Thursday, January 19, 2017

Royal Caribbean, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket

Found the answer to a question which was on my mind for a long time."What if my wife is a spoilsport traveler? " I'm generally a bit overenthusiastic about my travels and I seem to be saving up my energy resources for the rest of the year, so I can use it on my vacation. More or less have this mentality that over the course of the vacation I will not let ill-health, tiredness or just lack of interest, get in my way. There's always time for all those things once I'm back home. The holiday is to enjoy, see new places, live. So I'm kinda keen that my travel partners have the same attitude. So the question. And to answer it in the simplest way: She's perfect. We might have our differences with the time keeping and culinary tastes, but she shares my enthusiasm more or less and that is all that matters.

The travel bug had bitten me again and the planning mode was ON. Not quite as obsessive as Indonesia but a lot of practical information required was available at hand. Ashitha being FNU Ashitha (First name unknown/unique, due to a flaw in passport printing) was a little bit of a worry but I went through Tirun travels, the official travel group of Royal Caribbean and they sorted it out and after a lot of negotiation gave me a good deal and a Sentosa Fun pass to go with it. Visas to Singapore and Thailand were ready and so were we. Lesson learned from Indonesia: Don't pack too much, was strictly followed. 

So come BIAL, 15kgs checkin luggage booked seemed enough considering 7 people had managed with around 35 kgs the year before. But.. the weighing scale shows 15.7 kg on the Mrs. bag alone. Aigh. Fortunately my bag could go in as Cabin baggage. Thanks to the tiger air guy for suggesting that. Had a whole lot of prohibited substances in the bag though, razor, deo, sweets et al and I'd given up on them already. Thank goodness we got through unscathed and we're on our way. 

Well, hello Singapore. What a wonderful city. The skyscrapers, the super wide roads, the SMRT, the cleanliness, the green zones, the rules, the system, the courtesy of the people. Brilliant planning and execution. And being greeted at the airport by my wonderful cousin, Nishkala Akka, and her husband, Aravinda Anna, who were extremely hospitable hosts during our time in Singapore just made it better. 

We hop on the SMRT at Changi Airport, change at Tanah Mera and continue on the EW line all the way to Pioneer stop. Aravindanna has these nice excerpts about the city, the people, the culture as we're simultaneously listening to him and looking around. When we reach Pioneer, their place is right next to the station. The lift zooms up 16 floors in less than a minute. Thoughts go back to our dear old lift which screeches and screams its way up 5 floors in an eternity. Funnily enough every single lift on this vacation, be it in MarinaBay sands, KL tower, Mariner of the seas were all extremely fast and well maintained. But we still love our Alsa Arbour lift ;). Nishkalakka made some neer dosa, chicken curry, we slept for a while and left for Jurong Bird Park. 

The amazing connectivity of the SMRT makes traveling in Singapore comfortable and budget friendly. With multiple lines such as EW, NS, DT, Circle lines running through the city and the relatively low distance between stops ensures you always have a stop close to where you want to go. This along with the high prices on automobiles, ensure that the roads are traffic free pretty much all the time and that in itself is a sight to behold for us Bengaluru natives. Of the few cars which are seen on the roads, lots are what you'd class as supercars. Super cars, super roads, no traffic. Ah the dream.

Day 1 involved bird sighting at the Jurong Bird Park. Exotic bird species grouped by category and excerpts about those birds on boards was interesting. Flamingos, ducks, ostriches, crowned pigeons, penguins, pelicans, parrots. Attended a "Kings of the sky" show where birds of prey such as vultures, eagles and hawks did tricks. Roaming the rest of the park took most of the evening.

From there, we headed to Night Safari. A concept like no other, a friend had told me the animals were probably drugged and considering there's no real fence between our carriage and the animals, it looked like. We saw the animals in very close proximity and even saw some species that we didn't know about. Tigers, leopards, hyenas, elephants, snakes, deer. This was followed by another show where they brought out a huge snake and asked for a volunteer to come on stage. The ophidiophobiac in me was already hiding hoping I wouldn't be picked. Thankfully I wasn't, coz the guy who was picked had the snake on his shoulders and the lights were turned off. It would have been a nightmare for me.

