July 20, 2019

1 Utama Shopping Centre, Malaysia: More than a Shopping Experience



The largest shopping mall in Malaysia and the seventh largest in the world, 1 Utama Shopping Centre offers much more than what a shopper would like to experience. This is a shopping mall where one could go not just to shop, but to also explore various other activities that the place offers.

With a built up of 5.59 million sq ft area, 14,000 parking spaces and spread over seven levels of retail floors, 1 Utama was opened in August 1995 with the concept of suburban shopping. It has a strategic location along the golden mile of Petaling Jaya, which is just outside the city of Kuala Lumpur. The shopping centre believes in imaginative retailing and has more than 700 shops including a mix of blue chip departmental stores and retailers from worldwide. It also houses more than 150 dining outlets which include cafes and gourmet restaurants. One of the recommended places to dine is Peranakan Place which serves authentic Nyonya cuisine. 1 Utama offers a shopping privilege card, OneCard, which can be used to earn points and redeem them to shop later. The mall also runs promotions, events and activities through the year. They have won numerous accolades and awards over the years.







However, while most of the malls focus majorly on retail outlets of various brands and restaurants, 1 Utama has brought in concepts beyond shopping and dining. The most impressive part about this shopping centre is the various themed zones that they have, which makes even a non- shopper head here.

The Secret Garden atop the building is one of the largest rooftop gardens in the world. They have nurtured more than 600 species of plants from worldwide including Victoria Amazonica, the largest water lily in the world. Around the food and beverages outlets is the Rainforest which houses more than 100 species of flora and fauna. The Koi fish ponds, giant freshwater fish aquarium, cascading waterfall and rainbow suspension bridge are some of the attractions here.



If you are an adventurous soul, 1 Utama would surely keep you engaged. The Sportszone here has numerous adventurous activities for the visitors. Camp 5 has the largest indoor rock climbing gym in Asia. Air Rider has indoor skydiving and Flow Rider offers surfing with artificial waves. Sealantis offers PADI certified scuba diving inside this shopping centre. It also has a bowling centre, rooftop futsal court, automated baseball centre and a lifestyle gym.





Location: 

1 Utama Shopping Centre is located in Selangor, just 20 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur and 45 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.


P.S.: I was in hosted by Malaysia Tourism board during my visit to 1 Utama, but opinions are my own.

July 14, 2019

My Favourite Destinations after 10 Years of Travel Blogging


Ten years ago when I started Tales of a Nomad, not in my wildest dreams did I think that my personal travel diary would turn out to be my bread earner one day. I never thought that it would take me to some of the most amazing places and offer surreal experiences. But it did, and thank you a million times for that, Tales of a Nomad. Happy Birthday to you!

Whenever, I had written about travel blogging in general, the focus has always been on blogging. Yes, I still reiterate the fact that in travel blogging, writing comes first and travel is secondary. However, this time am focusing on travel. Below is my list of favourite destinations that Tales of a Nomad has taken me to in the last ten years.

Kannur:

Kannur has always remained tucked away from the curious eyes of tourists and that is probably why it is never mentioned in the same breath as the tea estates of Munnar or back waters of Alappuzha. This is also one of the reasons why I love Kannur as it attracts lesser crowds. The beaches such as Ettikulam, Palakode, Chootad, Chaal, Meenkunnu, Ezhara, Kizhunna and Thottada are some of the most pristine ones I have ever seen in Kerala. The other reason I love Kannur is because it is the land of Theyyam, a ritualistic form of worship. From December to April, the sacred groves and temples witness Theyyam performances late at night. Decked up with facial paintings and attires, the Theyyam performers metamorphose themselves into deities and bless the people.


Varkala:

I had been to Varkala in 2009 before it became quite popular on the tourist map. I love the setting here with the natural cliff and the beach way down. This is an absolute stunner and definitely an unexpected landscape along the coast. There are numerous shacks and hotels serving the day’s fresh catch atop the cliff. A walk along the cliff with sea breeze and setting sun is undoubtedly an ideal way to end a day. Varkala was apparently the first destination that I wrote about on Tales of a Nomad.


Gokarna:

Gokarna is probably my favourite beach destination in India. Though it is a temple town, the beaches of Gokarna are equally popular. It is a nice trek over the connecting hillocks to reach each of those beaches. The views are magnificent all along and the trails are beautiful. The protruding rocks of Om Beach have an encapsulating charm. The numerous shacks on Om beach and Kudle beach are where one can unwind.


