The Last Wonders of Bali: Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur

As they say, ‘save the best for the last’, and thus the two best places were saved for the last day of my Bali sojourn. Both the Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur were quite a distance from Kuta and I had to start off very early to have enough time to reach and explore these beauties.

Gates of Heaven 

The Lempuyang Temple nestled amidst the slopes of Mount Lempuyang in East Bali is probably the most photogenic place I have seen so far. Also called The Gates of Heaven, it does take a lot of determination, strength, sweat, and toil to overcome almost perpendicular roads, around 1700 steps and reach the height of 1175 m above sea level to knock on the Gates of Heaven, on Earth!  It takes skills to climb up to the temple from the mountain base where the Agung temple is situated; but there are facilities for car parking, local transport and shared transportation making life easier for tourists. The entry to the temple costs 20,000 Rupiah per person. Being a temple, it is also mandatory to wear a Sarong, cover the shoulders and tie back your hair.

The Temple is so named because it seems as if beyond the doors of the temple one would enter the portal to heaven. The altitude and sky-touching height give it an illusion that one is nestled between the clouds.  It makes for a very popular tourist destination in Bali and clicking a photograph here is a must.  There are also special photographers whom you can hire to take your photos. The film is developed and handed over instantly. But, mind the line it often amounts to hundreds waiting in the queue.

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Way to the Temple 
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Gates of Heaven

Mount Batur

Never did I ever think that while studying volcanoes in Geography I would be able to see one with my own eyes. What was instantly thrilling and scary at the same time was the fact that the Batur Volcano was an active one and the last eruption was not so long ago.  It takes almost 2 hours to reach Mount Batur from the Gates of Heaven. Bali in October can be really hot but Mount Batur’s ride uphill made up for it- it was freezing cold! Do carry warm clothes even if you visit during summer for you would need it.

The first documented eruption from Mount Batur took place is 1804 and then again in 2000. In September 2012, it was declared as a UNESCO Global Geoparks Network. It is interesting to note that there are settlements surrounding the volcano. I was not so daring as to visit the volcano from these villages but it was still a beautiful sight, seeing it from the mountain slopes. It almost resembled the mall roads of Indian hill-stations.

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Mount and Lake Batur 

Lake Batur

It is the volcanic Crater Lake formed due to the multiple eruptions in Mount Batur. The settlements around the Lake influence the agriculture and aquaculture of the region. It is also a source of several hot springs.

Batur Geopark Museum  

Previously called the Museum of Volcano Batur, it was renamed after Mount Batur was given a status among the UNESCO sites. It showcases the history of the region through dioramas. The entry fee for the museum is 20,000 Rupiahs. It is open Mon to Fri – 8 am to 4 pm, and Sat and Sun 8 am – 2 pm. If you are interested in Geography or Geology, then a visit to this museum is a must.

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Batur Geopark Museum 

Rice Fields

I had previously written to you about my experience visiting the Tegalalang Rice Fields. While that was a touristy experience; this was a rustic chanced sighting of the entire harvesting process. On my way to Kuta, I just happened to see numerous men and women working on the rice fields tending to it. The various different processes opened up in layers in front of me. What more, I could go closer and take photographs.

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Work in the fields 

Bali Foodgasm

Food in Bali varies to a great degree reflecting cosmopolitanism. You would find small shacks serving meatballs, soups, and rice with vegetables and meat; and you would also find pubs, restaurants, and branded cafes and hotel chains. I would personally recommend meatballs, sticky rice, and pork ribs. These three were my favorite. Another interesting find was flavors of drinks and snacks from known brands – Grape and Apple Fanta, SeaWeed Lays, etc. Of course in India, these are unheard of, probably because the market has not been very welcoming to them.

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To the best Food in Bali – Smoked Pork Ribs 

And with a planeload of memories and experiences, it was time to bid goodbye to this beautiful island. My departure coincided with Halloween and it was a wonder to see costume flash mob at the Bali airport. Young men and women were dressed up as witches, wizards, draculas, and widows to entertain the passengers. This time too it was Malindo Airlines with their perfect hospitality. A three-hour journey from Bali to Kuala Lumpur; and then another four hours to Kolkata- to home. It was almost past midnight when I landed in Kolkata- the streets were vacant and peaceful but in my head, numerous thoughts were buzzing about Bali, about the experience, about telling my close ones about the stay and of course, about writing it down on my blog!

That was all about my Bali Travels. I would soon be back with other travel stories. Due to the global crisis of the Novel Coronas Virus, it is an unsafe time to travel at the moment. In a country experiencing Lockdown, this is the time to think about self-improvement, spending time with family and pets, catching up on reading and some tips for self-sustainability. Till the situation is better, take care and do catch up on my book reviews from next week.

