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The Essential SOLO TRIP TO THE LAND OF MERLION

Have you watched the movie ‘Love, Actually’? The opening scene at Heathrow Airport had stayed in my mind, and I expected a similar experience when I returned, only to come back to a rainy Monday morning, with an exam scheduled three hours after the landing, sleepdeprived, and carrying new skills in my arsenal. Singapore. A crazy, terrific, and unforgettable trip. As it happened, I travelled to the city-state located at Malay Peninsula’s southern tip in April. The equatorial climate meant humidity and high temperatures all day long, with frequent bouts of rain throughout the day. One of the busiest ports in the world owing to its proximity to the Strait of Malacca, Singapore became an independent state in 1965. It has a history of British colonisation, and on August 09, 1965, it seceded the Federation of Malaysia to become independent. The population today comprises of Chinese, Malays, and Indians.

I had a morning flight. Wide awake throughout the fly time, I read my novel, watched a few episodes of a TV show, and could not resist being in awe of the relief features underneath. The mountains with their snow caps, rivers meandering like a child’s painting and the Sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, isn’t the nature full of beauty? After the immigration at Changi Airport, I went to the hotel on Nanson Road, a short cab-ride away. With the Singapore River at the front and Mass Rapid Transit station close by, the Nanson Road houses many hotels and restaurants, and a 7-Eleven convenience store. The next day was exciting. I went to Sentosa Island. Children, their parents, and an old couple from Canada were running inside the premises to reach Universal Studios. I was transported to a different world as Transformers, Minions, Elmo from Sesame Street, Shrek and Princess Fiona took my breath away. Universal Studios Singapore opened in 2011 and has been a significant centre of attraction for one and all. The tickets are priced dearly but are indeed worth the experience.

Of the roller coasters featured here, the one on ‘Revenge of Mummy’ is the most thrilling. The Transformers themed rides are visible as you enter, and are a must-do for all adrenaline rush lovers. Meet and Greet your favourite characters when here, in addition to attending live shows. You can meet Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Minions, Frankenstein’s monster, Betty Boop, Master Ping Xiao Po from Kung Fu Panda, and so many others. I loved the water show hosted in The Lost World zone, where gravity-defying stunts were performed along with occasional drenching. I hope you remember Jurassic Park; you can get up, close and personal with the dinos in Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure in a white-water circular raft. Then there’s Madagascar zone and Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lights Camera Action’ show, not to be missed attractions. And, do keep your schedule flexible to attend the street parade, it is unforgettably fun.

If you are at Sentosa, visit the S.E.A. Aquarium. It houses over 100,000 marine animals, and you can get experience of diving too. It is tranquil to get lost in admiring the magnificence that the sea holds for us. Heads up, literally and figuratively, as one looks at sharks crossing overhead. It is exhilarating; it is one of its kind. What else, Sentosa has the Palawan Beach, which has the famed ‘Southernmost point of continental Asia.’ You need to cross a suspension bridge from Palawan Beach to reach Palawan Island, and click pictures next to the signage. The sign is beautiful, the place around is charming, and the factual matter is debated, giving Tanjung Piai in Malaysia ‘the southernmost point of Asia’ tag. There is Fort Siloso close by, which has World War 2 memorabilia- there are guns, tunnels, military structures, and video documentaries. There is a skywalk too. It is a military museum open to the public for free.

Then there’s the Trick Eye Museum. Before you reach here, download the official app to your phone and then march in to click 3D pictures on your deviceyou could be dancing in the rain with a handsome gentleman, or in the company of a polar bear out to hunt and satiate thirst. Do not miss the floor either, for the Trick Eye Museum has many tricks up its sleeve. From bridge crossings to alligators, and rooms which shift upside down, the museum is an interestingly designed space. It was dark when I exited the museum, and a helpful official suggested that I stay a few more minutes to attend the ‘crane dance.’ Machines turn into birds in love as the spectacular performance is put up by the cranes. A light and water show, depicting how two machines meet and ascend into real birds, I am glad I did not miss it. Arrive 20-30 minutes before the show begins to secure a seat with a clear view. It is a daily performance at 2000 hrs. The next day, I visited The Merlion, official mascot of Singapore, located at the Merlion Park. Walk to the park from the Raffles Place MRT station, and get ready to pose and click as you stand atop the bridge on Singapore River, with Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Float (floating football ground) and Singapore flyer at front, and hotels and office buildings on the side. The 8.6m tall statue has the form of half a lion, half a fish, and sprouts water from its mouth. There is one smaller statue present behind the original one.

That was followed by shopping on Orchard Street, accessible by the MRT. There’s Burberry, Bulgari, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and many other upscale stores here, in addition to departmental stores and food outlets. A short walk away was the Far East Plaza, where I went shopping and lunch. Thanks to the ladies I met in the elevator who suggested Puncak Restaurant, I could eat to my heart’s delight. A Malaysian mother and her two little kids sat next to me, and when I told her about the kind of food I wanted to eat, she suggested me to go with curry chicken. Delicious beyond words, the meal was complete with the restaurant owners’ sweet words and generous guide to travel. Uncle, aunty, their daughter, all talked to me and suggested where to travel, how to reach there, our families et al. When the spices hit the right note, and I started coughing, aunty quickly offered me her beer to soothe, which I humbly denied being a teetotaller. She gave me some lime water then and fed me too. I video called my mumma, who back home was worried if her puttar had eaten something, and was glad to know that I had my tummy full. Mothers, they never stop worrying about the food, right?

