Tuesday 21 January 2014

On buying a bicycle

We spent a significant part of a precious Saturday away from the children, testing and buying a unisex bicycle at Decathlon. What should have been a quick decision based on one visit to the store and some back-end research, managed to spin itself into many evenings and weekends until I am sure the folks in the bike section were heartily sick and tired of S trying out every bike on display and meandering slowly through all the aisles until he knew whether he liked it or not. That I was a disinterested observer pretending to be enthusiastic must have been evident to all :) My interest levels which had been high to begin with dwindled with every dinner-table discussion, argument and store visit until I said, let's just get this over and done with. 
As it happened, we had almost decided on what to buy when I spotted another make which, at Rs 2000 extra, offered more benefits - cushioned seat, thicker tyres, better looks (though S disagreed) and was far more comfortable for me to ride. So finally I ended up deciding what we would get. We picked up the accessories, paid over the hefty sum charged, got the bike tuned and then huffed and puffed for 20 minutes to push it into the car! We drove back with me grasping the front tires of the bike so that it wouldn't interfere with the gear operation.
Got back home and had just settled down with some chai when S informed me that the gears aren't working! Of course, this was arbitrarily blamed on me - apparently I had been too impatient to leave and he had not tested the gears properly in the store! It's pretty amazing how the blame for random things gets pinned onto me!
Dropped the kids off at mom's again, struggled for another 15 minutes squeezing the bike into the car and drove to the store with handlebars digging into my thigh - thankfully I had enough and more cushioning :) Once the gears were fixed, I drove the car back while S opted to ride back. I left him behind with some trepidation. Will he be able to manage himself on a bicycle after so many years, on potholed roads shared with with crazy drivers and stray dogs? I heaved a big sigh of relief when he got home. Worrying over kids is par for the course but having to worry about the husband is just plain annoying!
This is not the way I like to spend the treasured weekend. But the evident pleasure of the husband as he rode the bike next morning, not to mention the benefits to his knee, made up for it. Apparently father and kids are going to bike together every weekend from now on :) 

Monday 13 January 2014

Singapore, Ads and me

Ads has heard a lot about Singapore from his friends and relatives. So he was excited to holiday there. He claims our recent holiday was the best one he’s ever had...ask him which place he liked more, Bali or Singapore, and there is no doubt in his mind. Singapore wins hands down. He said Bali is a place he’d like to visit but Singapore is where he would like to live! There goes my city kid :( 
His standard answer when people ask him what he did in Bali – temple temple beach restaurant, temple temple beach restaurant. Put that way, it doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? :))
Now, as for me...I admire Singapore. I don’t really like it. Don’t ask me why! But I will attempt a garbled answer. Reason #1 is probably that I can be a contrarian at times...if enough people tell me something is fabulous, you can be sure I will hate it! And enough and more people have told me that Singapore is fabulous over the last 15 years for me to be highly sceptical. Is that a good enough reason? :)
Seriously though, I accept that it’s a pretty good place – its clean, safe, disciplined etc etc. The humid weather freaks me out but I really do understand why people would like it. But as S aptly put it, it’s a place that is frustratingly predictable! And I think what that means is that we like a little (or a lot!) of chaos and randomness in our lives which is something that’s missing in Singapore. And that’s why I find it boring, and that’s my reason #2.
Am I coming off as someone difficult to please? Or one of those people who go to Agra and deliberately do not visit the Taj Mahal, because hey, that’s what all the tourists do? :)
The one reason I’d live in Singapore? It’s a truly fantastic base for exploring Southeast and East Asia. Give us 3 years and I promise there won’t be a country we don’t visit :)

Year-end Bali holiday - Instalment 4

Day 6 in Bali was our last day of exploring the island as we had planned to spend the last day doing absolutely nothing. Now this is something of a tall order for me as I'm not good at relaxing, whether it's at home on a weekend or on a hard-earned foreign vacation. But more on that later.
We were going to see more of East Bali, which is slightly less popular than the southern part of the island but coming into it's own now as a surfing destination. It is gorgeous, the beaches are pristine and not as over-run with tourists and if I went back to Bali again, I'd skip South Bali and just stay here. S and I also thought that the landscape in the eastern part was very reminiscent of Hawaii, so to those who've been there, that should give an idea of how lovely it was :)
A scenic drive through these vistas.............

That's Mount Agung at the back. It's an active volcano that dominates the landscape in this part of Bali. It last erupted 50 years ago.

..............brought us to the Tirtagangga Water Palace. It was a hot dry and sunny day so the sun blinded us, we were dehydrated and atleast I couldn't wait to get into some shade. But it was also the kind of day that brought out the loveliness of sparkling waters under a blue sky dotted with white fluffs of cloud. 

Entering Tirtagangga

Lots of fun for kids and dad alike :) Stepping stones to success :)

A boar fountain

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I hadn't ever seen such large lotus leaves

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See what I mean? :)
After roaming around the palace, we were exhausted (the heat helped) and ready for some chow. It was a little surreal to sit there and be served some excellent Italian food, but then Bali has a lot of un-Indonesian food options (Italian predominates). Lunch over, we headed to another water palace - Taman Ujung. Not as pretty as Tirtagangga IMHO. The blazing sun was getting to me at this point so I elected to plop down on the shady patch with the kids while S wandered around.

