Vasai Fort: Remnants of a Forgotten Empire

A white peacock dances in all its ethereal glory. Sadhus (holy men) in their flowing, orange robes float across the screen. Beyoncé is dressed in resplendent Indian (more like Bollywood) attire. This is the opening sequence of Coldplay’s ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ video, filmed at the imposing Vasai Fort, on the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay), India.

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Entry to the Gonsalo Garcia Dominican Church, established in 1583. This one of the 7 churches in the Vasai Fort complex.

My fascination with Vasai Fort goes back a long way. I spent my childhood and early adult years, not too far from this magnificent edifice but it is only more recently that I began digging into its history. Here’s my attempt at crunching 500 years of its history into a quick read.

After 11 perilous months at sea, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama landed on the shores of Calicut in southwest India on 20th May 1498, thus pioneering the highly sought after sea route to India. But even before this momentous discovery, the city of Vasai (on the west coast of India, to the north of Calicut and Bombay) was a thriving port, frequented by traders from the Middle East and Europe, including the famous Venetian merchant, Marco Polo.

Early navigational maps, like the India Orientalis (1579) by Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, mention Baçaim (the Portuguese name for Vasai). Such was its prominence in those days.

On 23rd December 1534, the city of Vasai was ceded by its then ruler Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to the Portuguese. The Portuguese went on to build a massive fort, Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim (Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai), with an entire town enveloped within the fort walls. Vasai Fort served as the capital of the powerful northern Portuguese province (Corte da Norte) and until it was lost to the Marathas in 1739. After multiple battles between the Marathas and the British for control of the fort and surrounding areas, they came to a mutually convenient arrangement in 1802. The British however, preferred the neighbouring island of Mombaim (Bombay), which became a key centre for the East India Company; and in due course, Vasai lost its significance. Presently, the fort is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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The inside view of one section of Vasai Fort

On our recent visit to Vasai Fort, we only had a couple to hours to spare. This was barely enough time to walk through even one small section of this 110-acre fort complex. But even in this very short span of time, it was not hard to imagine the grandeur of the fort in its hey days.

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An art student sketches a part of the Vasai Fort

So if you happen to be in Mumbai and are looking to do a fun day trip, consider the Vasai Fort. It is best visited with tour companies like No Footprints, who organize bespoke Mumbai experiences. If you are local, you know how to get here.

I leave you with some of my pictures taken in and around the fort.

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The Church of Our Lady of Life (Nossa Senhora da Vida), established in 1536

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A grazing cow accompanied by a Cattle Egret, walks around the fort

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An uncommon sighting of a Bengal monitor lizard at the fort

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A Rose-ringed Parakeet enjoys the morning sun

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A golawala (‘gola’ means ball, ‘wala’ means seller) readies his cart for business, outside the fort. He sells shaved ice balls, served in a variety of flavours.

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A local friend shares the front seat with the rickshaw driver, on the ride from Vasai Railway Station to the fort

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Salt pans spotted en route to Vasai by train

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A Walk in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore

One of the first forest reserves established in Singapore (1883), the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, is the largest remaining tract of primary rainforest on the island. It was closed to the public for two years for some much-needed restoration work and reopened on 22nd October ’16.

Overjoyed to be back in this thriving rainforest, I wrote a quick piece for the Jan-Feb’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. Presenting my first article in print for 2017…..

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I cannot emphasise this enough – when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the very ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old adage goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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‘Artist and Empire’ at the National Gallery, Singapore

The word ‘empire’ evokes different reactions from different people, especially among those from the erstwhile colonies. So when I first heard of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Singapore, I had mixed feelings about the concept. However, the exhibition focusses solely on the art that originated from Britain and its colonies (16th century to date), and I’m too much of an art lover to miss the masterpieces that came in via this association with the Tate Britain, London.

My political opinions aside, here are some of my favourites from the exhibition. As you can well imagine, there is some sort of personal link, either to the artist or the subject.

Paintings by Victorian botanical artist, Marianne North

I first heard of Marianne North during my time in the Seychelles this year.