We headed out to Marina Bay early the next day for our cruise. And there, the Mariner of the Seas, was majestically waiting for us beckoning us in. Took a couple of hours to get checked in. One of the Japanese ladies behind us needed to pass us in the line coz her little daughter had to use the rest room. Ashitha let us pass and for the rest of our time on the ship, whenever she saw us she said thank you. The Vietnamese group always saw Ko and seemed amused like she was one of them resulting me calling her VietKoli.

Our room was ready on the 5th floor with all the special "Just Married" decorations that I had asked for. A dedicated Filipino housekeeper always ensured our room was in perfect condition.  We were famished by the time we headed to the Promenade Cafe right below our room. That's when we first had the heavenly Willy Wonka Pie accompanied by some excellent Pepperoni Pizza. We soon realized that the food was awesome here and this became our standard order for early breakfast, one of our 6 daily meals of the next 4 days. True to its name, the Royal Caribbean treated us royally. Cafe Promenade, Windjammer's Cafe were our snack bars. The Promenade had a Dreamworks welcome show. The upper decks had the gym, sauna, pools, Jacuzzi and the open sea where we spent a lot of time. We tried Ice Skating and after a few injuries, had dinner in the "Sound of Music" dining hall with a dedicated waiter and his assistant taking care of us in a completely 5 star setup. The welcome show "Gallery of Dreams" was particularly entertaining with its songs and dances.

The next morning we docked at Port Klang, Malaysia. A whirlwind day trip which covered the Petronas towers, KL Tower, Independence Square and Batu Caves with a competent guide who ensured everything went as per plan and on time made the visit to KL fun. We got back and spent time in the pool and watched "Inside Out" in the open air pool side theater.

The most flop day of our entire trip was when we decided to go to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond island instead of just hanging out at Phuket when we docked there the next morning. A good 2+ hour drive later, we arrived in Phang Nga only to be taken on a ferry ride around James Bond island and back. We hardly got a chance to spend time in Phuket and the Thai massage plus time on the beach that I'd planned had to wait for another visit.

Day 4 of the cruise was spent lazing around on the ship, in the pool, in the gym, in the sauna, in the steam room etc. "Ice under the Big Top" was the day's entertainment where IceSkaters from around the globe showed off their moves. We tried our hand at gambling in the casino but after initially doubling our money, we got a little bit greedy and ended up losing it all and more. :D  I guess that's how all casino stories go.

Checking out after a wonderful time aboard, we checked in to Hotel 81 Dickson for the rest of our trip. A visit to the famous Mustafa store was a let down and a walk around Little India reminded us how Indian streets looked. Ko spent a lot of time shopping, with Nishkalakka to keep her company, in Bugis Street where the prices were reasonable compared to the rest of trip. We then headed to Marina Bay Sands for a wonderful view of Singapore and the adjacent Gardens by the Bay under lights and then followed it up with a visit to the Merlion. Spoilt by the quality of food on MoS, we were now struggling to find decent eating options at reasonable prices.

We trekked up the Faber Peak the next morning and took a cable car to Sentosa. After spending half the day using our fun pass and an exciting Zip line ride later, a we headed to Trick Eye Museum and then to Universal Studios. After a few downbeat rides, we finally started having fun at the Mummy, the transformers and the Battlestar themed roller coaster rides. The Human version was good enough for me and I was thanking my stars when the Cylon one closed just when we got there. Next time maybe ;)

The final day of our trip was wasted on another trip to Sea Aquarium in Sentosa. While colorful enough, we had spent more than enough time looking at birds, animals and now fishes. We headed out to Gardens by the Bay post lunch to look at some colorful plants now.

We left Singapore with a bunch of happy memories and now its on my list of potential places to live in. Hell, I can even speak Malay already: Der Hati Hati Deruan Platform. (Please mind the gap :D)

  May the force be with Singapore :D

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Traveling party: Me, Shesh, Swaroop, Shilpa, Navin, Pramodh and Madhu.
Duration: 10 days.

The group.

