Saturday, January 12, 2013

:Travelogue: Of Taichung Paddy and Akshay Mohanty

As my high speed train (HSR or High Speed Rail) left Tainan for Taichung I could not remove from my mind the insistent crooning of Akshay Mohanty, “Aaji kali je dhana heuchhi naa tara taichung”. I seemed to hear the song louder every time the electronic display board of the coach showed the reducing distance to Taichung during the 184 km journey of 43 minutes. My present journey and Akshay’s song had evoked a fond childhood memory about the paddy seed which had been so popular among Odia farmers decades ago. My grandfather spoke highly about this high yielding variety seed, and I was now headed for the origin of the fabled seed. As I alighted from the HSR I experienced some kind of spiritual connect.

The paddy seed association was so strong in my mind that I frantically looked for paddy fields on both sides of the road as my taxi sped down the 10 km distance from the HSR station to my hotel in the central part of the city. That was futile, because like any other ambitious metropolis, Taichung had also committed its real estate to more profitable use—for malls, hotels, roads and commercial buildings. “I will have to wait for the desired paddy”, I said to myself as I engaged myself in enjoying the window view. Taichung looked as busy as our own metros but things moved smoothly in a very systematic manner. Pedestrians waited for the lights to turn green even if there was not a vehicle or a policeman in sight (in fact I didn’t see a single policeman in my two-day stay in the city).

The window of my twelfth floor hotel room opened to a big park, complete with jogging tracks, a pond, flower beds, well manicured lawns, landscapes, kids’ playgrounds, tennis courts, telephones, toilets, eateries and all other amenities. Everything gelled so well with the leafy environment of the park. I waited for the next day so that I would head for the park first thing in the morning. Next morning as I immersed myself in my  workout among the local folks who jogged, walked, played tennis, did tai chi exercises, I felt truly rejuvenated.

(Taichung Park)

Taichung does not offer any historical sites for the tourists unlike Tainan, our previous city of visit, which has forts built by the Dutch, Chinese and even a British residency building. However, the natural science museum of Taichung is simply awesome. The 22-acre museum with its stately glass and steel buildings is right in the heart of the city, alongside upmarket shops, malls and restaurants. The robot, dinosaur, mummy and 3D movie sections are popular, especially with the kids, although I liked the imposing botanical garden inside a greenhouse, full of exotic plants and a fascinating aquarium at the basement. The mission of the botanical garden is to display and protect the floral biodiversity of Taiwan by existing as an information resource for the community, government and science, and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy.
Just near the approach road to the entrance of the museum I discovered an Indian restaurant, a rarity in Taichung. The naan and chicken butter masala provided a welcome break from the Taiwanese cuisine and the regular McDonald’s and KFC fare. I curiously looked for the owner of the establishment who would most likely be an Indian, but there was no Indian face around. I asked the person who was serving us about who owned the place and he said he did. He was Fred Lin, an Indian of Chinese origin from Medinipur. Fred told us that Indian food was popular with the locals, and we could see it from the full house.

 (Taichung Paddy)

A visit to Taichung is never complete without an excursion to the tranquil and serene Sun Moon Lake, 125 km and a two-hour drive away by bus. This bus journey was more significant for me as it brought me face to face with the fabled Taichung paddies. There they lay, stretching to the distant horizons on both sides of the highway— saplings from the seeds so well celebrated by Akshay Mohanty. The fields soon gave place to mountainous roads affording breathtaking scenery. Sun Moon Lake is named so because the shape resembles the sun on one side and moon on the other. Besides the captivating views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, this place provides a slew of activities like boat tours, cable car rides, amusement park adventures in the adjacent Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village and so on.

Sun Moon Lake teems with eating places supplying exotic seafood and delicious fruit salads. I enter into a restaurant to order the shrimp on display. To my great relief I find the owner well versed in English which makes the ordering part easy. I strike a conversation with him and gather that he is also bitten by the travel bug. He has visited 42 countries so far, but sadly not India yet. He has decorated the walls of his joint with his travel photos. The shrimp dish he prepares for me tastes heavenly.

On my return journey to Taichung in the evening I could not see the dark paddy fields from my bus window, but I could feel the calm that I experienced whenever I visited my grandfather’s farm years ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

This hotel made my day

Casa Real Hotel, Macau: A Review
(No.1118 Avenida Dr. Rodrigo RodriguesMacauChina)

The hotel offers a very clean and homely ambiance, with spic and span common spaces, shiny lifts and of course immaculate rooms. The bathroom is top class with swanky fittings--certainly top end for hotels at this price range. The free internet comes as a frill. The hotel has a free shuttle service that picks you up from or drops you at the ferry terminal. The hotel has a casino, that appeared middle range. Behind the hotel there is a city bus stop and at the nearby Fisherman's Wharf (shopping plaza and entertainment area) you may catch one of those ubiquitous free shuttle bus services of other hotels and casinos that would take you to other hotels/ casinos, thereby saving your transportation expenses. 
The location of the hotel is excellent. The very good casinos are all nearby, in the same block as the hotel there are money changers, grocery stores, local restaurants, and watch and jewellery shops. Just across the road there is a Seven 11 type store. The golden lotus square is just three minute's walk and near here you have the Grand Prix and Wine museums, Aruna's Indian Curry. 

