Setting out on an adventure to Bali

My travels have mostly taken me to the West – in terms of residence or academics- but I got my first opportunity to travel to the East rather South East when Bali came to be on my travel charts. The Island of Bali, in Indonesia, reverberates scenes of romantic holidays in the first go, but it is much more than that. During my initial research, I found almost all kinds of geographical landscapes (except deserts) to be present in Bali. From pristine beaches to freezing volcano; from mesmerizing waterfalls to trekking ridges – you name a place and it is there! Being an international destination, and one which cannot be visited very often (call it time restraints or financial), it needs good research and planning before actually laying foot on this scenic terrain.

Research Essentials:

  • Dates
  • Flight options
  • Visa Formalities
  • To check the Weather and pack your luggage accordingly (Cannot be 100% accurate but we can always go with an idea)
  • Hotels/ homestays booking
  • Exchange rates and convert some INR to Indonesian Rupiah
  • International SIM cards
  • In-land transport options
  • A bucket list of places you really want to visit, their timings, entrance fee etc.
  • To check the local Traditions and Rituals and dress code if any
  • To make a list of Emergency Contact Numbers (including embassy etc.)

Planning your visit:

With a hectic work schedule in events, I hardly get time for holidaying around. But October being a festive month with a large number of holidays was my chance to sneak away to a much-needed vacation. Settling for 25th – 31st October 2019, the next immediate step was to scout for budget flight options. For this, Malindo Air was chosen. We had a 12-hour halt in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur International airport before catching the connecting flight to Denpasar, Bali. The best part was since it was only a journey of 6 days; I did not require a Visa with an Indian Passport. Clearing immigration was enough.

Malindo Plane

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Accommodation and In-Land Transportation:

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Sekhar Bali Homestay

The weather in Bali during October would be hot and dry during the day but cool during the night. Surrounded by water bodies on all sides gives Bali a pleasant climate throughout the year.  This was a complete budget trip; the best in the lowest was my motto. After checking many options which at one-time included a villa I opted for Sekhar Bali Homestay, in downtown Kuta. Kuta is the most happening place in Bali, two-minutes from the beaches and the most envious nightlife you could ever imagine. The best exchange rate was from Dollar to Indonesian Rupiah and hence I converted the INR to USD to IR. Exchange Rates differ and it is best to check right before you are planning the trip so that you can get the best returns.  Like every place you have the options of hiring cabs and taxis- Grab and Blue Bird; but what most individuals prefer is to hire a bike that is available from 60,000 IR to 75,000 IR a day (oil on the individual).

Making a Bucket List:

Bali is a country to be geographically lauded for. From rice fields to forests; to palaces to islands; from volcanoes to museums; to beaches and waterfalls to temples – such diverse scenic landscapes to see everywhere. I jotted down quite a few places to visit but then not everything was physically possible nevertheless I have seen at least one tourist place from every category- from the famous Bali Swing to Ubud Palace; from Kuta Beach to traveling on the toll bridge; from Goh Gajah Temple to Monkey Park. Bali is a country steeped in rituals and hence in all religious places women are expected to cover their bodies and wear a Sarong.

Setting out on an adventure:

The common notion is that an adventure begins when you reach your destination; I believe the real adventure is during the planning phase, it just culminates when you reach your destination. Thus on a rain-washed evening, I set out with my back-pack to the Kolkata airport to catch a flight to this unknown destination. International flights are often scheduled in the evenings to post-midnight- a trend which I have generally seen. My flight was at 12:05 IST with Malindo Air. This was my first time with them and they were truly hospitable. In fact, they upgraded my seat to a Window seat with more leg space and a fine view. What More, they even added a meal to it!  The first leg of my 4 hours journey from Kolkata to Malaysia was smooth and without any turbulence. I reached Malaysia at around 8 in the morning (remember time zones change). Since I did not have a transit visa I had to wait for the connecting flight at the airport.

Malaysia Truly Asia to Bali:

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Model Planes at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 

Kuala Lumpur International airport like most international airports is cosmopolitan. With branded shopping arcade to clean toilets and huge waiting areas, especially for transit passengers – the airport provided all facilities to the visitors. After almost a 12-hour wait and several cuppa noodles later I caught the connecting flight – again a Malindo Air – to Denpasar.

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Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar

A three-hour journey later I reached Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar well past midnight. The view from the window was beautiful- twinkling lights and risings waves in the high tide! Of course, it was too dark to see anything properly but I did have the next four days to explore. After clearing the immigration and booking a Grab through the Free WIFI at the airport I reached Sekhar Bali homestay – my home for the next five nights. It was indeed a long journey and it was best to sleep it off to reenergize for a new day where many adventures await.

