Sunday, March 31, 2013

Para Sailing Experience and Langkawi - CableCar/Sky Bridge

When I visited Penang way back in 2007 my three month old pregnancy accompanied me. Para sailing was totally out of question. During our Langkawi trip, when I came across the same in Pantai Cenang beach it was kind of irresistible. There are things in life which you should try whenever an opportunity presents itself. After all , no clock - historical, biological or plainly logical is going backwards right?

Para Sailing

It costed us RM100 per person. There were more expensive options in other parts of Langkawi(nearly 50 to 100 RM more). I guess the slight difference lies in the amount of professionalism but we decided to opt for the cheaper one.

My husband and I decided to go together. They strapped a parachute to our shoulders and this in turn was connected by a rope to a boat in the sea.

The man instructed my husband "When its about to end, I will blow the whistle. Then you tug at this rope with both your hands and pull it towards your chest. Remember both hands!" Almost simultaneously he started yelling "Run, Run!" The boat was speeding away dragging us and we ran with as less clumsiness as we could muster. Our feet just touched the water when we felt ourselves being lifted and then we were in the sky clinging on to the parachute. It was amazing! There was a nice breeze, it was quite calm and we seemed to be gently floating. Oh Yeah! The view was breathtaking but we had decided to risk only our lives and not our material possessions on earth like iPhone, iPad or the digital camera. Hence no pictures, just lovely memories of that view.

After around seven to eight minutes , the boat completed a huge circle and started approaching the place on the beach where we had started.

By now, my husband and I were deeply engrossed in some conversation, I cant really recollect the subject now. A whistle distracted me and I slowly asked 'Are they whistling at us?'

The men on the shore were maddeningly waving their hands and whistling at us - Basically signalling us to pull the rope as instructed.

Now we forgot the 'Both hands' part and my husband proceeded to pull it with one hand. There was no noticeable difference in our stand! Then I remembered 'Hey both hands'.

This whole act is to maneuver the parachute to move it towards the land so that when we descend we would end up on the shore and not in the water. On using both hands we moved towards the shore and by now we were only around 10 to 15 feet above the ground. A man was seated at the beach and thanks to his stars that carefully guarded him my feet just managed to avoid giving him a solid kick on the chin.

When we reached the ground it was one of the best sights of the day for those at the beach. I toppled and fell, my husband toppled and fell over me and the parachute fell on us. Almost immediately the men came and helped us out of the tangle!

It totally lasted only around ten to fifteen minutes, but was an experience that I would cherish for life! As I said, don't have any images, just one of the beach.

Langkawi Cable Car & Skybridge

One of the major attractions of Langkawi is the cable car ride , a very steep one that takes visitors to a Sky Bridge atop the Mount Matchinang.

When we went the sky bridge was closed for renovation but we did go up the viewing decks. Beautiful views from there and a bad choice for people scared of heights.

Dataran Lang (Eagle Square)

The Eagle Square is a landmark in Langkawi in the city area next to the ferry terminal. A huge statue of an eagle stands overlooking the ocean. Nice place to take some lovely photos and a good view in front.

We went when it was very hot just before taking the ferry to Penang and hence did not linger too long but it one goes in the evening or so , it would be pleasant and more enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Langkawi - Resort and Mangrove Tour

When we were residing at Kuala Lumpur, we never got a chance to explore Langkawi.Now my in laws have come here and we wanted to go on a family vacation. After some brain storming we finalized Langkawi and Penang.

IN SE Asia, Indians get VISA on Arrival in Thailand and Indonesia. But for Malaysia you need to get a social visit pass before arriving, Processing typically takes a week.

Langkawi is a group of nearly 99 islands and is well connected by flights(quite a few low cost carriers) to many parts of the world.

The Resort:

The best part of our stay was the Berjaya resort where we had booked a family chalet. Nestled amongst nearly 70 acres of thick vegetation bordering the ocean, it houses a variety of flora and fauna. The chalets are  made of wood and you need to utilize the 24X7 shuttle service to get from one part of the resort to another.

The board on our room door read 'Please lock the balcony doors before leaving to prevent monkeys from coming inside'. In addition to the room service menu, the hotel had provided each room with a booklet on the varieties of animals present in that forest and what one needs to do in case we encountered a monkey or a python.