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A trailblazer in her own right, Marianne defied societal norms prevalent in the late 1800s for women, and travelled (mostly alone) to 17 countries in six continents, including the Seychelles, India and Singapore.

A self-taught artist, she painted 848 pieces of flora and fauna between 1871 and 1885; of which 833 are on permanent exhibit at the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens, England. Among the 46/47 paintings Marianne painted in the Seychelles, there are several versions of the fabled Coco de Mer.

Five of her paintings from Asia are currently on display at this exhibition.

‘Remnants of an Army’ by Lady Butler (maiden name Elizabeth Thompson)

A few years ago, while reading about the Afghan Church in Mumbai, I chanced upon this poignant painting.

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This artwork depicts Dr. William Brydon, assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad (in modern day Afghanistan) on a dying horse, in January 1842. At the time, Brydon was believed to be the lone survivor of the First Anglo-Afghan War, which saw the massacre of thousands of British soldiers and the subsequent British retreat from Kabul.

Painted in 1879, in the midst of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, this artwork is believed to depict Lady Butler’s feelings about the futility of the war in Afghanistan.

About the Afghan Church in Mumbai: Consecrated in 1858, this church was built by the British to commemorate the deceased from the First Anglo-Afghan War, most of whom came from the East India Company’s Bombay Army. This Anglican Church is one of the most beautiful and serene churches in the city.

‘General Gordon’s Last Stand’ by George William Joy (1893)

Another Seychelles connection! Even today, the Vallee de Mai on Praslin island in the Seychelles, is rumoured to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden and this myth originates from General Gordon’s remarks during his visit to the valley in 1881.

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This painting depicts General Gordon as the quintessential hero, defending the city of Khartoum against its invaders. In reality, this would have been the scene, moments before his death and subsequent beheading.

‘The Jester’ by Sir Gerald Kelly (1911)

A portrait of British playwright, novelist and short story writer, Somerset Maugham, the title of the painting refers to the writer’s famous wit. Maugham is not forgotten here in Singapore, thanks to a suite named after him at the legendary Raffles Hotel.

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Maugham made three visits to Singapore between 1921 and 1925 and gathered material for his short stories collection, ‘The Casurina Tree’, set in 1920s Malaya. A regular guest of the Raffles Hotel, the suite named after him at the hotel, is the one in which he stayed during his last visit in 1960.

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Among the 211 exhibits on display, there are also a significant number of artworks from the former colonies, from South Asia to the Oceania region.

So if you are visiting Singapore before 26th March 2017, I highly recommend a dekko*

from the Hindi word ‘dekho’ meaning to look 😉 

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Wildlife in an urban jungle – Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

Don’t let Singapore’s glitzy urban appearance fool you. The city is teeming with incredible wildlife, if one knows where to look. With over 300 parks and 4 nature reserves, there are several places where Singapore’s native wildlife thrives.

This weekend, hubby and I decided to check out the Pasir Ris Park, in the northeastern part of Singapore. In addition to many family friendly facilities, this beach park also includes a 15-acre mangrove forest. A short boardwalk enables visitors to explore the various sections of this mangrove forest.

Just as we were entering the park via the Pasir Ris Park Connector, a family of noisy otters jumped into the waters of the adjacent Sungei Tampines – right before our eyes! Such a pity I didn’t have my camera ready but it was definitely a sign of things to come.

We spent the entire morning at Pasir Ris Park, enthralled by the rich biodiversity of the place. Here are some of the creatures I did manage to photograph….

(Please click on the image to see an enlarged version.)

Lunch time at Pasir Ris Park!

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A lizard lunch for this Paradise Tree Snake

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Almost halfway done….

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Spot the lizard in the snake’s belly!

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Headed up the tree for a post-lunch siesta

The Sleepy Hornbill

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After much looking, we managed to spot an Oriental Pied Hornbill hidden in the foliage

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Here it is, dozing off….

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Seems like a full blown nap now! 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Monitor Lizards everywhere!

