HolidayIQ in Indonesia

HolidayIQ launched its Indonesia website today, our first real foray outside India. The soft launch is designed to allow domestic Indonesian travellers to add their photos, hotel reviews and the like. What a journey this has been!

A few years ago the only thing one had was this passion for travel and a desire to do something unique around it (read: not become a travel agent). And from an idea sparked off by reading an article about Zagat Survey to a 2-person team in a little room to now 150+ people across three countries, the journey has been a lot of fun and of course an ulcer or two.

Jakarta vignettes

As the Garuda Indonesia flight takes off from Singapore, all I can make out of the announcement by the pretty little stewardess is a single word loudly repeated thrice  – evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. My strong instinct to dive under the seat is tempered by the realisation that none of the other passengers  have twitched even the smallest muscle. Apparently catastrophe is not imminent. Actually the Garuda fight between Singapore and Jakarta isn’t bad at all. In addition to having lovely stewardesses, Garuda served a rice meal on the flight that had a very interesting dish of dried anchovies and peanuts. The last time I had small dried anchovies in food was when I was around 12 or 13 years – so it was with pleasure that I found that the decidedly acquired taste had not deserted me after all these years.

The first impression of Jakarta to an Indian eye brought up on classical Indian languages is the preponderance of Sanskrit. As you swing out into the highway from the airport you see big signboards that proclaim Soewarna Technology city. It is soon followed by Jalapuspa hotel and Sampoorna Square. Markers of an ancient connect with Hinduism are abundant everywhere; I start to dimly understand how westerners feel as they travel the world finding markers of their culture dominate the landscape in most countries.

Driving in Jakarta is educative.  Getting tired of the legendary traffic jams of the city, the good men running the government there came up with what sounded like an eminently reasonable solution. They mandated that cars have to have a minimum of 3 passengers to be allowed to traverse some of the main city thoroughfares during peak hours. The obvious idea was that single or double passengers should not take cars but use public transport so that cars do not take up too much of scarce road space. Unfortunately Indonesians are as adept at Jugaad as Indians and the impact of this rule has been to actually increase the number of people using roads. Since all cars now need to have 3 or more people, there are men hanging around intersections who rent themselves out as a additional passengers for a fee to motorists with lesser number in the car. So a large number of unemployed youth who otherwise would not be using roads or footpaths are all over the place now. Another strike for the law of unintended consequences.

You can’t escape SRK in Indonesia either. Shah Rukh Khan is repeatedly mentioned as the one Indian that everyone, especially the women seem to know about. Most of the time, the only Indian. Along with Korean superstars, SRK is up there in the not-too-hip celebrity scene in Indonesia. All the young hipper-than-hip hipsters are rooting for Justin Bieber. East Asia is definitely the latest theatre of war for pop culture supremacy and it is a three-cornered fight between Hollywood, Bollywood and the Koreans. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.

I return to Jakarta in another fortnight- cannot wait to see what I will uncover next..

Run away to Bali?

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(Photo from : Baliblog.com)

Tucked between offerings in Jayanagar II and JP Park, is this classified ad in today’s Deccan Herald newspaper in Bangalore:

“LAND IN South Bali Indonesia, 20 mins from Airport, 500 mtrs from Bali Cliff Hotel. Total Land 4780 sq metres. Sea View Plot…..Price 2.5 crores negotiable..”

A back-of-envelope calculation suggests this is about 10% of the going rate for land in Bangalore. For those of you looking to get away from it all, here is the chance..

Mayang Sari Beach Resort, Bintan

Nirwana Gardens is a resort complex in Bintan that has 3 resort options. The eponymous Nirwana Gardens is the regular place with all the facilities that you expect from an all-inclusive resort hotel. The Beach Club is the place for the serious water-sport enthusiast, with other facilities a bit thin. Mayang Sari is a bit of both. And since we were in a ‘middle-of-the-road’ mood, we plonked for Mayang Sari.

It was a good choice.

Mayang Sari Resort Beach

Mayang Sari

Mayang Sari Beach Resort

Mayang Sari

Bintan Island in the Riau archipelago – a prologue

I am sure the seventeen men that controlled the Dutch East India company (the Herren XVII of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, to show you that I know this sort of stuff well) knew about it before me, but I felt no less an explorer when I landed on Bintan island. After all, it is not everyday that you get a chance to reach an outlying island among the group of almost 20,000 islands that make up one of the world’s most populous and to me one of its more likable countries.

These days, it is just a 45 minute fast-ferry ride from Singapore to the Bintan island in Indonesia, but in the old days, this island was an incidental part of the great southern arc that stretched from Malabar (Kerala) in India to the outer reaches of the south-eastern islands of today’s Indonesia, creeping almost up to modern Papua New Guinea – the production epicentre of the ancient world’s great spice route. One of the great spice islands it certainly was not and so was probably ignored in the maritime rivalries of Spain, Portugal and England. And left to curious travellers of the early 21st century to find some of the more beautiful beaches on earth.

An Indian Beach bum looking for the fastest way to get to a world-class beach? Rush to Bintan.

Visas for Indians are on arrival (for most westerners, visa is exempt) and for a stay upto 7 days, you need to pony up USD 10 per person. The catch is, being a government requirement, you need to have the exact 10 USD. So, ensure you carry the exact cash with you.

Of course, the mystery of why A R Rahman has replaced Celine Dion as the default muzak in ferries, restaurants & the such (although, thank god for that I say) in this region has not been fully cracked. Obviously, the return of India’s ancient cultural colonisation springs to mind. But there might be more to it…

From Chaitraratha to Lunuganga

My son clambered up on my lap as we launched into the episode where Kubera, the Treasurer to the Gods, invites young Ganesha to a feast. An early reference to Kubera’s greatness is in the description of his wonderful garden, the magical, Chaitraratha.

Gardens are an interesting, repeating motif in mythology & legend. Remember the Garden of Eden, where man got knowledge & was banished to earth? To me, nothing so demonstrates man’s supposedly evolutionary superiority as his creation of gardens. And as I wander the world, I keep a definite eye out for them.

A garden I have always wanted to see but have not yet managed to is ‘Lunuganga‘, a tropical garden created by the Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was an interesting character. After reading English at Cambridge & Law in London, he went on to a career at the Bar in Sri Lanka. Then at the age of 38 he shifted gears to become an architect. Lunuganga, the garden Bawa created outside Colombo, started out as a rubber estate, which he lovingly and meticulously worked on for over 50 years, turning it into a world- renowned tropical paradise. What a fascinating enterprise that must have been.

A favourite fantasy of mine is to create a flowing garden on a large tract of land atop a barren hill overlooking the sea. I can see it clearly. The weather is neither hot nor cold, but of course, is humid. I am sure I will recognise the place when I see it. My suspicion is that it is in one of the islands of Indonesia – possibly even a remote corner of Bali. Or maybe it is a little atoll in the Pacific. The search goes on.

(A view of Lunuganga : photo from reddottours)

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