INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 5): GLORIOUS CITY OF LAKES

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 5): GLORIOUS CITY OF LAKES

It is a crime not to fall in love with the City of Lakes. Udaipur is as romantic as it is luxurious. Unlike its neighboring Rajasthani towns, Udaipur is more relaxed and laidback. A single trip isn’t enough to appreciate fully Udaipur’s beauty and charm.

I stayed at the lovely 5-star Trident Hotel, and although the property is a bit dated, the service was top-notch nonetheless. I fancied their swimming pool so much, which overlooks the gorgeous Lake Pichola, that I just lounged there for almost half a day (for the very first time during my entire India trip) to read a book and master the art of doing nothing.

Udaipur is a city that has tons of culture and sceneries to offer for first time visitors. Based on my personal experience, what makes this city unique compared to the other Indian towns I’ve visited is the entire experience of traversing Lake Pichola on a commercial motorboat. Seeing the picturesque Udaipur sunset, with the lake and the mountains as its backdrop, was definitely the perfect ending to cap off my little Indian rendezvous.


For an obsessive-compulsive traveler like me, detailed itineraries and maps are my bible whenever I visit a new destination. It’s almost second-nature to me to plan ahead for my trips — by creating a dozen pages of daily schedules; developing comprehensive street maps and public transport points; and drafting a list of must-see, must-do, must-eat, and a myriad of other must-tries.

But why did I dare take a solo adventure — without itineraries and not having properly research about the place at all — to a distant, foreign country such as India?

For some people, they call it “bravery.” Yes, I traveled solo. But technically, I also didn’t. I was actually traveling with a concierge. The concept may sound foreign to some travelers my age, especially for people who are used to backpacking and traveling free-and-easy. Being escorted by a professional local travel companion makes all the difference.

I wandered in India with Ravishing India Holidays, a luxury tour operator headquartered in Singapore which specializes in travel concierge services in this rich, beautiful South Asian region. With a personal concierge who will help craft your itinerary even before you arrive and who will customize it depending on your mood and requirements while you are on journey, everything became easier and more fun than I expected it to be.

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 4): A SALUTE TO THE ELEPHANTS OF RAJASTHAN

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 4): A SALUTE TO THE ELEPHANTS OF RAJASTHAN

It was David Rocco in his TV show ‘Dolce India’ that first inspired me to visit Rajasthan. My fourth day in India (and second day in Jaipur) was supposed to start with a hot air balloon ride, but the humidity that morning didn’t really permit us to fly. That also meant I didn’t have to wake up way too early.

As an alternative to the balloon ride, we rode a Rajasthani elephant instead as we climbed up the hilly Amber Fort. We were greeted by assertive sellers on our way up and this urged me to purchase a beautiful small acrylic art painted on a satin cloth which I still keep today. Upon reaching the top of the fort, I was amazed at the magnificent view of the town as it was unlike any other.

Jaipur is also popularly known as a “Pink City” as the walls surrounding the city center are built and painted in shades of pink (terracotta pink in particular). Painting the houses and buildings in pink was mandated by the local government many years ago. It’s amazing how they still managed to preserve this unique tradition.

Check out some of the photos I took during my trip:


For an obsessive-compulsive traveler like me, detailed itineraries and maps are my bible whenever I visit a new destination. It’s almost second-nature to me to plan ahead for my trips — by creating a dozen pages of daily schedules; developing comprehensive street maps and public transport points; and drafting a list of must-see, must-do, must-eat, and a myriad of other must-tries.

But why did I dare take a solo adventure — without itineraries and not having properly research about the place at all — to a distant, foreign country such as India?

For some people, they call it “bravery.” Yes, I traveled solo. But technically, I also didn’t. I was actually traveling with a concierge. The concept may sound foreign to some travelers my age, especially for people who are used to backpacking and traveling free-and-easy. Being escorted by a professional local travel companion makes all the difference.

I wandered in India with Ravishing India Holidays, a luxury tour operator headquartered in Singapore which specializes in travel concierge services in this rich, beautiful South Asian region. With a personal concierge who will help craft your itinerary even before you arrive and who will customize it depending on your mood and requirements while you are on journey, everything became easier and more fun than I expected it to be.

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 3): UNVEILING MIGHTY JAIPUR

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 3): UNVEILING MIGHTY JAIPUR

IT TOOK US FIVE HOURS to travel from Agra to Jaipur by car, and the road to the Pink City was another eye-opening journey on its own.

