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Explorations, expeditions and experiences

Appu’s first trek to the waterfall

We parents always have a choice. To begin childhood of our kid(s) with Gadgets and Virtual Realty or with Nature and Reality itself.

Last weekend, we took our ten-months old baby boy Kanishk (Appu), on his very first trek to the Teraja waterfall, located at the end of Labi road in the pristine rainforests of Brunei Darussalam. Brunei located on the Borneo island, is blessed with lush-green jungles, stunning waterfalls and rich biodiversity. This outing was chalked-out and well-organized by the lovely members of the Kannada Koota in Brunei.

Forest walks are refreshing, healing and rejuvenating. In Brunei, people often go on jungle hikes, forest treks and boat rides. In Japan, they practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, which means taking in the forest through your senses. Back home in coastal Karnataka, India, I am quite familiar with forest walks in the jungles of Yana, Sirsi, Dandeli to name a few. This region of Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot. My husband Rahul, has been an avid hiker and a nature enthusiast. He has gone on innumerable hikes in the forests of Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. Although he cautiously and rightly notes that

there is a very thin line between adventure and foolishness.

Hiking with an infant, moreover, comes with its own set of challenges. It is best to decide otherwise, if the conditions aren’t favorable. However, we were fortunate this time as the sun-kissed weather, protective measures and supportive group members made this little adventure possible.

The key here is Preparation!

We headed from Bandar Seri Begawan to Labi by the tour Bus. En route to Labi, we took a breakfast break at the picturesque beach of Pantai Seri Kenangan, Tutong. This spot is one of its kind in Brunei, with the Tutong River on one side of the land strip and the South China Sea on the other. This beach takes me down the memory lane to Maravanthe beach near Kundapura in Karnataka, India, where the bustling National Highway 66 runs next to this stunning windswept beach and the gorgeous Souparnika River flows on the other side of this Highway giving it a spectacular sight! This also happens to be one of its kind in India.

Here at Pantai Seri Kenangan, Kannada Koota members had brought together a menagerie of mouth-watering, finger-licking assortment of dishes that made a happy fulfilling breakfast and an energizing break.

Well-fed and well-nourished we resumed our journey to Labi. After about an hour drive down Jalan Labi, we arrived at the longhouse venue from where the trek begins. While most group members including young children geared up with the essentials to begin our ~3 Km trek across the rocky streams and thick canopy of trees in the hilly terrain to Wasai Teraja (Teraja Waterfalls), a few elderly members including mum dad decided to stay back and enjoy nature from the gazebos located at the foothills.

Mum Dad chose to stay back at one of the gazebos with other members

Although fully equipped with the essential paraphernalia necessary for this relatively easy terrain, we had to overcome the initially dilemma of embarking on the very first trek with a child dangling on you. We started our walk in to the woods slowly, steadily and cautiously. The sky was clear, the air was cool and the weather was in our favor.

The key here is Pace!

There were few moments of uncertainty where I wanted to return. However, Rahul given his experience, encouraged me to keep moving ahead. In the company of wonderfully supportive group members and precautions in place, we continued to trek one step at a time. Appu was soaking the sunshine and was quite curious of his new surroundings. Surprisingly, he was calm and keen throughout. He did sip more water than usual, given the humidity of the jungle.

Hiking with Appu to the Labi waterfall.

And… Finally, we made it! We were super delighted to have reached our destination. I heaved a huge sigh of relief at the sight of the charming waterfall and the clear pond. All thanks to our little Appu who was unexpectedly co-operative for his ripe old age of ten months!

At the waterfall, Rahul took generous dips in the serene waters along with the others, while Appu felt, for the first time, the natural serene shallow waters with partial dips. He didn’t like the coldness of the water initially but soon warmed up to it and no sooner was smiling, cheering, babbling. After a few customary splashes, we quickly changed & fed him while preparing for the return journey.

Life is a journey they say – taking one step at a time through uneven paths and small streams in the pristine jungle.

