Those of you who’ve been reading the travelogues that I’ve posted on this blog in the recent past may be aware of my darling daughter, the Little One or LO as I refer to her here. The LO, as you might know, has been on several trips with us, all in the hills (so what if, until recently, she kept getting confused between ‘mountain’ and ‘fountain’ and was surprised that her maternal grandmother—her nani—seemed to have left tracks all over, from Nanikhet to Manani).
This January, since the LO is old enough (we thought) to appreciate something a little more advanced, we decided to celebrate my birthday and the LO’s (our birthdays are three days apart) with a trip to Singapore. My husband and I had visited Singapore many years back, and we had fond memories of the place. Of a meal at Clarke Quay. Of a very interesting walk through Chinatown. Of a ramble through the Colonial District (and wistful glances towards the Raffles, which we couldn’t even begin to think of entering).
With the LO calling the shots, we knew our itinerary would be very different. Our little girl is not the type yet to go on a museum crawl (she’s only four, so I think I shall forgive her) or to think little odds and ends in traditional medicine shops in Chinatown are something to get excited about. What she would much rather have, we knew, would be animals. Birds. Flowers. Parks.
Singapore was our destination of choice simply because it offers lots of all of that. You want animals? It has one of the most popular zoos in the world (besides a fantastic bird park and a pretty commercialized but still impressive aquarium). You want flowers? Even Changi Airport has an Orchid Garden and a Sunflower Garden. Plus, there are the fabulous Gardens by the Bay, something that’s come up since my husband and I last visited Singapore.
And (the LO being a die-hard fan of noodles), it has plenty of noodles.
The fun for the LO began even before we reached the airport. All the way from Noida to Indira Gandhi International Airport—a good hour and a half—she kept asking, every two minutes, when we’d be in the aeroplane. Then, when we finally reached the airport, she was thoroughly miffed to discover that we’d now have to go through a check-in, immigration, and then security. And even after all that, no plane. Instead, her parents took her off to Starbucks and tried to feed her things. Midway through, the LO lost all patience and ran off to look out through the glass panes at the runways. All those planes! How beautiful!
Anyway, the long and the short of it was that the LO was so thrilled to finally get into the plane (and discover that the blanket was her favourite colour—purple—and that she had her own pair of headphones, too) that it took a lot of effort to get her to calm down and go to sleep.
Our flight included a brief stopover (which of course meant more excitement) but by about 10 the next morning, we were in Singapore, and the LO was looking around, wide-eyed, at all the fascinating things around her. The trees! The flowers! The clean, beautiful, streets.
It didn’t take us long to settle in at our hotel. The Pan Pacific Orchard, just off Singapore’s very glittery Orchard Road, is a nice place—and the LO, within a few hours, had made friends with everyone from the bellhop at the door (who was of Tamil origin, and with whom the LO exchanged namastes and shared notes on idli-sambhar love) to the hostess at the coffee shop (who, it turned out, had a granddaughter the same age as the LO). Even more amazing (as far as the LO was concerned) was that there was always a high chair for her, and cute plastic crockery and cutlery. This was the life, decided the LO.
After a nap and some refreshments (including, more importantly for the LO, some crayons and a colouring kit the hotel provided), we set off sightseeing. Our very first stop was the Gardens by the Bay. Dominated by massive ‘trees’ (reminiscent somewhat of Avatar), the Gardens include plenty of outdoor gardens—but their most breathtaking sections are what lie inside. The Flower Dome, a massive glasshouse, for instance, has everything from a grove of olive trees to a small plantation of Canary Island date palms that looked perfect enough to make me wonder if they were artificial.
While I gushed over the fuchsias…
the LO raced off with her father to explore other parts of the dome—the cute little space, straight out of a fairy tale, on the ground floor, for one.
We followed that up with a walk through the Cloud Forest, which recreates—over a space of some four or five stories—a rainforest. It’s dominated by a 35 mt high waterfall (the highest indoor waterfall in the world), and after riding up to the top in an elevator, you make your way down, along walkways, past brilliantly recreated rainforest: orchids by the hundreds!
The LO wasn’t especially impressed by the waterfall, but she liked the orchids. The Crystal Mountain, which showcases crystals—a major cause of rainforests being decimated—also didn’t seem to make much of an impression on her, but she liked the Secret Garden, which recreates a Jurassic era rainforest, cycads and all. This included miniature orchids in front of which were placed, strategically, magnifying glasses that enabled you to actually appreciate these minuscule flowers.
Flowers and gardens are all very well, but what the LO really loves are animals. Day#2 onwards, therefore, she had a ball. Every single day. The Singapore Zoo. The River Safari. Jurong Bird Park. The Aquarium.
At the Singapore Zoo—which involved much walking—the LO stared, goggle-eyed, at ostriches as tall as zebras. She giggled when the orangutans swinging from vines above us peed on an unlucky father and toddler who were walking just a few steps ahead of us (the LO is not kind enough to feel for the unfortunate).
She enjoyed the Elephant Show, but had even more of a blast comparing the size of her foot to that of one of the elephants.
