27 March 2012

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

Apparently, this temple, situated in Singapore's Chinatown, houses a tooth relic of Buddha's- which was said to be found in 1980 in Myanmar. That's the history I came across on this temple, and as I didn't visit the museum portion I can't say what was on display. But I did look inside the temple, which is fairly new. I'm not sure that I have ever been inside a Buddhist temple such as this. A different religion as it may be to me, I still found it very interesting to look around, see different rituals and reading about what these people believe. This temple was absolutely beautiful- you cant help but stand in awe at the architecture and sheer attention to detail in...pretty much everyting! Endless decoration, gold and ,in this temple's case, Buddhas...I definitely loved seeing some of the handiwork , art and color that goes into making these things. And somehow, it does help me appreciate my own beliefs more- seeing and being surrounded by other religions and beliefs. I'm glad for that... and I really am glad that I've had the opportunity to see what's outside my own California bubble (as well as the very westernized countries I've visited before.) As St Augustine said, " The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."

 

26 March 2012

Singapore Esplanade

Touristy as it may be, one of my favorite places to go in Singapore was the Marina and its Esplanade. It's a short walk from the metro station and home to some of the iconic images of Singapore. Here, Christy and I saw the giant Merlion fountain- a symbol of Singapore, fish body representing the fishing village Singapore once was and a lion head representing "the lion city" or Singapura- the city's original name. It was so nice being by the water, especially in the midst of the city's humidity... even in the rain (or especially in the rain), it's so refreshing to walk around here. And to mine and Christy's surprise, a free music festival was going on the day we chose to walk around (the last day of the festival at that!) Early in the day, we saw some of the band's rehearsal before heading inside the adjoining mall (due to the rain)- a perfect time for some lunch and milk tea! (Salted Caramel Milk Tea! So delicious!) The Esplanade is a perfect place to see the sun set and watch the skyline light up... which is exactly what we did, simultaneously being treated to a light show and the music festival. We ended staying for the whole show, watching both the Malaysian punk band (with an amazing crowd!) and a Brazilian band. Definitely one of the best (free) ways to spend the day in Singapore!

23 March 2012

Sentosa Island - Singapore's Playground

I went out to Sentosa Island twice during my stay in Singapore. While it is possible to take a cable car out to the island, it's pretty pricey at $24 one way- so Christy and I opted for the cheaper alternative of taking the Sentosa Express. It's easily accessibly from the Harbourfront MRT station and only costs $3 for the round trip ticket. Approaching Sentosa, I definitely felt like this was Singapore's answer to Disneyland. It felt very touristy at first, which it is- what with Universal Studios Singapore, and other mini parks and aquariums you can visit. This was all a bit expensive for Christy and I, so instead we walked around the island, saw the Merlion statue in the center of Sentosa and headed for the (free!) beaches. We visited the Palawan Beach ( which had a lot less tourists and was further from the main shopping and eating areas) and Siloso Beach (which is more visited and closer to everything else.) It was really so nice to get away to a lazy island and spend the muggy day cooling off in the water, walking along the beach and enjoying refreshing drinks. So much so that Christy and I made a point of visiting the island (specifically for the beaches) a second time.

22 March 2012

The Easy Life in Singapore

Oh, Singapore! It was such a nice transition from India. India was amazing, but it was so nice to come to Singapore! The traffic was not so congested, the city was clean and organized and Christy and I could actually walk into shops and look at items without starting the haggling process. Our first couple of days were spent just getting used to the "reverse culture shock." (from India). We frequently went walking around Joo Chiat, the area we were staying in. We had quite a few good Asian meals before moving on to some meat! Our first beef in a month! We splurged on some Hard Rock Cafe hamburger and it was so worth it! I don't think beef has ever tasted as good. Christy and I discovered our love for milk tea in Singapore as well! Delicious tea drinks (of many colors and flavors!) enhanced by the creamy goodness of milk. My favorite was the Gong Cha Milk Black Tea- a yummy black tea with almost salty-like cream on top that should be mixed into the tea. We definitely treated ourselves to milk tea just about every day of the week that we were there. While in Singapore, the land of great and varied food, we decided to search down some Mexican food (as we've never experienced good decent Mexican food outside of North America. It took a little googling, but we found a place called Cafe Iguana in a touristy area that was actually pretty tasty. It was expensive as well, so Christy and I (being us) split the nachos- one of the cheaper items. Definitely not quite authentic, but still delicious and...good! Guacamole, cheese, tortillas, beans and sour cream hit the spot. So, that's the easy life in Singapore- we had heard it was all about the food and shopping here, and as we don't have any room in our backpacks for shopping, we decided to take part in the food aspect (in our own semi-frugal way!)

