Caphe Trung or Pudding, either way the Dragons are here to stay

In my introductory post, I mentioned that it was in Hanoi where the seeds for ReachingDelphi were planted. And it’s in Hanoi where we meet today to say goodbye to the great 2017 we had.

I recently had an opportunity to revisit Hanoi. Yippee!  And this time, having graduated from my previous visit to the same destination, I took on the role as the official holiday planner for my very important and demanding travel group. Another yippee!!😆

Hanoi is in the Northern part of Vietnam, and to be exact, Hanoi is 2784.2 KM from Kuala Lumpur. The fastest travel option from Kuala Lumpur by air and flight time is roughly 3 hours. If you have time to spare, travel by road through several ASEAN countries (Thailand, Laos) would also be an option. The drive would easily take about 39 hours, and if you have even more time on your hands and want to stay trim, then walking or cycling could also be considered — and walking would be a whopping 3,675,144 steps. No, I am not joking, many seasoned travellers have gone with these alternate options. Tell me in advance, and I'll meet you at Hoan Kiem Lake for coffee.

Hoan Kiem Lake 

There is just too much of critical historical facts for me to condense into one paragraph — so here are just a few highlights — the history of Hanoi dates to 258BC, during the Au Lac era. Fast-forward to more recent times, Hanoi was ruled by the French from 1887 and then was occupied by the Japanese from 1940–1945, and then was occupied again by the French in 1946 until 1954, when Hanoi became the capital of Independent North Vietnam. The French were the ones who introduced coffee to this region. Condensed enough? I hope so, I just travelled back and forth through the centuries to get you to their coffee.

A famous person in Vietnamese history is Ho Chi Minh, an influential leader who led the Viet Minh Independence movement. He was the Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader and the Prime Minister between 1945 and 1955 and the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) between 1945 and 1969. After the Vietnamese War in 1975 (North Vietnam won), Saigon, the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam, was renamed to Hồ Chí Minh City. The Hồ Chí Minh Museum in Hanoi is dedicated to his life and work. If you get a chance, do also visit the Mausoleum in Hanoi where his embalmed body is on display. The queues to the Mausoleum are long, especially on weekends and over school holidays.


Mausoleum

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam with an estimated population of 8 million people, sits on the bank of the Red River. Here we go again, another river and this time a colourful one. The Red River is sometimes known as the Yuan River and originates from Hunan (mountains of Dali) in Southwest China and flows through the northern parts of Vietnam as it makes its way to the Gulf of Tonkin, covering 1149KM. It is known as Red River due to its heavy silt-laden water.

Hoan Kiem Lake is in the historical centre or what is known as the Old Quarter district. The lake surrounds the Ngoc Son Temple (a pagoda structure in the centre of a small island known as Jade Island, which is situated in the lake). According to the historical record, this temple was built in the 18th century. Around the lake are many narrow streets which today house various markets, workshops, shops, boutiques, restaurants, stalls, homes and hotels. The Old Quarter's past spans over 2000 years, but interestingly, it started as a snake-and-alligator infested swamp and evolved into villages of houses on stilts. Later in the 11th century, it gained its reputation as a crafts area where skilled craftsmen served to provide their service for the palace which was also in this area then.

After filling up with some VC (Vietnamese Coffee), I started the day with a short walk to explore a little bit of the Old Quarter. It’s a wet morning, and I am sensing that I attract happy showers to this place. Okay at least I'd like to think I do, and I am saying this because it rained during most of my stay previously as well. Snap, snap, back to the Old Quarter —  I love this area, the colours, smell and sight of shops, roads, livelihood, people, crowded roads, baguettes, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee (I just can’t stop typing this word) —  captures the past in the present and this is what keeps me and the many more like me, wanting to come back here for more.

Where's my Pho?

It’s past 6 a.m., and the sun is just about out, and so is this not-so-pleased-with-me chef. Mr Chef is late and is hurriedly preparing the Pho broth for his hungry customers. Some early customers have already started in on breakfast. 


Bring me some food




The Tattoo shop owner probably had a late night entertaining the many tourists’ requests. He is not up yet.  I am in the queue, someday, some year — a dreamcatcher is on the bucket list. 


And as for fruits — those look really fresh. She's got the best spot, now come get me, customers!




But why here — the question remains unanswered. 




