CFC stands for comfort with foreign cultures. Recent research indicate that level of local comfort with foreign cultures vary from country to country (Jain, V., Singh, R., 2014) (Jain,V., Singh, R., 2013). It may be interesting for you to check your CFC score by taking this small CFC survey. More details of CFC research can be seen here
For a long time, I was planning to go to Amritsar in Punjab to do Darshan at Harminder Sahib (Golden temple). It was one of the places which had been in my list of places I must see before I die. I and my wife finally decided to travel to Amritsar in Oct 2014. We decided to travel by road. I decided to cover the distance between Delhi and Amritsar in two stages with a night stop at a small town called Roop Nagar. It is also famously known as Ropar. This place is the nearest town from Anandpur Sahib which is the holiest place of Sikhism. We started from Delhi at 8 am and reached Ropar by evening little late than planned due to an unexpected break down of the car near Kurukshetra.
On reaching Ropar we checked-in a hotel called Sahil Palace which provided us with an excellent accommodation. One interesting thing with our room was that it was near a busy railway line so we could hear the sounds of all passing trains. It was quite interesting and different from the busy life of Delhi. After check in we immediately proceeded to Ananadpur Sahib. After making a Darshan and enjoying the beautiful and large complex, we roamed around the late evening Bazar on the periphery of the complex. We also revered the newly opened museum of Sikh heritage called Virasat e Khalsa one of its only kind in the world and most beautifully designed complex, constructed at an estimated cost of INR 300 Crore. Although we could not see the museum from inside as it was closed that day due to scheduled holiday. Afterwards we went back to Ropar having our lunch at a mid way Dhaba. This Dhaba was a very special one hosting a village like surrounding displaying Punjab heritage through a series of clay mannequins and sculptures. Food was very tasty.
In the morning next day we proceeded to the Ropar Museum of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which is one of the most important museums of India, displaying a series of antique artifacts of Harappan (also called Indus Valley Civilization) period excavated from Ropar itself from the place near the museum itself. These artifacts which include pottery burial artifacts, simple tools, semi precious jewellery, coins and others are meticulously displayed along with others from nearby sites and excavated during last 60 years. The artifacts belong to period as old as 3300 BC and depict the importance of the place as an old civilization with a rich culture. The artifacts are displayed according to period of the history. The artifacts are well-preserved and well documented.
After the museum we proceeded to one of Asia’s best and largest manmade wetland at the banks of river Satluj one of the most important of five rivers of Punjab. During the winters this is the place of first stop over for migratory birds coming to India. Some of the most important and rare birds have been sighted in this area in recent times. We also enjoyed rowing boat over the river and witnessed the unmatched natural beauty of the place. The banks of the river are worth watching at different places. Actually the water in this part of river is down stream of nearby Bhakra and Nangal dam and has water almost throughout the year. It is also possible to ride motor boat here.
After enjoying the natural beauty of Satluj River at Ropar we proceeded towards Amritsar at around noon. Taking the Mohali Jalandhar expressway we were soon at national highway no 1 towards Jalandhar city. At Jalandhar we took the bypass road towards Amritsar and made a stopover at Haveli a heritage Punjabi restaurant near Jalandhar and had a delicious lunch. It is amazing to observe the meticulous management of this eating cum entertainment zone owned by Mr. Satish Jain. This place is a world-class five-star style zone offering food and experience at affordable prices. The place also has a theme zone (Rangla Punjab) depicting Punjab culture and Punjab life along with a buffet Punjabi lunch and dinner again at unbelievably reasonable prices. It is interesting to note that such places like Haveli restaurant and Rangla Punjab at Jalandhar are doing a great service to the nation’s tourism industry by providing world-class attractions comparable to the best attractions in typical global destinations. It is a must visit zone in this part of India where you will not miss several photo opportunities for you and your family. Parking management, climate control, ambiance management, and cleanliness is impeccable, world-class and exemplary here.
After spending an hour at Haveli we proceeded towards Amritsar where we were short of time to catch up with the 6 pm Wagah border closing parade by BSF personnel. By the time we reached Amritsar bypass towards Wagah border we were clear that we will be facing a large flood of tourists all heading towards Wagah border for the ceremony. We just made it to Wagah. It was really crowded there. BSF is having a herculean task of managing such unexpected rush of tourists during long weekends like this. One interesting thing I noticed there was the absence of even a small crowd on the other side of border in Pakistan. Wagah border visit is a lovely experience to enjoy the patriotic feeling and Aman Ki Asha. Chanting of Vande Matarm was in the air.