Hampi:

There are different reasons to love Hampi, such as its landscapes and hippie vibe. However, what I adore about the place is its history. I have been to Hampi twice and each time I have felt that I have been walking alongside the legends of Vijayanagar empire. Every time I find the wonderful structures and exceptional sculptures come alive. I can sit in any corner of Hampi and envisage a bygone empire and their great achievements.


Kanadukathan:

The little village of Kanadukathan in Chettinad blew me away with its numerous criss-cross lanes lined up with magnificent mansions or nattukottais (land fortresses). There were very few visitors and very few locals. It seemed like I had the whole village to myself. Large colourful mansions stared at me from all directions and I happily gazed back at them. Built more than 100 years ago by Chettiar community, who were traders and financiers, these grandiose mansions are huge and extended from one lane to another. With extensive décor, sculptures and carvings inside the mansions and on the the outer façade, these structures are absolute stunners. One can visit some of these, stay in some of them and just gaze at the others.


Thanjavur:

While Thanjavur is popular for its paintings and music festivals, what left me awestruck was the spectacular Brihadeeshwarar temple. This magnificent temple built in the 11th century during Chola empire has extensive carvings and sculptures all across, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. I could gaze at this amazing creation forever in oblivion. The large entrance gates with sculptures and numerous other shrines make up the complex apart from the thirteen storeyed gopuram of the main shrine.


Divar Island:

I was absolutely at peace as I cycled through the island of Divar and later through Chorao. A ferry ride across river Ribander took me to the island of Divar in Goa. Away from the maddening crowds of the beaches, Divar island welcomes visitors with open fields, mangroves, birds, colourful houses and roads winding around them. The island has a laid back feel, is serene and perfectly explains the word- susegad, the Portuguese word that Goa is so much associated with. Chorao, the neighbouring island is another ferry ride away, and is known for the popular Salim Ali bird sanctuary.


Ratnagiri:

Ratnagiri left me wonder struck with magnificent vistas of its beaches. The ride on the meandering road that runs along the coast of Ratnagiri offers spectacular views from vantage points. Ratnagiri is known for its gorgeous beaches such as Ganeshgule, Bandarpule, Kajir Bati and Aaare Ware. The twin beaches of Aaare Ware are probably the best on this stretch. I also love Ratnagiri for its unending mango orchards and the fresh mangoes one can buy during the summer months.


Mandu:

Transported to a different era, Mandu was a story teller and I became the keen listener. Every dilapidated structure had stories to say about kings and queens. The lush green landscape and the voluptuous water bodies further accentuated the charm of the place. I fell in love with the beautiful structures which were a few centuries old and still withstood time and attacks over the years to tell its tales. The tall and weirdly shaped Babobab trees are another attraction in Mandu.


Jaisalmer:

Jaisalmer fort is probably the biggest attraction in this desert town and I definitely second that. The vibrancy of the fort with its colourful shops and numerous alleys is every visitors delight. However, what I loved more about Jaisalmer are its sand dunes and the ride into the Thar desert.  It introduced me to camels, nomads and life in the desert. The sun setting over the sand dunes was a delightful visual. The moon rising and stars glittering over my bed was another mesmerising one. Ain’t it wonderful to gaze at the darkness of the night and doze off under an open sky?


Bundi:

Bundi is one of the most nondescript villages in Rajasthan, but which is abound with art works. The magnificent art works on the walls of Bundi left me stunned. Depicting stories from mythology, the works are colourful and delightful. The best of these works can be seen at the Chitrashala near Taragarh fort. Pillars, walls and ceilings here are covered in colourful paintings and art of various gods and figurines.


Binsar:

The first frame that comes to my mind when I think about Binsar is the view of blue misty mountains from zero point. Walked up early in the morning to witness this view and I was left flabbergasted seeing the amazing frame of endless mountains juxtaposed and mist rising amidst them. Binsar is a land where snow capped mountains and forested hill terrain beautifully blend into each other. The place is also known for its rich flora and fauna.


Landour:

I love Landour for its tranquility, and it is probably the most serene hill station I have ever visited.  Nestled amidst oak, pine and deodhar trees, the quaint charm of Landour is an absolute eye soother. The narrow alleys, old churches, stone structures all add to the beauty of the place. Landour is where I can spend many days without absolutely any itinerary. Just walk around, gaze at the beautiful views and take in a lungful of fresh mountain air.


Varanasi:

Everyone loves Varanasi despite its chaos and crowds. I love Varanasi for its narrow alleys and ghats that lead down to river Ganga. It might be chaotic, dirty, full of people who are always in hurry, but this also where you would find people praying, sadhus (monks) meditating, people enjoying a boat ride on Ganga, visitors watching Ganga aarti and where the dead get burnt to attain salvation. Considered to be one of the holiest places in Hinduism, Varanasi is where visitors get a glimpse of real India.