I've longed to travel. The idea has been in my head for a long while but things never seemed to fall into place. Having tried a few times to go abroad for study,work etc and seen it fall apart, I've always been skeptical if my fair share of traveling will ever be possible.
So when we began planning for a trip to Indonesia at the turn of the year, even though everything was arranged very meticulously and pretty much every piece on the internet was read innumerable number of times, the gut was still oozing negativity. Something has to fall apart. Something always does. As the day of the flight out came closer, this gut feeling turned to cocktail of excitement and anxiety which kept the tummy feeling funny. I was waiting for this trip to happen and at the same time waiting for something to fall apart. Keeping fingers crossed was the only thing one could really do.

April 17,2015: Day 0.

Heading to the railway station, the anxiety was palpable. The trip was conceptualized as a backpacking expedition in my head and even though it turned out to be pretty neat and planned and not impromptu as I was hoping, I was doing my best to drag it to the idea in my head. So the first part obviously included a backpack. So I started using this backpack a good 2 months prior to the trip and had packed way too many things. I even used an app called Packpoint to help me pack. Naturally with as many things packed, I ended up losing a few things. Note to self: Don't overpack.
So finally my backpack weighed nearly 10kg and with this I carried a smaller bag and a camera.

Met up with the guys in the railway station and got on the Kaveri express to Chennai. The camaraderie to last the rest of the trip had begun. There was a minor problem with Madhu's reservation and Shesh and I ended up sharing a single berth. Sleep deprived we reached Chennai and had headed to a colleague's place where his father was a very hospitable host for the rest of the day. We had both our meals of the day, breakfast and lunch, in Saravana Bhavan. Sumptuous meals had with an idea of stuffing ourselves with Indian food. Traveling with a predominantly vegetarian party who had packed pretty much all the food they could think of to last the 10 days, these meals were probably necessary.

Heading to the airport in the evening, checking in, clearing the immigration checks and boarding the flight. This was really happening. As the plane took off, we saw the Chennai coast disappearing below us and with it the anxiety that had haunted me previously. The trip was really happening.

We landed in KL airport for a 6 hour transit which was spent gazing in awe at how big it was, the shops there and trying to get some much needed sleep.

April 18, 2015: Day 1: Jakarta.

We were woken up by the Malaysian airport announcer announcing the flight details over and over again. Groggy eyed, we board the connecting flight to Jakarta. We land in another international standards airport and head to the visa on arrival counter expecting a barrage of tricky questions. Voila. They collect the cash, put the visa stamp on the passport and send us through. Such an anticlimax. But nothing to suppress the joy of a first visa on an empty passport.

We'd carried USD and got variable exhcange rates ranging from 12500-12800 IDR per USD in different places and we stuck to getting small amounts exchanged as opposed to carrying a lot of cash.

Our host in Jakarta, Fitria, had sent a car for us to the airport. The driver had a note saying "I'm sorry I don't speak English". Our Indonesian adventure with English had begun. We managed to fit all the luggage and ourselves into 1 Xylo sized vehicle. Me and Shesh in the back in foetal position completely cramped up for the next 45 mins - 1 hour. We even tried to make conversation with the driver but pretty much most of it was left unsaid or unheard.  Jakarta greeted us with its wonderful infrastructure, well planned high speed roads, reasonably high skyscrapers on each side. For all these wonderful roads there are an awful lot of big open drains pretty much all over the city and it has a pretty strong stench. The infrastructure left Navin suitably impressed and it received some lofty appreciation with regard to its development which sounded funny enough for us to hound him with this topic for the next 2 days.

The first near miss fiasco happen as soon as we reached Fitria's place in Jatinegara. She was away and her dad, Sukiman, welcomed us and put us in our rooms. As we began to unpack, I realized that my passport was missing. Something had to go wrong right. I was even looking forward to getting extradited ;). This resulted in the most stressful 5 minutes of the trip when pretty much everyone was serious and frantically looking for it. I ran out to trace the path from the vehicle to the house as I had checked the passport when I got into the vehicle. Thankfully the driver was still around and in the backseat my passport was resting without a worry in the world. Such relief. Maybe it was good in a way considering that this underlined the importance of  keeping the passport safe. The control freak in me though wouldn't give me a moment's peace about this till I was back in India. Navin began packing his passport in 4 covers as an aftereffect of this.