After spending some hours at Wagah, we rushed towards Amritsar to check in the hotel as we could not inform about this unexpected delay to the hotel. However we had no difficulty in checking in at hotel Shiraaj Castle which we found to be well-managed and professionally served hotel with all modern amenities and spacious rooms. Just after the check in we proceeded towards Bharawan da Dhaba a very famous 90 years old eating joint in Amritsar, for a delicious dinner. It took some waiting to get a proper seat there due to sudden tourist rush. After enjoying the Punjabi food with Kheer and Phirni we walked down to Golden temple. Although there was rush of devotees moving to the temple we did not have any problem to enter the complex as it is so well-managed. The evening look of the temple in midst of the Sarovar is awesome. I took a few pics there. I realized that Golden temple as it looks in the evening can easily compete with Taj Mahal as the one among most beautiful buildings on earth and as among select wonders of the world. We did Darshan and Parikarma had Prashad and strolled back to our hotel. Tired we retired as soon as we reached our hotel.
Next day we proceeded for a heritage walk in the Ahluwalia Katra which is very near to Harminder Sahib. Here we enjoyed old Jharokhas, did shopping of Phulkari textile items. Also visited Jalianwala Bagh. Our visit to Jalianwalan Bagh turned out to be an emotional one. Passion ran high seeing the marks of bullets on the old walls and to see the Well where freedom fighters jumped to save themselves during freedom struggle. In all around 150 martyrs were extracted from this well after the unprovoked firing by Britishers.
After the heritage walk we moved to Hall bazaar for shopping. It is interesting to note that most shops in Hall bazaar have fixed price policy. One can get very good footwear, Phulkari textile items, hand bags etc from this market. Also this place has some good sweets shops. Amritsar is famous for its mouth-watering Patisa best available at a sweet shop in front of Longowal Devi Temple near Bharawan da Dhaba. One can also try Samosa, Rasgoola and Phirni here which are really delicious and fairly priced.
After the shopping we started our journey to Morni Hills near Chandigarh. Om way we had buffet lunch at Rangla Punjab near Jalandhar. An interesting thing we noticed in Punjab villages that people love to have clay figurines on the top of their village houses. These figures can be of certain animals, birds or even depicting village life of people.
There was some traffic jam as we approached Chandigarh. However we reached Morni hills by late evening. On reaching Morni village which is located near Morni Hills and at a good height we descended to a valley as we had booked our hotel room near Tikkar Taal in the Morni hills valley. This place has another picturesque lake near the main Tikkar Lake. Our hotel was just facing this smaller lake. This Lake is more natural and view from the room was awesome.
Next day after having the breakfast we moved back to Morni hills and Morni village on the higher hilly reaches. In fact we explored the Morni hills on the other side of Morni village. This part of Morni hills is least commercialized. I saw some tree platform normally made for drying up agriculture produce and also to protect the produce from wild animals. I guessed there are certain wild animals frequenting the area. I checked with a few locals there and came to know that area around that place has witnessed several wild animals including tigers. This fact added to the aura and natural beauty of that place. I also noticed certain village trek paths starting from major junction on the road. I came to know that one can trek there up 2 km to reach a local village in high reaches. We tried to trek for 1 km but due to lack of time did not go further. The trek was even suitable for village 2 wheel vehicles. In all it was an interesting and natural trek. Another interesting thing we noticed in this small village area that Indian Namkeen Snacks being sold in the brand names like – ‘Chalu Bhujia‘, ‘Babaji Ka Thullu‘ sold in small packets for just INR 1 or 2 only.
After coming back to our car we proceeded back to Morni village and thereafter took a descent towards Raipur Rani which again is in the lower plain adjacent to Morni hills and take on a short route to Karnal. This well made route connects to national highway 1 somewhere between Kurukshetra and Karnal. We had our lunch at famous Jhilmil Dhaba near Karnal and proceeded back to Delhi.
Our Singapore sojourn started at IGIA New Delhi with a late night Air India dream liner flight. The flight was moderately late by about 40 Min which gave our 22 students of PGDM program some extra time to explore Delhi duty free shops. Incidentally we were told by our tour manager Mr. Martin, from Thomas Cook that Delhi duty free is more economical than Singapore duty free. Most of our 22 students were first timers for an overseas trip. They were relishing every moment of this sojourn. Mr. Martin was making sure our students understands all aspects of ‘check in’, immigration and security check and do not land up doing any fiasco or lose their valuables including their passport. Incidentally I found the security check at IGIA as a smoother process than many other international airport systems.
