Singapore Trip with the kids

A vacation with the kids was long overdue. I had visited Singapore for work a few weeks ago. The place seems feels like a big garden with trees and green cover everywhere. So I decided to take them to Singapore.

We discovered some challenges only after we landed there. This post will help you figure out a way around those.

Connectivity: If you’re with Vodafone, get the iRoamFree plan. We paid Rs. 2500 for 7 days for this plan, and this allowed us unlimited calling domestic or international, data and messages when we landed.

Insurance: Do take an travel/medical insurance policy. I trust Tata AIG with it for all my international trips. I’ve never had to use my insurance so far, but feel warm & fuzzy considering that it’s a Tata brand.

Flights: We took a red-eye Jet Airways flight to Singapore. It departs at 1.30 am from India, and we landed there early morning. Singapore is 2.5 hours ahead of India. On the way back, our flight was at 11.15 am Singapore time. So this worked out perfectly well.

Currency: Before you go, make sure that you get enough Singapore Dollars – while your credit card will work in Singapore, much like India, many businesses only accept cash.

Stay: We had booked an AirBnB for our stay there.

So this was our itinerary –

Day 1

Landed early morning. Had the Singapore famous Kaya toast and coffee for breakfast at the airport itself. Booked a luxury limo to our apartment, as we were five passengers and had a lots of luggage.

On the way from the airport to the apartment, the driver took us to a Indian travel-agency shop which sold tickets to popular tourist destinations at discounted rates. We got up to 10% discount in some cases. We bought tickets for the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park, the Cable Car, Aquarium & Gardens by the Bay.

Apart from the Night Safari for which you need to plan the exact date you will go, the rest of the tickets were open ended.

We took a cab to the Marina Bay Sands area in the evening, and walked up to the Singapore Flyer. It’s a huge ferris wheel that is 165 meters tall and offers a birds eye view of the entire city.  Each round trip takes about 30 minutes. This was totally worth it.

Then we walked back to the MBS shopping mall, and started looking for a place to eat.

We had dinner at Punjab Grill. It’s a bit expensive, but the service was fantastic and the food was delectable – much better than their outlets in Mumbai.

We came back to our apartment late in the night.

If you’re staying in an apartment do stock up on basic grocery items like fruit, bread, cheese, milk, coffee etc.

Two important realizations on Day 1:

  1. There are very few pure Vegetarian options in Singapore, outside of Little India. Most of the seemingly vegetarian food (bread, pasta) items have egg in them. Even the mushroom soup at the Singapore Zoo had chicken broth in it.
  2. A typical cab strictly takes only 4 passengers. We were 5 people as I had also taken my 8 year old niece along. So either we took two cabs where ever we went, or booked a 6-seater cab. Grab taxis (that’s like the Uber of Singapore) were easier to find than Uber here. There’s an app for Grab, make sure you download it before you land in Singapore.

Day 2

The next day we took off for the Singapore Zoo. When we reached the zoo, it began to rain heavily. So we bought ponchos and umbrellas from the Zoo gift shop. The ponchos aren’t expensive, and are good for a couple of uses.

The Zoo was fantastic. We didn’t take the tram, rather preferred to walk it all out. The Singapore Zoo is huge and amazing experience, but all the walking will surely tire out the kids. When we reached the food court at 3 pm, they had run out of vegetarian food. The smoothies were over too. So we shared a couple bowls of fruit. The kids reluctantly ate some fruit.

The zoo closes at 6 pm. We headed out to Phoenix India restaurant on Phoenix Road (about 15 mins from the Zoo), and had a hearty dinner (lunch?) there.

Then we came back to the same Zoo area for the Night Safari. Don’t miss the “Creatures of the Night” show where they bring out the nocturnal animals. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Then we rested our tired legs by getting in to the tram which takes you around the entire park.

We got done with the Night Safari by 11.30 pm.

Both the Zoo and the Night Safari are a must visit.

Day 3

On Day 3 we decided to take the Cable car to Sentosa Island. We went up to Mount Faber which is one of the hop points for the Cable car. This is again a must-do experience. We got off at the Sentosa station. Then we walked to the Imbiah station (5 mins from Sentosa station) and boarded an internal cable car to the Merlion station.

From the Merlion station, we took an MRT (monorail) to reach the Waterfront station. From there, we walked to the S.E.A. Aquarium. The Aquarium has some really good exhibits. Plenty of pictures were taken.