The Transjakarta bus facility is very efficient and impressive. Multiple parallel and perpendicular routes run all over the city like a grid. A single bus keeps going up and down over one line of the grid. If you want to go to a place on another bus route, then you changes buses at a junction and get there. The buses also have a a designated lane on the road, so they are faster and don't block traffic, when they stop, at the same time. BMTC could use this idea but then we don't have space to have a separate lane for buses. The bus stops also look futuristic. They have equal number of doors as the buses and are also at the same level as the bus doors. So when a bus stops and the door opens, the bus stop exit and the bus door are neatly aligned and you just have to walk in. Transjakarta turned out to be the best way to travel in Jakarta. With some more time, we would have loved to try the train system too.

Pasar Enjo Transjakarta stop.

The stop closest to Fitria's place was Pasar Enjo or Ps.Enjo, as the Indonesians called it, and was around 5 minutes by walk. There we met an over friendly stop/booth in-charge guy who over obligingly swiped us in, gave us a high five and directions to change buses at Kampung Melayu and then alight at Mangaa Dua stop. We were a bit confused by how we got no ticket or receipt for the journey and he convincingly told us this is how it works. With no choice but to believe him, we boarded the bus to Mangaa Dua.

Mangaa Dua is a haven for people looking for imitation goods according to the internet. It also says pretty much everything can be found at surprisingly cheap prices. Bit of an over exaggeration really. Decent goods, decent prices. The money changer here had a completely different set of rules. 12800 only for new 100 USD notes. 12700 for old notes. He guy then starts being Sherlock Holmes and starts finding any markings, stamps, folds on the notes. Sure enough, he finds one or the other thing on each note and then reduces the price to 12700. We bargain hard, win some, lose some but don't get 12800 for any note.
Mangaa Dua has a few malls. Mangaa Dua square, ITC Mangaa Dua, WTC Mangaa Dua etc. Mangaa Dua square at least has the appearance of a mall we are used to in Bangalore. But ITC Mangaa Dua and WTC Mangaa Dua fit more into the National Market, Burma Bazaar mould. We headed to Bakmi GM restaurant for lunch. "Vegetarian. Only vegetables. No fish, no meat, no beef, no chicken, no egg". This became the default order for most guys in the group for the rest of the trip. Shesh had an extra "No garlic" requirement too. Mine was more straightforward. My first Indonesian meal: Nasi Goreng with Smoked Chicken. Tasted like fried rice but the rice was harder and a bit bland for our masala craving taste buds. That description would hold for most of the food we had. The weather was hot and humid and it rained post noon everywhere we went for the next 10 days.

ITC Mangaa Dua: The sight in this so called mall was unparalleled. It was kind of like a street market where pretty much everything has been laid out like for haraaj/auction, except all this is happening inside a mall. At 6 pm, suddenly the whole place started shutting down under police vigil and then certain other professionals made their way in. Gave us an idea what this place would turn into at night. We decided to get out of there soon.
Mangaa Dua

The thing with bargaining in Indonesia is that you can ask for a ridiculously low price and yet it sounds pretty reasonable. Shesh was an expert at this while Navin was the NGO-based moral police fighting for good prices for the vendors. I had set myself a base price of 20. The Indonesians leave out the last 3 0s while quoting figures. So 20 is 20,000 Rupiah(INR.100) for any article and Navin was annoyed pretty frequently by how I could quote such a low price. Another joke added to the never ending list of jokes on Navin. Navin then ran out of patience and there were more jokes on that.

On our way back, we were trying to decide whether to go to Taman Mini or MONAS the next day. Thankfully we met Luki, one of the few guys who spoke English and we could have a conversation with, in the bus and he guided us. MONAS had its attractions but we finally chose Taman Mini. In hindsight, maybe it should have been MONAS. He even advised us to have more street food than go to restaurants but the street food didn't look all that hygienic and we had too many vegetarians so we couldn't be sure how vegetarian the food would be.

