Winter is a great time to go sightseeing in Delhi. Before winter 2020 begins, we felt we must finish blogging about our winter 2019 sightseeing!
We post about Lodi Garden today. We had been to the Lodi Garden earlier but never with a camera. We had to make amends. Also called Lodhi Garden, Lodi Gardens & Lodhi Gardens, this attraction in the heart of the Indian capital combines heritage & nature effortlessly.
We spent a winter afternoon here, sightseeing & soaking in the sun.
The Lodi Garden is a complex of gardens & monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. The structures are weather-beaten but standing strong. The main monuments in the complex are Bara Gumbad, Mohamed Shah’s Tomb, Shisha Gumbad, & Tomb of Sikandar Lodi.
Trivia – The monuments were originally not a part of a complex. They were standalone structures in a village called Khairpur. It was only in the early 20th century that the four monuments were confined together as a park.
The Bara Gumbad is a 1490 construction when the Lodi dynasty ruled over Delhi. Out of all the domes in Delhi, this Gumbad is the earliest one. It is flanked by a Friday mosque on one side & a मेहमान खाना (guesthouse) on the other. Both structures viewed together give a symmetry to the Gumbad (though they are nonidentical).
The Bara Gumbad was, perhaps, a gateway to the mosque. The Friday mosque arches are embellished with intricate Arabic inscriptions. It always gives us a sense of awe of the craftsmanship with which such carvings were done in stone.
Mohamed Shah’s Tomb
It is said the Sayyid’s could not build extravagant monuments as their coffers were diminished. Mohamed Shah’s Tomb has an octagonal chamber which signifies a royal tomb. The chamber is surrounded by an arcade. Buttresses reinforce octagon corners.
We did not manage to see Mohamed Shah’s Tomb on this excursion.
In the absence of an inscription, it is unknown whose tomb this Gumbad is, but historians suggest either an unknown part of the Lodi family or Bahlul Lodi (Lodi dynasty founder & Sultan). The latter seems unlikely to us – why would the founder of the dynasty have an unmarked resting place?
Ventilators form a feature on the outer walls. From outside, the Shisha Gumbad appears to be a two – storied structure; however, it has only one floor. Its magic lies in the ceramic tiles that decorate its exterior. These tiles give the Shisha Gumbad its name (Shisha = glass).
At one point of time, the ceramic tiles lined the entirety of the Shisha Gumbad top, but many have fallen off since. We tried to visualize how it would have looked then. A corbel entrance door frame made us wonder if there is any ‘कारीगर’ today who can create such wonders on stone.
Inside, the ceiling is decorated with Quranic inscriptions & floral designs.
Tomb of Sikandar Lodi
The Lodi Garden is a huge city park, but its enclosed monuments are situated close to each other. Sikandar Lodi’s Tomb is in the middle of a large, outstanding garden & tall boundary walls. The Tomb was built by his son Ibrahim Lodi upon the former’s death. Its octagonal design stands out. The architectural style is Ind-Islamic.
Stones strewn around made us think of probable restoration work. Our conjecture turned out correct when we spotted a ‘Work in Progress’ sign.
As we made our way back to the car park, our last stop of the day was a water body. This lake connected River Yamuna to Sikandar Lodi’s Tomb. The Athpula is placed diagonally across this stream bed. In the Lodi Garden, this bridge is the only structure made by Mughals.
The Athpula gets its name from the eight (‘ath’; ‘pula’ = bridge) pillars that support it. It has a beautiful curving shape.
A walled gateway looked appealing to us from afar. It had beautiful paintings in floral patterns. The gateway opened into a garden abloom with roses. There were a narrow staircase going to a ‘roof’, but we did not find it to be a great idea to ascend those dilapidated, high steps.
Almost at an end of the Lodi Garden, we saw a turret. It seemed it would have served as a watchtower. The two- storey tower had a jharokha – style window on the first level.
Another restored mosque painted bright red! Its enclosure seemed to have disappeared over time. It had a triple arched entrance & a vaulted roof.
An aspect that is bound to stun you is the symmetry in all the structures.
Lodi Garden is home to many kinds of flora & fauna. We must complement the horticulture department for keeping the gardens in a pristine condition. The lush greenery makes it a magnet for walkers & exercise fans. Walkways have been constructed all around the garden for those wanting to stay fit amidst nature.