It was all worth it! After about an hour at the waterfall, we headed back. This time the steps were brisk, the pace confident and the mood relaxed. An array of scrumptious lunch items were awaiting us at the gazebos! Upon arrival, we quickly freshened up in the restroom facilities and treated ourselves to the yummy dishes all the group members had pooled in. That felt like quite a well-deserved meal!

After food and a gazillion photo sessions, we headed to the Bus. On our way back to Bandar, the enthusiastic group was still high on enthusiasm despite the fatigue. We decided to stop-over at the Taman Rekreasi Hutan Luagan Lalak, a hidden gem in the Labi hills forest reserve, to enjoy it serenity and take some dusk pictures at the scenic wooden staircases and walkways spanning the lake. ‘Luagan’ in Malay means a large non-flowing water body. This freshwater swamp is covered with sedges, ferns and water lilies. People come here for photography, birdwatching, picnicking, strolling or simply meditating. While we explored the captivating beauty of nature here, Appu who was tired from the jungle trek was asleep, but managed a few glimpses now and then.

A panorama of Lake Lalak

That was one memorable experience! We had a great time on this outing with the high-spirited group members creating wonderful memories and milestones.

At the end of the day our hearts were filled with immense gratitude. Thanks to the perfect weather, people and preparation, we were able to create fond memories from the Labi outing.

If we are mindful and respect mother Nature, she always protects us.

This trek is also special to us as it happens to be our baby’s first one of the many many more ones to come. Getting to know and learning from nature is so much better than getting our children glued to gadgets. We look forward to introducing Appu to more such forest walks in future to experience the mesmerizing beauty nature has to offer.

The jungle says,

Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.

The rhythm of Brunei – Gulingtangan

Gulingtangan orchestral music of Brunei has always amused me. The metallic melody reverberating from the wooden instruments is soothing to the senses. Often played on board the Royal Brunei Airlines, the melody lingers long after the journey ends.

Traditionally, anyone who owned the orchestral set was considered noble and wealthy. Gulingtangan music is used for royal celebrations, opening ceremonies that involve royalties and official events. It also acts as leisure or entertainment during ceremonies such as Hari Raya celebrations, weddings and get-togethers.

One of my Masters students, Abdul Zul’adly Bin Haji Mohaimin (Zul) is part the gulingtangan orchestra. He and his team deliver lessons and conduct performances at several events in Brunei.

Gulingtangan (literally ‘rolling hands’) is a series of small gongs in a casing made from the special wood of timbaran. The gongs are struck with wooden sticks to create melodies. It is played with other traditional instruments in the orchestra, typically consisting of Gongs, Canang Tiga, Tawak-tawak, 2 sets of Gendang Labik along with Gulintangan set. Modern musical instruments may also be added on to the ensemble. Although songs and instruments have evolved to include modern music, Gulintangan is at the heart of the orchestral band.

 

Traditional music of a region evolves with the human experience and helps trace the roots of culture and tradition.

The traditional Brunei rhythm consist of

  1. Irama Gulingtangan (traditional Gulingtangan rhythm)

which includes Kudidi, Gabungkok, Avasan, Seri Rama, Raja Lalu, Sakai, Hujan Lari, Raja Sehari, Seri Rama Bovan, Abut-abut, Gelombang Bertaduh

  1. Lagu-Lagu Brunei Asli (Brunei traditional folklore songs)

which include Alus Jua Dendang, Dang Mengalai, Kampong Ayer, Zapin Tar, Tudug Dulang, Adai-adai, Samalindang, Dong-Dong Oma, Indung Anak among others.

Below are some of the musical performances created by Zul and his team:

Kampong Ayer
Joget Seri Kenangan
Raja Lalu

Pooja Shivanand and Abdul Zul’adly Bin Haji Mohaimin

A Father’s Dream

The Chinese Bamboo tree starts from a tiny seed. It requires nurturing – water, fertile soil, sunshine. More than anything…. Patience! A farmer plants the seed. Despite all his efforts, very little happens in the first year.

So…..the second, third even fourth year he patiently waters, fertilizes and protects the seed…..Nothing happens!

Finally, during the fifth year, the Bamboo plant begins to grow. In fact, it grows 90 feet tall in just 6 weeks! as if growing right in front of his eyes.