Bali: Up Close with Scenic Marvels, Thrilling Bridges and Shoppers Paradise

You bat an eyelid and days go by during vacations. After going on a whirlwind sightseeing spree in Ubud, it was time to explore places closer to Kuta and go down south. Breakfast was noodles as usual and before the clock struck 10 am, I was on the road. Though the number of destinations might be lesser than the day before but the travel time and the quality of the destinations made up for everything.

Bali Zoo:

It is the home of conservation, smart education, research, and recreational activities. With over 450 species of animals housed in the zoo, it is the perfect place for getting close with your favorite animals. The regular entry fee for an adult is approx. INR 356,500 Rupiah. This apart, there are several special packages which include special activities like ‘Breakfast with Orangutan’, ‘Night at the Zoo’, ‘Elephant Mud Fun’, animal presentations and birthday celebrations. Each package is differently priced and would have different inclusions like hotel transfer, zoo entrance, special activity and the like. The activities require pre-booking and are usually open from 6:30 am. For more information on the Bali zoo, you can check out their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Tegenungan Waterfalls:

Waterfalls are truly a beauty. Adding another one to my list of sightseeing, The Tegenungan Waterfall which remains open every day from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. The entrance to the same is 15,000 Rupiah for adults and 10,000 Rupiah for children. Should you not want to take a bath, do not worry. You can enjoy the scenic beauty, take a walk around the land; bathe, soak, swim; take great display photographs for your social media; try the waterfall swing or jump, and of course indulge in some local food and shopping.

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Tegenungan Waterfalls

Bali Bird Park:

If you love your feathery friends, then the Bali bird Park should garner a mandatory visit. Housing over 1000 birds of around 250 species, the park reflects the natural habitats of Indonesia, Latin America, Africa, Australia, and other places. To satisfy your hunger pangs there exists a restaurant and a café within the precincts. Informative documentaries and short films are screened in the 4D AC cinema hall. Special activities with birds can be pre-booked. The entrance fee for the park is 385,000 Rupiah for adults and 192,500 for children. For more information, you can visit their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Bali Toll Road:

If anyone was to ask me about a near-death experience, I would probably say this toll bridge. It’s a scientific marvel and also scary for a first-timer traveling on the bridge surrounded by pristine waters around as far as your eyes can go, planes zooming right above your head and cars and bikes swooshing past as if you are in a race arena. If you love thrill and adventure, then the Bali Toll Bridge is a must for you. Built over the Gulf of Benoa this 12.7 km long bridge was opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in September 2013 and has been busily used since then by thousands of locals and tourists.

Garuda Wisnu Kencana:

The Garuda or the eagle is the national emblem of Indonesia signifying freedom from oppression. The 120 m height of the statue of Vishnu on Garuda makes it one of the tallest statues in the World. The structure has been designed by renowned Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta. The park is situated on a hillock with the car parking area quite a distance away from the main statue. Car/bike parking costs 10,000 Rupiah while the entrance fee is 125,000 Rupiah. You can walk down the entire stretch or avail the timely bus services provided by the Park between 8 am to 9 pm daily. Vishnu and Garuda are two important mythological icons shared by Hindu-Balinese culture. Here, both adorn Gold Mosaic Crowns. More information about Garuda Wisnu Kencana can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

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Garuda Wisnu Kencana

Going on a Shopping spree:

Bali can be called Shopper’s Paradise.  You would find beautiful curios in the alleyways and shopping lanes of Kuta and also designer dresses, multi-cuisine restaurants and branded cafes and hotels in places like Ubud. Hereunder is a list of things that caught my eyes and some of them made it to my suitcase back home.

  • Colorful Dream catchers
  • Bali Fridge Magnets
  • Sleek and Chic Side Bags
  • Knitted Shrugs
  • Bali curios- Tshirts, Postcards, Caps, Bags, etc.
  • Last but not least local snacks.

bali shopping

It’s that time of the vacation when your heart starts pounding over the thought of having to leave it soon. With only a day left for me to spend, I wanted to spend it well and wisely.  If there was anything about volcanoes that I had read about in the geography books but could not practically see it before- I was about to witness the same. Also, did I mention it’s an active volcano?

More about it next week. . . . . . . .

Bali Day 4

Exploring Ubud: The Culture Hub of Bali

I completely do not agree with time when it zooms by during holidays. With a day gone I had only three more days to spend on this lovely island. Without wasting even a minute I set off for Ubud. Situated around 34 km North of Kuta, there are lots of attractions in and around Ubud which are a must-see during your visit.

Bali Swing:

One of the most popular attractions in the country is the Bali Swing. Though you would find a swing in almost every tourist spot, but this is the best! The Swings are of 10m/15m/20m/78m above the ground. They come in various shapes and sizes including Hanging Nests overlooking stunning views. Most people come with friends or families to sit and relax and take great photographs up in the air. The Bali Swing is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm and the entry charges come in packages 150,000 Rupiah onwards.