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Around 50 km away from our destination, we were greeted by an old goat herder by the roadside who was hoping to earn a bundle of rupees from us by selling his goats. We took a few minutes to admire his flock, and also his aged yet lively face. He was undeniably a man full of joy. He didn’t understand a word I said in English, but kept smiling nonetheless. With no plans of buying any livestock, we posed beside his goats for a photo-taking session instead and handed a few loose bills as a gratitude for our intrusion. We then hit the road once again en route to the famed Rajasthani Batman prison.

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Hours later, we found ourselves in front of the largest and deepest stepwell in India, just nearby Jaipur: the Chand Baori in Abhaneri, Rajasthan. Probably more known in the Hollywood world as Batman’s exotic prison in the film, The Dark Knight Rises, this national treasure has been constructed back in AD 800 and is no longer used at present. Despite its illustrious past, stunning architecture, and grand exposure in local and international movies such as The Fall and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Chand Baori has slackened in its appeal among tourists, overshadowed by other nearby Jaipur attractions. Like any other ancient ruins in India, you will find various stone relics as ornaments surrounding the stepwell. The relics range from Lord Vishnu to the goddesses and the muses of the Hindu religion. Although the stepwell has become unpopular among tourists, it has been an uncanny detour for me nonetheless to see such grandness in person.

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A hundred meters away from Chand Baori is the old temple of Harsidhhi Mata, the Happy Mother god. Dated and tired, the temple on a hill has been an almost forgotten landmark in Rajasthan. Stepping on the topmost area of the temple you will discover the gorgeous view of the village and their rustic way of life — the women in their colorful red, yellow, orange garments riding dusty jeeps; locals selling extravagant-looking carpets in their shops; and the idle old people sitting by the entrance of their homes while shooing houseflies.

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Mighty Jaipur, the land of the maharajahs and the capital of the kingdom of Rajasthan, punched me back to my senses upon entering their city. It was all but a vibrant scene: donkeys roaming, hogs scavenging in the piles of trash, women in striking pink veils begging for alms with their kids slung on their arms, horse carriages with their masters enduring the afternoon heat, Quran’s melodious call to prayer trumpeting on the streets, men happily chatting, loud honks of impatient drivers stuck in traffic, the pink-colored walls covered in hundred years of grime, and the holy cows sitting pretty in the middle of the streets as if they were real majesties — well technically they are majesties in India.

In Jaipur, I checked in at 47 Jobner Bagh,a cozy family guest house which was of excellent boutique hotel standards. That same night, Rajat (my concierge) brought me to the Amber Fort Light Show. Worn-down by the traveling and the lack of sleep for the past few days, I hesitated to leave the hotel at first, but curiosity won over me. Rajat and I were sitting in an outdoor theatre-like elevated platform while overlooking one side of the Amber Fort which was then still hidden behind the darkness of the night. With the breezy Jaipur winds blowing to our direction and the beautiful star-filled sky illuminating the surrounding, I can’t help but tear up as I said quietly to myself — I can’t believe I’m in India and everything has been amazing so far. And then they started playing the music and the lights that were happily dancing in beguiling synergy against the historical fort as the backdrop.

I remembered the Hindi phrase that Rajat thought me earlier that day: Kush Raho (Be Happy). I slept that night happy, blessed, and contented.

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For an obsessive-compulsive traveler like me, detailed itineraries and maps are my bible whenever I visit a new destination. It’s almost second-nature to me to plan ahead for my trips — by creating a dozen pages of daily schedules; developing comprehensive street maps and public transport points; and drafting a list of must-see, must-do, must-eat, and a myriad of other must-tries.

But why did I dare take a solo adventure — without itineraries and not having properly research about the place at all — to a distant, foreign country such as India?

For some people, they call it “bravery.” Yes, I traveled solo. But technically, I also didn’t. I was actually traveling with a concierge. The concept may sound foreign to some travelers my age, especially for people who are used to backpacking and traveling free-and-easy. Being escorted by a professional local travel companion makes all the difference.

I wandered in India with Ravishing India Holidays, a luxury tour operator headquartered in Singapore which specializes in travel concierge services in this rich, beautiful South Asian region. With a personal concierge who will help craft your itinerary even before you arrive and who will customize it depending on your mood and requirements while you are on journey, everything became easier and more fun than I expected it to be.

