Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kyoto, Japan: Gion District to Onsen Bareness

In the afternoon (ARASHIYAMA ZEN TRANQUIL), it was Gion District's time to shine! This iconic slice of Kyoto is steeped in history as the city's beloved geisha hub. Dating back to the Middle Ages, Gion boasts traditional machiya houses, lantern-lit alleys, and teahouses where geiko and maiko dazzle with dance, music, and games. Visitors flock here for a peek into Japan's rich cultural heritage, hoping to glimpse elegantly adorned geiko and maiko as they gracefully glide between engagements. Gion is also a culinary delight, offering Kyoto's refined cuisine in nostalgic settings that transport you back in time.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Kyoto, Arashiyama: Discovering Zen in Tranquil Moments

Though I had quite an experience in Hokkaido during winter (HOKKAIDO WANDERLUST & HOKKAIDO WINTER TALES), I couldn’t resist when the same tour group invited me to join them for a trip to Kyoto and Osaka. Missing out on this adventure with my fun and soulful tour buddies felt like it would be a regret. Eager to reunite with them and explore another part of Japan, I said, “Let’s go!” Six days and five nights, with all arrangements (NEW DELHI SOULFUL WINTER) and expenses covered (except for shopping, of course).

Our night flight landed at Kansai International Airport, and we kicked off our tour in the Arashiyama District. Stepping off the coach, I immediately felt the chill of winter. After a briefing from our local guide, we had two hours to explore Arashiyama. I headed straight for the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge (literally Moon Crossing Bridge, aka Sagano Bridge). Amidst the bustling crowd, notably filled with many Chinese tourists, I realized I was the only Indian there. Yippiee!

Monday, January 20, 2020

New Delhi - North India: A Soulful Revelation

On the last two days in New Delhi (TAJ MAHAL & VARANASI) before returning home, I enjoyed a relaxed morning on the second-to-last day. After breakfast, I stayed in my room, sipping coffee and having a light meal from the buffet. While the rest of the group went shopping, I took advantage of the hotel's fast Wi-Fi to catch up on social media (COLOMBO DISCOVERY & HOKKAIDO WANDERLUST).

For lunch, we headed to "Flavour Of Southvala" in Karol Bagh. Despite the cramped seating, the food was exceptional. We shared a Paper Tosai, a Non-Vegetarian Thali Set, and India's beloved Bru Coffee. The curries were rich and flavorful, thanks to the spices used, and the presentation was appetizing - unlike some eateries that overlook the importance of plating. This meal was a clear winner, making up for the less enjoyable dining experiences elsewhere (CHENNAI & KODAIKANAL).

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Taj Mahal Agra - (North India)


The journey from Jaipur (JAIPUR LOVE CITY & VARANASI SACRED GANGES) to our destination was about five and a half hours, and I was glad to have the company of some lively ladies on this tour. With jokes and laughter filling the bus, time flew by until our first comfort break. These breaks can happen anywhere, often at roadside shops where a bathroom stop is a must. Here’s the thing: you have to brace yourself. Sometimes there's water, sometimes not, so always carry tissues. Out in the outskirts, you can't afford to fuss; no one’s going to hear you anyway.

For men in India, bathroom breaks are even more informal. They relieve themselves wherever they please, and it's a sight that's hard to miss. I'd seen enough in North India to know it wasn't just a South Indian phenomenon (MYSURU & CHENNAI) . At some sightseeing spots, the smell is impossible to avoid as you walk in.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Jaipur, Rajasthan - The Love City (North India)

My first day in Jaipur was heart-melting and soul-touching (JAIPUR: TIMELESS TRAVEL). The city, famously known as the Pink City, is renowned for its distinctive pink-colored buildings and architecture. This unique hue dates back to 1876 when Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh ordered the city to be painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Pink, symbolizing hospitality, continues to dominate the old city's landscape, preserving its historic charm.

For me, Jaipur is the Love City. The day began with a visit to the Birla Mandir, also known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple. Built by the Birla family in 1988, this modern architectural marvel is made entirely of pristine white marble and dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. Nestled at the base of Moti Dungri Hill, the temple's intricate carvings depict scenes from Hindu mythology, saints, philosophers, and historical figures (VARANASI: SACRED GANGES)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Jaipur, Rajasthan: Timeless Travel Magic

