Darjeeling- Queen of the hills!

 

A colorful city nested in the Himalayan foothills, Darjeeling is by far one of the most scenic cities that I have ever been to. Surrounded by snow-capped giants and lush greenery this town is the place I first fell in love with the Himalayas.

First time I went to Darjeeling was in 2005 with my family and it was love at first sight!! I was so smitten by her charm that she tempts me to come back again and again. Even if my first and second visits to Darjeeling were nearly a decade apart something’s in this town will never change. The smiling friendly faces, lush greenery and scenic mountains, colorful monasteries that will give you an insight in to a rich history and culture are just a few things that remain constant. This hill station and the surroundings have always reminded me of a  scene right out of a fairy tale!!.

We left the bustling streets of Kolkata to make our way to Darjeeling and ended up taking a train to Jalpaiguri- the starting point to Darjeeling for many.

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Jalpaiguri station (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
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Jalpaiguri station (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

Once u get down from Jalpaiguri station make your way outside where you will see an array of jeeps, vans and cars waiting to take you to hilly Darjeeling. Make your choice wisely after inquiring in as many counters as you can. Take your time weigh your options and bargain a bit 😉

The route to Darjeeling is as breathtaking as the city itself !  Lush greenery, sea of tea plantations, mountains looming up from behind one  another, Kanchenjunga playing peek-a-boo, road-side houses that gives you an insight as to what life is in these parts of the Himalayan foot hills, are just a few things that make taking this bumpy road worthwhile.

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Road to Darjeeling

A sudden increase in the number of homes and road-side shops will indicate that you have reached the city limits of this enchanting city. A cloud of houses covering the hill side, monasteries looming from in between the hills, The mystic weather, clean air, the mountains in the backdrop! Oh how I miss Darjeeling!

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Cloud of homes!

 

 

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Welcome to Darjeeling! (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

Searching for our hotel amid the busy streets was not an easy task, after going through so many back roads and up a small hill we found our hotel, A modest hotel tucked away in a back ally of Darjeeling- bliss!!. (the paved path leading up to our hotel was so steep that you practically have to climb it with both you hands and feet!! I wish I had a picture!)

Once settled in we made our way to Mall Street the center of the city . A narrow road leading up a small hill jam packed with street side shops, hotels and tourists- Mall street has a charm of its own.

 

Once you get to the center you come in to a small open space where you can ether sit and enjoy the surroundings or go on a pony ride! Other than that there are many art galleries filled with artsy things and antiques belonging to many cultures making it a Paradise for antique collectors.

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Center of Mall
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My dear Pony ! 😛

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A short walking distance away from mall street is the Shrubbery Nightingale Park. The path leading to it starts from the center of Mall road and winds around hills taking you away from the chaos of the city center. Its peaceful out here.. just you and the surroundings with a few buildings here and there.

On the way to Nightingale park you will pass a few interesting landmarks such as the St.Andrews church.

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St. Andrews Church (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

The path leading to the park is ideal for a cold evening stroll. A calm quite place to walk around and experience the breath taking views of the surrounding mountains.

The park itself is quite amazing with the flower gardens, Large Lord Shiva statue and the mountain view. Also the park houses a wide open space in the middle which hosts a few cultural dance performances per day -make it in time and it’s an added bonus!!

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Shrubbery Nightingale Park (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
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Cultural Dance
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Statue of Lord Shiva (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

The next morning was an early start for us since we were planning to head out to Tiger hill, the best view point of Kanchenjunga (According to me that is!) If you are planning to go to Tiger hill best start early morning to catch the sun rise- best part of the day. Start REALLY early if you want to find a nice view point. Pre book a cab and take warm cloths because its COLD up there that early!!

Once you get to the view point you can ether go to the observation Deck or opt to just stand on a cliff outside. I prefer the outdoors. Yes its freaking cold and yes the wait is looooongg but its one of those experienced that you have to suffer through to get to the best part. Bundled up in the cold sipping hot masala chai while waiting for the mist to part and the sun to rise is a memory that you will always cherish.