While winter was a good time to walk around, a few trees had an eerie, shorn look. We mused how the garden must appear in monsoon. At the same time, we were privileged to see tulips in full bloom. Rows & rows of tulips! Tulips are naturally adapted to mountainous areas & temperate climates. We wondered how the Lodi Garden horticulture department manages to grow them in Delhi. In any case, we have effectively cancelled any plans of visiting Rainawari!
Folklore – Tulips have long been associated with the lovers Shirin & Farhad. It is said that where the blood of the two lovers flowed, a single tulip grows every year.
We are not too familiar with the names of plants but derive immense joy from spotting myriad kinds.
The walled gateway had a rose garden in its enclosure. Beds upon beds of roses! We felt we were in the Mughal Gardens! It is a good idea to be like a rose – armed with sharp prickles for anyone who wants to pluck us!
We spotted a Chudail Papdi (Indian Elm/ Jungle Cork Tree). Its bark glows in the dark giving it a ghastly appearance.
A glasshouse had a small water body and plants surrounding it. Outside it, hardworking caretakers were taking a well-deserved break. आह! सर्दी की सुनहरी धूप… Even man’s best friend was enjoying it.
A bamboo grove is dedicated to various bamboo species.
Lodi Garden is a particularly good habitat for birds. You can see migratory & resident birds here.
In the tranquil garden, the duck pond was a noisy area. While the ducks paddled quietly, their geese brethren created a ruckus! But we did spot one pensive Domestic Goose!
The highlight of our walking tour was a Red Naped Ibis. It strutted around nonchalantly, unperturbed by human presence. The Ibis used its long beak to dig out insects & worms from the mud. It was a delight to watch it!
Tips For Visiting
- Lodi Garden is in the heart of New Delhi. You can get any mode of transport to reach here. The nearest metro stations are Jor Bagh & JLN (Violet Line).
- The Garden is open from sunrise to sunset. It is a haven for morning walkers; so, expect crowds then.
- The entry is free.
- Given how horrid New Delhi summer is, it is ideal to visit the Lodi Garden from October to March. Or on any of those monsoon days when the weather becomes salubrious…
- Nooks & crannies in the Garden are hot-spots for romantic couples. Try to not get scandalized!
- MTNL Wi-Fi is available.
- Do not feed the birds!
We hope Bali Basics turned out to be helpful to you. Now that you’ve figured out where you want to stay on your Bali holiday, we help you with the sights we saw in Bali & loved. The attractions below are tried & tested, & advocated (& not mentioned in any order of preference)!
Bali is, of course, all about beaches. So, it doesn’t really make sense for us to get into these. Nonetheless, we visited the Double Six, the Kayu Aya, & the Nusa Dua beaches.
Double Six Beach
In Seminyak, as a subset of the Seminyak Beach, is the Double Six Beach. It is a relaxed one offering umbrella rentals & a chill ambiance. Perfect for just sitting & watching the activity happening around you & the Indian Ocean. The water wasn’t too cold when we visited; so, one could opt for a dip.
Sunset is when the crowds start thronging in. Being on the west coast, the Double Six Beach offers stunning sunset views. The Beach is also home to La Plancha Bali, the beach bar that’s famous for its colorful parasols & beach bags.
Kayu Aya Beach
Kayu Aya Beach is a part of the Seminyak Beach. It is located behind Ku De Ta.
The beach is peaceful with quiet activities available like body art & kite-flying. Or you can simply carry your book & relax. The ocean was fairly calm when we visited; a few splashed around in the water. There are a few restaurants nearby if hunger strikes.
However, at one spot, we saw of stream of black water coming from inland & getting released into the sea. Not good! We must keep our beaches & oceans squeaky clean.
Nusa Dua Beach
The Nusa Dua Beach is one of the public beaches in Nusa Dua. The general public can access this beach to try their hand at water sports. However, we found the prices to be expensive here. (Goa has better prices!) Having said that, the water sports facilities (changing rooms, toilets, waiting areas etc.) are well-developed at the Nusa Dua Beach.
Being on the east coast, you can get magical sunrise views.
Our favorite bit! Bali is a treasure trove for those inclined towards culture, heritage & history. Dance, metalworking, & painting are just a few of its mainstays. Bali has had a Hindu influence from ancient times, which reflects in the scores of temples found on the island. In fact, Bali is called the island of a thousand temples.