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 2) | BY THE RIVER YAMUNA

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 2) | BY THE RIVER YAMUNA

WHILE ON THE ROAD FROM DELHI TO AGRA — I woke up dazed from a nap: “Are we there yet?” 

For someone who is used to sleeping at least eight hours a day, the past few days of transiting from one place to the other with little amount of sleep has been physically taxing. Right before I checked out from the Maidens Hotel in Delhi, I took four individual 500 mg of Vitamin C just to boost up my immune system. I keep telling myself that I can’t afford to fall sick.

The three hour drive from Delhi to Agra became an opportunity for me to know my concierge a little bit better — after all, he is my primary key to understanding India.

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“I was a software engineer previously. Now I’m a travel concierge after pursuing my passion. I dream of visiting all the places in India and working as a concierge makes me do that, and also a way for me to help others travelers who wish to explore India,” Rajat explained with his eyes lighting up every time he mentions his favorite buzzword: travel. He was sitting in the car’s passenger seat as he constantly turns his head towards me who was sitting at the back while engaging me in a banter. Rajat, who hails from a middle class and an educated Indian family, has family members who are all achievers: a dad who’s a businessman; a mom who’s a teacher; an older brother who has completed MBA; and a sister who’s a future lawyer. And typical to most Indian families, they consider education and careers as a family’s gauge of success.

The modestly dressed Rajat broke barriers for choosing his passion in travel as opposed to working in the engineering line. It does seem like India’s siloed traditions are indeed progressively changing among the younger generation.

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While on the road, Agra shook me from my casual intermittent car naps upon hearing the melodious honks of passenger buses and trucks aggressively cutting our way. Although “Mr. Singh-our driver” knew how to manage these vehicles (which were probably powered by gas and a mix of extreme caffeine), I still fastened my seat belt for security reasons nonetheless.

Agra is how I imagined it to be: a city born out from a historical and beautiful time-lapse. Everything seemed to be a mix of the old and a constant struggle to bring in the new. In one street you will find a row of worn-out barber shops, fruit stalls, and car/bike repair shops and in another, you will see a spectacle of Western influences such McDonald’s (which is branded in India as a family restaurant), Costa Coffee, and the signages of luxury hotel brands proliferating in every possible street lamp post possible.

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My first stop in Agra was to bring a bag of clothes and candy packs to the orphans of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (Prem Dan | 8 Ajmer Road, Pratappura, Agra 282001). Visiting the orphanage only days after Mother Teresa’s canonization as a saint was truly a humbling experience.

“Mother Teresa walked in these same halls,” I was brimming with joy. I was impressed by the generous space and cleanliness of the whole foundation — I felt at home myself. 

Unfortunately, the kids were taking their afternoon naps when we arrived. We took a peek at some of the children’s rooms and found some kids who were already awake in their individual cribs. Some of them were smiling when they saw us. They seem to be very used to seeing random strangers visiting them. 

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The nun who gave us a tour passed me two medallions which bore the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which I immediately kept in my wallet — “my mom will be very happy to see these,” I told myself.

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Already famished, we ordered two cold glasses of Masala Lime Soda and a plate of deep-fried vegetable fritters at probably the most unique cafe I’ve been to in my life: the Sheroes Hangout (Opposite The Gateway Hotel, Taj View Chowraha, Fatehabad Road, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001). The cafe, fronted by a brightly-colored graffiti wall outside, is run by a group of courageous women who were all victims of horrendous “acid attacks” by men in their respective locales. These girls who all had a bad past decided to start anew and build a non-profit organization and a cafe to inspire other acid victims.

When you order food from them, the prices are not shown at all as you are free to donate any amount of money for the items you’ve eaten — it can be as little as a dollar and can be big as hundred bucks. 

**Story on ‘An Encounter with the Acid Victims’ – to be published on this blog separately soon**   

We then picked up Mr. Babar, my new tour guide in Agra. Upon setting foot in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Agra Fort, the second most famous landmark in Agra, its red brick walls which stands by the river Yamuna shone brighter than ever as Mr. Babar narrated the rich history behind the 16th century walled city. Probably outshone by the nearby and more popular monument, the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort remains an important landmark in India housing various Mughal rulers in the past, such as Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Shah Jan (who built the Taj Majal as a mausoleum in loving memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal) was later imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb in the same fort.