And one of my favourite sights — flowers and colours. 💗💗💗




Our next stop is Halong Bay. The driver and vehicle arrived promptly. This is one of the coolest drivers I had ever met – midway, in traffic, Natraj decided to sit in the front to keep the driver company but realised the van’s door was jammed, perhaps tourist locks were applied and anyway, he couldn’t get out. The driver handled the situation like he was prepared for this all his life — he stopped his van right in the middle of the road, got out, fiddled around with the van locks. Ten minutes later, the issue was fixed, seating positions swapped – and during this entire time, no other cars on the highway honked at us. I can’t tell if this is a norm or if he had a mafia license plate, but I know for sure, the Hanoians are simply super-duper in handling these situations.  😊 


Works of the Dragons

Halong Bay is 183 km from Hanoi. If you haven’t seen a paddy field before, you’ll see plenty of them and various fruit farms along the way.  We stopped on the trip for some juicy Dao Sa Pa's – a peach variety which tasted like a cross between a peach and a mango.


Dao Sa Pa

Approximately 4 hours later we arrived at the Paradise Lounge, where we checked in to the Paradise Cruise. I usually do not promote any commercial names, but Paradise Tours in Hanoi and my travel consultant there (Ms Huyen) are exceptions. Huyen made sure we received a 5* vegetarian experience while onboard.  I would recommend this cruise anytime (and again, Paradise Tours is not sponsoring this article 😉).


On Board

Halong Bay is a bay with thousands of million-year-old limestone karsts and isles and is today listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Ha Long means the Descending Dragons. According to a legend, the gods sent a family of dragons to protect this bay, and the dragons spat out jade and jewels which then turned into the tiny islands we see here today. The dragons must have spat out over 1600 jewels and jades, because there are over 1600 limestone monolithic islands in this area, and we are lucky we can visit a couple of them. Hang Đầu Gỗ is the largest of them all where one can see a large formation of stalactites and stalagmites. Climb up the steps (approximately 500 of them) to get fantastic views of the bay and the natural formations inside the caves. I am climbing up to search for that dragon.

Transported to Another World

There are about 1600 people (men, women, children) living in the fishing villages surrounding the bay. Some of the women in these villages operate mobile mini-market boats to sell goods to those on the cruises. We were approached by a few of them. Did you spot them and me in the pictures above?

The 4-hour drive back to Hanoi has made us hungry, and it’s time for lunch. For those who love experimenting with food, the local options in Vietnam are overwhelming. I am a usually no fuss spaghetti-Napolitano person, but with my sister there, you’d be guaranteed to have different options. Minh Chay, a vegan restaurant, located in the Old Quarter, serves local vegetarian dishes, and is a must try. Do try that ever famous hot Pho (noodle soup) that everyone is enjoying along the sidewalks or the hot spring rolls. Mama mia, you will not go wrong. We also did a takeaway at Jalus, another vegan restaurant with western-styled preparation. I am more for local so you can guess which I liked better.

Vegetarian Options 

After a satisfying local meal, we headed to the west of the Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the Old Quarter district to admire the charming St. Joseph's Cathedral and here we also got to snap photos of a couple who were about to exchange their vows. They posed for us, and that is why these are posted in this blog. 👫. The cathedral is a 19th-century neo-Gothic styled church, which looks very much like Notre Dame in Paris. According to research, this was built in 1886 by a French missionary (Paul-François Puginier); the year before the French Indochina Federation was established.


Paris of the East

I later convinced my family to share my liking for VC — and the picture above tells you I succeeded in this quest. Phin coffees. Yippee, yippee, yippee and yippee! 😆😆😆😆 While they sampled hot VC served in a traditional Phin, I had a Liegeois – a Phin coffee with scoops of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. RuNam is a quaint boutique café, in the Old Quarter district. The ambience here is great, but we had to wait a while for the order. A balcony seat will earn you a view of the famous cathedral. Was it pricey? Well, the view and ambience speak for itself. Was the coffee good? Considerably good, this was my second visit. The photo on my Google profile — well that was taken at that very balcony before the caffeine kicked in, and perhaps it’s time to change it to a less sleepy one.

Coffee production has been a significant source of income for Vietnam since the French first introduced it in 1857. It is the 2nd largest coffee-producing country in the world. Of this coffee, 97% is Robusta coffee. The production of Arabica is slowly increasing. Some of the big plantations here include Trung Nguyen, Hung Phat, Tam Chau, Vietcoffee and Vinacafe.  I wrote a little about the local coffee industry in my May 2017 blog post.