Puri Saren Agung
The Puri Saren Agung is better known as the Ubud Palace. The palace is in the heart of Ubud, with restaurants all around it. The road that it is located on is busy; so, note that you will not get a parking spot here.
The Puri Saren Agung is the residence of the royal family of Ubud. The architecture is preserved well & is worth gaping at. The rust & grey-colored buildings are set amidst a charming garden.
Entry is free; so, you can go in & click photos. However, there is a lack of printed information in the Palace, making it a guesswork for sightseers.
Satria Gatotkaca Statue
You can’t miss this statue. You’ll cross it once you’re on your way from the airport to your accommodation in Kuta/ Seminyak. The statue depicts Gatotkaca, the courageous son of Bheema (one of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic) & Hidimbi (a man eater who wanted to eat Bheema but, instead, fell in love with him).
Gatotkaca was powerful & had magical powers. He not only helped the Pandavas win the Kurukshetra war in the Mahabharata, but also sacrificed himself as a victim of Karna’s deadly weapon that could be used only once (which Karna was saving for Arjuna, Gatotkach’s uncle). Hence, he is regarded with respect in Hinduism.
(Bonus – You can find a Gatotkaca Temple & a Hidimbi Temple (both perhaps the only ones) in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.)
Pura Tanah Lot is located on a rock formation called Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot itself means ‘ land in the sea ’ in Balinese. True to its name, the rock formation juts out into the sea, with azure water all around.
The Tanah Lot Temple is ancient & a popular pilgrimage spot. The Temple is a 16th C marvel, dedicated to Balinese sea gods (along with Hinduism influence). Thanks to the setting, it has become a cultural & photography destination as well.
The Pura Tanah Lot is accessible during low tide when you can simply walk till it. The main temple is out of bounds for tourists but a small cave with ‘ holy water ‘ is accessible. The priests will expect you to donate & will give you a nasty look if you don’t.
There is another cave with a ‘holy snake’. Legend has it that venomous sea snakes guarded the Tanah Lot Temple from evil spirits. You again need to make a donation to see & touch the ‘holy snake’.
During a high tide, the Temple becomes inaccessible. Then, the Pura Penyawang, an onshore temple is used as an alternative. Don’t forget to visit the Pura Batu Bolong, a temple built on a rock formation, similar to the Pura Tanah Lot.
As you walk down to the Tanah Lot Temple, you will cross Balinese souvenir shops & restaurants. We’d some refreshing coconut water at one of the many stalls.
The Temple is located in Beraban in Tabanan Regency.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Luhur Uluwatu, another sea temple, is located on a cliff on the Indian Ocean, in Pecatu (Badung Regency). In Balinese, ulu means ‘ tip ’ & watu is ‘rock’. True to its name, the Uluwatu Temple is erected on the tip of a rock. The Temple construction year is disputed, but goes as far back as the 10th C.
It is dedicated to Lord Siva, one of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism. Legend has it that the Pura Luhur Uluwatu guards Bali from evil sea spirits. The Uluwatu Temple is accessible through a serpentine pathway. Sightseers end up taking an hour or more to reach the Temple as they can’t help halting at the numerous lookout points along the way.
It is surrounded by a forest with monkeys (who are believed to guard the Pura Luhur Uluwatu against negative influences). The Uluwatu Temple is scenic & a magnificent sunset spot. The Sun dipping into the ocean is something you will remember for years. Thanks to the setting, the Temple has become a splendid photography destination.
You need to cover your legs while visiting it. Sarongs & sashes are available at the entrance. If you’re wearing pants, you don’t need a sarong; a sash will do.
A Kecak & Fire Dance is performed every evening at a stage adjacent to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu, lasting an hour. The iconic Fire Dance was a high point of our trip. Against the sunset backdrop, the dance is magical. Dancers enact episodes from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The background score is provided not by any instrument, but by the ‘chak’ sounds emanated by the performers.
We loved the Kecak & Fire Dance from beginning till end. The chanting has stayed with us. The Ramayana episodes were enacted well. Seeing one of our epics beautifully enacted stole our hearts. Definitely recommended!
Go early if you want to see both the Pura Luhur Uluwatu & the Fire Dance. Or, even to get a good seat. Else, like us, you would have to sit on the floor & then have the inflamed husk coming toward you. Also, keep following the story in the pamphlet, else you’ll be lost if you don’t know the Ramayana.