Bidding farewell to Varanasi (VARANASI SACRED GANGES) was a deeply sentimental moment for me; it's one of those places that etched a profound meaning into my soul. But reality dictates that we must move on, so from Varanasi Airport, we flew back to New Delhi, landing at the bustling Delhi Airport before heading to Hotel Sohi Residency for our one-night stay. I wish I had more positive things to say about this hotel, but when you’re informed that accommodations will be three-star, expectations are modest. While I am far from being a travel diva, the bedsheets, pillow covers, and blanket left me questioning the cleanliness. The one redeeming feature was the super clean bathroom, a small consolation.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Varanasi - North India: Mystical Journeys Along the Sacred Ganges

One more place to go for the day (VARANASI - EXPERIENCING SACREDNESS), and it’s said to be the best highlight: the Night Aarti at Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Golden Temple). Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the twelve holiest Jyotirlingas. Its golden spire stands out against Varanasi's skyline, symbolizing divine light. The night aarti, a revered ritual, draws devotees and tourists with its elaborate chants, hymns, and offerings, creating an atmosphere of profound devotion. Constructed in 1780 on the Ganges' western bank, Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple is a key stop on Varanasi's Heritage Walk, attracting thousands to its nightly ceremony.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Varanasi - North India: The Gateway to Experiencing Sacredness

Having explored South India (CHENNAI & KODAIKANAL) before, this time my journey took me to North India. It was another solo trip, joining a tour group (COLOMBO & KANDY, SRI LANKA) organized by the same friend, though comprised of strangers. Despite the option to share a room and cut costs, I chose, as always, to pay extra for the privacy of my own room.

We arrived at Hotel Arch in New Delhi around 2 AM, greeted by the early winter chill. My room, though small, was clean and comfortable, including the bathroom. The next morning, breakfast was served before 7 AM, a thoughtful gesture despite the limited choices. The highlight was undoubtedly the Bru coffee, a beloved staple in any part of India, whether at street stalls or in hotels.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Chinese Style Eggplant


Eggplant, oh, where do I start? It's that dependable veggie that finds its way into so many dishes, loved for its affordability and adaptability. Whether you know it as eggplant, brinjal, or aubergine, this colorful member of the nightshade family opens up a world of culinary creativity. Today, I've got a gem of a recipe to share: my take on Chinese Style Crispy Eggplant. Golden-brown batons of eggplant, fried to crispy perfection, and then tossed with the irresistible trio of dried prawns, garlic, and ginger.

 

This dish isn't just about flavors - it's about the texture that makes each bite a delightful crunch followed by a burst of savory goodness. The eggplant, after getting a crispy makeover in the pan, absorbs all those aromatic spices and seafood flavors like a sponge, creating a dish that's as satisfying as it is flavorful.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Chennai (South India) - South India: Chennai - Discover What Awaits

Chennai: Welcome to the bustling chaos of noise, pollution, and endless traffic jams (KOCHI KALEISCOPE & THIRUVANATHAPURAM UNCOVERING) where smiles can sometimes feel scarce. This is life in Chennai, South India (MADURAI & TRICHY & MYSURU)

Let me tell you about my two days exploring this vibrant city. We started our journey at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, a revered shrine dedicated to Lord Ranganatha, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu. Known for its intricate Dravidian architecture, the temple boasts majestic towers, beautiful carvings, and peaceful courtyards, amidst the city's hustle.

 

I watched locals immersed in prayer, a testament to South India's deep spirituality. Though not deeply religious myself, I followed our tour group with curiosity, absorbing the temple's atmosphere before moving on.



Next, we visited the Shree Sai Baba Temple. Not a devotee, but I paid my respects and enjoyed the temple's serenity.

At Marina Beach, few shared my excitement. Stretching 13 kilometers along the Bay of Bengal, it's one of India's longest urban beaches, yet sadly littered and polluted. Undeterred, I walked along the shore, passing the evolving 'Puratchi Thalaivi Amma Dr. J. Jaya' Memorial and roadside stalls - life in Chennai.


Next up was shopping at Forum Vijaya Mall - a slice of another country's shopping experience. What caught my eye were India's renowned natural ingredients skincare products, worth every penny. It was my only shopping spree during my time in South India.


For lunch, we opted for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which turned out to be a disappointment. Unlike the hearty meals we enjoy back in Malaysia - no coleslaw, no whipped potato, smaller chicken pieces, and worst of all, no chili sauce! It was an eye-opening experience to try KFC in India, but I doubt I'll repeat it; Malaysian KFC is definitely superior.


Back at S-Hotels, I spent the afternoon idling in my room, flipping through countless TV channels thanks to the WIFI. Dinner was a room service affair - a peppery fish curry with rice that left me sprinting to the restroom once, thankfully just once.