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Here’s one basking high up on a tree…

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Another monitor lizard enjoys its afternoon swim. Notice how the limbs of the monitor are drawn close to its body while swimming. It navigates the waters using its tail.

Other residents of Pasir Ris Park

(includes pictures from subsequent visits)

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The striking Black Baza is a small sized bird of prey and is known to perch for long durations on the bare branches of tall trees.

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After much debate by experts about the exact species of this bird, the verdict is that it is a Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, meaning it is a cuckoo that resembles a drongo

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Notice the keyhole-shaped pupils of the Oriental Whip Snake, which enables snakes of this genus to have binocular vision

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A Yellow-lipped Water Snake in search of newly moulted crabs

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One of the most vocal residents of Pasir Ris Park, the Red Junglefowl, the wild ancestor of the domesticated chicken.

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A Black-crowned Night Heron out and about during low tide

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A Little Egret walks around the dry channel of Sungei Tampines

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It’s yoga time for this Grey Heron!

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A Sandpiper by Sungei Tampines

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A Striated Heron waits patiently for a catch, in the mangroves by Sungei Tampines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The skittish Ashy Tailorbird was by far the hardest to photograph

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A male Flameback Woodpecker in the woods around the mangroves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The gender of a Laced Woodpecker can be identified by the colour of its crown – the female has a black crown while the male has a red one.

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A Blue-tailed Bee-eater takes a break

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Oriental Magpie-Robin foraging on the ground

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A female Common Iora, with pollen stuck on her beak after feeding on nectar

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A pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls pose perfectly for this pic!

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A male (with pink neck) and female Pink-necked Green Pigeon, scan their surroundings

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A White-throated Kingfisher enjoys the surroundings from its prominent perch

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A Collared Kingfisher awaits its meal by Sungei Tampines…

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A Scaly-breasted Munia rests for a brief second

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A Mud Crab steps out of its burrow in the mangroves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Red-eared Slider (also known as Red-eared Terrapin) in the waters of Sungei Tampines

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A Giant Mudskipper in the mangroves of Pasir Ris Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who knew there were jellyfish in the waters of Sungei Tampines???!!!

There are many creatures that I haven’t yet managed to photograph – the otters of course, the Stork billed Kingfisher, the Common Kingfisher, the raptors that fly overhead, the many skittish birds hidden in the foliage. These call for yet another visit to Pasir Ris Park.

I leave you with this Pasir Ris Park Guide I found online. Happy visiting! And don’t forget to let me know what you spotted!

Lastly, I cannot emphasise this enough – when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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For my article on Pasir Ris Park in the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, please click here.

You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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My 2016 Annual Report

Hi there!

As you can tell from the title of my post, my transition out of the corporate world is going really well 😉

2016 is my second year as a full-fledged writer and storyteller. Most of my work this year has been outside of the public realm, so I thought it would be good to share a little bit about all the weird and wonderful projects I’ve worked on over the past 11 months.

Before I bore you with my ramblings, a big ‘Thank You’ to all of you who read my blog. I’ve had very little time to update it regularly but it has managed to garner over 20,000 hits with visitors from nearly 140 countries. Your support is very much appreciated!

Here’s a quick look at what I’ve worked on in 2016…..

  • Spent months writing my first ever grant proposal, to a certain very prestigious society but did not get any love back from them. My thanks (& apologies!) to all who spent their time and expertise guiding me through this process. I’m not going to let this minor setback stop me from taking the idea to others who might be interested. It’s at the top of my 2017 To-Do list.
  • Wrote a key feature story for a leading airline magazine (all very hush hush right now)
  • 4 articles for PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, making it a total of 10 pieces printed in this magazine, since end-2014. One more piece in the pipeline for the Jan-Feb 2017 issue. Couldn’t have asked for a more supportive mentor and Editor!
  • Did my first set of submissions to international writing competitions and braced for an onslaught of rejections 😢:
    1. A short story competition (Have never written fiction before, so NOT A CHANCE!)
    2. An anthology call (not selected)
    3. An art essay competition (not shortlisted)
  • Then there have been some other wonderful experiences:
    1. Being accepted as a Fellow by the International League of Conservation Writers – my commitment to do more nature and conservation related writing
    2. Spending a month with the fabulous Seychelles Island Foundation and its wonderful team in Mahe and Vallee de Mai
    3. Finally getting around to photographing birds – in Singapore, Sulawesi and Seychelles
    4. Momentarily overcoming my irrational fear of being underwater and attempting my first scuba lessons (still a long way to go here!)
  • And last but definitely not the least, my roles with the Friends of the Museums Singapore, as Co-Head of Docent Training (2015-16) at the National Museum of Singapore, followed by the Communications Representative responsibility in the 2016 FOM Council. So fortunate to have this community of erudite women around me!