At the cost of inviting sniggers, we state that Bali is a lot like India. That is, it’s something for everyone. (Of course, better weather. Of course, fewer people. Of course, smaller distances.) If you’re done with lounging on the beaches, or tired of visiting temples, you still have the option of soaking in nature.
We knew Bali was famous for its coffee. So, when we got a chance to taste different kinds of coffee, we jumped at it. Cantik Agriculture is a cooperative of local farmers. The coffee bean is processed traditionally. We sampled more than 10 types with each having a strikingly different flavor than the other. The tasting helped us decide which ones we wanted to buy.
We sampled the popular Coffee Luwak, understood the process by which it’s made & saw the Luwak Civet from whom this coffee comes. (At that point of time, we were unaware of the probable conditions the Luwak Civet is kept in. Knowing better now, we would discourage our readers from opting for the Coffee Luwak. Or, at least find a place where Coffee Luwak is processed ethically.)
The farm had spices of different kinds & a shop where you can buy all their produce. It was on the expensive side but then, it’s once-in-a-lifetime!
Gunung Batur (also called Kintamani volcano) is an active volcano located in Bangli Regency. We visited the volcano at the time of sunset. The mist was settling in slowly, making the picture look surreal.
It’s famous for its sunrise trek, but we chose not to do it. The feedback we’d got was ‘the trek’s difficult’. But even from afar, the Gunung Batur looks spectacular. & who gets to see a volcano everyday anyway?
It got chilly at Mount Batur when we visited in the evening; so, do carry something warm.
Adjacent to the Gunung Batur is the Danau Batur. The Lake Batur is a crater lake, located along the Ring of Fire of volcanic activity. The Lake is considered sacred by the Balinese. It is possible can take a winding road down to the shore.
Danau Batur is a striking color, no matter what time of the day you see it at. As you stand at any of the lookout points, the crisp mountain air & the majestic, crescent-shaped Lake Batur will stun you.
Mandala Suci Wenara Wana
Mandala Suci Wenara Wana is a natural habitat of the Balinese Long-Tailed Monkey. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a blessed site located in Ubud. We can summarize the Monkey Forest Ubud in one word – enchanting!
It was love at first sight for us – lots of greenery & Long-Tailed Monkeys (also called macaques). The Monkeys usually mind their own business but like they say for every living thing – don’t provoke them. The Forest is beautiful. The moss-covered ruins are lovely. The ruins are of Hindu temples (which are actually still in use).
While the Sanctuary is well preserved thanks to a community-based management program, signboards displaying the history & significance of the ruins will be beneficial for sightseers.
In the next post, we’ll bring you a few of our favorite places to drink/ eat in Bali. Till then, happy sightseeing!
Before we headed to Bali, we had a lot of confusion about its geography & location. Was it an island? Was it a part of Indonesia? How big was it? Blame it on ignorance. And, there’s no better antidote for ignorance than travel.
Once we’d been there, many contacted us when they were planning their own trip. We realized then that we’d not been alone in our confusion & ignorance. Everyone who reached out to us knew Bali was a place to visit, but how’s Bali further divided, which are the areas to stay in/ visit, no one had a clue.
It was almost déjà vu for us, for we’d been equally clueless. After helping a few folks with a better picture of how to place their Bali holiday, we thought we should just put it down in a blog post.
Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia. It’s made up of volcanic islands. Beaches & Komodo dragons are just two of the many things Indonesia is known for. Out of the 18,000+ islands that this nation has, the largest is Sumatra. (Technically, it’s New Guinea, but it doesn’t belong to Indonesia exclusively.)
Bali is the 13th biggest, just about 1.14% the size of Sumatra. And yet, it’s made such a name for itself in the travel world. Bali is a great way to remind ourselves that we mustn’t underestimate anybody/ anything!
Coming to Bali Now…
Bali is a province of Indonesia, & is divided into regencies. Each regency has a capital.
The above map clears it out right away that it’s South Bali that has the most tourism. South is where the beaches are, along with the nightlife. As you travel north, the forests of Bali start emerging. But before that is the place where you get a taste of the culture of Bali. Further north are the regions you would visit if you’re keen to see volcanoes.
Okay, let’s take it one at a time.
Denpasar is the capital of Bali. The city can easily be called the gateway to Bali due to its proximity to the Ngurah Rai International Airport.