15 March 2012

Varanasi - India's Holy City

The last city Christy and I would be exploring in India- Varanasi- was completely unique unto itself. Varanasi is said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is supposed to be India's holiest. Hindus believe that if they come here and bathe in the Ganges river, all of their sins will be washed away. Our first morning here, we took a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges River, and it was such a surreal experience to be seeing all the ghats, the buildings along the river, the bathers, the temples in person. As a Christian, it did feel kind of odd in Varanasi with the huge emphasis on Buddhism, Jainism, etc. But, it was really neat to be part of the whole Varanasi experience - seeing the golden glow against the buildings as the sun rose, placing a lit candle in the Ganges (a ritual which didn't go so well for me- my candle getting hit by someone else's oar!), seeing some of the cremation process that takes place along the Ganges... it's a completely Varanasi experience. It was nice when Christy and I had the opportunity to just walk along the ghats the next day, seeing what there was to see, dealing with people trying to sell stuff (for the last time in India), sitting along the river...India truly is a crazy experience- all senses are heightened here- in both good and bad ways ( but mostly good!). I'll miss seeing the bright colors against the backdrop of India, the crazy tuk tuk rides (we never did hit anyone or get in an accident, although we had some close calls!)... But I think I shall be back- if nothing more than for an authentic Indian wedding! For now... On to Singapore! Let the adventure continue!

14 March 2012

Holi 2012. New Delhi Syle

Holi, the Festival of Colors took place on March 8, 2012. The basic legend of Holi goes that Prahlad, the son of Hiranyakashyap, was attempted to be killed by his aunt Holika because he would not worship his father. Holika entered a blazing fire with Prahlad on her lap (which she was supposed to be protected from), and due to her sinister desire, was destroyed in the flame. Prahlad was unscathed. Holi gets its name from Holika and celebrates the victory of good over evil. On this day, people celebrate by throwing colored powder at each other, mainly during the morning and early afternoon. It was so neat to see the streets just covered in every color imaginable, not mention all over the people! Christy and ventured out although we were a bit nervous- but hey, you are most likely in India for Holi only once! We had a blast getting just covered in greens, pinks, dark purples - made all the grosser from water! I especially loved some of the looks we received from employees upon returning to our hotel! Such an exciting and fun-filled day!

12 March 2012

Taj Mahal - At Long Last!

Oh my goodness- how to adequately describe what it felt like to actually visit the Taj Mahal? Somehow I imagined it might not be as incredible as it's made out to be since it is such an internationally famous landmark and since I, like pretty much everyone, have grown up seeing photos of the Taj Mahal. But upon first glimpse from the day before, squeals echoed throughout our bus. It feels like such a defining moment to finally lay eyes on a landmark, and masterpiece, such as this. Even the next day, on our official Taj Mahal day (with the whole sunrise experience and everything), I felt just as awestruck. It seems completely unbelievable - the different shades of white marble, the different depths and translucency of the marble create  a unique look and perfectly reflect the morning light rays. Even the colored inlays add to the the overall beauty and mystique of the Taj Mahal. 

It was incredibly interesting and fascinating to walk around the Taj and learn of the history and facts, such as how the Taj is built perfectly symmetrical and how the pillars are angled slightly out so that in case of earthquake, they would fall away from the Taj. Another interesting fact was how Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal around 1632) also planned on building a second Taj Mahal in black onyx as a tomb for himself, across the river that lies behind the Taj. Obviously, this never happened, but the idea is both romantic and aesthetically beautiful. I really wanted to soak in my experience at the Taj Mahal and pretty much walked around for an hour in pure astonishment. (throwing in ridiculous Jade and Christy fun all the while, of course!). I still can't believe I've actually seen the Taj Mahal (and may never again) - unbelievable...

Agra's Red Fort

This huge city of a monument is located near to the Taj Mahal. It was founded by Emperor Akbar in 1565 and is largely built out of red sandstone. I mean, this place is massive. It's made up of many different palaces and seems to be a maze of architectural masterpieces, each with their own photographic beauty and stories. Perhaps the story I found most interesting was how Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, was apparently imprisoned here by his son. While imprisoned, he did have a view of his beloved Taj Mahal and is said to have died in the Musamman Burj tower, which also had a view of the Taj. While the Agra Fort didn't have the same over-the-top colors and ceiling as say, the Udaipur Palace or the Amber Palace, it still sends you into sensory overload what with amount of rooms and the sheer size and architectural details of the structures. Perhaps one of my favorite architectural details was the carvings on ceilings or pillars that very much resembled lace. Quite beautiful and delicate!

Baby Taj

The Baby Taj or Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb is often thought of as the rough draft of the famous Taj Mahal. The Baby Taj was built around 1622 and marked the transition between different architectural styles- red sandstone being the once-preferred method to the style of using mainly white marble with colored inlay (as in the Taj Mahal). The Baby Taj is a perfect precursor to the big Taj, if experienced the other way around, the Baby Taj would pale in comparison. I absolutely loved going inside the Baby Taj though- I especially loved some of the ceilings with its different patterns and colors. I definitely started feeling some anticipation to see the "big Taj" though (as we had seen glimpses of it on the way). 

Fatehpur Sikri

Built around 1571 by Emperor Akbar, this palace complex was only inhabited by this Emperor until about 1585 when Akbar left to fight the Afghan tribes and find a new capital- Lahore. It was only ever inhabited by one other -Jahangir, who stayed here hoping to stay away from the plague that devastated Agra. Fatehpur Sikri is an incredible collection of buildings - residences for his wives, mosques, etc. I found the architecture to be quite unlike what we had seen throughout India thus far, yet I later noticed a few landmark locations in Agra had a similar style, including the beautiful brick red color.
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