But did the bamboo tree grow 90 feet in six weeks or in five years?

A dream requires long-term nurturing. It takes faith, it takes perseverance and it takes patience to turn a dream into reality. I learnt this from my grandfather and this post is his inspiring story.

Once upon a time in the sleepy coastal town of Ankola, in Uttara Kannada of Karnataka State in India…..

My maternal grandfather Shri Shankar Naik had a dream – to see each of his daughters educated!

To him education was empowerment; and that applied as much to girls as to boys.

Today education is rightfully widespread. I am grateful to be born in the most favorable of times. But back in the 1960s things were different. Back then, educating a girl was not a priority. It was a luxury of the rich. My grandfather’s frugal income as a Thahshildar, barely supported his family. Education was expensive and not a priority. Lack of awareness, access to schools, early marriages raised additional barriers for girls. And my grandfather had not one or two; but six daughters! and one son.

But he had an unshakable faith, to see them all stand on their own feet. He decided not to get them married until they have a job in hand. This thought was way too bold during his time.

So he went on to nurture his dream in the fertile soil of perseverance. With thick glasses on his face and a classic umbrella in his hand he walked to his workplace every day. He got transferred several times, but opted to travel alone and keep his family in town so his children could go to good school. Soon, they were growing up and so were their expenses. There were times of humiliation when he was unable to pay their tuition fees on time, times of criticism that brought tears of pain when his own people saw no worth in girls’ education, despite all his efforts. He endured physical exhaustion; but he continued gave his children immense motivation. The only person who saw his vision was his wife, my loving grandmother Manorama. She is one of the most organized and disciplined individuals I have seen in my life. Repaired clothes, hungry nights were her share too. Savings was necessary. Every penny she saved was a penny earned for the family.

Did their efforts pay off?

Like the bamboo seed growing strong roots in almost half a decade that one day supports a 90 feet tall plant, the children in all these years of struggle developed strong will power that would one day support their success.

Yes. The efforts did pay off.

The eldest daughter (Dodda-aunty Dr Sarojini) became a renowned ophthalmologist in Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences, Hubballi.

The second daughter (Suma aunty) specialized in economics and went on to become Principal of Women’s college in Bellary.

The third daughter (Sheela aunty) and fourth daughter (my mommy, Indu) took up language studies. While the elder became a Sanskrit teacher in Sorab High School, Sagara, the fourth one my mum – took up English, served as lecturer and later in-charge Principal in Baad Junior college, Kumta.

His only son (Ganesh mama) became the Director of Secondary Education Board, Karnataka.

The fifth daughter (Pushpa aunty) had a passion for law. She expressed interest to be a lawyer once. Many thought the idea was preposterous. But my grandfather was patient and supportive. She took her to law school in Mysore and later she went on to become Deputy Director of Public prosecution in Bangalore.

When his youngest daughter (Rekha aunty) became a civil advocate in Bangalore, it was his day – when his long-standing distant dream had turned into a dynamic reality.

A reality in which not just his children were educated, but a human capital was built with confident young women in the society. This has opened doors of opportunities that benefited generations that came after, including me. My grandfather through his passionate dream and relentless struggle contributed his share to a developing economy thorough his well educated daughters.

With faith, perseverance and patience, we have no idea what we can achieve.

Do you have a dream?

amazed in Andamans

It was one amazing experience indeed! A trip to the Andaman & Nicobar islands in October 2012 kickstarted the first of the many travels my husband and me would embark on. Hence this trip has always been very special to me. These islands are blessed with luxuriant evergreen tropical rainforest canopy and vast rich coastline of 6 lakh sq. km. with immense variety of ecosystem and wildlife. The original inhabitants belong to six different tribes (shompens, nicobarese, onges, jarawas, great andamanese, Sentinelese).

