Sparkling Singapore

Singapore certainly doesn’t need an elaborate mention, its oriental bearing making it perhaps the most frequently visited locale in Asia. Yet, the sheen of Singapore never fades. 
This was our second visit to this sparkling country & I can emphatically say that Singapore never ceases to mesmerize. There was a certain ‘pull’, which I had experienced even during my maiden visit in 2001 and the lure only intensified this time too. 
The skyline as well as landscape has altered quite a bit since our last visit & vying with the quintessential Merlion, were a few new structural marvels! 
So we set off to explore the latest additions & commenced our trip with a visit to the city’s latest attraction ―Gardens by The Bay around the Marina Bay Sands purlieu.
Its strategic location within the periphery of other equally significant attractions makes it quite unmissable. 

 

 

 

 

The most striking of all features here, is the ‘Supertree Grove’ shaped like metallic ‘dendroids’, towering to about 50 meters! These arboresque structures double up as vertical gardens with a teeming teeny-weeny ‘understory’ burgeoning on their trunks. Taking a stroll along the aerial walkway, which offers sweeping views of the garden below, is like floating on Cloud Nine! 

 

 

When night falls, these Supertrees come alive, casting their lucent glow. And immediately this Canaan is transformed into an ethereal abode!  
This Edenic world, which is indeed an architectural wonder, has in its vaults Nature’s best bequests, collected from across the world ―sown & cultivated with utmost care. A veritable retreat for anthophiles, it houses a cornucopia of multi-colored posies & is indisputably Singapore’s Numero Uno ‘must-visit’! 

The Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse in the world.

Stepping into this temperature-regulated greenhouse on a sultry day was like a breath of fresh air. Our visit was in mid-April. 

The place was abloom with thousands of varicoloured, floriferous fascinations ―gay & resplendent! Some tiny, some sizable, some exuding a heady fragrance, some ―mere wallflowers, some plucked & planted from the remotest of places but all of them emanating an inexplicable joy.

 

 
Flower Dome 

 

 

The joie de vivre in the air was unmistakable & infectious too; in fact there wasn’t a single face that failed to reflect the beauty of this surreal place.
Squeals, gasps, wows, coos & the click of cameras were all that could be heard. 

 

These nosegays are not only any nature lover’s treasure trove, but also an anthomaniac’s muse, an artist’s afflatus, a photographer’s obsession!
Radiating gaiety & spelling cheer, they cast their spell on one & all.. 
 
 

I could imagine what the lyricists might’ve felt when they penned the words of the Hindi score ―‘Dil Garden Garden Ho Gaya’ That’s flower-power!

 
Blossoming in varied hues & shapes, exuding a variety of scents, these floral fantasies held all & sundry in thrall.  

 

 

 

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Some proliferated on rich loam, yet others flourished on arid gravel, some wound their way up as tendrils, some hung pendent, but all bloomed where they were planted.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

As we wandered, the sights of strange entities, which stood as mute witness to this wonderment, caught our sight. Those were the native mannequins, intercalated for special effects.   

 


Cloud Forest

 

Abounding with a plethora of vegetation, the Cloud Forest is another aesthetic delight. It is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall & entering it, was like setting foot on cloud nine, for it is ‘a mysterious world that’s veiled in mist’ as the slogan goes!
It is a mountain cloaked in verdure ―replete with ferns and herbage in myriad hues. Surrounding this mountain are the walkways that take you up the mountain, & as you transcend every level, the cool spray of cascades and the pervading lushness, not to mention the chromatic display, are all sure to transport you to seventh heaven!
 

 

 

 

The Lost World harbours a plethora of flora, usually found 2,000 meters above sea level. One cannot help but marvel at the patterns, for they abound in varying hues, their foliage in various shapes. 

 

 

The exhibits are equally exquisite at the floor level as they are up above. At the highest level, interspersed among the flora are wooden miens of dragons, reptiles & other mythological creatures.  


LOST WORLD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of particular interest was this colossus of Confucius or maybe Lao Tzu; not sure about this. 

Among the many attractions is also the Crystal Mountain, which displays stalagmite & stalactites & throws light on formations of continents etc. 

