Dog gone Orchard!

Maxx loves it when the plants are green and wet

Maxx loves it when the plants are green and wet

It is not often that I give the option to Maxx to decide which route we will take for our walks. Being the human, I pretty much decide the route or how long we will walk depending on the time I have on the said day. However, I do let Maxx have a say on days I feel indulgent.

Like today.

It was a rainy morning, as is usual for Singapore when the North East monsoon hits the island. Typically, I would request Siti, my helper, to walk Maxx in such weather just long enough for him to answer nature’s calls and keep the walking schedule with the intent of exercise for later. Siti however is away at Palembang to spend time with her family and that leaves me in charge of the family, dog et al for the next 30 days.

Both Maxx and I were going to miss her more than the others in the family. Maxx loves stepping out with Siti, who takes him out on the lunches and dinners with friends and makes sure he gets doggie treats.  For Maxx, walking with Siti is like a field trip. Slow paced walk, loads of time to sniff at interesting corners, an opportunity to hang out with other dogs, whose humans were friends of Siti’s, rest time when she poses for photos for her Facebook profile etc. I will miss Siti too, but for different reasons.

When the morning dawned, I knew it was going to be crazy. School term began today, Siti was leaving for her holiday and to top it all, it was raining. As always, Maxx lay on the floor, just outside the kitchen, watching me broodingly through half closed eyes as I busied myself fixing breakfast for the daughter and husband. A few minutes after Akank left for her school bus, he looked up at me expecting me to say, “Want to go for a walk, Maxx?.” I believe dogs can tell time. How else do you think Maxx knows that it is 7am in the morning and time for his walk? If I hope to enjoy a cup of coffee or read anything, I better be done before 6.59 am.

Knowing that I had no choice, I stepped out; umbrella in one hand and the dog lead in the other. Just out of the gate, Maxx decided to play tough. When he does not want to walk the direction I want to walk, he stands rooted to the spot. When I turned around and looked at him, he stared right back at me, defiantly.  No amount of tugging at the lead or coaxing him with endearments cut any ice with him. So I did what works every time; I had a conversation. Often times, I have noticed people looking over their shoulders, watching me talk to my dog.

 “You don’t want to go this way, Maxx? Defiant stare.

“Alright. Then you tell me what you want to do?” Blinks eyes.

“Do you want to go back home, Maxx?” Flares his nostrils, continues to stare without blinking.

“Ok. You show me which way you want to go and I will go with you, Ok? ” Usually this works. He either starts moving in the direction that he wants to go or wags his tail.

But today, he continued to stare back. He would not budge, move or trace his paw steps back home. I had to tug at the lead a couple of times to tell him I meant business.  Maxx sensed that he had no option and decided to walk along. Along the way, at the traffic lights he slowed down and leaned to the side of the road he wanted to go. I decided to humor him. I crossed the road and let him lead the way.  He cleverly chose covered areas which protected him from the constant drizzle of the rain. “Good boy, Maxx.” I kept the conversation going.

He seemed to know where he was heading, even though the route he chose was not a familiar walking route for me. He made me cross another street and walked towards a park. I smiled and continued indulging him and before I knew it, we were right on Orchard road, Singapore’s most popular tourist attraction!  Who knew Maxx was the ‘window shopping at malls’ kind?

It was very early in the morning and other than a few commuters, corporate people walking to their day jobs and night security guards that were stationed outside some of the malls, Orchard road was pretty quiet.  The huge television screens were live, blinking advertisements that fascinated Maxx and held his attention, he looked at display windows and mannequins and wagged his tail at some of them, and he peeked at his own reflection on the glass panes as we walked past. His tongue was out on one side and he looked happy. The best part of the route he chose was that he managed to stay dry in the covered corridors.

We turned at the Scape Youth Park at Orchard Link which is a colorful recreational park for young people. The rain washed grass looked green and by just looking at Maxx  sniffing at it, I can tell it smelt fresh too. We got back home in lesser time than it took for our usual morning walks but I can bet my last dollar, much happier.

I cannot wait for all the adventures that I will have with Maxx in the coming days.

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Jogjakarta- Borobudur

Prambanan - The 9th Century Hindu temple dedicated to the Trimurti At Jogjakarta

Prambanan – The 9th Century Hindu temple dedicated to the Trimurti At Jogjakarta

Many of the cities in Java have been named after the great cities in the epic stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Madura island is named after Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna. Mt. Bromo is derived from the Javanese pronunciation of Lord Brahma himself. Yogyakarta (or Jogjagarta) is named after Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Ram, another Hindu influence.

So far it had been an amazing week of learning – about another culture, about the people from that culture. Sam was in the mood to discuss politics in Indonesia since the presidential elections were due to happen in mid 2014. It was interesting to find out that it was an unwritten law of the country that any man contesting the post of President had to be from the dominant Javanese tribe. Sam was all praise for Jokowi, who is seen as a potential candidate in the election for President.