The next morning, with free time on hand, I ventured out into Chennai's rainy streets, dodging puddles. After a stroll and catching up with tour buddies, we had lunch at Sivagangai Karuppiah Mess. The cramped dining area added to the authenticity as we called for a simple meal of chicken, Rasamalai, and Gulam Jamun  - an unremarkable end to my T. Nagar and South India journey before heading back home.



South India Travel Learnings

Instant Recognition: Malaysians in South India

South Indians have a knack for spotting Malaysians right away, often asking or exclaiming "Malaysia?" upon meeting. Despite initial appearances, interactions with locals often reveal their warmth and friendliness. Conversations at temples uncovered that many visitors travelled long distances for their visits, some experiencing these temples for the first time. One humorous encounter involved a local lady questioning the necessity of visiting a Murugan temple in Chennai when Malaysia’s Batu Caves' Murugan is equally renowned in India.

Temples in South India: A Cultural Shock

Visiting temples in South India feels like navigating a battlefield due to the immense crowds. Compared to Malaysia's more orderly atmosphere, the temple experience here can be chaotic, with pushing, shoving, and queue-cutting the norm. Shockingly, even elderly and seemingly frail individuals navigate these crowds with surprising vigor, highlighting how their integral role in temple activities.

 

Temple Practices: Commercialization and Devotion

Despite India's large Hindu population and emphasis on Hinduism's teachings, temple practices often involve transactions. Devotees can pay for queue-jumping privileges or expedited services, highlighting a stark reality within Hinduism's spiritual spaces. Additionally, individuals adorned in orange or yellow attire with sacred markings may offer prayers for a fee, raising questions about the commercial aspects of religious practices. However, the Malaysian Indians I was with placed their trust in these practices.

 

Photographing in Temples

There are restrictions in some temples where you are not even allowed to bring your camera or phone inside. In others, there are designated areas with or without restrictions. Even in temples where photography and videos are permitted, it's nearly impossible due to the sheer number of people and the constant pushing and shoving. I wouldn't dare take out my phone, as anything could happen in such situations.

Dress Code Expectations

Modern dressing is generally not welcomed in South India. Wearing contemporary outfits can attract stares from everyone, except in malls where staff are more accustomed to it. Traditional clothing is expected everywhere else, especially in temples.

 

Shopping Craze: Malaysian Indians in South India

Shopping becomes a passion for Malaysian Indians visiting South India, with every shop, mall, and roadside stall capturing their attention. The focus on shopping, especially for sarees and budget street clothes, overshadows other factors like bulk-imported goods being cheaper. Some prioritize shopping over sightseeing, staying out until late hours even after hotel check-ins, which left me puzzled.

Culinary Adventures: South Indian Cuisine

South Indian cuisine dominates the food experience, predominantly vegetarian throughout the day, including hotel buffet breakfasts devoid of eggs. Surprisingly, the Malaysian Indian group I traveled with adopted a vegetarian diet during the tour, citing temple visits as the reason - a cultural adjustment that raised eyebrows.

Washroom Woes: Hygiene Challenges in South India

Throughout our travels in South India, aside from hotels and malls, the state of washrooms left much to be desired. Often lacking water, pails, adequate lighting, and sometimes even functioning locks, these facilities were frequently unpleasant and smelly. In moments of urgency, one had to manage with these conditions by closing their eyes and holding their breath.

 

Cultural Norms: Public Peeing in South India

A common sight in South India was men freely peeing in public spaces. This casual approach to relieving themselves often included visible displays, which, while accepted locally, could overwhelm with strong odors in some areas.

 

Did I miss out on anything? Perhaps you would like to add?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

South India - Madurai/Trichy: Spiritual Insights

By 10 am (KODAIKANAL & MYSURU), we arrived at the entrance of the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi and her consort Sundareswarar (Shiva), this ancient marvel in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is renowned for its intricate carvings, towering gopurams (gateway towers), and vibrant sculptures dating back to the 6th century, showcasing the splendor of Dravidian architecture. Spanning 14 acres, the temple complex includes grand halls like the Thousand Pillar Hall. 