Once you get ‘down to earth’ & feel you’ve lost the world that you had beheld just a few moments ago, then do not fret. Just walk into the gift shops that exhibit souvenirs and books on ecology & environment. Singapore’s national flower ―the Orchid makes its presence felt in paperweights & plates and these souvenirs make for befitting gifts. 

Do not miss the Cloud Forest Gallery featuring an informative video on ecology and conservation of this planet.
 

 

The Gardens by The Bay has several enclaves that treasure vegetation belonging to various habitats & the garden arrangements also reflect their unique habitations. There are the Indian Gardens with herbs, flowers & other floral profusions that are native to India.

 

Punctuated with the statues of native animals like elephants & camels, this entire complex echoes with a distinct Indianness.
There were the Chinese Gardens too but the weather was too uncomfortable for our liking & it was time for lunch. If you can manage, do reserve at least 2 days to cover the entire area.   

 

 

 

Just beyond the walls are the other star attractions of the Marina Bay Sands area.
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands have numerous restaurants & shops, whose cynosure is the canal, which is famous for its Sampan Rides.
 
 
It was a quiet afternoon & we stood watching the boats glide by gently down the canal, which brought to memory the verse ‘life is but a dream!’
 
Post lunch, we ambled along the Marina Bay Sands area, sighting the many architectural wonders, till we reached the iconic Merlion statue!
 
 
 
The highlight of the evening is a sound & light show, but unfortunately, due to instauration work, we missed that spectacle. Nevertheless, we simply sat there & soaked in the feel languidly, & it was still a delight to spend the evening watching the world go by, especially so, in a foreign land with fewer chances of bumping into familiar faces. 
Merlion Park

The Merlion spewed forth a continuous stream even as a bustling city burst forth. At the backdrop, was the river flowing placidly.. 

In a short while, when the curtains closed on the blue vault & the star-spangled drapes spread themselves overhead to encompass the horizon, there shone a million man-made stars down yonder ―illumining the skyline.  
We called it a day, glad that we could behold all that we could.
Sensational Sentosa
 
The following morning’s agenda started with a visit to the famed Sentosa Islands! 
 
 

Our first stopover was at the Trick Eye Museum.

From spooky figures to fairy-tale characters, from bards to cartoons, everything ‘comes alive’ & you can pose with them all!
 
Do not hesitate even if you do not have little children. The old as well as the young & the ‘young at heart’, will all enjoy the place. Enter haunted homes & let the eeriness dwell upon you. Allow yourself to be sucked into the jaws of death in uncanny caverns. Let Monalisa hold you in her palms. Stretch your arms & fly freely, ride a chariot with fairy-tale princesses & let the earth below you shatter!
 
 
After allowing ourselves to be manipulated, we tried sating our sight with the exhibits in a nearby museum that showcases ancient curios, Chinese vases & jewellery.  
 

A light repast later, we were game for the treasures that lay in the underwater world at S.E.A Aquarium. Known as the Underwater World until June 2016, the place took on a new name -‘S.E.A’ as it is known today. 

 

There was water water everywhere! And gliding gracefully, swishing swiftly, falling freely, tangoing together with their ilk, were these creatures ―the hidden gems that lay beneath the sea-bed, unseen & unheard. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hidden beneath the waters, they lay, reflecting Nature’s countless colors & shapes ―some crawling forth urns, some emerging from seaweeds, some running from pillar to post, some snug in their place among rocks.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There were fish wavering beneath the feet & there were fish fluttering overhead & still some, which stopped by to catch a curious glimpse at the multitudes that had gathered encased in the transparent tubular pathway. 
Madam Tussauds in Singapore, is also under the same roof, right in Sentosa & can our trip be ‘complete’ without a visit to this? 
 
So we shook hands with Big B, greeted Mr. Modi with a ‘Namaste’, posed with Obama, saluted Gandhiji, winked at Shahrukh, admired Aishwarya, smiled at Madhuri, chatted with Oprah Winfrey & met with Queen Elizebeth II!
 