Day 2: Jakarta

Fitria was home and buzzing around when we woke up. A bubbly, chatty person who's full of life.She showed us some pictures of her sister's wedding with her dressed in traditional wear and spoke about the local corporator being Chinese and people not trusting him even though some good work was happening. Once we were ready, she took us to the to the bus stop on the other side, Pedati Prumpung. Jatinegara is a quiet little suburb with small shops run out of houses. The houses were small and the open drains were running close by.  Some houses were just cardboard boxes but still had TV inside. No bungalows were seen anywhere in this area. Not too different from a smaller village in India. Navin noticed and pointed out that there were absolutely no stray dogs but there were quite a few cats around. We even happen to pass a couple of ladyboys on our way to the bus stop.
With Fitria.

As we tried to board the bus here, we got to know how well we'd be conned the previous day. To board Transjakarta buses, you need to buy a card onto which money is loaded. You then swipe the card at the gate and go through. Similar to how it works on the Bangalore Metro. But then we didn't have a card in spite of having traveled by Transjakarta the previous day. So the over friendly guy from Pasar Enjo stop had taken the money and swiped us through with his card. Basically, he had pocketed the money. Sigh. Such bakras we were made. At least the BMTC bus conductors pocket only small change. So we ended up buying a new card and loading some money on it.

Taman Mini tickets

Taman Mini, a miniature city which has life size models and museums depicting different provinces of Indonesia. Seeing the cultural heritage of Indonesia with its close links to the Indian culture and seeing different adaptations of Ramayan/Mahabharat was memorable. We happened to visit on a day which was some kind of anniversary and so a carnival was on with lots of kids dressed in traditional Indonesian attire. We roamed around for the rest of the day listening to some musicians performing.

One particular guy was singing in a very soulful voice and we just stopped to listen to him. He notices us and gestures to the crowd and suddenly starts singing "Kal ho na ho!". Near perfect. He asks us to sing along and we did. We then chat up with him and he tells us he has absolutely no connection with India and just happened to  hear this song somewhere and like it, so he learnt it. Bravo. We now refer to him as the "Indonesian Sonu Nigam" ;)
With Indonesian Sonu Nigam.

Pom and I tried out some tribal attire and danced around a bit.

Taman Mini also has a small bird park. We ran into some kids who were just chilling with their pets. The only difference being pets were snakes and lizards. Madhu, Shesh, Swaroop had enough 'meter' to touch these and let them run all over their body. My fear of snakes wouldn't let me go anywhere near them and I was more than happy taking pictures instead.

The guys showing remarkable 'meter'

During dinner, Swaroop needed some salt and asked the waiter and he didn't get it. What followed was 5 minutes of vivid descriptions of what Salt is. Pom: Saaaaalt. Navin: You know sea water? Sea water? Swaroop and Shilpa: White powder (not realizing there are other popular white powders available). Shesh and I were just laughing away to glory. Garam is the Indonesian word for salt. Thank you Google translate. And the waiter is like "Oh! Garam!".

Shesh: The man of many masks.

Days 3 and 4: Jogjakarta:

An early flight took us to Jogjakarta, a peaceful town in the backdrop of Mt.Merapi. We checked into Alam Jogja which was more of a resort than a host from AirBnb. Yosef was our driver for the next 2 days in Jogja.


We spent the next two days visiting the Prambanan and Borobodur temples. Having been constructed in the early 8-10th century AD and having been ravaged by time and natural disasters such as earth quakes and volcanic eruptions, the Indonesian government has since put in a significant amount of effort to bring these two monuments to the present state that they are in. Gigantic structures with allegiances to Hindu and Buddhist ways of life, these temples are in the list of world heritage sites. We wore sarongs to enter the temples and traditional Indonesian hats and ate juicy local fruits such as Salak(snake skin fruit), Rambutan. Even the Indonesian Banana was so much more juicier and the tender Coconuts were big enough for 3 people to share.



We had a particularly enthusiastic guide at Prambanan, Subarno, who has even written a book about the 2 temples. He started off well but then got all corny, verging on sleazy with this descriptions of the carvings on the temple walls. So much so that a few fellow tourists spotted us in the airport as the guys who were getting lessons from the tour guide. Navin was particularly annoyed and vowed never to get his wife and kids here. The aggressive woman description was particularly pleasing to Navin.
The Indonesian version of Ramayan/Mahabharat have quite a few differences with the ones that we've heard. Some school kids were even keen on getting photos with us "Foreign tourists". Prambanan also had a deer park and a big flightless bird, Casuarius, which looked a bit like Toruk Makto from Avatar.