The unique thing about IGIA security check is that it is a ‘one point all airport’ system. In most of the other international airports we have a system of ‘boarding gate security check’ which is very annoying coz as you reach the boarding gate and get security check done you are trapped in a smaller area where most time you do not have even a toilet. Singapore’s Changi airport too follows the same system. You therefore use the toilet outside the security zone and every time you are out you go through all checks again which is very inconvenient and annoying. At IGIA one point all airport security check makes it most convenient to explore the airport and use last minute toilet calls. However at Changi airport till the check in counter there is no unnecessary checks like ID check or ticket check. Advantage of this system at Changi airport is that your dear ones can see u off till the check in and even till the immigration point without buying an entry ticket to the airport.
Well Air India dreamliner flight was awesome. Nice ‘on seat’ entertainment, great Indian food, lots of Hindi speaking people and crew. Flight landed at Changi Airport a little late. And immigration counter at Singapore were little crowded. An interesting thing I noticed at Changi airport immigration was the ‘automated immigration gates’ which operated something like our Delhi metro card entry exit gates system. Probably frequent travelers from Singapore and some other countries carry their immigration papers and visa in the form of a magnetic card and are able to do automated self immigration which is a great saving of time and efforts. Nevertheless it took some really abnormal time to complete immigration formalities. But it was smooth for all of us.
After getting refreshed at Changi airport we proceeded to the bus which had to take all of us for SP city tour and a ride to Singapore flier. It was 10 am and we first had our breakfast at a south Indian restaurant in Little India area near famous Mustafa shopping center. Breakfast was great with south Indian menu and some continental dishes too.
After breakfast we proceeded to the half day city tour of Singapore. Our local guide, introduced to us by Mr. Martin, was Ms. Harbans, an interesting. Ms Harbans is a 60+ old Singaporean of Indian origin with her Indonesian roots. She is only lady from her vast Indonesian relatives’ pool of Indian origin Sikh Indonesian. At her age she is still so fit and jovial that you hardly notice her age. Additionally as all Singaporeans are famous for, she has kept her well informed of Singapore and its highlights to share with visiting groups. One of the reasons for her fitness at this age, she attributes to fresh fruits she eat daily, especially a delicious fruit of Singapore called Duku. (We renamed it with a desi word Daku to remember it). So Harbans told us Singapore is one of the most beautiful cities in the world which came out as a splinter from mainland Malaysia in 1960s. Historically it was the land of tigers, probably having the origin of its name from this fact. Anciently, it was occupied by western nations as a strategic sea post. Due to its strategic position, a lot of mainland Chinese migrated to it in search of better conditions, many of whom died on their way to Singapore on grueling sea journey or while escaping from China. Gradually Indian contract labor, Indonesians and people of other countries also joined in to exploit the opportunities. Over the time different ethnic groups were settled and segregated in different pockets of Singapore resulting in different visibly ethnic districts within Singapore including famous Little India District, China town District, Bugis Villas and European areas. Today all these districts have their unique identities. Having said that it may be noted that Singapore has strict rules to discourage people living in largely single community at one particular locality.
Passing through down town area of Singapore in our bus, and learning some interesting facts from Harbans who spoke in flawless English with some hinglish sentences through ‘in coach audio system’, we enjoyed all of the locations including east coast park area, newly upcoming suburbs of Singapore, botanical garden, bay front area, marina bay hotel from Merlion area, Bugis villa etc. We learnt that Singapore people believe in meritocracy which means best talents must be nurtured and rewarded. Education system is flexible and there is lot of scope for vocational learning in case some students are not interested in core academics. Every citizen has to spend at least a year in military service before completing the formal education. Even after that everyone has to contribute at least 40 days of military services every year till the age of 40. Harbans told us that it is one of the reasons why every Singaporean is so disciplined and tries to excel in whatever he or she is doing. Harbans also told that Singapore govt is trying each of its citizens to own a house and therefore makes it easy for all to buy govt built subsidized housing on installments. Almost 80% of Singapore population lives in such modest govt. built houses, which looks very similar to each other. Rest may be living in more luxury apartments and villas which are very costly. Some of the independent houses can costs millions of dollars. Owning cars, club membership are very costly affair in Singapore. Due to this situation, it becomes very difficult for a Singaporean to find a female match who seems to marry someone owning 4 Cs- cash, car, club membership, credit card. No wonder Singapore population is declining.
Afterwards we visited a famous Chinese Temple in the China Town Area. A unique thing about this temple is its meticulous Chinese style engraving and frescos decorating the entire temple complex. It is forbidden to take pictures in the core prayer area.