After the Aquarium visit, we walked back to the Merlion station. From Merlion to Imbiah, and then back to Sentosa. From Sentosa it was back to Mount Faber. The restaurant at Mount Faber station served us some good vegetarian aglio-olio pasta, margherita pizza and a salad.

After our meals, we took a cab to Gardens by the Bay. We checked out Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. You can literally spend a few hours there admiring the variety of flora and fauna, unless you have kids – because they get impatient.

The Cloud Forest Dome has one of the biggest indoor waterfalls. We took a Cloud walk which is a stroll on an elevated bridge across the dome. Must do.

Then we stepped out of the dome to catch the 8.45 pm light and sound show near the super trees. I think this was a little overrated, but the kids enjoyed it.

After the show, we headed to Little India for dinner.  We went to a place called – Bikaner Express. Okayish food, and pedestrian service. Avoid.

Then we called it a night, and took a cab back to the apartment.

In Singapore there are designated pickup and drop-off zones for cabs. So find the designated spot, then call up on the cab. All of these zones show up when booking a cab, so it makes coordination with the driver easier.

Instead of calling the driver for last mile logistics, we used to chat with them via the app. It worked out well each time.

Day 4

This was our day to go to Universal Studios which again is in Sentosa Island.

We headed out early to queue up outside the Universal by 9.30 am. We took a cab to Sentosa Island. The cabbie dropped us off near the Casino entrance.

A few pointers for those visiting Universal Studios with kids –

  • Queue up by 9.30 am max. Universal studios opens at 10 am.
  • Get the Express pass if you can afford it. We didn’t get them, but should’ve on second thoughts. Without the express pass, we ended up queuing for close to 45-60 minute per ride/show.
  • As soon as you enter the gates, head to the USS Store on the left and buy ponchos. You’ll need them later in a few rides.
  • Figure out timings for these shows – Waterworld, Monster Rock & Madagascar Boogie (for kids).
  • Go right away to Transformer and then Jurassic Park Rapid Adventure. Both of these rides offer an amazing experience. Don’t miss.
  • Do Waterworld (1:30 pm) – sit in the splash zone, followed by Madagascar in afternoon.
  • Walk towards Far Far Away to enjoy the must see show-Shrek 4D.
  • Try and have lunch during off-peak hours to optimize time
  • Don’t waste time taking pictures. You can take all your pictures post 5 pm, when your legs have given up.

Once we were out of Universal Studios, we had our dinner at Tino’s Pizza Cafe. We had the Pizza Margherita and Garden Verdure the only veg  pizzas options.

Day 5

Woke up a bit late, then headed out to the Jurong Bird Park. This is one fantastic place. Don’t miss it for anything else. Do check out the Lory Loft. The kids will have fun at the mini water park. A Jurong visit takes ~ 4 hours.

Jurong Bird Park has a proper South Indian restaurant right at the entrance. So we had some good dosas and idlis.

Then went off for some shopping to Suntec City, Tower 5. Suntec City has brands like – Uniqlo, H&M, SuperDry, Gap, CottonOn, Charles & Keith etc.

After our retail therapy, we went to Little India but now empowered with deep knowledge of where to eat, thanks to a school time friend I met at the mall.

Murugan’s Idli. That’s the go to place in Little India. Their food was an amazing experience, although the service left a lot to be desired.

At 11.30 pm, after we had satiated out stomachs, we noticed the presence of Mustafa store right across the road. It’s humongous, and it’s open all 24 hours. So we jumped right in, and shopped until 1.30 am. Get all your souvenirs, chocolates here.

Day 6

We went to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands to do some window shopping. Had a sumptuous lunch at Punjab Grill, and then headed out to Suntec city to round off our shopping.

Had a quick dinner at Kurry Korner in Suntec city. It’s a hole in the wall, and is good for a pitstop.

Went back dog tired to our apartment, then spent the next few hours packing our bags.

Day 7

Had pre-booked the same limo for the ride back to the airport. Headed out to the airport at 8.15 am to board our 11.15 am flight.

All in all a very enjoyable though tiresome visit. I think I need another vacation.

Some pointers to help you –

  • If you’re a pure vegetarian then carry some theplas or fruit, or even bread+cheese will help.
  • Eating out is expensive as compared to India. Outside of Little India, meals for a party of 5 will set you back by ~200 SGD. Drinks are expensive.
  • It was rain time in Singapore in May, and the weather is unpredictable. So always carry umbrellas or ponchos.
  • Get the Grab or Uber app. Don’t travel without it.
  • As a tourist, you can get the GST tax refund from the airport. They might ask you to show the stuff you’ve purchased. So do visit the GST refund counter before you check in the luggage.
  • Taxis strictly seat 4 people, unless you have an infant who can be accommodated on a lap.
  • All places are always 10-20 minutes away. That was awesomeness for us. In Mumbai even going from Lokhandwala to Juhu circle takes 40 minutes during peak hours.