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With Mr. Babar, my Agra tour guide

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At one of the terraces in the Red Fort’s palace, I got a glimpse of the Taj Majal. It was surreal feeling seeing this glorious and iconic monument from afar, just across the river Yamuna and less than 3 km away from the Red Fort. Now I understand why it became the inspiration of the Sultan’s Palace in the animated film Aladdin. It was magical — and I couldn’t wait to visit it the next day.

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Later that evening, we then headed to a central market where we bought boxes of petha, an extremely sweet rectangular-sized soft candy made from winter melon or white pumpkin. Pethas were first introduced in the kitchens of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan which dates back to more than 300 years ago. Nowadays, these petha shops offer a multitude of flavors from coconut, chocolate, and pistachio. But to err in the side of caution, I ordered the regular dry pethas instead.

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We walked briefly to experience the markets that night. The alleys were dimly lit, barely illumined by lamp posts and cars passing by. In one little corner just across the temple of Ganesha, locals  — of different age and gender — scampered for food that were given for free by the temple administrators. In Hindu calendar, they will soon be celebrating one of the major festivals in honor of the elephant-headed god and the free food rations are given as part of their customs. I was told not to go further inside the markets as there are cases of pickpocketing.

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By around 8 p.m., we had dinner at Pinch of Spicean affordable Punjabi fine dining restaurant which presents a fusion of Indian, Western and Chinese menu. I got surprised to see Singaporean noodles on the list — I’m not in anyway eager to eat anything Singaporean at this point of time anyway. Typical to most lavish Punjabi restaurants, Pinch of Spice also plays around with golden mirrors, sparkling chandeliers, and modern furniture.

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Overfed from garlic naans, chili chicken, and malai kofta, I then headed back to my hotel at Radisson Blu Taj East Gate for an hour of Indian deep-tissue massage at their Alive Spa before capping off the day.

I kept my alarm nearby as I need to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise and the opening of the Taj Mahal gates the next day. Another adventure awaits the following day…


Read my Day 1 in India: Delhi


I wandered in India with Ravishing India Holidays, a luxury tour operator headquartered in Singapore which specializes in travel concierge services in this rich, beautiful South Asian region. With a personal concierge who will help craft your itinerary even before you arrive and who will customize it depending on your mood and requirements while you are on journey, everything became easier and more fun than I expected it to be.

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 1) | A DELHI IMMERSION

INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 1) | A DELHI IMMERSION

I DREAMT ABOUT INDIA. And the next day I woke up there — amidst the saffrons, the maharajas, and the sacred cows. At first, it was but an elusive dream. Possibly on top of this year’s personal bucket list. And yet I mustered the courage to embark on a solo journey to a destination no one dared to go with me.

They were scared, as I was scared, only because it is a destination unknown. But the only difference between us is the intensity of valour we carried. As I flew to my destination, I took a pill to Delhi filled with a dosage of curiosity and a dash of openness in search of meaning — and of course, a great holiday. 

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DAY 1 (September 08, 2016), Delhi — I woke up from my red-eye Singapore Airlines flight in languid Delhi, a morning setting I wasn’t really expecting. After all, Delhi in my mind was supposed to be hustling and bustling anytime of the day. As the sun was rising at around 6:30 a.m., my private shuttle picked me up from the airport to drive me to my hotel while passing by the barely awakened city.

“Welcome to India,” exclaimed Monu Pandey, my warm and affable travel concierge who I later fondly called by his nickname, Rajat. “Here’s your mobile internet dongle,” he added. It seems like my concierge was sensitive enough to pick up the basic needs of his Instagram-hogging millennial guest.

I immediately messaged my family and friends that I’ve reached India which was reciprocated by an onslaught of questions and some prudent advice: so how does India look like? Is it really safe there? Don’t drink tap water! Be careful with your belongings!

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Upon arriving at the Maidens Hotel (7, Sham Nath Marg, Civil Lines, New Delhi), Rajat requested for my early check-in from the front desk to give me sufficient time to freshen up and to feed my then grumbling tummy with a hearty Indian breakfast. (Always a personal joy to take shower after a flight!)

