts of the complex.  It is a large complex, so take time to navigate it.

I particularly enjoyed gazing at the river behind it, along with the little temple and jetty next to it – very peaceful.  And seeing lots of monkeys sunning themselves on the guardrails, grooming themselves and each other.

 

The shadows grew longer as the late afternoon sun hung low on the horizon, and all too soon it would be time to rejoin the group. Just a few more late arvo snaps then.

There was something eerie about the empty plaza as the guards shoo’d all the tourists out. I almost expected to see a little de Chirico train in silhouette on the horizon (little art-history buff’s joke there, heh).

 

As we exited the main gate and walked past the many tourist stalls, we were assaulted by spruikers loudly encouraging us into their shops. I managed to resist. But boy, are they pushy in tourist towns! After a regroup and cup of chai it was time to return to our hotel and get ready for dinner. With another 12 days on tour, a good night’s sleep would be essential.

Next up – Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur in Rajasthan.

Indian chai…ahhh!

OK, quickie post to extol the virtues of one of the best things in life…Indian chai. OK, so Malaysian teh tarik is actually just as good, and often more frothy.  But the spices (even cardamom if you ask and pay a little more), elevate the humble chai to a Masterchef-like sensory experience. At least IMHO..heh.

In India, I’d been there a good 4 days without having had any chai at a street stall. Chai is ok in a restaurant setting…but there aint nothing compares to the chai made by a chai wallah who does nothing else, all day every day, except – make chai. Ya-huh!

And so it was, on our first stop in Rajasthan, that I made my way to a dingy street chaiwallah in Jaipur…and had a very tasty chai indeed. First they boil up the water, milk, tea and sugar in a big pot:

 Jaipur chai

After boiling vigorously (so even the most hygiene conscious person can ease the hell up), the tea is poured from a great height:

Indian chai Indian chai at teastall

From there, the scorching hot tea-in-a-glass is handed to you and you do your best to sip without scalding your lips…and enjoy!!

chai stall India

Ahh….so sustaining, so energising. A long walk up and down the main road was had, with frequent stops in various shops to smell the spices, see the saris, and chat with Indian people. What a great afternoon :)

Do you like Indian chai? Or teh tarik? What’s your hot beverage of choice?