Beautiful sculptures from the 9th Century restored at Borobudur.

Beautiful sculptures from the 9th Century restored at Borobudur.

We passed the little district of Muntilan and Sam pointed out that most people from this district make statues from volcanic rocks for a living. The statues are made for the overseas markets since the Islamic homes are not allowed to keep statues or sculptures of any living creature in their homes.  According to the teachings of their prophet, the act of creation is the prerogative of God and not humans.

The last day of our travel took us to visit the ‘big ruins of an old Buddhist temple’ as Sir Raffles had been told in 1814. On our way, as it was usual practice by now, Sam filled us in on the many interesting facts about Borobudur.

Borobudur

Borobudur

Borobudur, a monument from the 9th century, has been renovated several times to the tune of 30 million USD. The last renovation went on for over ten years, when several volcanic rocks were removed and reset like a giant jigsaw puzzle after they had disarranged themselves in the repeated earthquakes and cyclic weather changes. According to Sam, there are many speculations as to why the Mahayana Buddhists decided to construct such a fabulous temple at that particular spot. One of which he said could be because Central Java is also where the provinces of Demak and Kudus existed  and they were considered to be almost as holy as Mecca by the Islamic population.

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One of the several statues of Buddha in Borobudur

The Borobudur temple lies in an axis line that connects it to two other Buddhist temples believed to be constructed in the same century- The Mendut and Pawon– which are a few kilometers away from each other.  Even though no known reason has been established, Sam supposed it was because in the ancient times people had to walk great distances, over long periods of time to reach Borobudur.  The temple lies between two rivers, Elo and Progo. Typically people had to walk across one river rest for a bit before crossing the second river, to reach Borobudur.  Even today, Buddhists in Indonesia, observe the annual ritual on Vesak day,  by walking from Mendut passing past Pawon and end at Borobudur.

We reached the temple premises when the weather threatened to become bad. From a  bright sunny morning, somewhere along the way,  it had turned dark and cloudy. Thankfully there were locals who had umbrellas for hire, and we had the good sense to take one each before our climb. Trishno, the local guide who took us around Borobudur, was a veteran, who by virtue of repeating the story to the many tourists before us, could say the story of the sculptures backwards, if you woke him up in the middle of the night.

Parents of Lord Buddha, Mahamaya and Sudhodhana

Parents of Lord Buddha, Mahamaya and Sudhodhana

It is believed that a Buddhist of Indian origin, Gunadharma is the chief architect of the temple of Borobudur. He is believed to have visualized the teachings of Vedas and incorporated these into the design of the temple. The temple design, which is in various levels, is believed to correspond to the phases of life a bodhisattva lives to reach nirvana.  We learnt of the incredible Avalokitesvara,  the bodhisattva who refused Nirvana only to stay back in the world to share his wisdom and ensure others reached the state of Nirvana.  The Dalai Lama is believed to be one such, in Tibetan Buddhism.

By the time we were done, the rains had begun to pour. It was Jummat (Friday), a sacred day for the Islamic community and we had little hope to reach our next destination before closing time.  We did reach the palace of the current monarch of Jogjakarta, Hemangku Buwono X, who also happens to be the provincial governor of Jogjakarta, just short of closing time.

The pandapoh, where the guests of the King were received.

The pandapoh, where the guests of the King were received.

The rain continued to pour and yet, we managed to take in a few details of the vast palace grounds,  the pandapoh (the pandals) and some exhibits of royal batik and the occasions that they were worn, the gamelan ( musical instruments) and the gifts received by the royal family over the years from other countries.

Someone has got to redo the captions

Someone has got to redo the captions

Akank and I found entertainment in the English captions given for the exhibits. The others were seriously contemplating the wonders of the centuries gone by.

Our next stop was at the beautiful garden restaurant of the Prince of Jogja, nDalem ngabean,  for lunch. The buffet was largely meat and shrimp based but they gladly accommodated our veggie requests and rustled up some yum fare. We listened to the gamelan music of gongs and xylophones accompanied by singing of which we didn’t understand any. 

Post lunch, we headed to Taman Sari, the water castle of the Kings of Jogja.

Taman Sari - The Water castle of the Jogja Sultans.

Taman Sari – The Water castle of the Jogja Sultans.

It was possible to imagine green lush gardens minus the housing that has sprouted around the complex. Our last stop of the day, sans rains, was at the batik factory. Even though we have been to one in Malaysia, to watch the workers at it, is always amazing. It reminds me to appreciate why I pay so much for batik material. We ended up picking something for everyone from the store there.

That was the end of our week long sojourn of East Java.  We flew back to Singapore the next morning, bringing with us plenty of memories and photos to share. I hope you have enjoyed my posts on our vacation at Java as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you.

Sights at Solo

The sights from the local market

The sights from the local market- The effect “mongo” had on the man is evident.