 
 
 
A ticket to Madam Tussauds also entails a visit to Images of Singapore Live, which offers a peek into the history of Singapore. It is a guided tour with the guides enacting the different cultural milieus that have made Singapore. From the Chinese fishing community to the Tamil community that populated the place, this tour showcases Singapore’s past & is literally a blast from the past! Unfortunately, photography is prohibited.

Even as we finished this tour, there was a boat waiting to take us for a ride-The Spirit of Singapore Boat Ride

A single boat wades through the waters, taking visitors around. The simulated effects add to the thrill.  
As we glided along, the many edifices of Singapore came alive. The Merlion & Supertree Groves, above which hovered the Singapore Airline miniature plane, were some. Amidst the sounds of cricket & firecrackers, could be heard Chinese music, which was suddenly interrupted by Tamil percussion!
Mannequins of natives in native attire & Chinese Lion Dance effigies were other attractions, lined up on the ‘shores’. 
Of course, the ubiquitous Merlion was a constant

 

 

Universal Studios is an amusement park especially for those seeking an adrenaline rush. Replete with roller coaster rides & live entertainment, this is indeed a happening place. 

 

Allow yourself at least 2 days to experience the wonders of Sentosa, because it is truly sensational. The place allows you to choose your options, so if you have grown-up children, they can choose among the many entertainment options. 

Note: You’d be spoilt for choice at Sentosa, so choose well. While buying tickets, you’re allowed to choose a package, which includes a list of entertainment options. Ask for details before choosing a package.   

Singapore Zoo
The third day had us visiting the Singapore Zoo. Surely, it’s like any other zoo, but its collection of animals is certainly substantial & varied. The River Safari is not to be missed. 
The wildlife park is spread over a vast area but can be reached by buggy rides. 
All animals are in their natural habitat & the most prominent one that we got to see, was the Bengal White Tiger. 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

The peacock show at regular intervals is a lively one. 

Another focal point of the zoo is the River Safari, which is an expedition that takes you through Asia’s first river-themed park that drew its inspiration from freshwater rivers of the world. 

 

The rivers act as simulants to host a wide variety of species in their respective natural habitat. 

 

 
 
 
 

The Amazon Quest ―a boat ride along the ‘Amazon River’ is an additional feature.

 
If you ask me, I suggest that you opt for the zoo only if you have little children around, or if you are a wildlife enthusiast or if you have plenty of time in your hands. And if you do decide to visit for all the reasons cited above, then it’s wise to shelve 2 days. If your sojourn in Singapore is a short one, then I’d suggest other places that are more rewarding. In fact, Jurong Bird Park is a ‘must-visit’ & entails a full day’s tour.

The next morning saw us visit a couple of Hindu temples. With only a few devotees at that time of the hour, the temple seemed exactly as it was meant to be! 

Dandayudhapani Temple

 
Idols in Sri Krishna Temple

We also visited the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, close by, which is overseen by the Ibis

Hotel. The temple was no doubt teeming with people that morning, but it did offer us the peace that worshippers hanker after. Their gaze transfixed only on the deity, devotees chanted in whispers, holding up lighted joss sticks. 


Shops had just begun to open & I was bent upon scouting for music CDs, that I had purchased during my previous visit. The cassettes of yore have been replaced by compact disks today. On the sidewalk are shops selling music CDs, which contain both instrumental as well as devotional Chinese music. 

I bought a couple of them from the shop above. If you happen to visit, do pick up more. You’ll never regret.

Chinatown’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which also houses a museum & a tea-house, is another place that’s quaint yet calming.

 
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Chinatown
This temple is a recent addition but its majestic facade fashioned in Tang style is bound to pull you in & once in, you’d never want to step out; in fact even shopping will have to wait. 
 
 


The temple may seem a tad out of place, but that’s what makes it striking. 

 

The Buddha’s tooth that was procured from his pyre at Khushinagar, India, is the relic that’s preserved in the temple. 

 

As soon as we entered the precincts, the drone of Buddhist chants, the fragrance of incense, the lambent glow of lanterns & the sight of ardent devotees engulfed us. The ambience was one of pure piety. 

 

 

This 5 storeyed structure has in its first floor the Hundred Dragon Hall & the Universal Wisdom Hall.