We also visited a chocolate shop which was little expensive but welcomed us with a free chocolate drink. The range and types of chocolates at one place was remarkable in this shop.
By about 12 pm we were heading to ride Singapore flyer which is world’s highest rotating wheel similar to the famous London Eye. There are around 24 air conditioned watch capsules on the rim of the wheel made of mostly glass which can accommodate around 12 persons per capsules. From Singapore flyer you get to see almost all important landmarks of Singapore but also can watch distant small islands of neighboring Indonesia if the weather is right. Harbans also told about the fact that bay front area most visible from Singapore Flier is basically a reclaimed area built over a natural beach where there stood some majestic beach villas of important persons in earlier times. Large sky scrapers have given way to these villas with one beach villa still standing in the form of a famous hotel now known as Raffles hotel which is one of the most expensive properties in Singapore mostly visited by celebrities and corporate honchos from around the world.
After clicking breathtaking pictures from Singapore flyer we had lunch in an Indian restaurant at the bottom of the wheel. It was a nice Indian buffet meal comprising of salad, Papad, Raita, Dal, Panneer dish, Gobhi Masala and Indian sweet dish. It was a nice experience and ambience at the restaurant was nice.
After lunch we proceeded to check into our hotel near Serangoon area not far from Mustafa shopping centre. It was a small boutique hotel called cherry loft with cozy double rooms with an awesome and serene location at a quiet street, a walking distance from Singapore MRT station Farrer Park which is also the nearest MRT station from Mustafa shopping centre from the other side. The hotel rooms were neat and clean providing 50 inch led TV and tea coffee kettle. Beds were very comfortable. Rooms had warning signs with stringent fines for damaging any furnishings. Rooms were no smoking. Magnetic keys if lost attracted a fine of dollar 30.
Hotel had a well kept restaurant where complimentary breakfast is served for all residents. After refreshing ourselves at the hotel we proceeded to the world famous night safari near main city of Singapore. On the way we witnessed the ultimate greenery of Singapore with large forest area around the highway leading to Night Safari site. At frequent intervals on the both sides of highway warning signs were erected instructing not to feed the animals specially monkeys from the forest area.
The Night Safari site is bang inside the forest area. Very serene and low light area away from the glittering down town area of Singapore you get a very naturalistic feel when you reach the area. Before entering the main Night Safari area there are several small amphitheatre which are hosting a number of nomadic shows, fire shows animal shows. There is small retail area too. The queue for the night safari area can be quite long specially on weekends. We made sure as a group, are in the queue half an hour before the starting of the Night Safari rides.
It was smooth entry and we were soon in the low light Night Safari electric vehicle. The vehicle is a guided tour for the group to snake through the jungle like area where many of the nocturnal animals can be seen in designated areas in a jungle like setting. Cameras are allowed but it is forbidden to use the flash light or any other strong light during the trip. The trip is of around 45 minute duration around the jungle where animals from different countries can be found. Asian tigers, Indonesian pigs, African giraffe, Indian buffalos, African lion and many types of deer and seal can be seen at the park in very low light settings but light focused on the animal sight zone. Overall it is great experience for anyone and of any age especially for wild life enthusiasts. After the night safari we again proceeded to Serangoon area for the buffet dinner.
After the dinner we proceeded to our hotel which was a walking distance from this particular restaurant. On the way we purchased the SingTel pre paid card. SingTel prepaid card is really very economical card for Indian tourists as it allows users to call India at rates cheaper than even a local call in Singapore and cheaper than calling to any country outside Singapore, even Malaysia. However you need to use additional promo code before the country code to call India.
Night stay at the hotel was very comfortable. View from the room was fantastic. It is very strange about Singapore that you do not see much crowd on the streets like in India in spite of the fact that statistically population density of Singapore is same as that of Delhi- NCR. One of the reasons cited for this is that Singapore is one of the best planned urban regions of the world. Housing, roads, drainage system, drinking water supply, public transportation system are among the best in the world. During the morning walk next day I noticed that roads and footpaths, rain water drains, pedestrian road crossing system, pedestrian and cycle tracks everywhere with roads underpasses for them were meticulously clean. It was amazing to see the cleanliness in these drains. No dust or water could be seen even in the bottom most point of the V shaped open rain water drains. All other side drains were covered with strong iron meshes or metal sheets, meticulously placed over the drains. I did not notice any standing water anywhere in Singapore. Someone told me that in Singapore if anywhere rain water or otherwise could be seen as standing water, the govt. takes a very strong view of it and the person responsible is fined with heavy penalty. If the fault is of a govt. servant he is served suspension notice the very next day. No one honks on the street. There was almost no encroachment on the roads and the pedestrian infrastructure even in the market areas. There are almost no squatters or unauthorized street vendors. In the subways under the roads for the pedestrians and cyclist, there was a warning for cyclist indicating anyone riding the bike while crossing the subway will be fined SD 1000. Therefore a cyclist must get down from the bike while crossing the underpass so as to not hurt any pedestrian or scratch the wall of the underpass.
