Plait A Garland

garland

The air was infused with the heavy scent of jasmine and roses. Conversation casually rolled off their tongues. Laughter interrupted, yet like the hands of a clock, their fingers continued holding blooms in place and intricately tying them in place. In Hindu tradition floral garlands are used in the worship of Hindu gods, during rituals and marriage ceremonies. From these garland makers, I learnt that a garland should never touch the floor; flowers that have fallen to the ground may not be used; and the garland should always be at or above hip level while it is being made. Wearing a garlands is like wearing nature’s natural scent. These garland makers provided me with further insight into the colourful daily  goings-on in Little India, Singapore.

 

Quirky Little India

Singapore

Little India, the quaint neighbourhood in Singapore, is characterised by splurts of color. For this reason it is exceptionally photogenic. Once I visited, I knew that I couldn’t stay anywhere but here during my visit. Little India is also the best place to eat authentic Indian curry in Singapore. It is served on a large banana leaf sans utensil. Indeed that is the best way to indulge in curry – with your fingers. But fear not for they will surely bring you utensils when they see your shocked expression. And if they don’t, you can kindly inquire. As storm clouds threatened to dampen the neighborhood’s lively spirits, the wind began to flirt with the laundry and the locals went about their day-to-day routines, undaunted by the impending rains.

Singapore: Little India

Little India

The tropical island country, off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, is made up of 63 islands and islets, which offer world-class entertainment.

While only 712 km2 – slightly bigger than three and half times the size of Washington D.C – Singapore, brings to mind the adage ‘dynamite comes in small packages’. Annually, 12 million tourists are entertained by the vibrant arts scene, museums, colonial and modern architecture, nature parks and universal studios.

Singapore

The ethnic mix allows tourists to immerse themselves in a variety of cultural experiences. Seventy four percent of the population are Chinese – most of which are Buddhists and Taoists – the native Malays make up 13%, while the remainder are mostly Indian, more than half of which are Hindus, and expatriates. The calendar is full of religious festivals, from Chinese Lunar New Year in the beginning of the year; to the Buddhist lantern festival in August; Deepavali (the Hindu festival of lights heralding the Indian New Year) in November and Christian holidays such as Christmas in December.

Singapore

The colonial past makes for an interesting history lesson. One can follow in the footsteps of Sir Stamford Raffles, who established Singapore as a trading post of the British East India Company in 1819. English is one of the four official languages – Malay, Mandarin and Tamil are the others – so you shouldn’t have any trouble communicating.

It’s best to avoid the heavy rains of the monsoon season – from December to March and June to September – as Singapore offers many walking trails. The modern transportation infrastructure, both the Mass and Light Rapid Transit subway, makes getting from one place to another convenient and inexpensive.The neighborhoods are a walk through the world.

Singapore

Little India

I have inherited the magpie gene. In fact, I’ll stare, for minutes on end – unaware of the surrounding world – as gob trails down my lips from my agape mouth, at brightly coloured things and sparkling trinkets. I managed to satiate many of my magpie-gene urges because my visit happened a few days after Deepavali and the streets were still ablaze with lights.

Little India

And if the rainbow of colours don’t attract your attention, the scent of jasmine garlands and the aroma of Indian delicacies, which are served on banana leaves surely will. This is the best part of town to define your “spiciness index,” as I like to call it.

The brightly lit night market, is yet another attraction: it’s a hub of activity even during the late hours of the night. Here, you can buy anything from fresh fruits and vegetables to saris and bracelets and even get a henna tattoo. Bollywood songs will sweep you off the streets and lead you inside the shops by the hand.

Little India

Apart from the night market, Little India also has a great night life and is the best place to meet fellow globe trotters.

Singapore’s Sultan Masjid

Sultan Masjid

With Eid al-Fitr approaching to mark the end of Ramadam – the muslim month of fasting and restraint as a means of purifying the soul and becoming closer to Allah — here are a few photographs of Sultan Masjid. It is Singapore’s largest mosque and is also known as the golden-domed mosque. This national heritage site – which can be found gazing down Bussorsah Street in Kampong Glam – was built in 1826 by the Sultan of Johor, Hussein Shah. It houses a gift rug from a Saudi prince in the prayer hall. Its glistening golden dome attracts many tourists, as it pokes from behind nearby palm trees. Female visitors are given a burqa should they want to take a peek inside the prayer room. I found that the lady at the front was very keen to answer any questions from tourists.