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Bali Swing

Campuhan Ridge Walk:

This 6 km Ridgewalk stretched over cobbled roads, water streams, lush fields, and thick foliage is ideal for trekkers. Campuhan translates to the convergence of two rivers. Along the walk, you would come across the Gunung Lebah, a temple at the site of the convergence. Should you be lucky you can also witness the holy ceremony of offerings being performed there. Since this is a trekking road, it is recommended you carry water bottles, boots, wear light but covered clothes, caps and the camera.

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Ridgewalk

Campuhan Waterfall:

Not sure when was the last time I witnessed a waterfall –up close. The Campuhan Waterfall is free-flowing, beautiful, picturesque and armed with of course a Bali Swing. There are special lockers to store your clothes should you be willing to take a dip. The entrance fee is 10,000 Rupiah per person.

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Waterfall

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary:

This isn’t my first tryst with monkeys, but definitely the first with well-behaved ones. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a place that speaks of economy, religion, education, and conservation. With over 700 monkeys and 186 species of biodiversity; the sanctuary welcomes people every day of the week from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm. The entrance fee for adults is 80,000 Rupiah and children, 60,000 Rupiah. It runs on the philosophy of ‘Tri Hita Karana’ or happiness among three parties- humans and humans; humans and environment; and humans with the Supreme God. The conservatory holds three temples- Pura Dalem Agung, Pura Beji and Pura Prajapati. Sharing a quick tip, should you want to save money on entrance fee just ride past the sanctuary on a bike and you’ll almost every time spot monkeys crossing the road.

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Spot the Monkeys!

Goh Gajah (temple):

The Goh Gajah Temple or the Elephant Caves were a 9th-century marvel. This elephant sanctuary depicts Hindu-Buddhist faith motifs throughout the temple structures. The entrance to the temple complex is uniquely marked by seven statues of ladies holding water pitchers. It is said that these ladies depict the seven important rivers of India- Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Sindhu, Kaveri and Narmada. The Temple is a site of archaeological interest as it was re-discovered by Dutch archaeologists in 1923 and the bathing pool was unearthed in 1954. Wearing a Sarong is a must in the temple. Although it is available for hire, but remember I got my own. The entrance fee for the temple is 10,000 Rupiah.

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Main Temple Entrance
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Bathing Pool

Tegalalang Rice Terrace/ Bali Rice Terrace: rice Fields:

If you are looking to spend time amidst a picturesque location, swing on the relaxing Swings, walk along the rice-fields during sunrise/ sunset or shop and eat overlooking rice fields, this is the place for you. With an entrance fee of 20,000 Rupiah per person and a parking fee of 5,000 Rupiah, the fields make for a perfect destination for lovebirds and nature lovers. It is open every day from 7 am till sunset for the visitors.

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Rice Fields

Tirta Empul:

This Hindu-Balinese water temple comprises the main temple, holy spring, and the petirtaan or the bathing structure used for ritualistic purification. It is where the people come for ritual purification. I was lucky enough to witness the same. From children on their mother’s laps to the old, everyone took a dip in the waters of this holy spring. Built around 962 AD during the Warmadewa dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu. A hill overlooking this temple houses a villa built for President Sukarno’s visit in 1954, which now hosts important state dignitaries.

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Main Temple complex
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Holy Spring
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Ritual Purification at petirtaan or bathing pool

Ubud Palace:

Built during the 1800s by Late Ida Tjorkorda Putu Kandel, the Ubud Palace is the house of the rulers of Ubud. It boasts of intricate Balinese architecture complete with a beautifully pruned garden. Today, it is the cultural hub of the city and hosts various cultural shows. Entry to the Ubud Palace is free and open to all from 9 am to 6 pm every day. However, the various cultural shows might require an entry fee and this can be enquired at the entrance.

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Inside Ubud Palace

Ubud Writers Festival:

Unfortunately, I was one day too late. Nevertheless, I would be happy if someday I could return to the Festival. Started in 2004, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is one of the most celebrated literary festivals. Conceptualized as a healing project after the 2002 Bali Bomb blasts, the themes of the festival are drawn from the Hindu-Balinese philosophy. In 2020, the Festival is scheduled from 28 Oct- 1 Nov and the theme is Mulat Sarira or self-reflection.  More information about the Festival is available on Twitter, Instagram, and Website.

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A Glimpse of the hoarding for 2019 edition

Despite traveling for almost 70 km and more there were still many unexplored areas. My third day in Bali was close to Nature, Culture and the Roads! Leaving some glimpses behind.