After the breakfast we proceeded to an industrial study visit to one of the largest and most hi tech water treatment plant in the world. It is named as New Water. The plant is in the out skirts of Singapore between East Coast Park and Changi airport. It is spread over a large area and maintains a very well organized and prominent ‘visitor centre’ to host students and delegations of all age groups including small aged children. One of the main objectives of the visitor centre is to highlight the unique achievements of Singapore in conserving and managing the scarce water resources of this small country. The centre is managed by a dedicated and well trained staff and is helped by the world class and highly meticulous infrastructure at the center. The center has a series of theme based seminar rooms, exhibition areas, multimedia zones and plant & machinery observation galleries.
Singapore imports 50% of its water requirement mainly from its neighbor Malaysia and also exports excess purified water back to the same country. As Harbans told, it may be interesting to note that water coming out of this plant and being distributed to public through pipelines is tested to be safer than the best brands of bottled water available in India. The plant employs the three stage purification system for treating water. In the first stage, RO technology is used to clean water. In the second stage, membrane technology is used to further purify water. In the third phase which is unique to Singapore water technology, UV tech is used to finally supply most safe drinking water in the world.
Singapore saves every drop of water it receives from rain into its many water reservoirs connected through one of the most efficient drain water collection system meticulously planned and implemented throughout Singapore. It has done a lot by reducing the wastage of water at the user end also by specifying use of only certified tap fittings which have water slow down sieves. You will see a slow shower of thin water streams of the same type throughout Singapore including at Airports. Hotels, public places and markets.
After a half day visit to New Water Plant we proceeded to an Indian restaurant for lunch. After the lunch it was time for a half day visit to Sentosa Island including a 1 hour enjoyment at 1 of the 3 best private beaches at Sentosa Island. Sentosa island hosts two entertainment zones namely world famous Universal Studios and the main Sentosa entertainment cum shopping zone. The several areas of the islands are well connected by a network of monorail, island buses and a pedestrian network to explore the island. All inland transport is complimentary. Entry to certain areas is through entry pass. The island hosts a number of world class attractions including underwater world, several joy rides, shows including sea front water cum laser show, recreation, food joints, cafes, bars, a large casino and shops. After the Sentosa tour we proceeded for the dinner at an Indian restaurant and after that we were tires and retired to the hotel.
Next day we visited Universal Studios for a full day adventure. Universal Studios in Singapore is one of the only 3 such studios in the world, other 2 being in US and Japan. The biggest attraction at Sentosa Island is the Universal Studios which is a family entertainment zone where one can spend the whole day enjoying world famous joy rides, 3 D shows, adventure activities, water rides, stunt shows and Hollywood special effect demonstrations. We exited universal studios in the evening at around 7pm which is the closing time of the studios. Harbans received us outside the studios and welcomed us with a bagful of delicious Dukus. We then proceeded for the dinner near our hotel. The day was well spent.
Next day was an early move from the hotel to a visit to James Cook University. University is an Australia based university having its campus in Singapore too. The university offers several courses including business courses. They also have tie up in India with certain IITs and Delhi University to identify talented and illustrious students and offer them free education at its Singapore campus. They have a separate division to identify such students and help them take up these courses. An important thing which the concerned person informed us that the recruiters in Singapore are willing to offer middle or senior level jobs directly for the young graduates from Good Singapore universities unlike India where even the bright students are offered entry level jobs at peanut salaries after B School studies. It is more so for business graduates. After a tour of the university we proceeded for lunch followed by time for leisure and shopping.
We decided to shop around Bugis villa and Mustafa shopping centre. We found Bugis villa for shopping as most interesting. The place is more suitable for shopping items like readymade garments, unbranded watches, costume jewellery, and chocolates. On the other side of Bugis area, are branded shopping malls. OG was an interesting mall for all kinds of branded lifestyle products. An interesting place to shop in Singapore was a store called Deiso which is a Japanese store offering every item at Singapore dollar 2. The collection of products is amazing there. At Bugis there is a scope of moderate bargaining. We shopped round till evening and then gathered in Serangoon area at an Indian restaurant for dinner. Then we retired for an early morning Air India flight back to India.