 

Kampong Glam, Singapore

Kampong Glam

Kampong Glam is a palette of colour. From the small haberdasheries along Bussorah Street – with its two-story shophouses on either side – you can buy decorative materials, buttons and ribbons. It’s a good place to buy hand-made souvenirs too. One of the most popular pastimes of Kampong Glam is smoking a hookah pipe and sipping tea (despite the heat and humidity) at an outdoor restaurant, while watching the world go by. The golden dome of the largest mosque in the country, Sultan Masjid, can be seen at the end of the palm tree lined walkway.

Sri Mariamman Temple

Sri Mariamman

Chinatown will satisfy any shopaholic with trinkets, curios, countless varieties and colours of ‘I love Singapore’ t-shirts, fridge magnets and fashion. The district comes alive at night: the ground floor, open-air Chinese restaurants (the cheaper kind where you sit on plastic chairs, beneath a beach umbrella and dine on a plastic checkered table cloth) serve local beer with traditional cuisine. Swaying lanterns oversee your choice. While, you might expect Chinatown to be homogenous in its food variety, you can feast on Italian, French, Parakan, Thai and Indian food as well. A window seat in a two-storey restaurant, is the perfect perch for people watching. The refurbished and brightly painted heritage buildings and shophouses provide an opportunity for great photographs.

Singapore is a meeting place of different religions and cultures: in Chinatown you can explore the country’s oldest Hindu temple. Sri Mariamman, now a national monument, but was built in 1827. The goprum – towering entrance gate – is covered in plasterwork sculptures of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). It stops all visitors in their tracks. If fortune favours you, or you hang around long enough, you might see the intricacies of a ritual or the fire walking ceremony, which happens in October. Sri Mariamman Temple is well lit in the evenings.

Nearby you can also visit, yet another, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and museum (I’ve also written abut the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple HERE in Kandy, Sri Lanka).

Sri Mariamman

Galle: Views from the Bastions

Galle

Galle

The Dutch colonial city of Galle and its fortifications are perched on a rocky outcrop on the south-western peninsular of Sri Lanka. This UNESCO World Heritage Site remains the largest European-built fort in Asia. Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian and Arab seamen wandered around the port clutching their most prized possessions to their breast. They roamed the circular streets trading spices, silks and dried fruits, which they had acquired from their stops along the way. It, too, was a conveniently located refreshment station for the Dutch East Indian Company.  The allure of cinnamon was a worthy reward for the seamen’s efforts. Rope-making and carpentry became popular occupations in Galle, to satisfy the demands of seafaring tradesmen and later the colonialists.

The Portuguese happened upon Galle in 1505, while the Dutch gained control in 1640. They built a fort in 1663 against other colonialists such as the English, French and Spanish, who searched the seas for a resting place to call their new home. The Dutch equipped the fort with numerous bastions, which they named after the seas and skies, namely moon, star, Neptune and Triton. During its prime in the 18th century, it was home to approximately 500 families. Within its walls, which cover an area of 52 hectares, you will find the oldest Protestant, Baroque-style church in Sri Lanka, which was constructed in 1775. When the British gained control over Sri Lanka in 1796 they left the fort virtually unchanged. They did however build the well-known lighthouse, which is a tourist magnet these days. Under British rule Galle remained the administrative centre of southern Ceylon, as it was called, and was preserved in its natural state.

Galle

School children fill the afternoon streets, which are dotted with museums, elegant hotels, home stays, quaint cafes and restaurants. They offer well deserved repose for those sightseeing on foot. It’s encouraging to see the locals living life unfazed by the large amounts of tourists on their doorstep each day. Others take advantage of this opportunity to earn their livelihood. These days the small town within he fort walls is a cultural and historical haven. It attracts tourists due to its picturesque setting and the cliff hanging bastions, which provide romantic look out points.

The colonial buildings have been rejuvenated and transformed into art galleries and boutiques that sell vintage products. The commercial district has been revitalised to accommodate the demand. You may sign up for a photography course that weaves its way among the locals and the trees or take a tuk-tuk ride to all the bastions. If you stand on the edge of the fortress patiently looking seawards you might discover a bale of sea turtles coming up for a breather or ploughing the rocks in search of food. As I sat there, lost in the idea of their watery world, a storm had begun brewing above. The mumbling skies and delicate drops on my hair were the first signs that it was time to go back to the bus station in modern Galle, beyond the fortress walls, to catch a bus back to Mirissa.