*Checking-in story on Maidens Hotel – to be published separately soon.*

Hotel Facade

Hotel Facade

After an hour of freshening up, I was picked up from the hotel by Rajat, Mr. Singh (our driver), and the other Mr. Singh (my local tour guide for the day). While Rajat acted as my personal concierge who took care of my daily itinerary and individual requests, “Mr. Singh – the tour guide,” became more of my local insider who knew the ins and outs of the town.

We then headed to Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest Muslim mosques in Old Delhi. This was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the same person who was responsible for the construction of the world-famous Taj Mahal.

“Built in 1640s, the Jama Masjid is made from red sandstone and white marble…” Mr. Singh continued his engaging monologues. I was eagerly making mental notes on these gazillion historical facts, as if there was an exam afterwards.

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While walking around the mosque in the hot afternoon sun, I was approached by a teenager, and later, by two of his girl friends to have selfies taken with me. I later knew that they fancy taking selfies with random tourists to brag the photos to their other friends.

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Around a kilometer away from the mosque, we traveled by foot to scurry the busy and grungy streets of Chandni Chowk. Despite being almost hit by rickshaws and men carrying sacks of spices, everything was a euphoric experience nonetheless. I haven’t felt more alive than this — I am at the heart of pulsating Delhi!

As if I wasn’t courageous enough, I took a bite on a paan that was offered and prepared by a barefooted hawker vendor sitting in little corner of the street. On a betel leaf, he smeared a generous amount of brown paste and drizzled some nuts inside before wrapping the leaf and passing his little creation to me. Unabashedly, I chewed it like it was some sort of candy, only to find out that I’ve actually tasted a similar concoction before. Closer to home, the betel mixture the vendor offered me is almost the same leafy nganga in the Philippines that my grandmother chews in addiction everyday when she was still alive. Didn’t know it had Indian origins!

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From the rows of shops selling lord Ganesha and other religious figurines, to a striking array of bridal accessories, festival costumes, home decors, golds & silvers sold everywhere, Chandi Chowk was undeniably a maze of elaborate markets tangled in the daily lives and culture of the residents in Delhi.

Delighting my sense of smell was the nearby spice market of Khari Baoli — I was sneezing from the strong, beguiling scents of cinnamon, onions, chili peppers, and jasmine flowers. We then climbed one of the old buildings only to discover the charm of Old Delhi’s city view up on the rooftop:

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After a stretch of long walks, we then decided to take a short pit stop at the TIME Magazine-acclaimed Karim’s(Kalan Mehal, Chandni Chowk) for a plateful of mouthwatering roti, tandooris, and kebabs. This humble Mughal-inspired, non-vegetarian eatery hidden in the middle of the foodie streets of Chandni Chowk wasn’t a letdown at all (est. SG$10 for 2 pax).

“Eat with your hands — this is how we do it here,” Mr. Singh encouraged with a smile. As they say: if you are in Rome, do what the Romans do, and so I ate with my bare hands and it turned out to be a (handful and) tasty meal.

Later in the afternoon, we visited one of the Sikh’s house of worship, the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. Sikhism is the fourth largest religion in India with many of its followers located in the region of Punjab. Following their beliefs and principles, they grow their hairs very long and wear turbans as a profession of their love to god.

Unknown to many, the Sikhs hold 24/7 free kitchens in their centers for people of all castes, races, and religions. Thousands of people flock their free kitchens everyday — especially the poor and the homeless — where they get served freshly baked rotis and bowls of lentil soups. I was amazed by their deep generosity and selfless philosophy. Served in clean plates and in large portions, the rationed food looked really pleasantly good.

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Sikh’s free kitchen where everyone sits in orderly rows while they wait for their turn to be served.

We toured the center’s back kitchen area where dozens of volunteers happily prepare the daily dishes:

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Our last stop for the day was the Raisana Hill, the seat of government in India where you’ll see the Rashtraprati Bhavan, the official residence of India’s President, and the Secretariat Building which houses the Prime Minister. Clean, wide and nicely paved roads welcome you to this part of New Delhi which is a true testament of the rich modernization happening in the country.

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Nearby is the war memorial, India Gate.

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For an obsessive-compulsive traveler like me, detailed itineraries and maps are my bible whenever I visit a new destination. It’s almost second-nature to me to plan ahead for my trips — by creating a dozen pages of daily schedules; developing comprehensive street maps and public transport points; and drafting a list of must-see, must-do, must-eat, and a myriad of other must-tries.