Borobodur temple run
We asked Yosef to take us to a pure veg hotel and he ended up taking us to something that resembled a ghetto where we weren't going to find veg food for sure. We tried some Satay, Indonesian specialty skewered, grilled meat which was sweetish amidst some more sign language fails. Navin showed a made a square shape on the table expecting a plate and the waiter got him the menu instead. Pom had another with french fries and ketchup.

We spent an evening on Malioboro street in Jogjakarta buying Batik clothing, souvenirs and street shopping. Shesh's bargaining skills were put to test and it looked like he did well till we went to Krishna souvenir shop in Bali where the MRP was around the final prices we had paid after quite a bit of bargaining. Pom particularly wanted to buy a piece of stone which was being sold as fossil. A memorable buggy ride was fun too.
Buggy ride.

Days 5 and 6: Lombok:

In Lombok, after a long drive to Senaru village base camp with the coastline to our left, en route Senggigi, we met up with Hermann and Adi. Adi was our trekking guide. A nice skinny chap and particularly huge SRK fan.
Adi in SRK pose

We began our trek of Mt.Rinjani in the morning, which is an active volcano mountain which has a huge crater lake at the summit. A 9.2 km trek to Senaru crater rim, it was a moderately challenging climb in tropical weather which got a bit tougher once it started raining in the early evening. Shilpa had some issues while climbing and so Swaroop and Madhu took it slow but the rest of us maintained a steady pace. We had 4 stop points, pos1, poos2, pos3 and pos4, evenly distributed at distances to around 1.5-2 km. Our trekking group had 5 porters who were carrying huge loads which had all the food items and the tents and they were climbing barefoot and faster than us. Admirable. There were also some very smart dogs which did the trek with us knowing they'd get food at every stop of ours. Looks like it is their way of life now. There were many other trekkers from different countries and it was nice mingling with them too.


At pos1, Pom and I decided to check out some spring water. Nothing different from what we have in Mundody. My sunglasses fell off and went down the stream and Pom was the hero pulling off a remarkable rescue.
The sunglasses rescue

The terrain got tougher for the last 1-2 km when the visibility was poor and the rocks were slippery. We were given some raincoats like the ones we wore as kids. The conditions caused me some anxiety because it was getting dark and the guys still weren't home yet. Adi was with them the whole time and ensured everything was OK. The joy of having completed this trek and sitting around with friends, the camaraderie, the jokes, was what this travel was all about. A remarkable midnight star gazing adventure was also on the menu and it had me shivering for most of the night.
At the summit.

Unfortunately for us, the weather played spoilsport and the fog didn’t settle till almost 8 am in the morning for us to get a good look at the crater lake and left us a bit disappointed. We tried to delay going down but we had a flight to Bali in the evening and it was a long drive to the airport. Navin struggled while descending and we had to slow down to be with him. At one point, it started pouring and we still had a couple of km to go and were fast running out of time. We finally made it down and Hermann was waiting for Navin with his moped. I had a good Rinjani running experience chasing Navin and Herman on the bike. Our driver was fast enough to get us on time to the airport. We picked up some Rotio snack in the airport for our hungry tummies.
Too foggy to see the lake.

Day 6: Bali:

Before going to Bali, hearing lot of people talk about it with such excitement, I was a bit skeptical if it would live up to all that it promised. Within minutes of being in Bali, it was obvious it would. Bali has this infectious energy about itself. A perfect blend of cultural heritage, where pretty much every single house is built like a temple and the people follow their culture with such reverence, and an urban buzz, makes it the tourist haven that it is. The city has many gigantic statues of heroes from Hindu mythology which are pretty impressive. Our drivers, Gede and Maade, were really nice folks. Maade was telling us how he dreams of going on a pilgrimage to India and how most of the Balinese are very close to their Hindu way of life. Was very impressive how Bali and the Balinese have perhaps maintained more Hinduism than we Indians have.
With Maade and Gede.

We had dinner in a fancy restaurant were Gede took us to. Shacks built on a pond with fishes below and good food. We stayed in Style Ubud shared hostel and were all too tired to do much else. A bit of a new experience for some of us.