 

 

A Trek in the Himalayas

While, I’ve done 25+ treks in the Sahyadris, this was my first trekking trip to the Himalayas. Our group included Nazir, Kuldeep, Jude and me.

  • Plan: BOM → DED → Purola  → Sankhri  → Taluka  → Seema  → Har Ki Dun  → Seema/Taluka  → Sankhri   Purola  → DED  → BOM
  • Dates: 21st April through 26th April
  • We didn’t join an organized trekking group. Our goal was to trek on our own without help from porters, guides or ponies, cook our own food, and carry our own sleeping system.
  • Bought stuff from Decathalon
    • 70+10 liter Symbium back-pack
    • Woolen socks
    • Gloves – silk liners + fleece ones
    • 0 degree sleeping bag
    • Fleece Neck warmer, Fleece Cap, Fleece pants and a Fleece pullover.
  • Stuff to go in the backpack – see photo: https://goo.gl/photos/27zWv5hXJXDiTHUQ6
  • Got a special trail mix made with (250 gms x 4 packets)- Roasted almonds, Roasted walnuts, Peanuts, Cranberries, Raisins (red), Roasted Oats and Chocolate chips.
  • Apart from Trail mix, the food items we were carrying were –
    • Ready to eat packets of – Paneer, Choley, Rice, various soups
    • Thepla, Cream cheese and bagels, Water crackers and cheddar cheese
    • Tea prep material
    • Gud (Jaggery)
  • Kuldeep got us a direct Jet Airways flight from BOM to DED
  • We got our backpacks cling-wrapped at the airport
  • Had arranged for a mini-bus to come pick us up. Surinder Rana, who’s the brother of Bachan Rana, had come to pick us up along with Vijay, the cook. Both were quite affable chaps. We  took a liking to them immediately (the two chaps on the left) – https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipMwY7yGdV9oSNNubVn-xNUMDRAxT1HXECuS6PA9gmOFCU8iPMZQrYyIR9CoxI39ug/photo/AF1QipOt3WuMhp5Sl0d2X-Un6Fgbzwgfa_uL_TfwlvfI?key=T3gwT2NMRWJ1djc5MldjNXRTY25jV1hVaUJ6bm13
  • Day 1, we drove down from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport to Purola. We had to pick up a couple from the famous Doon school enroute to our destination.
  • The ride was fairly uneventful, with us in high energy – we shared tales of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Shravan kumar, Pandavas, Rivers – Rupin, Supin & Tons, and some stupid jokes.
  • Enroute to Purola, we stopped at Kempty Falls (it was a trickle at this time of the year) for some masala soda and gobi parathas.
  • Time: Dehradun Jolly Grant airport to Purola – 6 hours
  • 21st night, we ate at a cheap restaurant, and stayed the night over at an even cheaper place – Shubham Palace. It’s a palace for namesake only The rooms were cramped, no toiletries, and even no drinking water provided. Avoid staying at this place, if you can.
  • 21st night, we repacked our stuff – to balance out the weight amongst the group. Threw away a lot of redundant stuff within the group into a duffel bag.
  • 22nd at 6am, our bus came to pick us up for Sankhari.
  • On the route to Sankhari, we entered the Govind Wildlife Sanctuary. Paid Rs. 1000 towards person, tent and some other god-knows-what charges.
  • From Sankhari, we purchased some Ponchos. Only if we knew, they’re good for one time use only.
  • Got off the bus, and boarded a Jeep which would take us to Taluka – the starting point for our trek.
  • For some part of the journey we sat on the roof of the Jeep and it was quite an experience.
  • Distance: Sankhri to Taluka – 12 kms
  • Reached Taluka at around ~10 am.
  • Had breakfast of Veggie Parathas, Pickle and Tea at Thakur Bhojanalaya. We liked it so much, we even got some packed for our trek.
  • Started trek at 11 am from Taluka.
  • Each of us carrying 12 Kgs of stuff in our backpacks – sleeping tents, sleeping bags, mattress, food, cooking vessels, warm clothes and other misc stuff.
  • For the duration of our trek we were accompanied by the beautiful, gushing and the very cool river – Supin.
  • The trek was about 11 kms. It rained twice during our trek. Oh yes, the ponchos came in handy, but mine tore when I tried to wear it during the second rain.
  • The first time it rained, we had crackers and cheddar cheese.
  • The second time we had some tea, biscuits and just hung around waiting for it to stop.
  • The villagers are needy for medicine. Specially the painkillers and fever medicines. These areas are so remote, that they don’t have access to even the basic stuff that we take for granted.