Denpasar has a close association with history. In 1906, almost a thousand Balinese committed suicide to avoid surrendering to the invading Dutch troops. The Taman Puputan square is a memorial for the Balinese who laid down their lives.
Serangan is a part of Denpasar. It is an island known for its turtles. Serangan is connected with the mainland by a road bridge.
There are numerous yacht operators here that conduct day trips/ cruises.
Serangan is also home to the Serangan Beach (secluded).
Let’s begin traveling south from Denpasar. The first town you will hit is Seminyak, a suburb of Kuta in the Badung Regency. You can find luxury hotels, spas, high-end restaurants etc. here. Sunsets are a busy time here with bars offering sun-downers on the beaches.
This is also where you will find gorgeous villas for your accommodation needs. We stayed at a heavenly villa called Villa Teman Eden. It was love at first sight! The pool is the highlight but the rooms were spacious with all amenities available. The prettiest bathrooms! Fantastic location! (Also read our piece on our Airbnb experiences featuring Teman Eden.)
Seminyak is home to the Double Six Beach & the Kayu Aya Beach.
Moving further south, you will hit Kuta (Badung Regency), the nightlife hub of Bali. At any time of the day or night, the atmosphere here can only be called electric.
Kuta used to be a fishing village, but also one of the first to start developing for tourism. The Kuta Beach is the most well-known (& thus the most frequented). Being on the west coast, it’s a great spot for sunset watching (& sun-downers!).
You can find luxury resorts, clubs & the like located along the Kuta Beach. And, surfers! (Do you know that surfers massively helped in restarting tourism in Bali post the bombings?)
Sightseers prefer to stay at Kuta (or its suburb, Seminyak) as this is where the action is! Consequently, a few of the best accommodation options can be found here, specifically villas.
Kuta is home to the Satria Gatotkaca Statue & the Waterbom Bali (water slides anyone?).
Further south is Jimbaran (Badung Regency), a fishing village. Its Bay has calm waters.
Terrorism is an ugly part of the world today. In 2005, suicide bombers attacked a couple of popular restaurants in Jimbaran. But, the wonderful part about the world also is, it bounces back! Bali is a great example of that.
Jimbaran is lined with live seafood counter restaurants. At these restaurants, you can select the live seafood you wish to eat. It will be immediately prepared (generally grilled) & served.
If you’re seeking affordable accommodation options, Jimbaran is the place to try.
Jimbaran is home to the Samasta Lifestyle Village (lots of entertainment) & the Tegal Wangi Beach (hidden beach).
We’re now at almost the south western end of Bali. Pecatu (Badung Regency) is where you’ll find a hilly landscape. The hills shield the beaches, making this area popular with nudists. Pecatu is also the area that’s almost exclusively developed by the private sector.
Pecatu is home to the Uluwatu Temple (a spiritual pillar of Bali) & the Suluban Beach (exotic!).
Let’s travel east from Pecatu to Nusa Dua (Badung Regency), the water sports area. On the southeast coast of Bali, the sandy beaches are a great backdrop for different water sports like banana boat, parasailing, sea walking & snorkeling.
A sub-district of Nusa Dua is Tanjung Benoa. A peninsula with beaches on three sides – dreamy enough?
Nusa Dua is home to the Nusa Dua Beach & the Museum Pasifika (all things artsy).
Start moving northwest now. Beyond Denpasar is Kerobokan village (Badung Regency).
The Kerobokan Prison is the stuff legends are made of. Thrill seekers find ways to spend a night in the prison, to experience the notoriety first-hand. For the non-thrill seekers, there are night markets to explore.
Kerobokan is home to the Batu Belig Beach (whattay calm) & the Petitenget Temple (wards off dark forest spirits).
Moving further northwest, & closer to the west coast of Bali, you will arrive at Beraban, a village in the Tabanan Regency.
Beraban is home to the Tanah Lot Temple (you can’t not have seen a photo of this place) & the One Bali Agrowisata (chocolate & coffee plantation).
Let’s head a little northeast now & come to Gianyar, the seat of the Gianyar regency. It is a town that has preserved its natural & traditional heritage well. Once you’re done with the heritage sightseeing, you can relax on the beach.
Gianyar is home to the Cantik Agriculture (coffee anyone?) & the Bali Bird Park (bird-watching alert).