There you have it – my 2016 in a nutshell! And while my life and social media profiles MAY look like a lot of fun and travel, there has also been a ton of work (and agonizing!) in the background. Couldn’t have done all of this without the support of my biggest fan and critic, my husband.

Also couldn’t have done it without a whole host of people around the world who I follow on social media, and who inspire me with their purpose and passion. I’m confident our paths will cross soon.

There will be no dearth of adventures, new experiences, and lessons in 2017. The important thing is to remember to put yourself out there, and the ideas and opportunities will find you.

Thanks for joining me and No Roads Barred on this journey.

Anne

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A day in the Minahasa Highlands, North Sulawesi – 2

After a long morning of sightseeing in the Minahasa Highlands and a much needed pit-stop for lunch in Tomohon, we continued with the rest of our tour.

Woloan Village

Our first stop post-lunch was the world famous village of Woloan, which lies a couple of kilometers to the west of Tomohon. Here, skilled carpenters build traditional wooden houses that can easily be knocked down and reassembled at a different location (IKEA customers – sounds familiar, right?!). These sturdy, prefabricated houses are shipped all over the world and the main street of the village is lined with sample houses for customers to choose from. Despite the knock-down design, these houses are earthquake proof. Says something about the superlative design and expert craftsmanship!

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Prefabricated houses of various designs, line the main street of Woloan village

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A close-up of one of the knock-down houses

By this point in the afternoon, I was wishing one of these show houses had a bed, so I could take a quick nap!

Lake Linow

About 3km west of Tomohon, lies the remarkable Lake Linow. The name ‘Linow’ comes from the Minahasa word ‘Lilinowan’, which means ‘the gathering place of water’. This lake is a water filled, volcanic crater that changes colour over the course of the day, from shades of deep green to bright blue tones.

Of course, there is a logical explanation for this phenomenon. Small vents in the ground surface of the lake (both above and below the water level) emit volcanic gases like sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide etc. The minerals in the water, combined with the reflection-refraction of sunlight, cause the lake to change colour. The volcanic gases also give the area a distinct ‘rotten egg’ smell.

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The colour changing waters of Lake Linow. A couple of active steam vents can be seen in the background

Much to my relief, there was a small café by the lake and the caffeine shot was very welcome! 🙂

Watu Pinawatengan

Refreshed by the caffeine infusion, we headed to a site of great cultural significance to the Minahasa people – the irregularly shaped boulder of ‘Watu Pinawatengan’. The name loosely translates to ‘stone of the discussion about sharing’.

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Outside view of the Watu Pinawatengan

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A closer look at the inscribed stone of Watu Pinawatengan

According to some historians, in 670 CE, the various Minahasa tribes met at this stone to discuss the division of the land among them. The hieroglyphs inscribed on the stone are said to reflect this agreement. This lead to the formation of a community of independent states, which in case of an external enemy attack, would unite to defend the land.

Pulutan, Pottery Village

Our final stop for the day was Pulutan village, famous for its pottery artisans and ceramic wares.

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Home of an artisan at Pulutan, the pottery village

Lake Tondano

Lastly, I must mention Lake Tondano, the largest lake in North Sulawesi, also created by volcanic activity. We passed this lake from a distance, on our journey into the Minahasa Highlands, and back.