 

 

On one section are the guardian deities, which are the Zodiac protectors of the Chinese zodiac signs.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Universal Wisdom Hall (Avalokiteshwara Hall)

 

 

The second & the third floor have the Aranya Gallery & the Samantabhadra Hall, where the former hosts a collection of paintings, sculptures & calligraphy paintings & the latter contains an array of Buddhist artefacts depicting the Buddha’s life & events pertaining to his life. 
As soon as we landed on the fourth floor, we were greeted with a serene silence. Suddenly the milling crowd had also thinned out. We came face to face with a large ornately decorated hall. On the fourth floor is the Sacred Light Hall, which treasures the relic ―the tooth! 
Yet, as we entered the hall, the vibes & energy were quite palpable. There at the farther end in the opulently garnished sanctum, was the Jewel in the Crown ―The Tooth Relic, contained in a mammoth stupa made of gold!  On the ceiling above was a vibrant painting of the Mandala and surrounding the stupa, were 20 guardian deities. Note: The entire sanctum  is beyond the reach of the public & is meant only for monks. Had it not been for the rules, you’d have got to see some beautiful pictures of this fascinating place, on this blog. 
The outer chamber has many plinths set with cushions, where the devout can be seen meditating. I too found myself a place & shut out the world, albeit the inner murmur persisted for a few minutes, until I turned my focus inwards.

 

A few minutes later, we transcended the existing level to catch sight of the Icing on the Cake ―the rooftop, wherein lay a charming Pagoda (Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda), ensconced in a pretty garden.
 
 

Dendrobium Orchids
A gigantic Prayer Wheel, bearing sacred inscriptions & motifs within the Pagoda

 

 

At each cardinal point, is a Buddha statue encased in a glass shelf.

After spending some quiet but merry moments, we reluctantly allowed ourselves to be guided by our plans. We took a train to Little India for a Tamil styled lunch at one of its classic Tamil restaurants & returned to Chinatown for shopping.

Chinatown
Even the last time, I had been quite smitten by the sights, sounds & scenes that fill the alleys of Chinatown & this time was no exception. Believe me, you must allot one whole day. This one is verily a shopaholic’s haven. This is the place where you can haggle & the place that has the showpieces, the ‘antiques’, paintings & everything you can take home for your near & dear ones. 
 
 
It has everything to suit every purse & every valise too. 
It’s so lively & colourful that it has the power to make you fall in love with the place all over again. 
 
I cannot proceed without mentioning the honesty of some of its shopkeepers. The shop at the farther end & close to Marriamman Temple had a display of lovely floral tops, which I’ve always loved. What I found attractive didn’t fit me & those that fitted me, were not to my liking. I must’ve spent more than 30 minutes & was about to zero in on one, when the lady at the counter told me to go for it only I were fully satisfied. “I unthersthand ith may not fith you & if you alther ith, the beauthy of the dthress goes. You can thake your thime & choose; no hurry. You could thry in other shops also, mam.”
 
Unlike other snappy shopkeepers who dislike reluctant customers who merely hover around without heading for the counter, this lady was very thoughtful & hence this mention. Moreover, she didn’t want me to buy something that I’d later regret or whose beauty may have to be compromised. May her tribe increase!
 

Marriamman Temple, Chinatown, Singapore

The aforementioned destinations are usually never missed by tourists. However, Singapore has a slew of spellbinding places, some of which are certainly unmissable. One of them is the Chinese Japanese Gardens. If you prefer tranquil settings & some ‘me time’, then please do not miss this place.

The Chinese Japanese Gardens (Jurong lake Gardens)
Located on Jurong Lake, adjacent to Jurong Bird Park, the Chinese Japanese Gardens are indeed a visual treat, especially pronounced for their aesthetic appeal. The twin gardens & Jurong Lake are connected by the Bridge of Double Beauty. 
While the Chinese Garden is supposed to tickle the senses, its Japanese counterpart is supposed to reawaken feelings.

 

The overcast sky & the drifting zephyr lifted our spirits; what better auspices could we ask for, on what could have otherwise been a hot afternoon?

 

Even as we approached the gates, the gentle breeze began to spray its cool contents & the twin fragrance of wet earth and fresh grass made it even more exhilarating!  