A trip to Hanoi is not complete without catching up with my friend Thuy Le. We met the next morning at the entrance to the Ngoc Son Temple. From there we went to one of her favourite coffee shops near the lake. Café Dinh. Unsure if I'd like it, at the entrance she asked if the place was OK for me.  I adored its warm welcome from where we stood and even more as we walked to the back, up the cemented stairs to our low tables. Café Dinh displayed an alluring character, of old in a modern and economically growing Hanoi while standing comfortably firm in its origins. It just didn’t want to be another ‘trendy’ café and, yet the place was full of respectful local customers of all generations. And guess what, we got a premium lake view while seated on the balcony, at local coffee prices. Thuy Le recommended Caphe Trung, an egg coffee, a local favourite in Hanoi. Here, egg yolk is combined with condensed milk and coffee for a warm, creamy or airy texture and served right away with some sunflower seeds on the side.  Some ask if this is a pudding or really a coffee. Try it, and tell me. Café Dinh is a family owned café run by the aunt who served us the coffee. She was terribly camera shy, but you can see her in one of the photos above.  Auntie showed us pictures of her younger days and of her family which hung proudly on the surrounding faded-blue walls. She was a beautiful lady then and still is, her coffee seals that statement.  Thank you Thuy Le, Caphe Trung here was delicious.  


A Caphe Trung Experience

Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho.  2017 is just about to pass us by like a speed boat.  A memorable year indeed, lots of events everywhere — all around the world and even in our very own backyard that have led to the decisions we have had to take.  Some rosy but not all as perky as read or seen, but the sun continues to rise, and the stars continue to draw from the energy of the sun to beam brighter to guide us through the darker nights. The Law of Relativity, I'd like to think of it as.


Reaching Hanoi, Reaching Delphi, reaching for the stars.  We’ll meet again for more coffee in 2018. 💘💖💘


Happy New Year.



Yin & Yang Amongst the Letters of Krishna, Godavari, Dolphins and Santas.


Around Chennai

I left a sunny Tiruchi and bid farewell to the sights of the yet to be fully fed Kaveri for my next stop — Nashik, an ancient holy city in the north-west of Maharashtra state. But before that, I made a short stopover in Chennai to meet up with my cousins whom I hadn't seen in a while. Here is one place that no matter how good the homemade coffee is, I still insist on that one which is sold at the tea stall a few streets away. Disappointingly though my plans were rained out this time. The skies didn’t clear up to the repeated recital of ‘rain rain go away, Uma wants her stall coffee today’, and though walking in the rain is always a pleasure, none of us was up to the chilly winds. This also meant our traditional visit to Marina Beach and eating capsicum bajhis there would be unticked.

Fortunately, though, I do have a couple of sun-filled pictures from a previous trip to the same location at Anna Nagar (a suburb in Chennai). Just looking at these beats the cold outside. The first set is at a local tea stall, frequented mainly by locals. The preparation is fresh, milk is kept heated at the right temperature, and the coffee/tea is served to your preference, for me it was like he could read my signals. Divine! It’s priced reasonably, prepared quickly and served instantly for the customers (that explains the mess right, 😀). The environment is not a café-like setting so if you are looking for an uppity experience, this isn't the one for you, but I can certify that the coffee is worth the rupees.


Coffee, served just right!

I will write more on Chennai when the weather cheers up a bit in another blog post. For now, while we are here, some facts about the city to take in:
  • It is the capital of Tamil Nadu.
  • This is the 5th largest city in India and is regarded as the safest one in the country.
  • Good to know that I am not the only one who enjoys the food in this region, so do millions more. National Geographic rates Chennai's food as the 2nd best in the world. Coffee on me, if you tell me who leads this race.
  • It’s located on the coast of the Bay of Bengal (the sea along Marina Beach). Marina Beach stretches up to 600km!! It is the 2nd longest beach in the world.
  • Was officially known as Chennai from 1996, but before that was referred to as Madras, the name used even before the British days.
  • SIPCOT IT Park is the largest IT Park in Asia.
  • Chennai region has the oldest rocks in India, dating back billions of years. Mahabalipuram!
  • Cricket fans, did you know that Chepauk M.A. Chidambaram stadium is the oldest cricket stadium in India?
  • Many well-known universities are located here — these include Anna University, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), MGR Research Institute and M.G.R Medical University. Narayan previously took me on a tour down memory lane to show me his dorm, room and where his classes once were in IIT Madras. Most students were on vacation, but I still managed to get a glimpse of the students' rooms, for once my wardrobe looked more organised in comparison.


Here are some more sunny shots around a local neighbourhood. School's just out, and the kids are rushing to grab a bite or two after a long day of crunching numbers. Yes, we do love the sun, don’t we? Again, these are photos from a previous trip.

