The flight was delayed by an hour but landed at Changi at a perfect time. My cousin, Sumeer Sharma, was at the airport to receive us. His presence at the airport ensured that we had a seamless transition into Singapore. Before stepping out of the airport, we had to collect the local SIM cards which were issued to us when we booked the ticket for Universal Studios on one of the websites. Although there were a couple of combo-deals available, including the one with tickets of Luge ride. We preferred to have the one that gave us the local connectivity for the entire trip. As all four of us were carrying our respective phones, this deal suited ideally with our trip. Incidentally, the duration of the validity of the sim card was longer than the length of our trip. The utility store from where we had to collect the sim cards was located on an extreme corner in the airport lounge, but the presence of Sumeer ensured that we were done quickly in collecting & activating all our sim cards.
Our service apartment had a check-in time of 2.00 p.m. with no option for early check-in. In case someone has an early morning arrival, one needs to book an additional day. Sumeer had suggested and proposed that we go to his house from the airport, meet the family, spend some time catching-up, have lunch and then we can move to the apartment. This would save us a day’s rental and anyways we had to go to his house on one of the days for lunch or dinner. This proposal fitted well, so we went along with it. He grew up in Delhi around the Paharganj area and chose banking as a career. The career with multi-national banks took him to places, and now for over a decade, he is settled in Singapore. He is a travel geek, albeit a little higher in travel-quotient than me. His Twitter profile explains it all, which captures his interests as military history, trekking, travel, human psychology apart from few others.
When I had started planning for the trip, he had proposed to include Malaysia as well in the itinerary and gave me many ideas to pursue, but I was keener to spend the entire duration of 6 days within Singapore. I was looking forward to hear from him about the unusual stories and places to explore as well as to gather do’s and don’ts over the next few days in Singapore. There would not be any other better day for these than the very first day of the trip. Indeed, he gave some excellent tips, especially around going to Mount Faber for the sound & light show, Bell of Happiness, Mustafa Center, a walk alongside the Singapore River, Fullerton Building, Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Cavenagh Bridge, sculptures around Asian Civilisations Museum, Hyggerium shop for some quirky stuff, exploring Orchard Street, and a few more.
Within half an hour, we reached cousin’s home. The road to home reminded me of the drive I used to have a couple of years back from London Heathrow until our service apartment at Canary Wharf. The similarities did not end there, and many other things kept popping out during the entire trip, reminding us of London days. I will talk about them as we would bimble around the town. It was a beautifully located apartment giving a fantastic view of the stadium located across the road. This also gave us a peek-a-boo into what we can expect over the next couple of days during our stay. After catching up for a couple of hours gathering tips, talking to his son whom I was meeting for the first time as well as having scrumptious lunch, we headed to our apartment in Far East Plaza Residencies at Scotts Road. It was decided that after settling down and resting for a while, we will wander around in Little India as well as Mustafa Center in the evening. The moment we entered our apartment on the 27th floor, a beautiful room welcomed us, and a jaw-dropping view of the surroundings was alluring us towards the balcony with the camera. It provided some fascinating view of the encompassing skyline with beautiful buildings with roof-top gardens, roads with lush green trees and deep-blue sky. The scintillating view was absolutely stunning and mesmerizing.
We started for Little India around 5.00 p.m. We hailed a taxi as we left checking out MRT for the next day. It cost us about 17 SGD for a one-way ride, and we ended up spending the same amount while returning back to the apartment. Later, on the 2nd day, when we went to MRT station, we realized that a 3 day unlimited MRT pass costs just 20 dollars, and it takes only 15 minutes to reach Little India with a quick changeover of train at Newton MRT station. More so, buying the tourist pass at MRT station is a matter of flicker. There are a couple of options to book a taxi, which would include booking on the mobile App or calling on a given number. The cab service is widespread and reliable, unlike in Delhi, where you find cancellations very frequent. The only catch is that if you book a cab by calling on a number, you have to pay an extra service charge of three dollars for each ride.
Mustafa Center is an iconic place in Singapore located in the heart of Little India. It is said that if you live in Singapore but have not been to Mustafa, then you must be living under a tunnel or meditating in the jungles. It is a 24-hour shopping mall that was opened in 1971in its original avatar. Over a period, it has expanded to sell more than 300 thousand items spread across 400 thousand square feet area spread across two adjoining buildings. The items being sold are from daily use groceries to lifestyle items like electronics, clothing, gold, jewelry, watches, books, toys, and many more. All these cater to the budget segment. The mall is really huge and seems like never-ending if you are walking across from one corner to another.
Although the store format is more or less similar to Walmart or Tesco or Reliance Fresh, the differentiator is the way store space has been optimized to bring in cost efficiencies by leaving not a very wide bays and using as much space as possible to stack up items. The racks had all the daily use items and brands that I could think of. These are the items which, I can typically locate in any store in India and included typical Indian brands like Amul, Haldirams, Dabur, Britannia, Sunfeast and, last but not the least, our own maggi. In fact, even the smallest Indian kitchen items like curry leaves, coriander, black pepper, cardamom, haldi, cumin seeds were easily available. One major find was the camel milk which was stacked up in rows in diary section. The litmus test, however, was to locate the tea strainer for my morning chai that I had somehow missed to carry from India. Lo and behold, it was there, in abundance, calling me loudly from a shelf.
In the beginning, the entire mall looks chaotic with very little staff to answer questions, but once you settle down in a while, you do not need anyone to guide. You will also get to know the vantage points where you can seek help. I could also see a huge crowd of Indian diaspora in the store and it all seemed like a mini India... perhaps my definition of a foreign country changed that day forever.