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View of Lake Tondano from a distance

Once visited by the great British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, during his time in Sulawesi (Jun -Sep 1859); Lake Tondano is today a popular tourist destination, with several seafood restaurants located around the lake.

At the end of this culturally rich day, I was wishing I had a lot more time to appreciate all the details and nuances. I guess, I’ll just have to read about it or may be I could start planning our return to North Sulawesi 😉

Our thanks to the team at Lembeh Resorts for organizing this fabulous day trip 🙂

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A day in the Minahasa Highlands, North Sulawesi – 1

Getting a sense of the history and culture of a place is an important part of all our travels. Sulawesi was no different. So after hubby had had his fill of muck diving in the Lembeh Straits and I was done with birdwatching in the Tangkoko Nature Reserve, we planned for a day in the Minahasa highlands.

This hill country, located in the extreme northern-eastern part of Sulawesi island is named after the Minahasa people, an overarching ethnic group from North Sulawesi, with an ancient and multi-layered history. Minahasa means ‘to become one’ in a local Minahasa language and is symbolic of the various tribes that came together in the 17th century, to present a united front before the Dutch colonists.

A short 10-minute ferry ride from our resort on Lembeh Island to the port city of Bitung on the Sulawesi mainland, was followed by a 2-hour circuitous car journey, to get to the historical and cultural sites in the Minahasa region. This region being an upland, has a cool climate and the descriptor ‘mist-covered’ pretty much applies to everything here!

These are the highlights from our day in the Minahasa highlands…..

Waruga, Airmadidi district

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The waruga site in Airmadidi district

From the 9th till the early 19th century, the Minahasa placed their dead in a cubical stone tomb, covered with an engraved stone roof. These were known as waruga and the body was placed inside, in a crouching position. The waruga were always constructed facing north as the Minahasa believed that their ancestors came from that direction. The carvings on these sarcophagi reveal the social status or occupation of the person inside, while the notches on the side indicate how many family members were buried inside.

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The engraving on this waruga shows a woman giving birth, which indicates that she died during labour.

The waruga practice was stopped by the Dutch colonial government in the 1860s, for fear of diseases spreading from the rotting corpses inside. There are well over 100 waruga graves in this location including those of some colonial soldiers/officials entombed in the early 1800s. These tombs are empty, with the remains having been removed a long time ago.

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Waruga depicting a colonial officer/soldier

It definitely felt like we had stepped through a time portal!

Japanese Caves

Following the Japanese occupation of some parts of Sulawesi in January 1942, the Japanese Army constructed a set of interlinked caves, along the road between the villages of Kiawa and Kawangkoan.

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A peek into the caves created by the Japanese Army during WWII

The cave halls were used to store food and ammunition, and tunnels connected them to neighbouring villages. Forced local labour was used in the construction of these caves, with the construction process taking about a year (1943-44). While these caves are a reminder of the brutality faced by the Minahasa people, it is a more peaceful place today, fenced off by local authorities and many swallows have made their nests inside.

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One of the many swallow nests inside the caves

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Signage at the site of the Japanese caves

Mount Mahuwu

The minute you arrive at the car park of Mount Mahawu, you are welcomed by an ear-splitting buzz. The insects here are that noisy! If you have sensitive ears, you’ve been warned.

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Entry point at the base of Mahawu mountain

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One of the gazillion noisy critters at Mount Mahawu!

Mount Mahawu is a volcano that had its last recorded eruption (albeit a small one)  in the late 18th century. So it is pretty safe to walk along the rim of the crater.

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The crater of Mahawu mountain

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The height above sea level at the crater rim

We started with our walk around the rim but the annoyingly shrill insects got the better of us.

Tomohon Market

The Minahasa highlands are a predominantly agricultural region and the market in Tomohon city is a must visit.

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The slopes of Mount Mahawu used for growing vegetables

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The fresh produce section at Tomohon market

We nibbled on some fried snacks while we debated about venturing into the meat market.