Upon arrival, we had to deposit our phones and cameras at the booth where we left our slippers, paying a fee. Standing in the long queue, we learned about an option to pay to shorten our wait time - not uncommon in Indian temples. After enduring 45 minutes under the scorching sun, with feet blistered from the burning heat of the cement, I had been in favor from the start; finally, the rest of our group reluctantly agreed, which moved us closer to the center of the line, although many others remained ahead of us.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

South India - Kodaikanal: Nature's Wonderland

Kodaikanal! The excitement was palpable as we headed towards this iconic destination, famed for its presence in Tamil movies that I've admired countless times on screen. Known as the "Princess of Hill Stations," Kodaikanal is a serene and picturesque town nestled in Tamil Nadu's Western Ghats. I

Its lush greenery, mist-covered hills, and pleasant climate offer a perfect escape from the heat of the plains, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. Situated 2,000 meters above sea level in the Dindigul district, Kodaikanal boasts a unique ecosystem and a blend of natural beauty, tranquility, and mystique, making it a popular honeymoon destination

Our journey from Coimbatore (MYSURU & COIMBATORE) to Kodaikanal spanned 4 1/2 hours, including along narrow, winding in-roads shared with lorries, buses, cars, and motorbikes navigating steep inclines and descents. There were some aggressive gestures and heated exchanges, with words exchanged that felt like a sharp prick in my ears.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

South India - Mysuru & Coimbatore Vibes


Our journey of at least four hours from Bengaluru (BENGALURU SERENDIPITY & SPIRITUALITY)  landed us in Mysuru, where we ventured up the narrow, winding road to Chamundi Hill for a religious homage at Chamundeshwari Temple (New Kantharaj Urs Rd). This ancient temple, situated on Chamundi Hill, is dedicated to Goddess Chamundeshwari, a form of Durga, and dates back to the 12th century. It stands as a magnificent example of Dravidian architecture, featuring a towering gopuram adorned with intricate carvings. Besides being a significant religious site, the temple offers breathtaking panoramic views of Mysuru city from its hilltop perch (COLOMBO DISCOVERY & KANDY SRI LANKA)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Bengaluru, India: Serendipity and Spirituality

Despite being a married solo traveler and having roamed the world alone for years (COLOMBO DREAMS & KANDY SRI LANKA), whenever I mentioned traveling to India, my husband would hold me back, saying, "We should travel to India together." This tagline persisted throughout our marriage. His business commitments were initially the obstacle, and even after retiring, he never responded when I brought up traveling to India. Realizing it was futile to wait any longer, I decided I didn't need his approval.

When a friend organizing a trip to South India (KOCHI KALEISCOPE & THIRUVANANTHAPURAM UNEXPECTED) invited me to join his tour, I eagerly agreed without even checking with my husband. This was a budget tour, covering flight tickets, accommodation (with no twin sharing in my case), and sightseeing. Meals, except for the hotel buffet breakfast, and entry fees for sightseeing spots were on us. It was a 9-night, 8-day South India tour.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sekinchan (Selangor) 1 Day Trip - Part 2

What else (Sekinchan Part 1)? What else must or should be considered as part and parcel of our sightseeing in Sekinchan? Okay. Lemme start. Ah Ma House, which by the way, wasn't like a major thing for us, thereafter, we heading to Paddy Processing Factory & Gallery. Just a short drive by the way. Within a distance of 3 or most to most 4 minutes. Anyway, Sekinchan, for your information, is a small town and most, in fact, all the sightseeing spots are located within a short distance. Plus, let me tell you ahead that sightseeing in Sekinchan can be completed within, a day or even lesser. Unless, of course, you want to remain in Sekinchan for another day or two? For reasons best known to you? Go ahead. Your time, you decide.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sekinchan (Selangor) 1 Day Trip - Part 1

Sekinchan. I was told that Sekinchan located in Sabak Bernam, Selangor is a must do. Yes. Must do (Cameron Highlands Pahang). Do or die kinda, I shouldn't miss out on exploring Sekinchan (Alor Setar Revisited). Told by who by the way? Well. Those who have already, obviously explored Sekinchan and Sekinchan, obviously too, for your information, already profoundly known in the virtual world (Frasers Hill Pahang). What else was I told about Sekinchan? I was told that the primarily or central attraction in Sekinchan must be none other than the paddy fields. Paddy fields, especially when they are at their green-green or full blown yellow lush. Also, just before or right before harvesting. Honestly, to tell you the truth, I have been planning for a trip to Sekinchan for almost a year, but been put on hold due to the weather. Weather either unbearably burn-baby-burn hot or rainy season lashing merciless. Finally, somehow, taking into considering that weather can be tolerated, though still the hot season, me tripping to Sekinchan and prior to arriving in Sekinchan, we stopping by in Restoran Suang Le River (Tanjung Karang, Kuala Selangor) for lunch. 

A Taste of Burma: Masoor Dal and More Lentil Delights

Lentils and dal are essential staples in my kitchen, celebrated globally ( PERTH CULINARY EXPERIENCES ) for their versatility and nutritiona...