It was time to get away!

Photo of It was time to get away! by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

I knew it was time for another solo trip. Another on the same day as my first one from December 2015.Last year it was Chennai for music season, this time it was a nearby island which is also the last kampong in Singapore - Pulau Ubin. My being a vegetarian, and food being the most crucial part of any trip necessitated me to cook something delicious and the first thing that came to my mind was vegetable Pulav(an Indian cuisine, right most in the picture below). I excitedly cooked on the previous night, and also packed some snacks.I left at sharp 9 am SGT from Chinatown after having a delicious breakfast - Bread upma, cornflakes, and a glass of milo(center in the picture).​Delicious, isn't it?

Photo of It was time to get away! 1/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

I reached Changi Village by 10.15 am, and took a bumboat to Pulau Ubin to reach at 10.40 am. A short walk from the bus stop to Changi Ferry terminal to arrive at the bumboat stop, and a 10-15 min ride from there to reach Pulau Ubin.

Photo of It was time to get away! 2/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

The excited soul that I was, I immediately walked in without further delay, and rented a cycle from one of the shops as opposed to taking a drive in a van to explore the national park. There are walking trails too for people who like to walk inside the forest. However, I preferred cycle. If you are an experienced cyclist, you can rent trekking bicycles to explore the black diamond trails to the Ketam Mountain Park. Those bikes come with a helmet, and protective gears. However, my pretty bicycle looked like this.

Photo of It was time to get away! 3/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

I started my journey inside the national park at 11 am after taking some time out looking at the map to plan the day. There are 3 main places inside the national park - Pulau Ubin Quarry, Ketam Mountain Park, and Chek Jawa Wetlands. If you plan to camp inside the park, there are 2 campsites as well.I decided to first cover the left side of the map which consists of Pekan Quarry, Ubin Quarry, Ketam Quarry, and a few small Chinese temples on the way. Less than or a km away from the cycle shop is the Pekan Quarry which also has a butterfly park nearby. I did not explore the butterfly park though I spotted a few colorful butterflies as I passed by that area. Pekan Quarry, home to several birds, let me spot a hornbill, and a few other birds flying and bathing far away from the visitors barricade.

Photo of It was time to get away! 4/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

After taking a good look at the Pekan Quarry, and at my picture that a visitor captured, I continued my journey towards Ubin Quarry. The real journey started here! Forest full of sounds of nature, and minimal crowd made me feel as though it was my private park. I stopped for a quick tender coconut. It was the sweetest water I had ever had. I curiously asked the adorable coconut seller if it is from the same forest. She proudly said yes.I requested for a picture and she happily posed as she continued her work. Simplicity which is of second nature to people from villages was obvious in her personality.Here she is!

Photo of It was time to get away! 5/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

The coconut water had energized me enough for the rest of the journey and I got lost in the beauty of the forest yet again as I continued.The deeper I got into the forest, the more I felt nature! The thrill, and the happiness started building up inside me. I rode the cycle feeling the breeze as my hair ruffled and my cheek touched, I sang but also listened to the nature sing.It was just us, getting to know each other.The nature and me!

Tell me if you are still not motivated to visit this place even after watching this video.

I continued my journey to Merbah Hut - one of the many bird huts which also serves as a resting space for the trekkers. There was a viewpoint called Puaka Hill for which you need to park the bicycle near the Merbah hut, and walk up the hill. There was not a single human being in that path. However, I continued to walk up the hill, but within about 100m, I realized the path was very skiddy and muddy owing to the previous day's rain and I couldn't walk any further so I had to return back and continue my journey towards Ketam Mountain Park. To my surprise, after I left the temple, I was back at the Ubin Quarry again as I had lost my way! Oh my god! 2 km extra added, in total 3. I turned around to reach the point which is also a diversion to go to Chek Jawa Wetlands.As I continued the journey towards Ketam Mountain Park, I got to a closed gate. Seems like it is just another way to get to Ketam but was closed for some reason.Met 3 experienced cyclists who showed me the right way. Therefore, an extra km added to the journey, but with no regrets. I continued trekking towards Ubin Quarry which comes on the way to Ketam Mountain park, and I followed the blue trail directions to get there. The view was breathtaking! There were wooden sittings for visitors to enjoy the spectacular view! There, my pretty cycle enjoying the view too. I spent a good 5 minutes there, and cycled towards the point that diverged the route to Ketam Mountain Park, and Chek Jawa Wetlands. On the way back, I explored a road that I hadn't before that led me to a beautiful temple. Unfortunately, there was no board or humans to explain the significance of it, nor did I find any information online. Therefore, I took a picture of the temple to consult some of my Chinese friends later. It was 1.15 pm by then and I was hungry. I stopped at the diversion, parked my cycle, ate my delicious pulav likeaboss. Err, #likeagirl (One of the campaigns that inspires me - watch it on Youtube if you haven't already.) As I ate, I saw some villagers pick jackfruits from trees on their way back home, I saw people converse in the native language, I saw the different sets of visitors to the park - families, couples, adventure enthusiasts, but surprisingly, none solo travelers. I started towards Chek Jawa Wetlands which was around 2 km from the diversion point. Those 2 kms were the best 2 km of my life! It is no exaggeration. The first thing I spotted as I entered this part of forest was the pink neck green pigeon - very rarely spotted. I couldn't take a picture of the bird itself but found some information about it in the visitor center[Photo Credit for the bird picture: Alan Tan as found in the visitor information centre].I continued further to find small water bodies, some rare trees, and another beautiful Quarry. This quarry brought in a sense of true serenity in me. I refused to leave that place, staying for longer.