In the Gianyar Regency itself, towards the northwest, is the cultural center of Bali, called Ubud. The town is located in the uplands. Anything that has to do with Balinese tradition can be found here.
Rain-forests and terraced rice paddies surround Ubud while Hindu temples form the main attractions of the town.
Ubud is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Balinese Long – Tailed Monkeys. Squee!) & the Puri Saren Palace (erstwhile official residence of the royal family).
Moving far north from Ubud, you will come to Kintamani (Bangli Regency). You can view the Mount Batur from the village. It is the place from where the breed ‘Kintamani dog’ (only official breed in Bali) originates.
Kintamani is home to the Mount Batur (active volcano) & the Lake Batur (crater lake located along the Ring of Fire of Mount Batur).
Southeast of Bali is the island of Nusa Lembongan (Klungkung Regency). It is famous as a side destination for mainland Bali visitors. Nusa Lembongan is surrounded by coral reefs with white sand beaches. Day cruises from the mainland to the island are worth opting for.
Nusa Lembongan is home to the Devil’s Tear (cliff jumping anyone?) & the Mangrove Forest (canoe ride).
With this, we end our short guide to the way Bali is structured from a sightseer’s viewpoint. By no means is this list exhaustive. We’ve tried to cover the areas that we’ve personally experienced.
Other Bali Basics…
- Bali traffic is quite bad. We stayed at Seminyak, & chose to spend a day in Ubud. The traffic from Seminyak to Ubud was awful. This is the reason sightseers choose to break their stay into two places – Seminyak/ Kuta & Ubud.
- Bali is economical for Indians. Except for the airline fares, all our expenses were similar or even less than what we would spend in, let’s say, Goa, on a similar kind of holiday.
In our next blog post, we’ll share our favorite Bali attractions.
We have had a chance to visit China twice. Well, Hong Kong & Macau don’t really consider themselves China but the fact remains that they are the special administrative regions of China.
As an Indian (this may be true across nationalities too), China has been a fascinating, mysterious place. The most common thoughts that used to occur to us when we thought of China (& this holds for many more like us):
- China has too many people.
- The Chinese eat anything that walks.
- An Indian will have a problem in finding edible food.
- The language barrier is significant.
- The major cities are heavily polluted.
- The Chinese are rude & unfriendly.
- The Chinese are xenophobic.
A few of these turned out to be canards while the rest got validated. Our observations are based on the three cities we visited – Macau, Hong Kong & Beijing. Thus, our sample size is small but hopefully not way off the mark.
So here goes what we detected and felt about China.
China Has Too Many People
Yes it does. It is next to impossible to go to a tourist attraction & expect to click a photograph with no people in the frame. At times, it is even impossible to see the attraction. A lot of travel blogs suggest reaching early which we did not manage to do. Perhaps that would have helped.
The ‘too many people’ manifests itself in the scramble for public transport too. Hailing a cab can be quite a task but using a subway is easy, cost-effective & we did not find it too crowded. We have seen worse in India 🙂
The Chinese Eat Anything That Walks
Not entirely true. The Chinese do eat a lot of meat but most of it is conventional stuff like chicken, beef, pork, seafood, fish, duck etc. At most mid-segment restaurants I visited, there was nothing that was repulsive to read or look at. Hint: dogs, insects, reptiles etc.
However, street markets and a type of restaurants called ‘hotpots’ had ‘interesting’ food available. All the horrors that were in the mind appeared in front of our eyes.
An Indian Will Have a Problem in Finding Edible Food
Partially true. There are adequate food options available, thanks to the presence of American, Italian, & even Indian restaurants. You can find vegetarian restaurants too. There are enough McDonald’s, Starbucks etc.
We had a lot of ready-to-eat food with us but gladly, we did not have to consume that. You can find Chinese dishes with conventional meats like chicken, fish & seafood. However, the Chinese dishes taste nothing like what we get in India.
India has its own brand of Chinese, fondly called tandoori Chinese, which is full of sauces and condiments. In comparison, authentic Chinese will appear bland to the Indian palate.
Also, we found a particular pungent smell in all Chinese dishes. Perhaps it was the use of fish sauce or oyster sauce. The smell was too overpowering for us to ignore. We minimized our intake of Chinese food consequently.