That's me with my inseparable backpack and the kids :)

Next stop. Some R&R at the Pasir Putih white sand beach near Candidasa. A bumpy ride on a steep non-road brought us to the parking lot where the kids and S promptly stripped down to their swimwear and jumped into the water. It turned out to be a lot of fun but the Indian Ocean was a little scary with huge waves so after a few minutes, Y was sent back to me while S and Ads continued frolicking.

Candidasa's black sand beach was next - a little rocky so we didn't venture into the water but opted to enjoy it while digging into some gelato.

Our driver-cum-guide's enthusiasm was unstoppable but Ads and I were pooped by this point. S and Y visited the Pura Goa Lawah - Bat Cave temple - but I sat slumped in the car seat while Ads snoozed obliviously beside me :) Thus ended our last busy day in Bali.
The next day was our last in the country and we did nothing other than swim in and snooze by the pool. Of course, I also indulged in my habitual end-of-vacation moping and depression :) Bali is a place everyone  must visit atleast once. What we realized after going there was that there were so many other unique places in Indonesia - in Java and Lombok especially. Some day, I'd love to go to these places and get to know this beautiful archipelago a little better.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Year-end Bali holiday - Instalment 3

Day 5. S has stubbed his two a couple of days ago, while swimming in the pool. It starts hurting like crazy and we decide we should get it looked at. I’m afraid it’s broken, because he’s done it before, on our Thailand trip. Our car and driver arrive to ferry us on a day of roaming around the highlands of Bali, but in typical Indian/Asian style, the doctor doesn’t show up on time. We are told – He’s very close by, another 5 minutes....he’s just around the corner etc....Anyway, he finally arrives, a smart dapper little man who impresses us big-time with his competence until he names his price. A whopping 120 USD for fixing a stubbed toe!
Having paid up the high price for my husband’s general clumsiness and bumbling incompetence in the pool (!!), we heave ourselves into the car and head towards Mount Batur. Today we have Pablo, by far the most funny and entertaining guide we have ever encountered. He speaks fluent English and is very good about telling us where we are going, the villages we are passing through, interesting features of the landscape etc besides giving us a good grounding in Balinese architecture, religion and social life. He turns out to be a major (if dated) Bollywood fan. He tells me that his brother lives in Mumbai. I am puzzled and ask him what does he do? He says he's an actor. I smile and ask "Oh really? What's his name?". He says in all seriousness "Shah Rukh Khan" and immediately starts laughing uproariously. He thinks Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is one of the best films of all time and is thrilled when S can play some of the movie songs on his iphone. I think we made his day :)
Mt Batur and Lake Batur are beautiful and we click lots and lots of pictures. The highlight is having our very first cup of Kopi Luwak coffee, something S protested that he would never touch but he ends up being the person who loved it. I like it too, it's less full-bodied than I'd like but flavourful nevertheless. 

Lake Batur in the foreground, Mt Agung in the background

Another one of Lake Batur

Mt Batur, apparently an easy climb for sunrise-catchers

The civet

Snake-skin fruit, looks a little iffy but quite tasty - a mix of pineapple and apple flavours

Coffee, cocoa and tea samples
Bali is very picturesque. Our lunch with a view looked over this....

and this....

Enroute to our next port of call, Ubud, we visited the Holy Spring temple, which was so much like Indian temples.

Bathing in the tank/holy spring



Can you name the Gods?

Inside the inner circle/sanctum sanctorum
Over to Ubud...this is what you get for USD 150 a night....a lovely comfortable duplex with massive bathrooms, one of them with open windows looking out over the Monkey Forest!

Bathroom #1

Porch downstairs - we used to have a lot of meals here

The porch upstairs


Large bath upstairs

The view while taking a shower :)
My best moment in Bali? When S walked into our home for the next 3 days in Ubud and said - This time, you've cracked it. Completely. Awesome job.
He's the kind of guy who is very stingy with praise, so when he says you've done an awesome job, rest assured you have :) 

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Questions galore

Before I continue with the Bali blogathon, I am motivated by Chatty Wren's recent post on her girls, to jot down some similar things that Y said. I have to say, I don't know where these kids get all these thoughts and ideas from. Y is most concerned about how many kids she will have. Her future family recently downsized from 5 to a more manageable 4. She hopes and prays she will have two girls. A boy and a girl is a less palatable but still acceptable option. Two boys --- what, are you kidding me????!! That's the horror scenario :)
Second, she worries that it will pain a lot when she has kids.
Three, who will take me to the hospital? The ambulance or you????
Four, I can only have kids when I marry -- right?? (This piece of wisdom imparted by her brother, who once spoke to me about a hen and a rooster who got married and then they laid an egg!) Errr....right!
Five -- who will I marry? Someone with black hair (not grey/white like Appa!). Maybe I can marry Anna? Not possible?
I find it easier to answer Ads' questions. Like the one he asked me in Bali. "If we all have to die one day, what's the point of being born?"
That's my boy! Learn to ask the right questions, and the answers will follow :)