But why did I dare take a solo adventure — without itineraries and not having properly research about the place at all — to a distant, foreign country such as India?

For some people, they call it “bravery.” Yes, I traveled solo. But technically, I also didn’t. I was actually traveling with a concierge. The concept may sound foreign to some travelers my age, especially for people who are used to backpacking and traveling free-and-easy. Being escorted by a professional local travel companion makes all the difference.

I wandered in India with Ravishing India Holidays, a luxury tour operator headquartered in Singapore which specializes in travel concierge services in this rich, beautiful South Asian region. With a personal concierge who will help craft your itinerary even before you arrive and who will customize it depending on your mood and requirements while you are on journey, everything became easier and more fun than I expected it to be.

WHERE TO GO: YOGYAKARTA, THE LAND OF THE FORGOTTEN

WHERE TO GO: YOGYAKARTA, THE LAND OF THE FORGOTTEN

Upon setting foot in the enigmatic town of Yogyakarta (often loosely called Jogja/Jogjakarta by locals), I felt a strong sense of idiosyncrasy. What seemed to be an utterly beguiling Javanese region in Indonesia remains to be displaced over time — stuck in its enchanting 16th century culture; enamored by its long and winding traditions.

A town where modernity seemed to have been thrown to oblivion, as it has been overshadowed by its glorious, sparkling past.

Reminiscing about Jogja now, I can’t help but hear constant harmonious gongs in my head. Jogja, after all is perfect tapestry of traditional music and dance. At one point you will find yourself engrossed with an old lady’s melodious voice singing the verses of the fabled Ramayana; the next few hours you will probably find yourself embracing the sophisticated rhythmic ritual steps of Kraton’s Srimpi dancers; and most likely the next day — you wake up chasing after the elusive dance of the sovereign morning sun, probably naughtily hiding behind the majestic blue Borobudur clouds.

At 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning at the 9th century-built Borobudur Temple, I was anything but awake. The strong Javanese coffee I bought at the temple grounds didn’t help to rouse me either — I was physically there, but not really there. When sunlight finally loomed over the beautiful stupas of Borobudur, I regained my senses back.

The world’s largest and most important Buddhist temple, Borobudur houses over 500+ Buddha relics alongside 72 stupas encircling the whole complex. With both Indonesian and India’s Gupta-inspired art adorning the temple, Borobodur was said to have been abandoned in the 14th century after the rise of Islam in Indonesia and was only later re-discovered in the 19th century by the British invaders.

Crisscrossing the roads of Yogyakarta, we scrambled in search for good food. Our tummies indulged in gluttony, enjoying local dishes such as the variations of the nasi (rice),the sweet-and-savory gudeg (cooked jackfruit), and the gourmet version of their instant noodles – the bakmi (meat noodles). I’ve always been a fan of Indonesia food, but Javanese now probably is more than special in my list. 

Aside from music and food, Yogyakarta also boasts a myriad of philosophies mixed with world and local religions that are deeply ingrained in their communities. Although a big population consider themselves as Muslims, other unorthodox superstitions such as worshiping the dead, the rocks, and the seas, still remain intact in some people’s present way of life.

In Indonesia’s cradle of civilization, Yogyakarta’s allure is as complex as its beauty and as enriching as its culture.

YOGYAKARTA ITINERARY: How we spent our three (3) days in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Friday:

Flight from Singapore to Yogyakarta (via AirAsia) — Lunch at a local eatery — Check In at the Hotel (Dusun Jogja Village Inn) —  1-hour Massage — Buffet dinner at Gazebo Garden Restaurant — Ramaayana Ballet

Saturday:

3:30 a.m. Sunrise Tour of Borobudur Temple — Pawon Temple — Mendut Temple — Prambanan Temple — 1-hour Massage — Dinner (local bakmi eatery) 

Sunday:

10 a.m. at Kraton — Water Castle — Bought seafood from the market — Depok Beach for lunch (we asked the restaurant to cook the seafood we bought from the market) — Parangtritis — Check In at New Hotel (Gallery Prawirotaman Hotel) — Dinner at Warung Bu Ageng (Jl. Tirtodipuran)

Tour Operator: Mr. Suprapto (mobile: +62 856 2876044 / email ad: discoveryogyakarta@yahoo.com)

Tour Package Rate: IDR 5.300.000 / SGD 550 for 2 pax (inclusive of entrance to temples and car services, excluding food)

CHECKING IN: 47 JOBNER BAGH IN JAIPUR, INDIA

CHECKING IN: 47 JOBNER BAGH IN JAIPUR, INDIA

“Paolo, do you speak Italian?” asked Mr. Siva, the 52-year old owner of the 12-key boutique hotel, 47 Jobner Bagh in Jaipur, India where I stayed for two nights.