The Language Barrier Is Significant
Yes it is. 90% of the people we came across did not understand a single word in English. Even basic phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘hi’, ‘hello’ were alien to them. Surprisingly, this was the case in the hospitality sector too.
A few of the servers who waited on us did not understand English at all. The only English they understood & could say was ‘no English’! We had to point to the menu to order our drinks & dinners. & if we wanted any customization, God help us!
For cab drivers, we carried the Chinese names of our destinations. Thankfully, all of them could read Mandarin. This is a major variation from India. Here, even a rickshaw puller understands Basic English words/ phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘okay’, ‘hello’ etc.
Among the remaining 10%, the grasp of English was elementary at best though we are sure the situation would be different for the crowd that works for multinational corporations.
The Major Cities Are Heavily Polluted
Not true. At least not for an Indian. Compared to Delhi NCR, the air quality in both Beijing & Hong Kong was better, though there was a little bit of haze. For travelers coming from developed countries, this may be a worry & thus, as advised by the western travel blogs, it may make sense for them to carry masks.
Apart from the air, we found all the three cities to be impeccably clean. In Beijing, we observed the roads being washed twice a day. The garbage was collected almost on an hourly basis. There was no difference in people’s behavior though.
Like Indians, they continued to spit, throw garbage etc. at their whim & fancy. But the discipline of the sanitation department was exemplary.
The Chinese Are Rude & Unfriendly
Hem – haw! Yes, the Chinese appear to be rude because (i) they do not smile on seeing you (ii) they talk in a blunt, direct manner. I believe their way of talking stems from their language. As far as I understand, Mandarin does not have grammar & syntax.
It is more of words put together to make sense. So for a Chinese talking in English – s/ he processes what s/ he wants to say in Mandarin in her/ his head –> s/ he translates that to English in her/ his head –> s/ he speaks/ replies in English.
This makes their English also blunt & devoid of the niceties that we usually put into it. About the smiling bit, I agree they should do it more.
The Chinese Are Xenophobic
Assume you are not allowed to meet anybody all your life. You are confined to your house. You can interact only with your family members. Your family members do not step out either. You have a view of the outside world only through your window.
Then, suddenly, when you turn 25 years old, you are told you can step out & can even let outsiders enter your house. Will this affect your behavior towards the outside world? Sure it will. Through that narrow window, you had formed an image.
You are now being subjected to other images, a few of which contradict the earlier image & a few which validate. Would you not take time to absorb it all & adapt to it?
Apart from dispelling/ validating the above preconceived notions, I formed a few independent opinions too. Succinctly put:
- Beijing is a cleaner, richer version of New Delhi.
- The Chinese love big cars – Audi, BMW & Mercedes. These are almost every second car that you see on the road. But the Chinese have no qualms buying these big names secondhand. (This explains the ‘almost every second car’ bit.)
- Hong Kong is the not – so – glamorous cousin of Singapore. Both are financial hubs filled with expats. But Hong Kong has a ‘China’ flavor to it.
- The Chinese love to talk. They can yap all day long. Given the harshness of their language, this can sound quite jarring to the ears.
- Chinese women/ girls love their bling. They can give the Rajouri aunties a run for their money any day.
- Macau is not just a gambler’s paradise. It has a lot to keep culture & history lovers occupied too.
- Since Hong Kong used to be a British colony, we were under the impression that the place would be full of English eateries. But, sadly, we did not find any place that served the quintessential British food. In fact, our food struggle was greater in Hong Kong than in Beijing.
- The Chinese are enterprising. Every second home on the outskirts of Beijing housed a small-scale industry of sorts. From these small factories, they supply goods all across the world. Despite the language barrier, they have managed to trade with the entire world.
- Not talking in financial terms, but India is still light years away from being a China. If we imbibe their discipline, we can think of competing with them.
- Despite their population struggle, their infrastructure is top class. Better put, their infrastructure is managing to keep up with the population pressure. Perhaps they plan first, execute later.
- China, as a whole, has a rich history but it is still a virgin territory for outsiders. Within themselves, they love their historical places, & they accord the respect that such places deserve.
- The Chinese love their nightlife. The world may think otherwise due to their apparent serious nature but all the cities we visited had quite ‘happening’ entertainment options.
To summarize our sentiments, there is lots to be explored about China, in China. The expanse of the country ensures that a lifetime will be inadequate to do so. Each small region holds a story. We will be lucky if we get to discover at least a couple more…