Schools out for the day.
MRT ride
After indulging in Sundar’s (he stays with my cousins) sweet and savoury kulhi-panirayam and undergoing an acupuncture treatment session (performed by my cousin’s wife) to ease this month-long cough I was all set to continue my next leg of the adventure. One mystery remained unresolved — the misbehaviour of Airtel — I was out of touch with the data world despite having a fully paid local subscription. Before that, look, here I am in the new MRT which connects Chennai airport and the various suburbs. But quick, quick, get me to the airport first. 


Flight from Chennai to Mumbai 

My cousin made sure that I had indeed checked in with a few minutes to spare. I hurried past security and was just in time for the boarding, then opened my eyes and next thing I knew I was already at thirty thousand feet but the views of the rivers snaking along and the Western Ghats or Sahyadri mountain range (which is approximately 3000 metres above sea level) appeared like I was much closer to them. The person in the seat next to mine told me ‘that's Krishna’ and it was love at first sight with the nadi. I am still mesmerised by the breathtaking views of these million-year-old rocky cliffs. Krishna, one of the few rivers which glides in-between these grand formations is 1300 kilometres long, the 4th longest river in the country, and is the source of irrigation for four South Indian states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.


Getting to know the local rivers

There are four rivers (Venna Urmodi, Tarli and Koyna) which join the Krishna at a confluence known as Preeti Sangam, or ‘Lover's Meeting Point’. Just as in Dashavatara, I wish I could transform myself into a fish to understand what goes on beneath that scary stillness. It’s going to take me a lifelong journey to learn — but I reckon a River Guide For Dummies, would be a good start.  I did not have my camera/handphone with me, and even if I did, it would not have captured the beauty of the present better than the heart. These Ghats house wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, forest reserves, dams, and is regarded as a UNESCO world heritage site.

As we flew towards Mumbai, my next destination, I saw more rivers. The Godavari.  Godavari is the second longest river in India (1485 kilometres), flowing from west to east, covering eight states (Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka and Puducherry) and all the way right up until meeting once again, my good pal, the Bay of Bengal.  The Godavari starts in Triambakeshwar (Nashik), and Nashik is where I'd be spending the next few days with Vrushali, my lovely host and the beautiful bride, as well as her family and friends.


Getting to Nashik

Before heading to Nashik, which would take anywhere between 3.5 – 5 hours by road (depending on traffic), I got myself energised with a hot cup of coffee and samosa at the airport. Well, it wasn’t exactly right for my tastes, but it was something to fill up on. I must admit the bright orange cup they served their drinks in had tempted me. Nevertheless, understanding it was still a good decision, I would say, because it kept me awake to enjoy the exciting sights in the different townships and views of the stunning Ghats and valleys throughout the drive. 


A friend indeed.


Prepaid cab services are reliable and very professional, these can be booked online ahead of time. My driver spoke very little English, but we got by with the few but essential words of Hindi I knew and some sign language. He understood my requests to slow down or stop for photos. Narayan, Vrushali, Pranav and Gaurav handled the rest of the E1 translation over the phone remotely. The coffee and the Yin and Yang from the previous day's acupuncture session are both working together effectively towards keeping me sensibly balanced! And thank you Airtel for the unlimited local calls and for finally working, or shall I say for deciding not to ditch me (for the record, Airtel is not paying me for mentioning them 😉).


Sneak view of a thriller - Mumbai  -> Nashik

Around Nashik

Nashik is an ancient holy city in the northern part of Maharashtra state and is 2300 feet above sea level (which means temperature-wise, it’s comfortably cooler here) and has a projected 15 million population. It is about 170 kilometres from Mumbai Airport. There are a couple of interesting facts on how the name Nashik was derived for you to read up on. My intent to visit Nashik was solely for the wedding, but Vrushali insisted I should also see a bit of her town. And so that’s what I did, with her lovely friends from Kerala and their families. Seven of us comfortably snuggled in an Auto (local three-wheeled taxies), as we spent a warm and sunny afternoon in mystical Nashik, covering over 10 temple sites, and having a crash course on Ramayana and the history of Nashik in the local language. My head is overworked, I had taken in more information than I could handle for a day. On a lighter note, we did have some delicious Indian food where our bread orders got exchanged and then some cherry-topped Paan to finish off the meal with.  