During our stay we did spot a couple of hornbills , a few monkeys . One morning we saw an animal clinging to the trunk of the tree outside our room that looked a little like a squirrel and a little like a mongoose and at one angle like an injured bird. We even thought we were imagining things. When we returned in the evening it was still there, but the next morning it was gone. The hotel brochure showed us that it was the flying lemur.

For images of the resort take a look at the hotel website here.

Mangrove Tour:

The day we landed we hired a local travel agency to take us on a Mangrove tour, a popular activity there. We were taken at first to a boat jetty by road and then in a speed boat from there.

The boatman skillfully maneuvered his machine as it waddled through beautiful mangrove forests. (Wikipedia:Mangroves are various types of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics )

After stopping at a local fish farm , the boat proceeded to the next destination - Eagle feeding. 

The boatman threw some pieces of meat in some machine which scattered it in the water and the kings of the skies came charging down in flocks scooping them up with amazing grace and grandeur. In fact Langkawi gets its name from these winged wonders and translates to reddish brown eagle.

The boat went in through some caves and crevices and then stopped at a place called Gua Kelawar(Bats Cave).

Bats Cave:

One needs to pay an entrance fee(around RM4) to go in. At the counter they also rent flash lights as its pitch dark inside the cave. We walked along the path carefully and when we directed the flash light above us, the ceiling was full of bats! EIKES!! I wanted to scream out loud and flee but there were boards asking us to maintain silence.In some time we got used to them and they did not seem all that repulsive.We also moved away from the space directly under them. Can you spot them in the pic below?

The cave also houses some very beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. In some countries they would give each of them a specific name based on the shape and have a guided tour but here they left all of that to our own creativity. I felt the below one looked like a tiger. Or maybe a snake?

The area around the Bat Cave was teeming with monkeys. One has to be be careful around them as they can snatch your belongings especially if it contains food.  One succeeded in giving me a good scare by making monkey faces at me. How monkey of him!

From there the boat set off again and merged into the Andaman ocean from the swamp areas. Then it was half an hour of super fast boat ride. In the cool evening, with the sea breeze madly blowing our hair, it was a heavenly experience.

The mangrove trip lasts around 4 hours in all including the road journey and costs around RM300 per boat.

More of Langkawi and Penang in further posts.....

Friday, March 22, 2013

Curd Rice Lessons !

We are a vegetarian family and hence during every vacation, finding food becomes an activity that involves a slight amount of additional effort.

Within India of course its not a problem, but outside its sometimes a huge challenge. 

One thing we need to remember is, that just because a dish is listed under vegetables on the menu card, it does not necessarily have to be vegetarian. It only indicates that the main ingredient is not chicken or beef. It could have any prawn or shrimp flavoring.In most parts of South East Asia, anchovies get added to food like we Indians add coriander leaves. Its like the grand finale step!

Once in the US, I went to a restaurant and explained with all possible words and gestures that I don't take meat. After a long stare at me as if she were working out three hundred and twenty seven divided by thirty nine, the waitress suggested a dish. To make sure, I asked for the ingredients and she went on 'pepper, onions, garlic and fish oil'. Fish Oil? Excuse Me! "Well, you said you did not take meat, not seafood. Besides no one told me that fish ain't vegetarian" She did not say that, but I could hear the words in her mind with amazing clarity. Then onward I make it a point to explain 'No meat, no seafood, no fish, no egg' .

Additionally if the language spoken is alien to us then better learn the word for 'vegetarian' before setting foot on that soil.

We had gone to Langkawi with my in laws and hence we were on the lookout for food that was Indian in addition to being vegetarian.

Just before we left for Penang from Langkawi we asked our taxi driver to drop us in some Indian restaurant. Every corner in the world has an Indian restaurant that serves Naan, Rotis , Dal and Dahi. We just need to find it. In most cases the name is usually Taj or Maharajah :). Antartica may be the only exception !