Unawatuna: Reasons to Beach

Unawatuna

I think these pictures are reason enough to convince you why Unawatuna, in the Galle District of south western Sri Lanka, is an ideal place to be a beach bum. So why not slap on some sun lotion, grab a great book and recline on the beach loungers to the sound of the gentle waves. Once it gets too hot beneath the beach umbrellas, go for a dip in the lukewarm waters. And try the avocado smoothie from one of the beach bars – it was the first time I tried it and loved its smooth texture and subtle flavour so much that I had another.

The beach was peaceful, with only a few other tourists here and there, so it was an ideal place to unwind. But if you prefer a bit of adventure instead, you can go snorkelling or diving to see the famed corals (just organise with the diving shop-cum-restaurant on the beach front).

If you spend the whole day on the beach (as I did) by the late afternoon you’ll see the local fishermen anchor their wooden fishing boats after a day out on the waters. Later they’ll set up stands with their catch of the day – lobster, crayfish, crab, and various fish – which you can buy and have one of the restaurants prepare it for you, just as you like it. I wrote more about how you can buy fresh fish in my post about a neighbouring beach, Mirissa. So Bon Appetit!

Mirissa: The Seaside Beckons

Mirissa

The seven-hour bus ride from the highlands of Nuwara Eliya, in central Sri Lanka, to Mirrisa on the southern coast was worth every moment, even if only for the picturesque detour through Ella. We meandered between mountains and hills, which tightly held onto clouds by their hands. Streams trickled and waterfalls splashed as if to provide entertainment for those passing through or visiting. This is the place to be if you’re looking to separate yourself from the realities of everyday life. With only a handful of b&bs and restaurants, it’s best to resign yourself to relaxing, reading or hiking in the surrounding mountains.

 

I knew that we had finally arrived on the coast when a man walked into the bus with a Hawaiian themed, button-up t-shit, because no one in their right mind should wear such a multi-coloured t-shirt unless they’re at the seaside, right?

Mirissa is a quarter moon-shaped beach on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Although in recent years it has steadily gained popularity among travellers (particularly backpackers) it’s still a relatively peaceful retreat. The beach was quiet except for a few boys playing superman from a wooden fishing boat bow that was beached on the shore. And so the beach bumming began. I watched as the fishermen bobbed closer with their day’s catch. They displayed their fresh fish and seafood on tables on the beachfront. After you make your selection, a nearby restaurant can prepare it for you as per your liking.

And since you’re already in the area take a day trip to the former Dutch colonial city of Galle with its fortifications, which have been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Onwards from Kandy

Kandy

I awoke on a mist covered-mountain overlooking Kandy Lake. Sun rays broke through the mist and illuminated the mountain. Someone played “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In” on the trumpet, as girls hurried along in their white school uniforms. They held each other’s hands, their long braids swaying from side to side to complement their steps. The squirrels were off to an early start as well, they scampered along the balcony and jumped down from neighbouring trees.

Mist covered mountain
Kandy

The tuk-tuk driver dropped me off at the local bus station, which despite the early hour was animated with alacrity. Bakers were selling vegetable-curry filled rotis and lovingly wrapped samoosas. Bread loaves baked in the sun, behind the glass. Biscuits beckoned children to come closer for a better look, who tugged on saris and directed their longing eyes in an upward glance. Vegetable and fruits stalls were not only attracting flies, but hoards of people, who were buying breakfast on the go. Brown-clad policemen waved traffic into a somewhat more orderly line, buses and minivans weaved between each other honking until an agreement was met. Vendors were unpacking their bags and hanging clothes on fences or laying them out on broadsheet newspapers on the ground. Trinkets, old shoes and toys – treasures to any hoarder – were buried within an unraveling mound.

dsc_3901

Kandy

Public transportation is very affordable in Sri Lanka as are private buses, despite being around double the price. Conductors stand on the steps of buses and yell out destinations. They’re not only selling you a destination, but the smells and flavours, culture and history along with the smiling people, who go hand in hand with it. Money changes hands quickly, seats fill up even faster. Hesitation waits for no one. The  buses’ departure times are determined by the number of passengers on board rather than the timetable, however they leave fairly regularly and are quite punctual.

Dambulla is awaiting.