Kinnaur:

A big reason to go to Kinnaur is that you get to ride on Hindustan- Tibet road (NH-22) which is considered by many as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. It was no different for me, but the colourful landscapes that Kinnaur threw up made it all the more magical. Engulfing mountains, gorgeous valleys, apple orchards, ogla fields and gurgling Baspa river makes every frame in Kinnaur picturesque. The pretty villages of Sangla, Rakcham and Chitkul left me absolutely encapsulated.


Spiti:

I would go back to Spiti just to gaze at its surreal landscapes. The brown mountains, turquoise blue rivers, blue skies and isolated villages make Spiti a mesmerizing land. Away from civilization and other modern amenities, Spiti is a landscape lover’s paradise. My ride to Pin valley in Spiti is one of the most memorable moments in my life. It was the only time I cried out of happiness looking at a colourful mountain. All that I did was stop my bike and gaze in happiness at the rainbow mountain that stood tall before me. Monasteries perched atop mountains which are home to hundreds of Buddhist monks are equally inviting.


Tso Moriri:

Pangong Tso might be the most popular lake in Ladakh. However, for me the most beautiful lake is Tso Moriri. Located in Changthang plateau and surrounded by mountains which are more than 18,000 feet tall, the lake has wetlands which are a breeding ground for black necked crane and bar headed goose. This plateau is also home to wild kiangs and the Changpa nomadic tribes. I loved my stay at the small Korzok village which offered views of the magnificent Tso moriri lake.


Nubra Valley:

I find Nubra Valley to be the most beautiful part of Ladakh. Located ahead of Khardung La and closer to Siachen glacier, Nubra falls on the old trade route between Central Asia and India. The meandering Shyok gleams as it flows through this low lying valley. The major attractions here are the double humped bacterian camels, sand dunes and hot springs. The contrasting landscape despite being a part of Ladakh makes Nubra valley a charming land.


Basar:

Home to the wonderful Galo tribe, Basar in Arunachal Pradesh is my favourite land in north east India.  I had some of my most memorable days in Basar when I stayed with the locals, had meals with them, played with their kids, danced to the local music, listened to their stories and went on short trails with them. I even learnt a few words in Galo and they made sure that I was always a part of them. Galos are one of the friendliest people whom I have ever met during my travels. I would love to go back to Basar for its people and Poka, a local beer.


Mechuka:

Mechuka’s landscape always reminds me of Scandinavian countries. Engulfed by mountains, the valley of Mechuka is a delight for every discerning traveller who would love to soak in the beauty of nature. The snow capped mountains in the back drop, the azure waters of Siyom river, horses grazing in open lands and pine forests make this valley a surreal one. What I love the most in Mechuka are its numerous hanging wooden bridges, which are an absolute delight to walk on.


Maafushi:

While Maldives has over the years been known for its island resorts, the country has recently opened up a few islands for tourism. Maafushi is one such island which is brimming with serenity, and I strolled around the whole island to take in its exquisiteness. Though a small one, the island is self contained with school, medical care, mosque, cafes, restaurants and all other basic requirements. The sea here showcases multiple shades of blue and the world beneath the water offered  a mesmerising experience with colourful fishes, turtles and corals.  I just did not want to come out of its blue waters.


Florence:

Florence is a city I fell in love with as I strolled through its cobbled streets. One of the prettiest cities in the whole of Europe, Florence took me back to the renaissance era with its red tile roofed buildings, numerous art works and magnificent churches with stunning work. This is the city where art and artists thrived during the renaissance era. The spectacular works are still on display and all I did was gaze at them as I languorously meandered through its alleys.


June 25, 2019

Chocolate Museum at Kota Damansara: An Interactive Experience



If you are a chocolate connoisseur or love chocolates, the Chocolate museum at Kota Damansara in Malaysia is sure to leave you with a sweet experience. The museum offers a detailed understanding about chocolates, its history and making. Apart from the interesting facts about chocolates, the museum also has state of the art equipment and numerous interactive displays making the visit to this museum quite an amusing and informative one.  

Chocolate museum at Kota Damansara is owned by DR Group, whose founder Dato’ Dahlan Rashid is widely referred as the ‘Chocolate King of Malaysia’. Apart from importing worldwide brands such as Lindt, Hershey, M&M etc., the company under the brand name Fidani manufactures its own chocolate products such as Farell, Danson and Millton.