The driver stopped in front of a restaurant and the board outside proclaimed 'Arabic, Western and Indian cuisine'. That indicated that they did not serve Indian cuisine exclusively! Above that, our home food was third on the list. THIRD!!! It was actually a Middle Eastern restaurant that also served Western and Indian food. 'Ah-ah-Aaan' the alarms in our brains chimed in symphonic harmony. "Is there any other place nearby?" we asked the driver with caution. He had found the place after umpteen number of calls to some knowledgeable friend of his. This question had a high possibility of triggering violence in the afternoon heat.

'Why don't you take a look at the menu first?' he suggested.

We were greeted with a very warm welcoming smile by the person in charge. 'Do you have N-a-a-n, Cha-pa-thi?' we asked with some hesitation. Somehow whenever we talk to someone under the assumption that he would not understand us, we tend to say it very slow; giving a kilometer space between each syllable! How on earth would the speed in which a word is uttered make a difference? Anyways that's what we did as well. After all we are also human!

When he said "Yes we do" we thanked Mars, Venus , Jupiter and the whole family of planetary objects who were now spinning slightly tilted in our direction.

 "Curd?" .

"Yes" and then he uttered something which would sound like soul stirring music to the ears of any TamBrahm(Tamil Brahmin) "I can make curd rice for you if you would like that"

We were almost singing "Yankee Doodle went to town" when we entered the place.

They had a nice cozy family room that was secluded and gave us much needed peace and privacy for the meal.

There was no tomato soup in the menu card but he was ready to make it for us. We gave the situation a thought.Curd Rice was no big deal but a never-before-attempted-tomato-soup? We politely declined and stuck to the menu.

Masala Papad, Vegetable Pakoras, steaming chapathis, Dal, Mix Veg Masala - arrived one after another . The taste was heavenly and the aromas had us drifting into a meditative state of inner peace! Impeccably done with everything in correct proportion, the room was reverberating with the blessings that our satisfied souls were subconsciously sending in the man's direction.

Finally when the curd rice arrived we were spell bound. With the mustard, urad dal and curry leaves tempering, it appeared very close to perfection. When a spoonful of that went into our mouths we closed our eyes and uttered 'Ummmm' like the models in Gulab Jamun advertisements. It tasted close to perfection as well.

The basic purpose behind this post was to point out the business attitude and salesmanship of that person at the restaurant.

The effort that went into the curd rice preparation may have been minimal but that was what we needed at that hour. Knowing the need of your customer and going a little bit out of your way in satisfying that will go a long way in the success of any business.

We left the place happy and I am sure if we go to Langkawi again we will definitely pay him a visit. That sort of lasting impression would decide who stays in the run and who does not.

Boy! I never knew that my darling "Thayir Sadham"(curd rice) would get my simple mind to think about such topics like business, sales etc .   (Of course it proved the age old saying that appearances could be deceptive!)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Problems - Challenges

Update after my previous post on license hunt - I received my license by post last week :) (Alls well that ends well)

Just back from a nice trip to Langkawi and Penang in Malaysia, shall blog about it in later posts.

For now just want to share something I came across in a Child Enrichment center notice board. They were providing assurance to train the kids to "face problems as challenges"

The phrase triggered my interest. As we often hear 'Who does not have problems?' But do we all face them as challenges?

Mostly we sulk at them, put the blame on time, fate and the planets and then spend a whole lot of our energy lamenting about them. If we start taking every problem in life as a challenge say like a video game where  we need to get to the next level no matter what, wouldn't our energies be channeled towards a much more meaningful direction?

Actually kids dont need this sort of training. They naturally are like that. Nothing deters them.
One just needs to observe a child with fever. When the temperature shoots , he would lie curled like a ball on his mother;s lap. The moment it subsides, he would be back on his toes and start running around, his cheery self back in place. What would we adults do, proclaim to the whole world that we are not well, make a hue and cry about our physical pain, curse the pollution around and keep magnifying every small discomfort that we have.

Observe a child learning to walk. No matter how many times he falls or whatever problems he faces in doing so, he will find a way out and he will not stop attempting no matter what!

How would life be if things happened all the time without any hassle? Level 1 of the video game always? Problems pose challenges and with them we grow into better, more mature persons.

Next time we are in the middle of any problem, lets consciously analyze how we are dealing with it. Perhaps it would be a lot more easier to face and solve!