Lastly, I give glimpses of my travels ahead but would talk about them in greater detail in the subsequent blog posts.

 

In Search of the Forgotten Fort- Sisupalgarh

Orissa! Odisha! Bhubaneswar! Kalinga! No matter by which name you call the city, all names flash a vivid image of a land steeped in heritage and culture; a land that has played pivotal roles in Indian History;  a land which was the focal point of a battle, which mentally coerced a King to accept the path of Buddhism. Bhubaneswar, ‘The Temple City’ is one of the oldest cities of India and around 8 km from the main city lies the ruins of the once flourishing kingdom of Sisupalgarh.

Scouting for the ruins

It was during my first trip to Bhubaneswar (work not leisure!) that I could visit Sisupalgarh with a colleague and popular travel blogger Indian Vagabond. Just the brief of the place housing ruins of an old kingdom got me interested to visit it. Honestly, at first sight any visitor would be disappointed with a place surrounded by thick foliage, in the middle of nowhere and what seems like a place for merrymaking! The encroachment of modern houses within the land has almost made it impossible to locate the ancient ruins and its structures. But, after scouting the area and asking people, Google Maps, (and a dog!) the ancient ruins were located.

This is where we should rewind to find out about the place which stands so neglected and decadent today!

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The path towards Sisupalgarh
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Once a mighty kingdom . . . . .

Going back in Time

Sisupalgarh is nationally protected under the Archaeological Survey of India. Several excavations have taken place within the space which helped trace its plausible history. In 1948, Archaeologist B.B Lal analyzed that the defensive fort existed around 4th-3rd Century BCE. The most recent excavations by M.L Smith and Prof RK Mohanty date it from 5th Century BCE to well past 4th Century BCE. Apart from excavations, the kingdom might have a reference in the inscriptions of the Hathigumpha Caves in Udaygiri which mentions a certain Kalinganagri; and The Asokan edicts which refer to certain Tosali. It can thus be concluded that Sisupalgarh was a flourishing kingdom even prior to the establishment of the Mauryan Empire.

Maybe Harappa wasn’t the only one. . . .

A must-have chapter in all history books is that of the Harappan Civilisation. But the more I find out about this ancient fortress, the more I realize how much India has to offer to its people outside the pages of the books.

From the multiple excavations conducted in and around the area, several conclusions were drawn. The fortified area was a perfect square surrounded by a defensive water moat complete with earthen and brick walls built a few centuries later. It is suggested that the population would have been around 20000-30000 – more than that of Athens! Further, since temporary settlements were discovered near the gates of the fortress, it could have been that traders and businessmen who were not allowed inside the fortress built themselves a temporary shelter. Due to the lack of disastrous natural/man-made calamity, it has been analyzed that the inhabitants chose to migrate towards ‘The Temple City’; however, the exact reason for the shift is yet not known.

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Counting the steps of time
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Tales hidden under the foliage
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The fields leading to India’s Stonehenge?

Wanderings of the Mind

India is a country rich in history. With the help of analytical minds and technology, the past can be discovered and analyzed. However, these are the only recreation of the past and cannot be predicted to be one hundred percent accurate. In fact, I hope in days to come more would be unearthed about the fort and it would be given its righteous place in the pages of history.

Behind the Scenes

Sisupalgarh is located in the Khurda district on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. It is well connected by Uber and even local transport. Ideally, it is best to visit during the winter as the scorching sun would not peel your skin away. It is always advisable to wear lots of sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes, if possible sneakers, for you might have to do some scouting for the place. The stone pillar of the fort can be reached after meandering your path through a water-filled rice field (Beware of Snakes!). It is suggested you look where you are going because the area is damp, swampy and wet (and no one wants to fall and break some bones right!)

Sisupalgarh is definitely an offbeat place to visit. If you have a knack for heritage and history then this is the place for you to be. For me, this was my first and only sightseeing in the city of Bhubaneswar. I hope to go back soon someday and visit all the places I have missed out on.

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Only time will tell. . . . the stories those pillars hide

Exploring Cardiff

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust 

Cardiff, the Welsh capital is a known place for many travellers. A casual discussion with a friend lead to the creation of a travel plan to Cardiff and Llandudno (more about it in a later post). So, here I was waiting in the queue of Manchester Shudehill bus stop to board the bus for Cardiff. The Megabus service (https://uk.megabus.com/) runs daily buses from Manchester to Cardiff although the timings are different for weekdays and weekends. I must say the almost five-hour journey was strenuous, but the thousand thoughts that came to my mind while travelling made it less painful. 