Quick facts: comprised of 572 islands of which 37 are inhabited. Country: India; Capital: Port Blair; Currency: Indian rupee (INR); Coordinates: 11.68°N 92.77°E

andaman airport

Stay and cuisine:

We had a Talespin experience boarding the 9 seater Cessna 208A seaplane from Port Blair to Havelock island, officially Swaraj island. This 25 minute enjoyable trip provides an amazing aerial view of the tranquil shorelines, islands and rainforest canopies.

andaman seaplane

We stayed the beautiful Eco Villa Palm Beach Resort in the Govindnager village of Havelock island. This clean, eco-friendly property is well-maintained by its owner Saajan, a marine biologist himself. The Nicobari style cozy huts and cottages are right in front of the beach from where you see the tides come in and go out and enjoy a snorkel in the aquamarine crystal clear waters just outside your door.

andaman ecovillage

Places of interest:

We hiked, biked, walked and even dived in the islands. The easiest means of transport is hiring a bike and zooming away to beautiful locales in the island. Both north and south Indian cuisines are popular and easily available.

Radhanagar beach:

This lovely paradise of breathtaking beauty is one of the stunning beaches of India. You can enjoy the long stretch of white sand beach and the vast sea with the backdrop of dense jungle and mountains. Life comes to standstill here.

andaman radhanagar beach

Port Blair:

The city offers incredible views of oceans and rivers. We visited the anthropological museum, forest museum and cellular jail.

andaman water view.jpg

The Cellular Jail, also known as Kālā Pānī (black waters), stands as a dark reminiscence of the British rule in India. The colonial prison was used to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago. Many notable independence activists such as Batukeshwar Dutt, Yogendra Shukla and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar were imprisoned here. The jail complex is now open to public viewing as a National Memorial. It gives a glimpse of years of India’s struggle for freedom as well as the grit, determination and undue suffering of the freedom fighters. We walked through the corridors as mute spectators with a heavy heart. The place now regularly holds Light & Sound (Son-et-Lumiere) shows on India’s freedom struggle in Hindi and English.

andaman kaala pani

My adventures:

Scuba diving: My very first scuba diving in Andaman was an unmatched, fascinating, one-of-a-kind experience. We explored the awesome sea life, vibrant fish and mesmerizing corals.

andaman scuba diving

Treking: We visited deerpark in the Ross island of Andaman by boat. We enjoyed walks in the park, short treks and hikes in the dense jungles of Andamans and its marvelous hillocks.

andaman activity

Joyous bike ride amidst the tropical rainforest to the pristine Radhanagar beach (known as the best beach in India) in central Havelock, Andaman and Nicobar islands. Its fun riding in the narrow roadway flanked on either sides by dense jungles. The journey culminates into a breathtaking view of the serene, clean, white sand Radhanagar beach.

Weekend getaway to Kuala Belait, Brunei

‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’ – John Keats
Made time to step outside and witness the beautiful nature in the neighbourhood we seldom enjoy – a magnificent rainbow unfolding during the drive to Kuala Belait (KB), the extraordinary grandeur of golden hue dazzling across the skies during the beautiful sunset by the beach.

Drive to KB from Bandar after work over the weekend is refreshing. The towns of Seria and KB are lovely to just walk around, sight the iconic nodding donkeys which pump out oil, enjoy sunset by the beach and eat good food. Enough to get recharged for next weeks duties.

KB view2

The beautiful beaches in KB offer a breathtaking view of the sunset and vibrant colorful skies.

Tip: carry insect repellant to ward of sand flies on the KB beach.

KB beach

Take time to soak in nature’s delight. Its splendid beauty having a profound effect on the senses, rejuvenates and heals.

Whenever in KB, we stay at the Seaview Hotel. As the name suggests the rooms and service apartments here offer a resplendent view of the sea. The rooms on the second floor are carpeted and cozy. They have a promotion on weekends. Easy access to Coffee bean and supermarket in the ground floor.

Tip: ask for seaside rooms. The other side faces cemetery.

KB also has quiet places of culinary delight. We had a scrumptious Indian meal at the popular Zaika Restaurant which serves authentic north Indian cuisine. Their Masala lassi is ma favorite!

KB Zaika.jpg

Dinner was a lovely surprise at the beautiful locale of Ricardo’s La Galeria serving Mexican food. The ambience was colored with Mexican theme and enlivened with soulful music. The tacos and virgin mojitos are great.