Around Nashik


And the finale, the icing — was being face to face with the great Godavari herself. There she was, right in front of us — here is where she begins her journey, our guide tells us. Just look — she is that great one who supports the millions along her 1465 kilometre journey across the eight states as she makes way to unite with the sea. Life is a journey just like this river, and anything is possible along the way. I am dazed, and I still cannot wake up.

Start point, Godavari


I mentioned a crash course earlier. Well, I am awake now, but I am still lost in translation. And speaking of which, I have just registered for a new language course. Pretty excited, guess which language?

During this quick tour around, we visited a couple of notable places, one of them was the Kalaram Temple — a Hindu Shrine built in 1788, dedicated to Lord Rama. We also visited a few other temples, but I didn't get a chance to record their names.

Kalaram

Nashik is also an important business hub. It houses many large-scale industries and is an emerging destination for various new technology start-ups and R&D centres. The currency note press is located here. In terms of agriculture & plantation, this region produces most of the Indian wine. Local vineyards offer wine tasting tours.  During the drive along the outskirts of Nashik, I noticed many miles of other plantations. The cold climate and good irrigation system contribute to its export quality products such as onion, corn, sugar and wheat. Just look here, what a perfect sunrise in the fields. This picture was taken early in the morning on my way to Shirdi


Thank you!!!


The sights in Nashik and Mumbai are very picturesque. I had as in my previous blog posts mentioned that in any given place, it’s the people who make the difference for me. Just as all whom I know in Tiruchi or Chennai are, the local Nashik-ans are warm and friendly and do whatever they can to make their city and my stay a comfortable one as much as possible (and we do the same too 😃). This was my first experience attending a traditional Marathi wedding. With the couple's permission, here are some of the pre-wedding function highlights and pictures to share with you.
  • Mehandi (hand art painting) – a tradition to wish the bride and groom good health and prosperity as they make their journey into marriage. This is also a medicinal remedy to cool the body and relieve the bride/groom from stress. This tradition is performed in many Hindu weddings in the different regions in India. In the past, it was more of a family affair. These days, the excitement is extended to the families and friends, and that explains how I got my hands painted too.
  • Sangeet – music is everywhere in India and weddings are no exception. Sangeet celebrates dance and songs, everyone participates, so don't be shy. Everyone has a move or two to spin too. The colours, music and beats are loud, it’s party time.
  • Haldi – this is a religious ritual where elders apply turmeric paste on the bride and groom as a symbol of blessing and to ward off the evil eye from resting upon the couple.

A new journey, wishing the couple all the happiness


After all the excitement it's time to head home, but I promise I will be back again. There are just too many awesome places to visit here. Nashik 2.0. 💖


Back to Mumbai and then home

My flight back was delayed by many hours, but interestingly while charging my handphones in the common area in the airport, I met Niraj, a local sailor who was returning home after being away at sea for 6 months. Despite missing his connecting flight home, his spirits warmed up the cold airport as he talked about his daily adventures at sea, the star clusters that light up the dark nights and the endless sights of dolphins playfully racing with the seagulls. He later sent me pictures of the seals that sometimes visit them on the deck. I wonder if those stars and dolphins point the way to Delphi.

It was a full week back home indeed. I learnt about the GPS in Sinta Klaas as he made his way back to Spain after delivering bags of gifts in the Netherlands, met up a friend from the Prague office who made a special ditto to KL, and I safely delivered an elephant to the Gardens in Mid-Valley & of course a travel through time to ReachingDelphi. On that note, MQ connections will work!!! Enjoy your coffee, have a great week. 💛💛💛


** General facts referenced from online Wiki.

She Glitters the flow, She Does. Cauvery!

If you are flying into Tiruchi during the non-dry season, then quick land yourself in that prize-winning seat next to the window. Just a few minutes before touchdown, look out and prepare yourself for a spectacular view of the river that glides just below. That’s the Grand Cauvery.

Cauvery @ Kaveri 

Around Tiruchi

Tiruchi is the 4th largest municipality in South India and it sits right in the heart of Tamil Nadu state. You’ll find many higher education institutes and large industrial units here. Its recorded history dates all the way back to the 3rd century BC during the rule of the Cholas. It had also been ruled by many other dynasties and superpowers over the years, and each has left a hint of their existence among the culture, people, and architecture. I’d been here several times and even more in recent years thanks to Air Asia and Malindo Air, but each time the visits are usually only for a short stopover. Every time I fly in, I look forward to a glimpse of that glitter slithering below. The sight of Cauvery never ceases to amaze me. And this time, I touched her.