I passed through Birmingham where the bus stopped for twenty minutes . After giving the passengers a chance to stretch their legs, it moved on to Bristol and finally reached Cardiff late in the afternoon. I now had even less than a day to visit the place as we had an early morning train for the next day. We decided to go where our road lead us. Our first destination was the Cardiff Castle. 

So, this was the grounds of the Castle. It was almost 3:30 pm so we decided to skip wandering around and head straight to the museum, which was beautiful and the Arab Room with its ornate ceilings caught my attention. This (below) is a photograph of the ceiling of the main hall of the Castle. The beautiful and ornate decor of the room made me want to settle there  and never leave the place. In fact, the walls had sculptures, paintings and murals all depicting the rich history of the city and the Castle.  

Thereafter, we headed to the watch tower (photograph below). On the way to the watchtower there was a beautiful moat and well. Let me share this with you, I have extreme ill luck falling over every moat I have visited till date. Thank God this was a nice one and prevented me from creating a hat-trick.

Its one steep climb to the top of the Watch tower but its all worth the amazing view from up there. We took some time in exploring the grounds of the castle which was hosting a small fair. From children’s archery to dressing up like the medieval men and women everything had its exemplifying aura. I captured this young kid with his mom playing happily in the castle grounds. 

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. “- Martin Buber 

My friend and I are both fans of Doctor Who. Having known that the Doctor Who Adventure Centre is in Cardiff, how could we have not gone there. We started making our way to the Doctor Who Adventureland. On our way, we crossed the market place. It was buzzing with people and tourists. The colourful shops were tempting with its little curios. The small and cozy cafes were full of people enjoying a drink and evening snack. I present to you two of my most favourite shots from the market. 

I love bubbles. Many of us do. But such huge ones. . . Wow! 

This young man was teaching the little girl how to make beautiful earthenware. Though we wanted to stop and make one for ourselves , Doctor Who was calling us, so we decided to give it a skip. 

Interestingly, after looking several times at the map, getting lost, taking the parallel way round and asking about a few people, we reached the Doctor Who Experience . . . . ..  only to find out the last admissions were at 3:30 pm. *SIGH* . On the positive side, we could at least see the place from outside and with a little peek inside the blue windows we could see huge replicas of the Daleks. 

“We all become great explorers during our first few days in a new city, or a new love affair. “- Mignon McLaughlin
We decided to stop over at a pub in the Cardiff Bay to catch a drink, from where this photograph (below ) had been shot. 

Thereafter, we decided to wander around the Cardiff Bay. There were lots of activities to do considering that we went in the middle of the Cardiff festival. We had a great time viewing the city from the Barry Eye (Cardiff Eye). This was my first time getting up on an Eye and the view was amazing.  We attended the fair and saw some of the stalls. Most of the stalls were pirate themed and were ideal places for children to enjoy themselves in. Below is a photograph of the Cardiff Bay from the Eye. 

This (above) is a photograph of the Cardiff Festival near the bay. It was taken from the Eye again. 

“How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.”- R. Buckminster Fuller
 If you thought our journey was nearing the end of its time in Cardiff, you are wrong. It had just begun. We had to find our hostel. Though we had our maps with us, being new to the city and having found out that the roads have  really less road signs , we decided to go with our understanding of the map. The Result: We were lost in the middle of a highway with no footpath! Being a Sunday, there was not a soul in the streets to ask for directions. Thankfully we saw one hotel and asked for directions. But messed up again. We decided to start all over from the pierside. Luck was at our side when a nice fellow, whose run we disrupted , helped us find our way back. Even then, we had to walk for quite sometime to find our hostel. This photograph was taken while we were hunting for our hostel.

We stayed at the YHA Cardiff which was an amazing hostel and I highly recommend it. Their website is http://www.yha.org.uk/ .

Having freshened up we decided to go out in the city for dinner. It was almost 9pm and thankfully my friend enquired if the city would be opened. Our friendly receptionist answered that being a Sunday it was difficult to find anything open. So, we had dinner at the hostel ordering it just a minute before their kitchen too closed 😛 .

Then we set out for my usual late- night travel walks. . . . . the last one was taken in London and then this one in Cardiff. The city was quiet, a stark contrast to what I saw in London. But the few pubs that were opened in the city -centre had rows of guests standing outside with drinks in their hands. After roaming aimlessly around the city for almost two hours, we decided to call it a day as we had to catch a 5 am train for the next day. Below is a photograph that I took at night. 

My next destination was even more thrilling -Llandudno. While Cardiff was in the extreme South, Llandudno was in the extreme North. But it was an amazing experience. More about Llandudno in my upcoming posts. I leave you today with a photo of the Cardiff Central station. It is empty because not many people board trains that early in the morning. But it signifies that the journey continues. . . . . 

Have you visited Cardiff before? Do let me know in your comments what you think of the place.