“My name, Paolo Antonio, sounds very Italian, but I but I don’t speak the language at all,” I replied defensively. I felt the need to tell him about the origin of my Mediterranean-sounding name, but there wasn’t really a point I suppose. “Your hotel is really nice,” I said while he instructed one of his staff to serve me some afternoon snacks — a cheese sandwich and a glass of hot chai tea — as his personal way of welcoming me.

Mr. Siva is a jeweller and has been trading golds and gems between India and Italy in the last three decades. These are all crafted from his little town in Jaipur and are sold in cities such as Milan. His hotel estate, which was formerly owned by the maharajas of Jobner Bagh, was awarded to him back in the day as part of the government ruling to pass some of the lands to its townsmen. Instead of typically building a house or a commercial center just like what his other friends did after winning their own pieces of land, he envisioned that his property will turn into a beautiful luxury homestay someday. “I prefer to live a good life instead and build something I will enjoy running,” he quips. His house has now turned into a luxury boutique hotel for short staying guests, and is now managed by his eldest daughter.

Italian-inspired (with a little mix of Greek and Scandinavian) architecture and interiors were very much apparent at 47 Jobner Bagh. With a lush garden, freshly white-painted pillars & walls, simple yet sophisticated use of wood, Mr. Siva’s 47 Jobner Bagh stood in its glory amidst the chaos of city-living in zesty Jaipur.

My room was spacious and cozy, despite getting initially creeped out by an old photo frame hanging at the opposite end of my bed that displayed a sepia image of an Indian lady in traditional saree. I figured the simplest solution I had then was to cover the frame with a blanket while I sleep.

The next morning, I climbed the hotel’s rooftop and was embraced by a perfect sunrise: appeasing and uplifting. The rooftop was an excellent area to find solace and peace, with the perfect view of a nearby mountain. I was in a happy place.

I tried looking for Mr. Siva upon checking out, only to learn that he had to fly out to Italy for some urgent business appointments the night before. I wanted to shake his hands and thank him for a wonderful stay at his house.

The man was a true testament to what India is now in the face of modernity: forward-thinking, but still considers his past indispensable, and his family as home.

Jaipur at night

Where to stay in Jaipur: 47 Jobner Bagh (www.jobnerbagh.com)

Address: Near Chandpol Metro Station T3, Chandpol Police Line, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India.

Phone: +91 141 402 2187

CHECKING IN: WANDERLUST HOTEL, SINGAPORE

CHECKING IN: WANDERLUST HOTEL, SINGAPORE

It was during the festive eve of Chinese New Year (CNY) when we checked in at the four-storey boutique hotel of Wanderlust Hotelone of the three unique Singapore properties under the Unlisted Collection (the other two are Hotel 1929 and the Majestic Hotel). Ironically, we unconsciously strayed away from anything traditionally Chinese that CNY weekend — from choosing a hotel situated in the peppy neighborhood of Little India to indulging in pratas, chicken briyanis, and paneer tikkas from nearby hawkers.

The hotel was an easy five-minute walk from the Rochor MRT station, and the streets that lead you to Wanderlustwelcome you with an uncanny yet cozy feeling: Are we still in Singapore?” I asked myself a couple of times.

With a slightly unfamiliar scene — roti prata stalls at every street corner, rows of old shop houses painted in unabashed colors, and friendly locals in their saris & kurtas — I can’t help but think: ‘Did we get transported somewhere far away from the little red dot?’ No, not all. We are still in Singapore, and yet I’m seeing a different facet of the same city-state. I am somewhere in the same city, but with its own distinct sense of culture and heritage. It is still Singapore, but you get immersed in a space where there is a strong Indian influence.

HOTEL LOBBY

Unlike other hotels that greet you with high ceiling lobbies, fancy chandeliers, and a room full of majestic mirrors, Wanderlust presents to you an unusual box of crayons: a space that will excite your imagination and a fun playground that sparks inspiration. Just look at the colorful retro wall they have near the reception counter and the foosball table they placed in the lobby — strange combinations, but they excite your inner playfulness.