About Cauvery

Cauvery, along with her sisters Mahanadi, Godavari and Krishna make up what is known as the Peninsular River system in India. Some trivia facts about the 765 km long Cauvery.
  • She is commonly known as Kaveri in India. Cauvery is the British name for the same river. The Kaveri is also easier to spell for non-spelling bees like myself
  • She originates from Kodagu in Karnataka (a neighbouring state West of Tamil Nadu) and flows south-east into Tamil Nadu
  • The Cauvery river basin covers 4 states Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
  • Cauvery drains into my good ‘ol pal, the Bay of Bengal
  • Just like the other Peninsular rivers, Cauvery too originates from the Peninsular Plateau
  • It is known as a seasonal or perennial river and is mainly rain fed. During the wet/rainy season, the river fills up. During the dry months, the river show the signs of being unfed, so if you are flying in during the dry months, you will not get the same view from 10,000 feet above
  • It is said that these Peninsular rivers are even older than the Himalayan rivers
  • Kaveri is a popular Hindu name for girls, and it means the life, river, naturally 😊
  • It is a holy river in South India. On new moon or Amavasya days (which are once a month), many local Hindus come here and offer special prayers for the worship of their forefathers.



Around the Cauvery, me, the goods keeper and the udupi coffee

My task today was to take care of everyone’s belongings (those of my parents and cousins) while they went in to take a dip in the river. Here’s where, later, I touched some of this precious water myself. Warm, complementing the hot weather. The only other two times I remember feeling any river water was when clumsy me accidentally lost my balance and fell in. Not pleasant, but this happened years ago.

Just outside are plenty of vendors selling flowers and vegetables. I also noticed they like their coffee as much as I do too. There are plenty of coffee and tea stands to fulfil the demanding caffeine needs, and this sight made me tremendously happy. Since I had two already, I couldn't have any more for the hour. The stall operators didn’t mind and were more than happy to let me watch them prepare the drinks and to pose for a picture or two. See if you can find the coffee in these shots. 

Specially for the readers.


In one of these pictures, you can also see an aunt (mami) holding a flask of special home-made Udupi-style filtered coffee. A couple of years ago, her husband took my cousins and me to one of the best Udupi coffee restaurants in Tamil Nadu. She remembered and prepared this one for us 😘.

The next is a picture taken at our family home near Pudukkottai.  My mom made me this great piping hot filtered coffee this morning. The beans were freshly ground in Tiruchi. It has the right consistency and taste. The atmosphere here is calm, away from the busy Tiruchi and KL. The air is a lot cleaner here, and I feel so relaxed. The coffee, can’t say more, it’s a good choice for sure.😍

Relax!!!

When in Tiruchi or anywhere south of Tamil Nadu, remember to get yourself some Paneer Soda. This is a rose essence carbonated drink. I like Kalimarks, though I don't fancy the green bottles they are packaged in. This branding reminds me of Sprite, but I feel they can confidently go with a different image because their drink tastes even better. Look, here’s a picture for you. I have already had 3 within the last 8 hours. Well, it's hot, and those empty bottles speak a lot for themselves right now.

Refreshing Paneer Soda

There are plenty of things to do in Tiruchi. A visit to the Rock Fort Temple is one of them. The temple was built in 580 AD on an ancient 83m high rock by the Pallavas. The temple changed hands several times over the years under the different rulers of the period Pallavas, Pandyas, Cholas and the Nayaks. Plenty of steps to climb here. Be fit, and more importantly choose the right timing because it does get hot in the daytime. The climb up to the Ganesha temple is a rewarding one a spectacular view of Tiruchi.

Rock ye, Rock ye Fort

The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple (Sri Rangam) is the largest Hindu temple in India and the biggest functioning temple in the world. It is surrounded by the Cauvery on one side and the Kollidam on the other. The magnificently structured temple is situated in the little islet formed by these two rivers. The temple's early inscriptions date back to 1 AD. The temple was rebuilt in the 14th century and then fortified and extended in the 15th and 16th centuries. It spans 0.63 km. One would have to pass all 7 concentric walled sections to reach the Raja Gopuram, which is 73 metres tall, and this is where the main deity is. There are 21 Gopurams (tower gateways) in total. Between each walled sections are little shops, coffee stalls and restaurants.  The temple, first built during the Pallavas reign, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

Also, near Rock Fort Temple is an ancient church constructed in 1840, Our Lady of Lourdes Church.  This is a Roman Catholic basilica. The church stands grandly on a busy street in the centre of the city, she is very pretty, and if you pass by without noticing or looking twice at her, I would be surprised. This is a large Gallo-Catholic designed church. The church conducts holy masses every day, and anyone can join in.


