On the night of 28th September, 2008, as darkness fell in Singapore, there was a palpable excitement running wild through the city. In Marina Square, the world’s first Night Formula One race was about to start. There were thousands of people in the grandstands, millions watching on TV worldwide as the modern cosmopolitan city of Singapore had caught the attention of the world once more. I still regret that owing to financial restraints and limited tickets, I missed one of the most exciting moments in Singapore in 2008.
A small fishing village at the tip of the Malayan Peninsula, Singapore had very humble beginnings. By the 14th century, Singapore had become part of the Sri Vijayan empire and was called Temasek (“Sea Town”). Due to its unique location, it was en route for many Chinese junks, Indian vessels, Arab dhows and Portuguese battleships. According to legend, a visiting Sri Vijayan prince saw an animal he mistook for a lion and Singapore’s modern day name was born (Singha Pura is actually Sanskrit for Lion-City).
When I first came to Singapore, I was stunned at the magnificence of the Changi International Airport,, which has been regularly touted as one of the best airports in the world. Deplaning from my Singapore Airlines flight the whole atmosphere of the place and its splendour left me spellbound. Changi Airport has three grandiose terminals with the recent completion of Terminal 3. A feature here that I found especially striking is the SkyTrain, the Inter-Terminal train.
From the airport, it is very easy to get anywhere in the city. There is the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport, similar to the Delhi Metro) station inside Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. Cabs are also affordable and easy to find. Singapore’s public transport is very efficient and even developed cities like London and New York have emulated some aspects. Considering the fact that Singapore is one of the world’s most densely populated nations, it is indeed marvellous to see how the traffic is so orderly and efficient. Buses are comfortable and frequent, numerous cabs are readily available and MRT is fast and accessible, connecting all the cities major places. I was to live in Hwa Chong Boarding School, a hostel at Bukit Timah Road in the very heart of the city.
Now here is an advice: if you are planning to visit Singapore, do ensure that you have ample time so that you don’t miss any of the unique experiences the place has to offer you. Let’s begin with the iconic Merlion of Singapore. Actually there are two Merlions in Singapore, one at Sentosa and another at Merlion Park. The image of a water-spewing half-lion half-mermaid being has captivated tourists for years. The Singapore Flyer, the world’s biggest wheel stands at a breath-taking 165 metres. It offers stunning panoramic views of the whole city and remarkably; one can also see Malaysia and Indonesia in the distance. Then there is the Singapore Zoo that includes the one of its kind Night Safari, an exhilarating night experience among the amazing creatures housed in the zoo. The Jurong Bird Park will radically change your view about how amazing birds exist. (I believe that some may even be so inspired so as to take up ornithology).
The Orchard Road and Raffles Place house some of the best malls one has ever seen. They are two heavens for die-hard shoppers. You may actually find it very difficult to leave the place if you happen to be one. Near Raffles Place is the Esplanade, a unique-shaped concert hall. Actually, it is shaped like a durian (a famous local fruit whose smell some may find unnerving). A small island, previously a battle ground in the Second World War, Sentosa (meaning a tranquil place in Malay) truly redefines the meaning of a resort. There is so much to do and see, that it can be truly exhausting. Be it the Underwater World, the Merlion, the Sentosa Luge and Skyride, Tiger Sky Tower or the Siloso beach, every experience is worth a fortune. Sentosa is connected with the main island of Singapore through cable cars, MRT and bus. Despite the fact that I have lived in Singapore for months; I still have not visited all the places that are worth exploring.
The multi-ethnic composition of Singapore results in a true foodie’s paradise. There are all sorts of cuisines around like Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese and Western. The most popular Indian dishes include Butter Chicken, Vada, Dosa, Naan, Chapati and Biryani. Personally, I find that most of the Indian restaurants are truly authentic and there is nothing as good as a tasty samosa on a rainy day to remind one of home.
A truly fantastic city with all modern infrastructure, amazing sights and experiences yet with tradition and heritage embedded in it, Singapore is surely worth a visit. I have indeed found this city to be a near-Utopia, given all its cleanliness, efficiency and discipline. As Amitabh Bachchan puts it, “Two things amaze me about Singapore, its efficiency and discipline. We have a lot to learn from you…”. An appropriate quote by Rakesh Roshan, the topic “Singapore: Koi tumsa nahin”, summarises the uniqueness and wonder that “Uniquely Singapore” has to offer.