 

 

 

The Stone Boat & the Tea House are the first to welcome guests. The former is a replica of its namesake in Beijing, China. The seven storeyed Pagodas offer sweeping views of the environs. 

 

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Think about it ―as far as my eyes could see, the sprawling meadows stretched afar, punctuated by tiny birds that hopped about; it was nothing but a sheer pleasure to breeze through, unhindered by crowds. 
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At a distance, a few statues towered over, beckoning us. Those were the sculptures of the 8 Chinese Legendary Heroes, who stand for social rectitude such as loyalty, love, honesty, civility, righteousness, benevolence, modesty & piety. 
Confucius ―the titan renowned for his wise noesis. 
Turtle Museum
Turtles, which the Chinese revere, are housed in this Turtle Museum within the precincts.
These smiling Buddhas near the fish pond make for a pretty picture.
 
The Garden of Abundance
 
The Garden of Abundance is certainly an interesting spot, strewn with sculptures of the 12 Chinese zodiac characters.
 
 
Bonsai Garden
Another eye-captivating yet serene component is the Bonsai Gardens, housing 2,000 bonsai specimens. 
Also known as the Black & White Gardens, the said theme it seems is deliberately maintained to accentuate the greens & other myriad colours.
 
It is the starkness that underscores the lushness; the serenity that accentuates the liveliness, the vastness that provides the backdrop for the delicate & as yang merges with yin, the void is filled with vim; they exist seamlessly, each complementing the other. Think about it ―the woods are beautiful on their own & austerity is a standalone beauty but when the twain meet, their union is a man-made marvel ―A Garden! 
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Japanese Gardens

 

 
The bridge that links both the Gardens
 
The Japanese Garden, adjoining the Chinese, although not profuse as its counterpart, is nevertheless charming. The pathways strewn with white pebbles, lead to colourful, well-manicured shrubs that line a lotus pond scattered with full blooms.
With elegant Pagodas looming over the landscape, lotus ponds, old-world garden bridges & colourful shrubbery interspersed by quaint rocks, this place seemed like a dreamland!

 

 

Stone Lantern Valley 

Different kinds of lanterns strategically placed here, are the highlights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot still comprehend what it was, but the place evoked a rare emotion. It was ecstasy coupled with ache. Certainly, that ecstatic solitude seemed blissful & I found it really hard to tear myself away from the place.  

We called it a day after a visit to Mustafa Centre at Little India. Your trip to Singapore cannot be complete without a shopping spree at Mustafa. 

Jurong Bird Park

 

If Singapore holds in its coffers floral fantasies & faunal flamboyance, then it also boasts of avian gems that grace its many groves. 

 

There they were ―some perched on branches, some gliding on ponds, some hopping about the place, a few strutting about ―showing off their vibrant plumage, some having a dip yet some flying as far as they could. Some had convoked a meeting with their ilk & were busy chirping, while some had a woodnote to share. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were the colourful ones as well as the cagey ones, but all had a story to tell. 

 

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The soothing birdsong that rent the air was indeed uplifting & at a distance a storm cloud that had gathered, broke into a thunderous applause, as if cheering the performance!
 
These fleeting fantasies had captured our hearts but time was flying & that was the last day of our tour. ‘The woods are dark & deep’, but we had promises to keep. 
 
Some places always seem to beckon & one such place is certainly Singapore! Maybe someday I shall return to revisit & to discover hidden gems that are waiting to be explored.   
 
PS: The zoo has tram services & the bird park has a trolley facility for young children who can traverse the place with ease. I couldn’t resist the urge to click this trolley & luckily, the parents had obliged! 
 
If you’re still not sated, Singapore’s Changi International Airport too has a lot to offer. If you have enough time in your hands, do take a peek into its various themed gardens. As my relatives explained, the country is on a constant mission to evolve. Each time you visit, the old would’ve been improvised & something novel would’ve found its way. I, on my part, hope that I get another reason to visit this spectacular place again.   

 
 

Comments

  1. We are planning a family holiday here. Your blog will be most useful. Thank you Shubhrata.

  2. Thanks for liking the article. Hope you had a wonderful trip.

  3. SMS

    Thanks so much for the blog post.

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