Lady Of Lourdes

Shopping is always one of the welcoming delights for travellers and visitors. Tiruchi offers a good selection of clothes, fabric, saris, sweets & snacks, silverware and other Indian products. The rule is simple, arrive with empty suitcases, and fill them up here.

If shopping doesn't get you excited, there is always a coffee and tea shop nearby grab a glass (or tumbler), sit along the Cauvery’s banks and listen to her poems as she whispers and do enjoy your drink.

Have a good week. 💗💓💗

Traffic Signals, Is It F1 Again?

Today I am home again and up early to see the sights and hear the city before the honking of cars invade my ears. This walk is just as characteristic as the previous one. My pace is slow, so stay with me; it’s Sunday. Enjoy your coffee; there are just so many flavours to savour. It’s not F1 or GP motor day, so there is really no reason to rush.

Before we begin, let’s get energised. Backward and forward bend, roll your hips, stretch upwards.  We are ready.  Now, meet Rimau, our mascot for the 29th South East Asia (SEA) Games and 9th ASEAN Para Games which have been held here recently.  He is the Malayan Tiger, an athlete himself who symbolises Respect, Integrity, Move, Attitude and Unity among the participating countries and athletes. The SEA Games is a biennial sporting event involving eleven countries from South East Asia (Indonesia, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam). During my commute from work a week earlier, I met Alex, a Malaysian who had just flown in from Sipadan Sabah where he works. He was a volunteer for the Para Games and he shared interesting stories and experiences leading up to the event.  I say to Alex and all the rest of the volunteers for both games – well done! The Games were amazing, and you guys made it happen!  

Go Rimau, Go Go Go!

The SEA Games is a biennial sporting event involving 11 countries from South East Asia (Indonesia, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines,  Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam). During my commute from work a week earlier, I met Alex, a Malaysian who had just flown in from Sipadan Sabah where he works. He was a volunteer for the Para Games and he shared interesting stories and experiences leading up to the event. Alex and all the rest of the volunteers for both the games – well done, the Games was amazing, and you guys made it happen!  

I am all warmed up, filled with that super Rimau energy. I hop on a local bus heading to Pasar Seni LRT Station. This area is what was once known as the Klang bus stop area, a place the SriJaya/IntraKota/Kee Hup Omni buses and pink mini buses (buses from yester-years) used as a hub. The Klang Bus Station closed in 2011 to make way for the newly opened Pasar Seni underground MRT station.    

New Pasar Seni MRT Station

Just outside the LRT station is a small waiting area for a few designated buses to pick up and drop off passengers. One of them is the GoKL bus service. This is an incredible service initiated by the local government to improve the quality of public transportation in KL within the central business district. And guess what? The purple buses you see in the next picture are free for commuters.


I am free!


I would like to take the bus, but it can wait until another time. My walk continues.  I am on Jalan Tun HS Lee. This street is a long and historic one. Its presence is often overshadowed by the more popular Petaling Street (China Town). The street was originally called High Street, changed to be called Jalan Bandar, and then to what it is known as today.  I didn’t count, but read that there are over 200 old shop houses, preserved as part of the heritage, on this street. Some of them are better preserved than others. Many of them today are renovated and used as cafes and budget hotels. Well-established banks have also marked their presence along this street.

The Maha Mariamman temple was built in 1873. This is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. The temple is open for all, any time of the year. It gets a tad bit crowded during Thaipusam, an annual Hindu festival, when thousands of pilgrims who follow the Silver Chariot procession up to Batu Caves begin the journey here. Today, the entrance is decorated with two plantain trees indicating there is a special prayer and all are welcome.  The chiming of bells have started, meaning the homam is about to start. Outside, the flower stall vendors are preparing the jasmine garlands for the poojas. I have also included some night shots on this page. I hear the mantras being recited. It’s time for me to go in.


Maha Mariamman Temple

Guan Di Temple is a beautiful deep-red Taoist temple, less than 50 meters away from The Maha Mariamman temple. It is believed that the copper Guan Dao (Chinese pole weapon) here has special powers to bless and protect a person who touches it or to turn luck around. Well, this can only mean one thing. I need all the good luck I can get so I am going in. From where I stand, I see the coils of incense smoke puffing through the door and along with it, a soft fragrance that tickles my nose buds. The temple was built in 1887. It opens at 7 am, and stays open until 7 pm. 