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Sweet, fried snacks at the Tomohon market

Pasar Ekstrim (or Extreme Market) as it is known, has the reputation of being one of the grisliest markets in the world, with locals selling forest creatures like pythons, monkeys, mountain rats, among others. Even dogs (which are considered a delicacy here) are available in this market. Definitely not for me!

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The Pasar Ekstrim (Extreme Market) at Tomohon

There was heavy military presence during our time at the market and we were later informed that Indonesian President Joko Widodo would be visiting the next day.

By this time, we were ravenous and stopped for lunch. The restaurant on the outskirts of Tomohon had a spectacular view of Mount Lokon, an active volcano that last erupted as recently as August 2015. While the eruption did not cause any fatalities, the thick volcanic ash had led to flights getting delayed or rescheduled.

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View of the mist-covered Mount Lokon from the restaurant

Our meal became even more interesting at the thought of possibly witnessing some volcanic activity. But no such luck! 😦

As you can well imagine, this was turning out to be a really long day! For more about our post-lunch activities in the Minahasa highlands, click here.

Our thanks to the team at Lembeh Resorts for organizing this fabulous day trip 🙂

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Legends of the Coco de Mer

One of the most enigmatic plants I’ve encountered in all my travels is the coco de mer palm. The only natural habitat of this endangered palm are the granitic islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles.

This iconic palm holds several records in the plant kingdom. The fruit borne by the female palm of the species is the largest and heaviest in the plant kingdom. What is even more remarkable is that when the fruit is dehusked, the nut inside bears an uncanny resemblance to the nether region of the human female body!

A cultural symbol of the Seychelles, this rare nut embodies the uniqueness of the flora and fauna found on this island nation. Even the Seychelles visa stamp bears the shape of the coco de mer nut!

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The Seychelles visa stamp in the shape of the coco de mer nut

The best place to see the coco de mer is the rich ecosystem of the Vallee de Mai palm forest on Praslin island.

In ancient times, these bi-lobed nuts were found washed up on beaches as far as India and even the islands of the Malay world. According to Malay folklore, this mysterious nut grew on a magic tree (pauh janggi) in a massive whirlpool known as the Navel of the Seas (pusat tasek). The legends surrounding this palm are as tall as the palm itself.

More about the legends of the coco de mer in my article for the Sep-Oct’16 issue of PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

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Hiking in the Seychelles – The Trois Frères Trail

Always looking to experience a different part of Mahe island in the Seychelles, I accompanied a few of my local friends for a hike along the Trois Frères Trail.

If I thought the Anse Major Trail was tricky, then the Trois Frères Trail turned out to be even rockier and fairly steep. Not complaining though as the sweeping views of Victoria and the islands beyond, made the hike completely worth it! 🙂

The name Trois Frères (French for three brothers), comes from the trio of imposing granitic peaks overlooking Victoria. Covered with luxuriant vegetation, including introduced spice trees like cinnamon as well as native palms and screw pines (pandanus), these weathered cliffs are also home to the only carnivorous plant in the Seychelles, the pitcher plant Nepenthes pervillei.

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Pitchers of the carnivorous Nepenthes pervillei seen along the trail

As I tagged along with some friends for this hike, the exact directions are a bit fuzzy. But I found this brochure online that tells you how to get there. The starting point of the trail is a cul de sac which also serves as the car park.

The trail itself is less than a kilometer long but feels like more because of the steep gradient. After climbing for about 30-40mins, we came to a view point which offers a spectacular view of Victoria, St. Anne Marine Park, Cerf and the other eastward islands.

We had however, not checked the weather that morning. And before we knew it, the heavens opened up, ruining any chance of a sunny, dazzling view or a good panorama shot! And it also became impossible to spot or photograph any birds 😦 A lone white tailed tropicbird braved the rain and seemed to enjoy riding the wind current.

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View of St. Anne Marine Park and the nearby islands from the viewpoint

There is a path that goes all the way to the cross at the top (height of approx. 700m). But we didn’t dare venture ahead in the rain.