  • End of day 1, we camped at a meadow spot just a few minutes away from the campsites of Indiahikes and that Bachan fellow. Our place was near a power station building building of some sorts.
  • Distance: Taluka to camping spot – 12.5 kms, just a 1.5 km shy of Seema.
  • At the campsite on day 1, Kuldeep cooked us some tomato basil soup, followed by rice, choley, and paneer. The warmth of food feels nice when you’re at a place that’s 8 degree cold, and the winds are blowing crazy. Thanks to Kuldeep for carrying a Primus, Kerosene (which Surinder Rana had got for us), and other paraphernalia for cooking us a decent meal.
  • It rained that night, and the winds were blowing cold. We slept at 10.30 pm. The clouds were in, so the stars weren’t visible.
  • The following morning, we woke up at around 6. The temperature recorded was 6 degrees.
  • Kuldeep got some tea going.
  • Along with Tea, we had Bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. How cool is that!
  • A couple of rounds of tea, eating breakfast, laying your clothes to dry in the sun, washing utensils, packing up our stuff, taking a dump, brushing our teeth – and before we knew, it was 10 am. When sunlight hits your campsite, it makes all the difference weather wise. The day started cold, but felt very nice as soon as sunlight came in.
  • So we started day 2 trek at 10.30 am.
  • We crossed the Seema village by 11.00 am, and got on to the bridge to cross the Supin river.
  • On the way to Seema, we saw the Osla village nestled high on the other side of the valley, in the mountains.
  • The trek from the bridge onwards is a steep one ascending into the mountains further.
  • Trekking along, we were eating our trail mix, filling up our water bottles from the river streams. The water is quite good to drink- none of us fell sick :)
  •  At around 12.30 pm, I started feeling queasy in my stomach. It could’ve been altitude sickness, or just plain exhaustion. I had taken a few rest stops along the way, but at 12.30 pm, I just gave up. There was about 10 kms of trek ahead of us, including a 400 meter climb along a ridge – Kalkatiyadhar. Also, we had to decide whether to continue or just return back. Hard choices. If we decided to continue, we would have to trek about 10 kms in the nest 3 hours. Very hard – considering our energy levels, specially mine, and the weight of our backpacks.
  • I rested for about 15 minutes, and then we decided to head back :(
  • On the way back, we could see the Seema village from up above the mountain.
  • As we retraced our way back, we missed the path to Seema village, and ended up in Osla.
  • Total distance trekked on day 2: 7.3 kms
  • Nazir and Jude found us a shelter in Osla. A cute little house, which doubled up as a site for Gio adventures.We decided to spend the night in Osla.
  • We had our lunch, rotis with some local veggie. Then we had our tea at around 6 pm.
  • The village has no electricity.
  • Luckily, this place had a western toilet. Small joys of life.
  • Kuldeep and I decided to head back to Taluka the following morning. We would have our bags carried by a pony, and then trek down as fast as we can so as to reach Taluka by 11 am.
  • Nazir decided to continue his trek to Har Ki Dun the following morning.
  • After a sumptuous dinner of Rajma Chawal, we repacked our bags. Left back all the food packets – clearly we had been packing for the apocalypse :) Too much food.
  • We slept at 9.30 pm.
  • Woke up at 5 pm, on day 3. Got ready by 6 am.
  • Had a quick breakfast of plain parathas.
  • Jude, Kuldeep and I started our descent down to Taluka at 6.20 am.
  • Almost ran down, passing by our camp site, and all the places we had crossed on day-2.
  • By 11 am, we reached Taluka.
  • Distance from Osla to Taluka: 13.4 kms
  • Negotiated with the Jeep owner to drop us off to Mussoorrie.
  • We reached Mussoorie by 6.30 pm.
  • Enroute, we booked our flights to Mumbai, and a hotel in Mussoorie.
  • Spent the night in Mussoorie resting and recovering. Showered by after 3 days of living in the wild.
  • Had a stomach filling breakfast of Aloo parathas, Butter Toast and some tea/coffee in the morning.
  • Then packed up and took the flight back to Mumbai on day 4. Reached Mumbai at 5.40 pm.