Next on the itinerary was the Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal zoo. It is an open-air zoo set amidst a tropical forest, where animals roam free and can be observed in their habitat. There are 7 geographical zones present within which can be explored on foot or in a tram. The lights are dim enough not to disturb the behaviour of the animals. From tigers and Indian rhinoceros to Asian elephants and pangolins, over a thousand animals from 120 species are present here, separated from humans by natural barriers instead of cages. ‘Creatures of the Night’ show is a must-attend, spanning about 30 minutes. There are civets, otters, snakes, and owls, among many other animals. Do not use the flashlight of your cameras here, it disturbs the animals. Yet another show I attended was the Thumbuakar Performance at the entrance. It’s a fire show, attuned to the beats of jungle drum, as one gets wowed by the fire-throwing skills of the pyro warriors.

I reached the hotel at around 2300 hrs, and was glad to see the place lively and peppy. There are designated places to drink and smoke. As a solo traveler, I had my concerns which vanished into thin air as I helped myself to some sea food while my watch struck midnight. I talked to other travellers who suggested that I try the Singapore Cruise and Jurong Bird Park. I walked to the Clarke Quay; mesmerising lights danced on the waters as a river cruise was being conducted on it.

The next morning’s clear sky altered the plan a little. So, I hopped into a capsule of the giant observatory wheel for a 360-degree view from Singapore Flyer. It felt slow at first, but that thought swiftly transformed into a relaxed “ooh” as my eyes and mind eased over the splendid panoramic views. 28 capsules, with a maximum capacity of 28 persons, is a good luck charm in Feng Shui. The giant wheel is 165 m high and soothes your senses like no other. It is enchanting how simple things feel when close to us, and are a marvel when we look at them from a height. The atrium below houses a rainforest, where a pond and cascading waters fuse to give a lush green appearance. Walk out of the flyer towards the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and be greeted by the Gardens by the Bay. A nature park, it comprises of 3 waterfront gardens- Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central. The world’s largest glass greenhouse is here at Flower Dome. There are two cooled conservatories- Flower Dome and Cloud SRISHTI VERMA Forest. Rainwater is collected from the surface and circulated in the cooling system connected to the Supertrees. The latter is used to vent hot air and cool the circulated water. These Supertrees are home to another aspect, which I shall talk about later. The Lost World, the Cloud Mountain, Children’s Garden, and various Horticultural themed gardens are present here. Take a full day to explore the gardens well; there’s so much learn and admire, not to forget, the architectural marvel that the place is.

Back to the Supertrees. You remember Super Mario and its theme song? Dear reader, walk the OCBC Skyway, take in the views around, enjoy that feeling. Come down and lay on the grass. It’s evening, it’s growing dark, and you are all set for an experience you won’t forget. “When the night falls, be enchanted as the vertical gardens come alive,” says the host. At 1945 hrs and 2045 hrs each night, the Supertrees tell a different story. There is a light and sound show, called the ‘Garden Rhapsody,’ to the tunes of Super Mario and other popular music. If you do not want to pay for the Skyway, you can still enjoy the light and sound show. Walk into the gardens timely and take a seat on the ground, it’s free. I remember being spellbound during the first show, so I attended the second one as well to make a video. I lay under the star-studded sky, letting go of every fragment of worry, and enjoyed the show to the fullest.

I had to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum the next morning. The temple is 5 storeyed, and the Buddha Mandala has inspired the building’s design. The third floor has revered artefacts, bone and tongue relics, and the fourth floor has the tooth. These relics have been recovered from the funeral pyre of Buddha in Kushinagar, India. There are a hundred Buddha statues in the Hundred Dragon Hall. Close to the temple is Singapore’s Chinatown. Chinatown has a rich heritage displayed proudly. Beautiful lanterns sway overhead, as souvenirs, clothes, postcards, fridge stamps, food items, among many other things, can be bought from the street market. Sri Mariamman Temple is present in Chinatown, too, made in reverence of Goddess Mariamman, the deity of health and protection.

I had my flight scheduled late into the night and was yet to tick off a suggested place- Bugis Street. Name something you want to buy, and you will find it here. What more, you can bargain for the prices. Do keep your valuables safe here, essentially. The walking had made me hungry, so I ate some sausages at a food stall. Delicious food for a dollar! I wanted to buy something from Orchard Street, so I went there again. A bout of shopping later, and evening drawing close, I went to Puncak restaurant again, and this time, aunty and her daughter were present. They asked me to sit close to them and suggested I eat Honeydew chicken. Good food is marvellous! We talked, we ate, and they taught me how to eat chicken with chopsticks. I also had sweet and sour chicken; they packed me some as a goodwill gesture. God bless those welcoming souls! I landed in Delhi on Monday, a rainy morning, and had my exam in three hours. Dad had come to pick me up at the airport. I expected something like a ‘Love, Actually’ moment, only to be welcomed much more warmly and lovingly. And how would I forget my dad hugging me tight and asking if I had a good time! I am grateful, that was one of the best weeks I have spent. I learnt a lot about Singapore, the culture, communicated with individuals from various nations, explored the place, and had a gastronomical adventure. People were helpful, and they tried to put me at ease. Visit Singapore, for the culture, the food, the architecture, and, most of all, people. Happy travelling to you!

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