The next day, it drizzled—all through the day. Which seemed sort of appropriate, considering we spent the day at a place all about water: the River Safari. Right next door to the Zoo (and accessible through a combined pass), the River Safari is an introduction to freshwater ecosystems of the world. You walk down a (thankfully covered, so the rain eventually didn’t matter) walkway, through sections that showcase the flora and fauna of some of the world’s major rivers: the Mississippi, the Congo, Yangtze, Nile, Ganga, Amazon…
The LO went nuts about the turtles. She thought the arapaimas were sort of interesting (they were in a section known as the ‘Flooded Forest’, which recreates the yearly period when the Amazon overflows its banks to such an extent that the forests go completely underwater). She thought the manatees in the Flooded Forest looked funny, and (though she didn’t say so) probably was at least a wee bit envious of the diver who was swimming about with the manatees and feeding them.
And, while the giant pandas didn’t impress her too much, the LO went gaga over the ‘panda pau’ steamed buns—filled with chocolate—that were on sale at the café next door. She insisted on being bought some, but freaked out at the thought of eating the chocolate ‘eyes’ on them (actually, pretty much the only thing she loved about the paus was the somewhat meagre chocolate filling). Sigh. My husband and I ended up consuming both the panda paus as well as the panda cappuccinos we’d ordered.
The next day, we went to Jurong Bird Park. The section closest to the entrance is the Flamingo Lake, and you can smell the fishiness of whatever the flamingoes are fed. Like the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park too has a tram system which enables you to hop on and hop off the trams that traverse the main circuit of the park—this saves a lot of time (and energy, especially if you have little people with you).
We moved around a bit by tram, and spent the rest of the time on our own two feet. That, actually, is the best way to get up really close to the birds. For instance, we walked into the Waterfall Aviary, a huge aviary dominated by (what else?) a waterfall, and with all sorts of gorgeous birds stepping daintily about in the undergrowth or pecking away at bird feeders.
We also went into the Lory Loft, another huge aviary (so huge that it’s crisscrossed by several bridges across several levels). This one is peopled (birded?) by lorikeets, and the LO was thrilled (so were we). The colours! Somehow, even though we’ve seen umpteen photos of gloriously coloured birds everywhere here and there, actually seeing a bird like that, glowing like a stereotypical box of jewels, is a whole new experience altogether.
The highlight of the day for the LO was the High Flyers show, a 15-minute show that displays the skills—at flying, maneuvering, etc—of some specially trained birds. Here, a parrot named Pau Pau was brought on to show his skills at mimicry (he imitated, pretty convincingly, everything from a ringtone to a barking dog). Then the emcee asked if anybody in the audience had their birthdays on that day. And of the four people who did, our LO was one. So Pau Pau sang Happy birthday to you to the LO (and to the others, though that was something the LO decided to overlook). She was over the moon.
Another little tidbit of information we got from the High Flyers show was that hornbills are the only birds that have eyelashes. The LO was super fascinated by this. When I, in a burst of affectionate maternal pride, said that no hornbill ever had as beautiful eyelashes as my daughter, the LO (who, by the way, does have truly—or should that be falsely?—film star eyelashes) modestly refused and said that hornbills had prettier eyelashes.
The next day was our last in Singapore, and we spent some of it having lunch at Hard Rock Café with a friend. Here too the LO was made much of. When it was discovered by the wait staff that the LO had turned four just the previous day, she was brought a special ice cream treat, then taken to the stage where a tiny candle was lit atop her ice cream dessert and the entire restaurant—staff, other guests, everybody—sang Happy birthday to the LO, much to her bemused (and delighted) surprise.
We followed that up with a trip out to the island of Sentosa. Sentosa is pretty commercial, what with its casino, its Michelin starred restaurants and whatnot, and that commercialism carries through into the place we’d come here to see: the Aquarium, the tickets for which are more expensive than those for the Zoo etc. The Aquarium’s also pretty jam-packed, with hundreds of people surging around.
Still, we did get to see some pretty cool sea life here. I cannot, in all honesty, say exactly whether the LO appreciated the sharks (her father took a lot of trouble to try and point out a hammer-headed shark and tell her why it was called that) or the manta rays, but she certainly seemed enchanted by the very pretty and colourful corals and equally colourful fish swimming along amidst them.
The jellyfish were also, I think, somewhat of a success, though what really won the LO over were the turtles. She’d loved all the turtles (and tortoises, including the lumbering giants) that she’d seen at the River Safari, and that turtle love was again much in evidence here.
But, like all good things, our trip to the Aquarium—and our trip to Singapore itself—had to come to an end. The LO was so excited about going in a plane again that she didn’t seem to mind having to leave Singapore. But, when we were back in Delhi and waiting at the baggage conveyor belt at the airport, she said, “I want to go in an aeroplane again to some place.”
I am still trying to figure out whether the aeroplane is the catchphrase here or the other place is. And if it’s the aeroplane that matters, will a place that’s small and inexpensive be acceptable?