According to Seychellois historian Julien Durup, the original wooden cross at the top of this peak was erected on 4th November 1956 to commemorate the visit of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburg, on 19th October that year. As the wooden cross eroded away due to the elements, it was replaced much later by a concrete one.

I leave you to enjoy these rain filled pictures from the Trois Frères trail viewpoint. Hopefully, there will be better weather next time!

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The calm before the storm…

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View of the airport in the distance

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Victoria and beyond….

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Birdwatching in the Seychelles

With all of Seychelles dazzling white sand beaches, sun-kissed cerulean waters and lush granitic landscapes, it’s easy to overlook all the elegant creatures that call this picturesque island nation ‘home’.

Not for me though! Birdwatching has become an integral part of all my recent travels and Seychelles was going to be no different.

The granitic and coralline islands of Seychelles are home to 12 endemic bird species. In the brief time I spent on Mahe, Praslin and a few of the nearby islands, I was fortunate to observe 6 of the endemics and photograph 5 of them.

Here’s a look at the 5 endemic bird species I’ve photographed so far….

The Seychelles Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi) is the national bird of the Seychelles. Less than 900 individuals remain in and around Vallee de Mai on Praslin island

The rare and elusive Seychelles Black Parrot is the national bird of the Seychelles. Photographed in the primeval palm forest of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Seychelles Bulbul (Hypsipetes crassirostris) was photographed in the primeval palm forest of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island.

This Seychelles Bulbul was also photographed in UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vallee de Mai on Praslin island

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon spotted along Anse Major Trail in northwest Mahe

The regal Seychelles Blue Pigeon spotted resting in the thicket at Anse Major Trail in northwest Mahe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seychelles Sunbird - Anse Major Trail, Mahe Seychelles

The sprightly male Seychelles Sunbird with its iridescent throat

The endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin (Copsychus sechellarum) photographed on Cousin Island during our 2009 trip. Less than 300 individuals remain in the wild.

The endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin photographed on Cousin Island during our 2009 trip. Less than 250 individuals remain in the wild.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Mahe, along the Anse Major trail, I observed one more endemic bird species – the Seychelles Kestrel, but was unable to photograph it. This bird has the unique distinction of being the only bird of prey in the Seychelles.

Photographing some other endemic species like the Aldabra Drongo and the Aldabra Fody, will call for a trip to the remote Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most pristine ecological environments in the world. I won’t even bother telling you about the logistics to get there but hopefully, I’ll make it in this lifetime! 🙂

I also hope to photograph the critically endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, only found on the island of La Digue. Less than 300 individuals are said to exist in the wild.

There are several other bird species in the Seychelles that are either ‘native’ to this geography (i.e. they established a population in the Seychelles without any human intervention) or were ‘introduced’ a long time ago, either accidentally or intentionally, by visitors.

The Malagasy Turtle Dove (Nesoenas picturatus) is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean

The Malagasy Turtle Dove is native to several islands in the Indian Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The male Madagascar Fody develops a bright red plumage during the breeding season

The male Madagascar Fody develops a bright red plumage during the breeding season

Many of the Seychelles islands are teeming with species of migratory seabirds which come there to breed – shearwaters, tropicbirds, frigatebirds etc. (More about that in my 2009 trip to Cousin Island.)

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A White-tailed Tropicbird flying in the distance, off the Anse Major Trail in Mahe

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One of the many seabirds spotted en route from Mahe to Praslin by ferry

My favourite seabirds are the very ethereal looking Fairy Terns, usually spotted flying around in pairs or threes, as if putting on a show just for you. You may recall seeing a pair of flying Fairy Terns on your Air Seychelles aircraft 🙂

The ethereal Fairy Terns (Gygis alba) on Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

Fairy Terns  on Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up-close with a Fairy Tern at Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

Up-close with a Fairy Tern at Beau Vallon beach, Mahe

The Fairy Terns on the livery of Air Seychelles aircrafts

The Fairy Terns graphic on the livery of an Air Seychelles aircraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This is the third in a series of birdwatching posts after Singapore and Sulawesi.)

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Filed under Africa, Seychelles