Though it has a huge display of chocolates for sale, what attracts both children and curious elders alike are the interactive sessions that the place offers. With life size replica of Malaysian cocoa trees, artistic chocolate sculpture collection, giant reading books with information and stories about chocolate, chocolate train model and miniature Petronas towers made from chocolate, the museum has a plethora of attractions to keep visitors engaged.







The museum also displays the journey of cocoa and chocolates, industrial manufacturing and health benefits of chocolates. Apart from these, the chocolate making session is a pretty interesting one as it helps one indulge in the detailed process of how chocolates are made.


Visitors can enjoy some of the freshly crafted chocolates with various designs at the Chocolate galleria. They also have a display of various brands of chocolates from world over for the visitors to purchase.


Location: Selangor Science Park, Kota Damansara
Timings: The museum is opem from 10 AM to 5 PM
Entry Charges: 10 RM



P.S.: I was hosted by Malaysia Tourism board during my visit to the chocolate museum, but opinions are my own.

June 20, 2019

Istana Negara: The National Palace of Malaysia



The yellow domed structure looks beautiful even from a distance. The fluttering flags, strolling horses and guards in their uniform further accentuate the elegance of the Istana Negara, the National Palace. Istana Negara is the official residence of the King of Malaysia who is the head of the state. The king is referred as Yang DiPertuan Agong in Malaysia.

Sprawling over 97 hectares, this palace has 22 domes and was built in 2011. The complex has three portions- royal component, administration component and formal component.  The old palace was built in 1928 and was replaced by this new one. The old palace was converted into the royal museum in 2013 and is known as old Istana Negara.



While visitors aren’t allowed to enter the premises of Istana Negara, one can stroll outside the gates and have a view of the beautiful structure. Guard of change is a ceremonial process that happens twice a day outside the palace. Decked in Malay attire, the guards can be seen marching and also parading on horses. This is a way to display their old traditions and customs to the visitors. The timings for the same are 10 AM and 3 PM, and is a wonderful ceremony one can experience in Kuala Lumpur.





P.S.: I was hosted by Malaysia Tourism board during my visit to Istana Negara.

June 18, 2019

KL Tower: Rising above the Skyline of Kuala Lumpur


View from the balcony of my hotel room was absolutely encapsulating. The cityscape was adorned with tall skyscrapers strewn across. The city sparkles at night as colourful lights further accentuate the charm of the structures. Amidst the beautiful buildings in various shapes, what stand tall are two iconic buildings of Kuala Lumpur- Petronas Towers and KL Tower. While Petronas towers gleam like twin silver cones against the dark backdrop, KL Tower gets lit up in multiple colours, making it as captivating as the more popular Petronas. 




Standing 421 meters tall, Menara Kuala Lumpur which translates to Kuala Lumpur Tower or KL Tower as it is popularly referred, is the world's 7th tallest communication tower. Completed in 1995, this cloud kisser is one of the major attractions in Malaysia. Situated on Pineapple hill, the tower is amidst one of the oldest forest reserves in the country, despite being in the middle of the city.

Visitors can take the elevator which takes them to the Observation deck which is 276 meters tall to enjoy the views. There are fixed binoculars to give a closer view of the cityscape, buildings and distant hills. The Sky deck which is further higher at 300 meters above ground level offers an uninterrupted 360 degree view of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. On clear days, one can have a view of Batu caves from the deck. This is undoubtedly the best place to enjoy panoramic views of the city. Sky box is a glass enclosure which offers a unique experience to visitors with more views of the city.







Malaysia has a nice blend of cultural mix and the tower is known for its various cultural activities, which are held through the year. There are more activities such as adventure sports, walk through a tropical rain forest and a visit to a mini zoo that one can experience at KL Tower premises.

There are gift shops selling souvenirs on the ground floor and at the observatory desk. The tower also has three restaurants for the visitors to enjoy a meal with amazing views.

KL Tower is undoubtedly a must visit destination in Kuala Lumpur with magnificent panoramic views of the skyline of the city.


Travel Tips:
  • The tower is open from 9 AM to 10 PM every day.
  • Bags and backpacks are not allowed in the sky deck area.
  • Charges for the Observation deck are RM 30 for Malaysians and RM 49 for foreigners. For the Sky deck, charges are RM 71 for Malaysians and RM 99 for foreigners.
  • The closest rail station to KL Tower is Bukit Nanas mono rail station.



P.S.: I was hosted by Malaysia Tourism board on my visit to KL Tower, but opinions are my own.

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