Sunday 5 January 2014

Year-end Bali holiday - Instalment 2

Our first temple stop was the Taman Ayun temple, or more correctly Puri Taman Ayun ("Puri" means temple), a 17-th century temple built by the Mengwi royal family in typical Balinese style. surrounded and bisected by man-made waterways. We wandered around with some printed material that we had downloaded earlier and managed to get a sense of the history of the temple. It was an overcast drizzly sort of day but we enjoyed sauntering all around the pretty temple. Couldn't quite figure out where the deity was which was being prayed to (this happened in most of our temple visits!) because Balinese Hinduism and it's rituals seem quite different from what's experienced in India, but what exactly the differences were, was difficult to pinpoint as in many temples we were not allowed to go into the sanctum sanctorum, being off-limits to foreigners.In the one temple where we managed to catch glimpses of the prayer, all we could figure out was that some Sanskrit shlokas were being chanted (lots of women priests in Bali) and there was a lot of bending, getting up and re-bending to the deity (Ganesha in this case). What we did understand that while the Balinese pray to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, they also pray to many lesser gods for e.g there is Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and many gods and goddesses associated with wind, sun, rain, sea, mountains etc. Every shop, business and home has a shrine outside to which offerings are made daily and even multiple times in a day. It seems that any offering goes - we found sweets, Mentos, beedis and even a cup of coffee (this outside the Starbucks outlet:))

Black coffee and flowers for God :)
Next stop was Puru Ulun Danu, one of the most lovely temples we visited. This is a major Shaivite and water temple in Bali, gorgeously situated on misty lake Bratan. Check it out.

We were fortunate to have no rain but just misty cool Scotland-ish type weather until then, but by the time we headed out from Ulun Danu, it was raining hard. The twin lakes, Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan, looked stunning but we stopped only to take a few pics before being driven into the car by a deluge from the heavens. We were cold and weary by this time (I was not more than a little pissed off with the rain, I must admit!) and ready to head home. End of an eventful and wet day 3 :)

Twin lakes, though we couldn't manage to get both in the same frame.

Rice fields

The lovely rice terraces at Jatiluwih, seen through a fine sheet of water :)

Friday 3 January 2014

Year-end Bali holiday - Instalment 1

Yes. We went to Bali!!
To be honest, Bali was never on my list of top destinations. Nowadays I find I have to be really wired and excited about a destination for me to get into the mood of doing some kickass planning :) Which I was not about Bali. We decided to spend a week there (which most people told us was too much – they were wrong, as it turned out) and end the holiday with 3 days in Singapore.
I did some basic research (if I’d done more, I think I would have planned it very differently; more on that later), talked to friends who had travelled there recently, used our miles to buy tickets, booked the hotels, organized visas, and finally, we were all set. 
We transited through Singapore to land in Denpasar on a windy rainy day. Our first 4 days were booked at a hotel in Sanur, which CN traveller has rated as one of the best family-friendly beaches in Asia. Family-friendly took on a new meaning – I did not expect super-calm waters, tiny little waves, and the ability to walk in deep and still be only waist deep in the Indian ocean :) The protected lagoon was fabulous because I could just let Ads go in with no fear whatsoever though I still had to keep a tight rein on Y. S used to keep showing off by floating on his back in the ocean while Ads did some gymnastics in the water and pretended to swim while I was so pathetic that I could not even float (yes all my swimming lessons and achievements have come to nought thanks to zero practice). The hotel (which I later found was one of the oldest boutique hotels in Bali) was very old-world, built in traditional Balinese style, right on Sanur beach and the Sanur boardwalk. We had to walk a few steps to reach the beach from our quaint “village bungalow”, and we were happy to spend the first 24 hours doing nothing but exploring the resort, the beach and the one long main street in Sanur.

The bathroom with a lovely mosaic bathtub, lots of green outside and you can't see it, but outside is an open air shower!

The sitting room

Killer app - a little gazebo outside the bungalow. Perfect for drawing, or (for me) reading with a cup of Earl Grey beside me:)

Sanur beach. Very clean and calm.
Day 2 - we hired a car and driver to explore South Bali, which is the more touristy crowded part of Bali (Sanur is north-eastern Bali). We drove to Pandawa beach which was nice and filled with families enjoying themselves in the water unmindful of a steady drizzle. 

Pandawa Beach under a grey stormy sky
By the time we reached Uluwatu temple, the drizzle was a downpour and we struggled to hold onto our umbrellas as we ascended to the clifftop temple. The views were magnificent and made even more majestic under the stormy skies. Thanks to the rain, we missed the Kecak and fire dance which I was looking forward. Later after I found out that it was not a traditional dance but had been invented by a German painter/musician who had created it primarily for western audiences, I did not particularly care to see it performed.

View as we climbed upto the temple
So that was the end of a very wet Day 2- Days 3 and 4 coming up!