 

See all pictures of our trek here

Here’s the checklist of items we took for the trek

 

 

Bike Ride on Stevens Creek Trail

 

 

As a kid I used to bike to school, but that was years ago. I tried a short bike ride last week with Sunil and his kids, and it was much fun. So I was hoping that I’ll get a chance to do a longer ride, perhaps on a trail before I head back to India.

According to the weather forecast, it was supposed to rain today. But in the morning we saw some sunlight peeking through the clouds and decided to grab the opportunity for a ride.

We got on to the trail from Heatherstone. The trail was well maintained. There weren’t too many people, but the ones out there were biking, running, or walking their dogs. The creek was full of gushing water thanks to the recent rains in the Bay area. There was gentle breeze, and the sky was cloudy.There was greenery and some water bodies all around us during the trail.

We rode for about 3 hours, and covered 24 miles, details here on Strava.  This is going to be one of my most memorable experiences for a long time.

It’s fun being a kid again. 🚲

My first camping trip

  • Lazy Saturday morning
  • Sudden urge to go camping by noon – thanks to ze wife for the motivation
  • Got some friends to join. It’s decided, we’re going to Garbett point.
  • Oh shit – no tent, sleeping bag nor any camping experience
  • Jude borrowed tent from a friend for me, Kuldeep arranged sleeping bag for me.
  • Got act together – food, jacket, misc. stuff, shoved things in a bag and took off
  • Reached Matheran by 8 pm
  • Trekked about 5km from parking lot to camping site
  • Getting colder as the night progressed
  • Half moon, sky full of stars
  • Set up the tents
  • Got the barbecue going – ’twas windy, so a slight challenge. Prior barbecue experience in the US helped.
  • F&B: marinated cottage cheese pieces, cauliflower florets, baby potatoes, corn on the cob and gentleman jack for slow sipping. Nazir brought the non-veg stuff. Kuldeep brought Danska.
  • Bluetooth speaker (thanks Swapnil) and some really good music (thanks Jude), pitch darkness, no distractions.
  • Cool breeze, starry night, friends for company. What more can one ask for?
  • Saw the moon set, spotted Jupiter, Ursa Major, Milky way, North star and then some others.
  • Yikes – 12.30 am already, oh let’s get some sleep
  • Stepped inside tent, into the sleeping bag, and then Kuldeep asks whether I want to go for a stroll. Yes.
  • 30 minutes of conversation later, Kuldeep is feeling super sleepy. It’s a wrap.
  • Slept like a baby. These T2 tents from Decathalon are quite good. Double-walled and well made. Full insulation. Note to self: must get them soon.
  • 6.30 am Sunday – a little mist and magic in the morning.
  • 6.45 am – preparations on for morning cuppa tea. Kuldeep and Jude are setting up the fire.
  • 7.15 am – hot cup of tea, cool morning and sunrise. Some villagers make their way up to the spot on their way to work in Matheran.
  • Had Good day biscuits, Oranges and Guava for breakfast.
  • Learned the art and science of rolling up the tents.
  • 9.00 am – Packed stuff back in to the bags. Hiked back to parking lot.

My first camping trip comes to an end, but a lifetime of memories are mine to keep.

Some photos: https://goo.gl/photos/2m44xtvU9EbtCroU6

 

Top libraries used in mobile apps

Apart from the native and obvious ones (FB, Google etc.) here’s a list of the most popular libraries used in top 100 apps –

iOS

The number of apps these libraries were found in out of 100 top iOS apps
  • #7 Crashlytics – 37 apps
  • #8 Flurry – 31 apps
  • #16 Google Analytics – 20 apps
  • #21 Adjust – 16 apps
  • #49 Tapjoy – 9 apps
  • #61 Localytics – 7 apps
  • #64 Kochava – 7 apps
  • #66 Mixpanel – 7 apps
  • #100 Parse – 4 apps
source: https://medium.com/ios-os-x-development/libraries-used-in-the-top-100-ios-apps-5b845ad927b7

Android – 

The number of apps these libraries were found in out of 100 top Android apps
  • Crashlytics – 15 apps
  • Google Analytics – 14 apps
  • Flurry – 13 apps
  • Mixpanel – 7 apps
  • Adjust – 5 apps
  • Localytics – 2 apps
  • Tapjoy – 2 apps
  • AppsFlyer – 2 apps
source: http://androidadvance.com/most_common_libraries_used_in_android_apps.htm
Disclosure: I’m the founder of CleverTap – a real-time mobile user engagement and analytics platform . CleverTap helps your marketer identify, track and engage app users using push notifications, in-app messages and emails.