The hotel has a total of 29 unique rooms and was designed by award-winning Singaporean agencies: Asylum,phunk studio and fFurious.

THE ROOM

Our room was a unique story on its own: the almost-bare looking room (white walls, wooden floors, and queen-sized bed with fresh white linens) took a different persona, thanks to the color changing LED lights on the ceiling and by the bedside. I personally prefer the blue lights as it was easier to the eyes versus the other striking colors.

Thanks to the Wanderlust team for welcoming us with this special note and a bottle of the Singapore Sling:

The hotel also offers the every reliable Handy phone which you can use to access the internet and to also place local and international calls (select destinations).

Another remarkable feature of our room is the spacious shower area/toilet with the vintage-looking black-and-white tiles, which I totally dig because of its whole ’80s vibe.

DINING

Breakfast was served at the French-inspired, Cocotte . The morning menu included a mix of Western favorites: Sweet Potato Pancake, Bacon Egg Sandwich, Full Breakfast (bacon, sausage, hash brown, egg, caramelized onion, ham & tomato), and a couple of other sweet & savory a la carte combinations. A variety of bread, pastries, cereals, and fruits were also available at the little food counter in the corner.

POOL AREA

The outdoor area features a colorful mini-pool, a mini-garden, and view of the neighboring houses in Little India. I can imagine having pool parties and bbq gatherings with my friends if I only have this cute area in my backyard.

EXTERIORS:

Wanderlust Hotel. Address: 2 Dickson Rd, Singapore 209494. www.wanderlusthotel.com. T: 6396 3322.

CHECKING IN: FILIPINO CHARM AT LAS CASAS FILIPINAS DE ACUZAR

CHECKING IN: FILIPINO CHARM AT LAS CASAS FILIPINAS DE ACUZAR

It has taken me six months before I managed to upload these photos. Apologies for the tardiness! But since I’ve got plenty of awesome photos, it’s a mortal sin not to share them here. As they say, it’s better late than never.

Our family celebrated New Year’s Eve/Day (2017) at the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan and it was nothing but a splendid experience. It was a rich immersion on Philippine history, arts, and culture. This heritage resort brought me back to my childhood and my parents/grandparents’ childhood too.

Here I found the integral elements what makes our country uniquely Filipino: capiz shell houses, Lola Basyang, sorbetes, palosebos, kalabaw, sungka, simbang gabi, puto bumbong, sayawan sa plaza, and many more.

SHEROES HANGOUT AGRA: CAFE BY ACID ATTACK VICTIMS

SHEROES HANGOUT AGRA: CAFE BY ACID ATTACK VICTIMS

A venue where a new wave of feminism evolves every day to overcome the challenges faced by women in South-Asian societies and cultures.

When I stepped into Sheroes Hangout, I was oblivious of my surroundings and the history this little cafe holds. I left their hangout completely full — with all the inspiring stories I managed to digest that afternoon.

Situated by the roadside of Fatehabad in Agra (opposite the 5-star The Gateway Hotel), Sheroes Hangout has become the beacon of light for many acid attack victims in India. Aside from providing shelter, Sheroes also offers opportunities for these women victims to have another chance at life: to become cooks, cafe managers, waitresses, artists, and entrepreneurs. They become renewed and more empowered women whose voices matter in the society.

Acid throwing is still very much prevalent in some parts of India. Most of these unfortunate cases happen in scenarios where these women reject the marriage proposals or sexual advances by men in their local communities. These attackers use sulfuric/nitric acids and they throw them on women with the intention of damaging and burning their most prized physical asset, their faces. More than the scarred faces, these horrific traumas create deep scars in their already lowly lives.

At the cafe, Rajat (my travel concierge) and I ordered masala drinks and some deep-fried snacks. I must say, their food was delicious! I was told that these dishes don’t have any price tags in the menu as you are free to donate any amount of money instead in exchange for the food you just ate.

After months/years of hiding in the closet, afraid of getting ridiculed by the society, these exceptional women have found a new sense of confidence and are now slowly getting their lives back with the beautiful smiles on their faces.

Sheroes Hangout is an initiative of Stop Acid Attack organization. Tel: +91 562 400 0401.