Days 7 and 8: Gili islands:

We took a fast boat to Gili islands,which are 3 really small islands off the coast of Lombok, from Padang Bai harbor. The biggest one, Gili Trawangan was where we spent the next day. A special word of praise to our dive school, Blue Marlin dives. They were far too accommodating and nice enough to make the whole experience remarkable. Jerris(or was it Derris) and Kris were our main instructors and tried to do their best to help us with the tips and tricks in the pool session. Dive suit, regulator, BCD became a part of our vocabulary. They soon realized that this is a pretty hopeless bunch but full marks to them for not giving up. They pushed the dive to the next morning and arranged 2 more divers to help. Karmen and Lisa. Each instructor had 2 of us and I was with Lisa alone ;) ;) . Katrina Kaif eh.

We just roamed around the island. Beautiful views followed us wherever we went. I even went on a run around the island on the beach. We had some cycle rides and saved some turtles. Played some frisbee on the beach. A lot of people identified us to be Indians and started singing SRK songs and theme songs of Indian TV serials. I even noticed Jodha Akbar playing on a TV somewhere but translated into Indonesian. The island came alive at night with nice music being played and people on the streets till the early hours of the morning.
Gili islands

Our dive school took us out for a dive in the sea, the next morning and it has to be rated as the single most exciting experience of the trip. We were to do a back flip to get into the water with all the gear weighing us down and it was scary at first. A couple of minutes to get acclimatized and then it was magical. As we dived in, the world around us was a giant aquarium with schools of fishes, octopuses, turtles and corals of myriad colors. In that moment, we were infinite. Finding nemos was too easy. 12m depth for a first time dive! The deal was that the group comes up when someone has less than 60 bar of air in their tanks. We're all having a gala time and I still have around 120 bar remaining and Jerris points us up. All of us were too furious to know Navin had already hit 60 bar while the rest of us all had more than enough air. The quickest 40 minutes had passed. Cursing Navin and envying the full time professional divers, we departed for Bali. Maybe someday I can do a full time course and be a professional diver. What a life.
With Kris.

Day 8, Day 9: Bali:

  We had the evening to spend in Bali and we rented some bikes to go around. We spent the evening visiting the sacred Monkey forest, which is a forest area right in the middle of Ubud left entirely to monkeys and their worship. We then moved on to Saraswati temple with its delightful lotus pond.
Ubud monkey forest

Saraswathi temple and lotus pond.

We had dinner at Queens Indian restaurant at a premium price but our taste buds needed it. Meeting a Kannada speaking couple here was nice.  The waiter boastfully says "Agar koi Hindustaani Bali aakar Queens nahi aaya, toh samajlijiye ki woh bhuka he hai".

We even happened to catch a Balinese dance performance with 9 different types of dance, wonderful attires, movements and expressions.
Balinese dance.

The only thing Navin wanted to do on this trip was get a massage and we hunted for one after the dance program. Surprisingly Bali was shut by 9 pm and very few shops were open in the Ubud area. Bangalore's nightlife complaints suddenly seemed over the top. After a long hunt, we finally found one. Looked like Navin had a good time by the time it was over but we had a better time. I sneaked in and took some awkward pictures of Navin getting a massage(the one below is the only decent one! ;) ) which are now good laughing material whenever we see it.

Tanah Lot.

 The next day was spent in Tanah Lot and Kuta beach. Tanah lot is a temple built on a large offshore rock with the waves lashing against it which makes it an alluring sight culminating our Indonesian adventure. There was enough time for me to get a shoulder massage and for Navin to get another massage but this time it was a bit of a sidey place. Infact, there was enough time for Navin to get picked up by the masseuse. She found him cute.What can we do eh? ;)

'Hey Mister! Mister! You want massage?' ;)

As expected we overshot the baggage limit with all our shopping. Shesh had bought enough to setup a shop in BTM. We also miscalculated the airport tax we had to pay and like heroes gave them 120000 IDR when we were asked for 1200000 IDR. :) Was finally time to say goodbye to Indonesia. Selamat Tinggal.

To travel is to converse with the world. May we have many more such conversations.  Thank you Indonesia.