Guan Di Temple

Next, I pass by the famous Petaling Street, or what you now fondly know as China Town. I was quite surprised to see some stalls opened early for business. Louis Vuitton, Rolex watches, Nike shoes, you name it, and they have it😊. The catch is, these are all counterfeit, but look close to the real thing.  The challenge is to make sure you don’t buy something that looks fake and to get it at the lowest possible price, even if it means having to lose your voice in the process.  I remember proudly showing off my Ralph Lauren watch once, and my friend flashed out her original in response. Oops! Well what can I say? I was young and naive then. Today, I am happy with just the functional basics – it just needs to do the job sweetheart; just do your job and not be too pretentious.


Perfecting the negotiation skills

China Town at night is more entertaining. With the lights out, the haggling intensifies, serious negotiations start, and you can begin feeling the energy of China Town as the ringgits exchange hands and the goods are handed over. Yay! A Michael Kors. 

When here, try the local food – you’ll get the best Soya Bean milk in town (trust me, its original–no fake beans used), freshly roasted chestnuts, and seasonal fruits. You can also find local restaurants serving freshly cooked dishes. China town has been the hub of traditional florists for a long time. I am transported back to my school years when my classmates and I visited every florist in China Town and Pudu to search out roses for the school’s rose-request fundraising project. That was a lot of work, but it sure was fun.  

I like them all.
The sight of roses makes one smile and yet that same rose could stir up strange and interesting tales after. Thank you for the bunch 💛💗💚

Well, if you are here and still don’t know what to get, pick up the T-shirts–they are a best seller. Most importantly - bargain
😉.

At the end of China Town, at the intersection, you see more heritage buildings. You can see these buildings in the next picture; there is another tall building that looks like a number ‘1’.  That’s the Maybank Head Office, a place where I spent five years of my COBOL days. It was built in the 80s and each time I had passed by this place on my way to school, I made a wish to work here someday. Wishes do come true (given the right ingredient).


Always a number One!
I continued onwards to Central Market. Up until the 1980s this was a local wet and dry market. It was the biggest market in Kuala Lumpur then. Today it is a centre for culture, arts and craft. This is THE place to get a variety of Malaysian souvenirs all under one roof. On Saturdays, there are cultural shows and some days there are outdoor stage performances. Kasturi Walk is one of the more recent and welcomed extensions to the market area. You get a better glimpse of the Daya Bumi building from here.


What shall I get now?
     
After seeing all that impressive handwork, it’s time to make a move,  this time passing through another old heritage – Medan Pasar via Bangkok Bank area (Bangkok Bank had recently shifted its operations to another location) or Jalan Silang. This area was once popular for textile and goldsmith industry and you can still see some of these today. Jalan Silang was also the central pickup and drop-off point for the notorious pink mini buses before they were replaced with the safer options. One of these buses had hit me in my shoulder then, and ouch! That's why I have a reason to call them notorious!  My favourite cafe I mentioned earlier this year, Mcgoo Deli is just around the corner, but it will have to wait for another time. Right now my tummy is calling for a yummy banana leaf lunch.

Before that – let’s see a famous mosque – The Masjid Jamek (Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque). This pink and white structured mosque is one of the oldest in the city. It is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers. The mosque was designed by Hubback, the designer who had also designed the Central railway station, Majestic Hotel and the Bangunan Abdul Samad. The design is Moorish or Mogul. The mosque was officially opened in 1909.

My walk today ends at the original Little India – this is Leboh Ampang. Come here for good vegetarian banana leaf lunch meals. The choices are plenty. You can end with a nice glass of Indian coffee. I was super-stuffed so I skipped the coffee. Leboh Ampang was made famous by the Chettiar community who established their money lending businesses here.  Along with that came other small business setups. This area (old Kuala Lumpur) is not only the confluence of the two famous rivers, but also the confluence of the traditional and modern financial institutions. The buildings here are part of the preserved heritage; you’ll find many of them painted with vibrant colours.

Hurry, I am hungry.


I am at a crossroads, deciding where the next place should be. I walk up a bit more, onto Jalan Ampang where a famous Tamil Press head office once stood. Tamil Nesan was established in 1924. Many memories I have here, good ones. I had a personal and special bond with its founder and with a few close relations who dedicated most of their working lives here to bring this paper to the readers. I head back to that crossroad. Lights change, and more decisions are waiting to be made.

I am back. My coffee is an Indian one, a takeaway from nearby. It’s an I-am-whom-I-am-coffee. So, I didn’t need to add any enhancer. It is a perfect start to the new week. Have a great week ahead!


Room with a View.