Bali Day 3

Bali: The Land of Temples and Beaches

A new day refilled me with the zeal to explore this beautiful city and the best way to do it was to go for a walk, just to familiarise myself with the surroundings.  I noticed how despite having a robust nightlife, the city woke up early and completed the Morning Prayer rituals. On the doorstep of each building, you would find prayer offerings for good luck.

The Essentials in Bali:

Right outside Sekhar Bali homestay, you would find many eateries and restaurants offering breakfast.  But if you are on a budget trip then entering the INDOMARET/ MINIMART or ALPHAMART would be the right thing to do. You would get a variety of food in each of these stores (The prices may differ) – fruit cups, muesli, cup noodles – things that cause less hassle. It is recommended to stock up your inventory, should you be staying in Bali for a few days.

My next aim was to find a cheap and sustaining SIM Card. Since I was traveling internationally, it was cheaper to buy a Balinese SIM than pay the huge roaming charges deducted by my local SIM back in India. You get a number of SIM cards but I chose to opt for simPATI. A SIM card would cost around 20,000 -30,000 Rupiah. Some stores might ask for more and it is up to you to settle for a higher price or negotiate.

For traveling at ease one would require personal transport.  Bikes can be hired at 60,000-75,000 Rupiah per day (a little negotiation is required here!). There are options for hiring cabs from hotels/ resorts for sightseeing or you can opt for package sightseeing tours. All these options would depend on how much are you willing to spend.

Another MUST HAVE is a Sarong. It is a traditional lower body garment that needs to be worn by men and women when entering temples. Though all temples and religious sites have the provision of lending Sarongs to the tourists; but I chose to buy one- more as a memory. They come in different price ranges but mine cost 30,000 Rupiah.

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Colorful Sarongs for Sale 

With a ready backpack full of tour essentials – dry food, water bottle, Sarong, SIM, mobile charger, Purse, Cap/ Straw Hat, and medicines, I set off on my Bali tour.

Tanah Lot – The Land in the Sea:

Located around 30 km from Denpasar, Tanah Lot literally translates to Land in the Sea since during high tide; the temple seems to be floating on water. The area is surrounded by many Caves thought to have been created by Sea Snakes. Tourists are not to disturb the caves or the snakes (if spotted). Legend has it that the temple was built in the erstwhile village of Beraban in around 15th-16th century to honor the teachings of Dang Hyang Dwijendra by his disciples from the village. The original inhabitants of Beraban believed in monotheism until touched by the teachings of Dwijendra. The Temple Festival takes place every 210 days according to the Balinese Calendar.

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Tanah Lot Temple
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Walking across the Caves 

Since I happened to visit during low tide, I could walk around the place. It is advised to wear sneakers or sturdy shoes as the land is quite muddy and slippery. However, being situated right beside the sea, it has a great view which is utilized by every tourist by taking numerous photographs. The land around the temple has been developed for tourists and now hosts numerous eateries and souvenir shops.

Nusa Dua Beach:

My lunch consisted of one of the finest meatballs and fruit ice tea I had ever tasted and all under 20,000 Rupiah!  My next destination was the Nusa Dua Beach meaning ‘two islands’. Nusa Dua was developed as a tourist destination since the 1970s. The beautiful beach often becomes the hotspot for day trips as numerous eateries, water sports and resorts have developed nearby to provide all the amenities to the tourists. Should you be lucky you can also find a shell or two – like I did.

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People at Play 

Kuta Beach:

It was nearing sunset and I decided to head back near the homestay and explore the Kuta or the Sunset Beach. Formerly a fishing village, Kuta is now a developed tourist destination as it accommodates budget travelers and is near to the airport. Kuta is a bathing beach and visitors are allowed to have a gala time till around 5/6 pm. Souvenirs and drinks are also available on the beach; however, to keep it clean, food is not! But not to worry, cross the road and you would find some of the biggest food brands and shopping pavilions to indulge yourself in.

Bali War Memorial:

My last stop before I retired for the day was the Bali War Memorial. Back in October 2002, the city was a victim of terrible bombings which saw almost 200 deaths. The victims were of different nationalities and to pay homage to those who lost their lives, the Bali War Memorial was built on the site of Paddy’s Pub, one of the sights of the bombings; on the second anniversary of the bombings in 2004.  The Memorial consists of a large plaque made of marble with the names and nationalities of the victims written on them.  The monument also has the flags of all the nationalities who lost their lives. The Kuta Karnival is a ceremony and celebration held in October to honor the lives of the deceased. Over time, the activity became a major tourist attraction and a PR-able event. During the Karnival most pubs and the Kuta beach have various activities; water sports competitions and something for everyone. It embraces and celebrates peaceful diversity.

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Bali War Memorial 

I ended my day happy and satisfied with the sightseeing so far. But was also excited for all the mesmerizing sights I would see the next day. I leave you all the glimpses of some of them.

More coming up next week. . . . . . .

bali_2

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.