The entire vacation was aimed at soaking up on the local cuisine, culture, people and sights. We had taken in the sights, indulged in the cuisine and when Sam suggested we walk through a traditional Javanese market that morning to interact with the locals, we were ready.  As expected the market was crowded and noisy. It seemed like every other shop in the market was selling  bamboo ware, fried food or tempeh . Sam had warned us earlier that if we were avoiding fried food, then we were probably in the wrong country. Clever Sam helped with vocabulary that could light up the faces of the locals when used. Mongo. That single word had the power to instantaneously light up many faces of the traders and shop keepers who tried selling the local fare to us. Use Mongo and they did not mind being photographed, refused, smiled at or ignored. Mongo meant Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, No thanks, Sorry, Please and anything else you wanted it to mean. With just that one word, it is possible to break ice and build rapport with the entire local community. It brought to my mind another word that I heard being over used when I was travelling in Italy- Prego, similar to Mongo, means several things- What can I do for you, Thank you, Of course,  Welcome, Pardon and such.

We tried some fritters made from Jack fruit and Tapioca. We watched some of the women shop keepers cut kilos of red chilly padi that they obviously sold for making the sambal to the locals.

The typical ambience of a Chinese temple.

The typical ambience of a Chinese temple.

Our next stop was right next doors- a local Chinese temple. Since moving to Singapore, we have been to a few of these temples and they all look identical. A few idols of Chinese Gods, incense sticks, red candles, red lanterns and walls with inscriptions and paintings from another era and we had taken the details all in.

Our third stop of the day was at a local Batik market. Even though Sam wasn’t too enthused about walking us through the market (as we later found out why), we insisted that we walk through the market. Batik is practiced like art in the whole country, Solo has an annual batik carnival and Batik is an integral part of Javanese culture.

The claustrophobic batik market

The claustrophobic batik market

Those were reasons enough for us to want to walk through the market. As it turned out it was a claustrophobic 30 minute maze of batik retailers in narrow lanes. One of us would have lost consciousness had we stayed on even for another minute. We were relieved when the tour was done.

The only thing I recall from that half hour is a few locals that called out ‘Shah Rukh Khan , Amitabh Bachchan and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ when we passed by- to let us know they recognized us from India. And to think that these names were known in the narrow batik lanes of Solo!

Who knew these guys are famous in Java!

Who knew these guys are famous in Java!

Our next stop was the palace of the Paku Buwono- 13, whose ancestors were the rulers of Surakarta.  History has it that, the ancestors of the current Paku Buwono were powerful Islamic kings who were close to the Dutch rulers. The 13th Paku Bowono is in residence and traditionally respected as a royal, even though he is a regular man who runs a batik business locally. The palace was badly kept and was being set up for some commercial batik exhibition in January.

We were quite disappointed with the state of the palace but Sam made sure our disenchantment did not last too long.

The family at the Mankunegera palace

The family at the Mangkunegera palace

Our next stop at Solo was at the palace of King Mangkunegara. The current King of Solo, Mangkunegara-IX has only ceremonial powers and lives in the palace with his family. He is also a business man and deals in Batik and Teakwood. He seemed to own a flourishing business, from the way the palace was maintained.  We looked at the artefacts that were on display and our guide, Mariyati (March born and thus the name she said) was very well informed and chatty. She toured the palace grounds with us and filled us in about a lot of details of the Mangkunegara dynasty. What I found a little disappointing was that at the end of the palace tour,  Mariyati tried selling us some herbs and concoctions that were brewed using the recipes of the Queen Tustiputri, the wife of Mangkunegara VIII. Commercial activity using the name of a royal dead soul sounded unfair and full of hocus-pocus.

We were exhausted by the time we stopped for lunch at a Javanese speciality restaurant. The food we ordered again was tweaked to accommodate our only vegetarian options. It was funny how they brought a portion of vegetarian Mee for Akanksha with an order of chicken sate and shrimp fritters on the house! What I will also remember for a long time was the Keronchong music– a Javanese style music ensemble influenced by the Portuguese that Sam seemed to be absolutely comfortable singing along to.

One of the shops in the antique market

One of the shops in the antique market

It was nearing late afternoon and both Akank and mother in law were out of steam and wanted no more sights to see. Ramesh and I walked to the Triwindu antique market which was basically a flea market that had everything from antique idols in different materials, to paintings, to jewellery, door knobs, house decor, lamps, Chinese porcelain from Ching Dynasty, Topeng masks, wooden puppets and more. After a quick tour of the place, we began our two hour drive towards Jogjakarta.

We drove nonstop and reached Jogjakarta a little before 6pm and checked into The Phoenix hotel. Akank had the time of her vacation at Jogja. She used the pool, got to play the grand piano at the restaurant where we had dinner and got to eat pizza. She was a happy teenager.