KB Ricardo

If you wish to eat authentic lip-smacking, finger-licking, Indian aloo parantha, poori bhaji, chhole bature with jeear dahi and masala chhaas for breakfast (lunch and dinner), A4 restaurant on Jalan Mckerron, is the place to go to.

Tip: Just make sure you go on empty stomach! The yum food will stuff you to breathlessness.

KB A4

bewitched in Bali

We had a refreshing getaway to the picturesque island of Bali, Indonesia in May 2017. The island lies east of Java and is approximately 8 degrees south of the equator. In March 2017, TripAdvisor named Bali as the world’s top destination in its Traveler’s Choice award.

Quick facts: Strategically located in international trade lanes. Country: Indonesia; Capital: Denpasar; Currency: Indonesian rupiah (IDR); Coordinates: 8°20′06″S 115°05′17″E

Stay and cuisine: Our stay was comfortable at the Champlung Mas Hotel And Spa Legian located in the premiere of Kuta – Legian within 10 minute walking distance to Kuta beach, Legian art market and restaurants.

Bali hotel.jpg

 

The best place for dinner is the tranquil Jimbaran bay with a terrific view of sunset, scrumptious sea food and nice area to walk around. Food can be overpriced!

Local customs and traditions:

Fragrant frangipani and incense adorn the streets, vehicles and houses in Bali. We bought some harum sari (fragrant incense) from the Toko Dupa incense shop.

Bali incense.jpg

Places of interest, history and culture:

Tanah Lot:

Means ‘land in the sea’. The offshore shrine is situated amidst constantly crashing waves and is an iconic feature. It is located in the Beraban village of the Tabanan regency, about 30 km away from Denpasar and 20 km northwest of Kuta.

Bali tanah lot.jpg

Pura Ulun Danu Beratan:

This beautiful water temple is located on the shores of Lake Bratan, known as the ‘lake of holy mountain’ in Bedugul, central Bali. Bedugul area is a cool upland with cold tropical climate at an elevation of 1200 m above sea level.

Bali Pura Beratan.jpg

Mount Batur and lake:

Gunung Batur is an active volcano located northwest of Mount Agung in the Kintamani district of Bali. Though we missed the well known sunrise, the magnificent volcano and the crystal clear view of the lake Batur were truly breathtaking.

Bali mount batur.jpg

Temples:

Temples in Bali offer a sense of calm to the visitors. They feature magnificent architecture and scenic beauty.

Bali temple.jpg

Bali performances and Kecak dance shows:

Balinese dance and drama are presented live on stage by performers in vivid costumes. ‘Kecak’ is the legendary singing and dancing ritual run in open amphitheater.

Bali show.jpg

Mushroom Beach, Nusa Lembongan:

Bali beach

Bali Zoo and elephant expedition:

Bali elephant expedition

Pura Luhur Uluwatu:

Bali uluwatu.jpg

Strawberry stop:

Located near the Beratan temple, this place serves delicious strawberry juice and pancakes. The pure juice is fresh from the farm. The backyard has a lovely garden with greenhouses of strawberry, vegetables and flowers.

Bali strawberry stop.jpg

My adventures:

Cycling amidst the lush green paddy fields of Bali

Bali cycling.jpg

 

 

 

 

The nodding donkey

The monument which commemorates the production of the billionth barrel of oil in the onshore oil field in Seria in Brunei, was built in 1991. The nodding donkeys are built for the extraction of crude oil on shore. You might spot unexpected visitors crawling around.

Greenery of the Kuala Belalong forest

The dense green forests of Kuala Belalong in Temburong Brunei is a rich source of oxygen. You don’t feel tired even after climbing the 42 meters high and 150 meters long canopy, equivalent to 21 floors. The refreshing feel of fresh air and energy is sublime!

 

One-of-a-kind Taxi Drive

Is this a gift shop? No! Its a Taxi!

I had a stroke of luck in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when I enjoyed a ride with family in the gloriously decorated taxi of Mr. Sivakumar Balasubramaniam. The taxi is a mini gift collection center with innumerably mementos, collections and artifacts beautifully decorated by the proud owner.

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