One serendipitous discovery I made about another attraction of Macau near the hotel: the sea front promenade is just across the road as you face the ferry terminal road. Just aim at the ground level of the flyover that takes off near the hotel, keep pressing ahead and you get this superb jogging/ strolling path fringing the water body. The banks are dotted with exercising equipment. In the evening the atmosphere in the area is godly.

The hotel has a nice pool and a well stocked gym. From my 8th floor non-smoking room the window view was breathtaking with the sea view dominating. Ask for a sea facing room. I was pleased with the reception desk and the hotel service.

One thing I am worried about is the big amount they took as deposit at the time of check in. They returned the voucher while I checked out, but money was finally credited to my account after a long wait after check out.

(I stayed in the hotel in December 2011)

Casa Real Hotel

Hotel Front

Close to everything in Shanghai

(A Review of The Bund Riverside Hotel
No.398 Beijing East Road, Huangpu DistrictShanghai 200001China)

I didn't mind the less than perfect rug and the few stains of my toilet floor because of the superb location of the hotel. It was close to Bund, Nanjing Street market, metro stations, ferry point and host of local restaurants and international chains like McDonald, KFC and Subway. 

I can't forget the morning walk upto Bund followed by my brisk walk on the Bund promenade. The place was very lively and salubrious during morning hours. People were engaged in workouts, relaxed sightseeing, kite flying or tai chi exercises.

The hotel is located in the same building with a Bank of China branch, so money exchange is easy. 
Front desk staff is very helpful and they understand English to a large extent. I had a city facing superior twin room so the view was not great. When I wanted a river facing room they claimed Yuan 200 per day. 

Mini bar water bottle charge of 67 yuan was a rip off considering the fact that outside water was available at Yuan 5 per bottle. 
The hotel people help you to hail a taxi from the nearby East Beijing Road. Overall nice experience. The bath room size is great. Free internet in room comes as bonus.

(I stayed in the hotel in December 2011)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Taiwan: Magical Green Touch

When I planned my trip to Taiwan some of friends asked “Why Taiwan?” I could have gone to Singapore, Malayasia, China, Thailand or Hong Kong or maybe Venice or New York.

It was another fact that I’ve already been to some of the above named places and the other places I was not in a mood to explore, hence I picked up a place which was plain different from these touristy places. Many Indians do not go there, for that matter not many westerners too. I was surprised not to stumble upon a Bengali tourist in my 3 days of stay in two cities namely Kaohsiung and Tainan so far. It is a bit mystifying indeed given their strong yearning for exploring least frequented places of the world. I am pinning my hope on Taipei, the capital, to meet India’s most travel crazy people.

Coming back to the “Why Taiwan” part, the question was often being asked by China, who were never comfortable with the existence Taiwan  as a democratic and separate country. Officially Taiwan is known as Republic of China and they claim sovereignty over the mainland China too, which is too much for the Big Brother to digest. Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, lives under the shadow of Chinese aggression or even takeover. But the stance has softened in the recent years as an era of rapprochement and mutual acceptance has been ushered in by the winds of globalisation. The young people love it on both sides of the Taiwan Strait as they do everywhere, India Pakistan included.

Taiwan, which has the shape of a sweet potato, is a food lover’s paradise. The people here love their meat too much—anything that moves, crawls, walks or swims (leaving, of course, the humans) is welcome for their dishes. The whole place is bustling with eaters any time of day. Night markets, which are common in all Taiwanese cities are humming with shoppers, and eaters. Every imaginable food is being ordered by the enthusiastic buyers and being cooked right there: fish, octopus, sharks, shrimps, beef, pork, beetle, rodents, you name it you will get it. For those who do not relish meat, Taiwan offers tasty fruits and vegetables in plenty. The guavas and bananas tasted heavenly when I picked them up from a street seller on a Saturday outing. I am not telling you the price as it may spoil your taste.

Taiwanese people just love cycling and it is evident on their roads. Bikes are available everywhere for hiring, even for free, and almost all the roads have wide tracks for bikers. Cycling is not only encouraged it is also celebrated. Bikes are the most visible evidences of the Taiwanese people’s resolve tominimise pollution and make their cities and surroundings environmental friendly. Kaohsiung, the second largest city of Taiwan, was till recently a dirty industrial town and shipping port, with polluted water bodies and wasteland. People have changed the face of the city completely with their magical green touch. Now the natural settings are protected and cleaned, half the city travels underground in a very efficient metro rail system; tourist boats run on solar power and of course people pedal their way. The vast city park is a delight to watch in the morning: full of walkers, joggers, tennis players and groups elderly men and women deeply absorbed in their Tai chi exercises, in tune with soothing music. Giving company to humans are birds In the trees and  ducks in the lake. Man is in perfect harmony with nature in the salubrious morning moments.

The scene is so different from our garrulous and impolite ways. I am reminded of the din created by my fellow travellers from Kolkata to Bangkok during the first leg of my journey. The whole scene inside the aircraft seemed to have been hijacked by a big group of Hindi speaking young traders who had big parcels with them. They bragged and boasted about their expertise and familiarity with the Bangkok commerce, without caring a fig about passengers who wanted to sleep in the middle of the night.

A shop selling sea food in a night market in Kaohsiung.