When longer was still not long enough, I clicked a few pictures of the pretty place and left. Universe, I guess, heard me here. What happened next is super hilarious and the reason is, I was back at the quarry after about 2 km of cycling through ups and downs. Yes, again! ​This is bound to happen to most first time visitors because one can reach Chek Jawa Wetlands through various ways. There are boards that say, "This is one way to Chek Jawa Wetlands" at various places. I was being a little unnecessarily explorative by not paying attention to the map and taking every road that looked good, and kept losing track of the way but it was fun anyway until I had severe body pain at night! I reached Jawa Wetlands to witness the notorious monkeys that were snatching people's bags. Since cycles are not allowed beyond the gate, visitors need to park the cycle in the designated parking area and walk in. All the bags kept in the basket of the cycles in the parking area were being snatched, and the funny little creatures had reached another level by even jumping on people as they wore bags on the back. Pretty scary and funny at the same time when 12 monkeys surrounded a girl as she had a big bag in hand, but she or her big group of friends wouldn't do anything but shout to escape the monkeys. I spotted a wild boar in that area at this moment. There was another path opposite gate to walkway which is also the exit path from the Jawa Wetlands, I turned my cycle and entered the path to explore a bit before the monkey drama was over. Noone could enter the gate as the monkeys covered the path to gate. The exploration brought me to the exact same quarry again!! This is when I remembered a good friend of mine saying, "Be careful about what you wish for". I agree I wished to stay near the ever so beautiful quarry, but not so much either! Dear Universe, say what!? Nevertheless, losing in the right direction shouldn't be harmless after all, I thought. There are boards that suggest you dismount your bicycle, and push through the steep slopes. As there are many ups and downs throughout the way, I never bothered pushing it down the slope each time I encountered one. It was fun riding down the slopes! Up hills are quite hard to cycle, especially when you have to cover around 12 km in the hot sun, and when there are about 6 km added to the journey for no reason, so dismounting and pushing is the only choice on up hills. This time again, I stopped at the quarry. There was no way I couldn't. I told myself that even when something gets too much, if you still stay, then probably you can term this feeling love. But it was time to get away from the place, the serene quarry wouldn't respond to my feelings anyway, though probably the calm silence itself was the response. So I moved on. As I came to one of the huts, the rain god showed his power out of the cloudy skies as though my departure from the quarry was something worth raining for. I was stuck in the middle of the forest in rain that I don't usually enjoy. But guess what? There I was happily clicking pictures, and enjoying the rain. I finally reached Chek Jawa Wetlands, and started with the Mangrove boardwalk. Mangrove boardwalk has different species of Mangrove, and a beautiful board walk way that ends with a view point. There were firefly mangrove tree, false coffee bean, nipah(the original mangrove), Sea Holly, mud lobster, rocky shore, sandbank, seagrass lagoon on the board walk. When I reached the sandbank, it just got heavy (no prizes for guessing why).

Photo of It was time to get away! 6/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

I leisurely walked on the walkway until the view point, feeling the ocean from above the bridge. The breeze, the smell, the airplanes that flew above, the ships that sailed below, the lagoons that settled on the water, and humans that rejoiced the scenic beauty - The conglomeration couldn't have been better. Tranquility is too small a word to describe what was going through my mind then. At this point, I finally found another solo traveler on the walkway, around same age as mine. I requested her to capture a picture of mine and she did. Here! Tadaa!

Photo of It was time to get away! 7/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

I resumed my journey to explore cross boardwalk in the Jawa Wetlands and found many more habitats in the national park. I heard the red jungle fowls cluck, but couldn't spot any. I further found breadfruit, fish-killer tree, and candlenut on the way to the visitor information centre that has some professional photographs of the habitat in the park. I read all the information displayed inside the centre, walked to the backyard to get a glimpse of a beautiful view which is nothing but the backside of the mangrove view point.The information centre looked beautiful, and I couldn't not get a picture of mine there. I asked a little girl to capture a picture of mine, she nervosuly did and complimented my Gryffindor scarf. Here, the picture!

Photo of It was time to get away! 8/8 by Sandhya Vasudeva Rao

I then decided to call it a day. Courtesy - My tired body. Witness - the picture above. It was 4.30 pm. I had trekked for about 20 km easily including all the wrong direction distances. I headed back towards the cycle shop, returned the bicycle, took one last glance at it, walked towards the ferry. The bumboat was ready, I hopped on, sat not on the seat but on the wooden floor of the boat so I can get a good view, and some splashes of water. Here are some pictures of the journey back from Pulau Ubin to Changi Ferry terminal.

At the end of the trip, I knew I had listened not just to my inner self, but also to the nature like never before.It was a day of meditation with my listening to the birds chirp, and the nature talk in its beautiful ways. It had been a fulfilling day as I discovered myself more than I had before. I had one thought after another flowing in my mind when there was no sound from nature. In the end, I knew I was evolving, I knew I was happy. And happiness is real only when shared and therefore this article.Hope you enjoyed it.

Until next time,​Sandhya Vasudeva Rao