Day 2: 26th May, Singapore
The morning couldn’t be more beautiful. Morning was the time I eagerly awaited (the primary reason being the continental breakfast buffet with salads, fruits, muffins and what not!). We had a busy day ahead (perhaps the busiest in the entire trip.) The idea was to have a short tour of the city and then explore a little bit of the Sentosa Island.
As promised, the tour guide arrived sharply at 9 am. Her name was Ho Ah Chin, but she asked us to refer to her as Elsy (my sister pointed out that her name sounds similar to that of the lead character of the Disney movie Frozen – Elsa). She could communicate well in English and Mandarin. She was of Chinese origin and had come to Singapore in her youth. She barely looked 50 but was about 65 years old. And I was shocked because she was more active and agile compared to most of us! She took a special liking to my grandma and made sure that my grandma was comfortable at all times. The thing I really admired about her was the infinite amount of patience she had, and that she answered every question with a smile. She is the living proof that smiling reverses the effect of aging!
We passed by many important landmarks as we approached the Marina Bay. The ones I remember prominently are the old Parliament House, the new High Court Building and the Civilian War Memorial. The memorial honours the civilians killed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore during the Second World War. It is made of four identical pillars that are about 70 meters tall. Each pillar represents a race constituting the population of Singapore – the Chinese (who constitute about 70% of the country’s population), the Eurasians, the Indians and the Malays. A memorial service is held every year on 15th February, commemorating the surrender of British to the Japanese in 1942.
On stopping near the Merlion Elsy told us how the figure became the icon of Singapore tourism. It was pretty interesting. A 12th century prince from Bali (Indonesia) was out hunting (in the area that is presently Singapore and saw a huge lion running through the forest (hence the head). As Singapore was basically a fishing village, it was befitting that the lower body of the icon would be that of a fish. The name Singapore (or Singapura) literally translates to Lion-City. After posing for and clicking ample photos we left for the next place on the checklist – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Elsy mentioned that the Chinese in Singapore were predominantly followers of Buddhism. The next area we visited was Chinatown. I was pleasantly surprised to pass by the Shree Mariamman Temple and a Mosque in Chinatown. We couldn’t visit the temple as we were pressed for time. We stopped near the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in a short while. The temple had a distinct Chinese touch to it.
My jaw dropped when I went inside. The temple was grand. 99 golden dragons adorned the walls. In Chinese culture the dragons are considered auspicious and the number 9 is considered very lucky and is synonymous with longevity. Hence the temple had ninety nine dragons. The designing had been done by architects called specially from China. The most interesting part of the temple was the tapestry behind the Buddha statue. It had been hand-woven by Chinese artists. The cultural richness made me believe for a short time that I had somehow been magically teleported from Singapore to China.
We proceeded to the museum (in the same building). Through various relics and sculptures we captured the essence of the Prince Siddhartha’s journey from his birth to transformation into the Buddha (the Enlightened One). The museum helped me broaden my knowledge about Buddhism.
The trip to the museum was followed by that to the most sacred place – the Tooth Relic Chamber. Unlike the other chambers, we were instructed to leave our shoes outside. I was really amazed by the fact that there was a part of the great Buddha within 20 feet of us. It was unbelievably true. How sacred must the place be!
We saw a bunch of red envelopes on the way out of the Tooth Relic Chamber. Elsy threw some more light on the Chinese traditions. The red colour is considered very auspicious. Each envelope had a design and a message. The significance of the envelopes is that on occasions such as New Year and birthdays, the elders present envelopes with money. My sister and I took one each as a souvenir. We visited the rooftop garden of the temple before leaving.
We had covered all the main places we had originally intended to. Left with some spare time, suggested visiting the Singapore Flyer (It wasn’t originally a part of the itinerary). The Flyer is a huge Ferris wheel, about 150 metres in diameter and is built along similar lines as the London Eye. It doesn’t stop at all and takes about 32 minutes to complete a rotation. I found it intriguing that the Flyer has about 28 coaches each having a capacity to seat 28 people. In an hour more than 1400 people can enjoy the experience. Elsy told me that the number 2 and 8 are very auspicious in Feng shui and both symbolise prosperity (inflow of wealth). She also mentioned that people booked the Flyer for special occasions like birthdays and proposals, and that people could have a sky-dining experience complete with a butler. I noticed that one of the coaches had been reserved exclusively for the champagne brand Moet for special occasions.
After getting the tickets we hopped on one of the coaches. The coach was a lot larger than I had thought. I was glad we made the decision to visit the Flyer. Elsy pointed out the solar powered supertrees – 18 structures ranging from 25 to 50 meters in altitude that mimic the functions of trees. The most interesting part was that the energy from the trees is used to power 2 huge conservatories. Singapore is ridiculously more innovative and interesting than I thought!
The view became more interesting with the increase in altitude. After a point we could actually see a couple of Indonesian islands. I really enjoyed the 3600 view of the city from the top. It was an unparalleled experience. Before leaving we saw a black Lamborghini near the Race Track below. It looked just like a beast waiting to run wild
The next stop was for lunch. We went to Little India for lunch. We searched for exclusively vegetarian restaurants near Mustafa and found Ananda Bhavan to be the best possible option. While having lunch I noticed that one of the walls there made me wonder. It compared the digestive system of humans to that of carnivores and herbivores. Almost every feature of humans – right from the type of teeth to the length of the small intestine matches that of the herbivores. It basically said that we humans are herbivores by design and that we should ideally stick to vegetarianism. The food was decent. After shopping for a short while in the huge Mustafa store we decided to continue to Sentosa Island.
Here are a few tips that might come in handy:
- It is advisable to carry an umbrella with you. The weather can be unpredictable.
- Carrying a cap with you is advisable while going out in the sun.
- If you are going through a tour operator then building rapport with the driver of the vehicle is advisable.
- While visiting the Tooth Relic Temple make sure that your attire is decent. Shoulders should be covered. Avoid wearing Bermuda shorts and half-pants.
- Singapore Flyer should be a part of your itinerary. It is the experience of a lifetime.
- If you are an Indian, avoid choosing any hotel in Little India for your stay. It is exactly as the name suggests – Little India. You will feel like you haven’t come abroad at all.
- It is slightly difficult to find vegetarian restaurants. However, if you plan to have lunch in Little India, restaurants like Saravana Bhavan and Ananda Bhavan have a lot of vegetarian options.
PS: Photo Credits – My sister 🙂