The deal with Tiger hill is that your fate lies in the hands of mother nature. If she doesn’t want to show you her colors she won’t! Out of the two times that I have been to Tiger hill only once I got to see the sun rise. The other time I just stared eagerly in to deep mist like a total idiot for hurs (from 4am till 6 am ish)!!. The wait was long but no sun!! no Kanchenjunga! nothing !! just a hint of color and a wall of fog that i’m sure you can cut with a knife!!. Don’t get me wrong it was not a BAD experience. Yes I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the sun rise and the glamour surrounding it but just standing there experiencing everything that was going around me was a memory of its own.

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Wall of Mist
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The sun Playing Peek-a-boo (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

The first time I went to Tiger hill it was the same drill- early morning, freezing cold, masala chai and a flock of humans! Only difference- we got to see the sun rise properly and also got to see Kanchenjunga bathed in the colors of the sun! its one of the most amazing sun rise i have ever seen.

The sun slowly coming up in the horizon and spreading its color on to the mountains, and at the same-time stars still glistering in the mild light. Breathtaking!!!! ( sadly this was pre-need to take all the picture in the world era of my life ;( )

While coming back from Tiger hill make sure to stop at the Dail monastery because early mornings are the best time to visit since the monks perform prayers during the early morning hours and in the evening.

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Dali Monastery

The Dali monastery nested on the side of the road serves as the entry way in  to the heart of Darjeeling. Situated 4-5 km away from the center of the city, Druk Sa-Ngag Choeling Monastery or commonly known as Dali monastery is one of the biggest monasteries in Darjeeling. the vast colorful structure is build in the traditional Tibetan style and the walls are filled with paintings that depict the life and teachings of lord Buddha.

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                                                        (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

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Prayer wheels (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

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Pagodas (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

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Listening to the chanting of prayers by about 200 monks at the same-time is sure to give you goose bumps and leave you speechless!

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Other than the Dali monastery Darjeeling is home to many splendid monasteries that are definitely worth exploring. Do visit to a few to get an insight in to the Tibetan culture and Mahayana Buddhism.

Our next stop was the Peace Pagoda which is about 15 min drive from the city center. On the same premises of the Peace Pagoda is a Japanese temple that you can visit and learn about the traditional ways of the Japanese Buddhist. You can also join in a prayer session and be enchanted by the prayers and the drum beats!

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Peace Pagoda
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The Japanese Temple (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

After visiting the temple you can climb your way up to the Peace Pagoda, a symbol of harmony and peace!

If you take a stroll around the pagoda you will get to see carvings depicting the life of lord Buddha on the sides. and if your lucky (unlike me 😦 ) and visit the pagoda on a clear sky day you will get to see a clear breathtaking view of  the mountain range around Darjeeling.

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                                                         (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

 

Next stop- The Rock garden, situated just outside Darjeeling this is a recently added attraction to Darjeeling. The road leading to this garden is very steep with many hairpin bends. Despite the fact that the road is a bit difficult and scary the scenery offered of the beautiful landscape is worth the ride.

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The Rock garden is built around a waterfall, based on rocks cut at different heights and is filled with flowering plants and trees. A staircase is built along the waterfall to climb up and on your way up you will cross small beautiful bridges.  Even though the bad weather was a Debby-downer for us in other places it was surely a treat here!! walking around the garden in a slight drizzle was pretty awesome ! and also the waterfall was in full bloom !

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Rock Garden (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

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While your in Darjeeling why not do something to pump up your adrenaline!!. Best option- Rock climbing!! There are many stations located throughout Darjeeling that offers rock climbing and on our way back from the rock garden we made a stop at the Tenzin Rock HMI a small yet fairly challenging climbing face (Nop its no Himalayas but still!).

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(Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
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Some start young 🙂 (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

One thing I regret not doing or rather I couldn’t do was taking a ride on the Toy train! During the time we visited Darjeeling the toy train was not functioning properly due to landslides. It was just doing a few small rounds to locations nearby!

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Baby train tracks
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Toy Train

 

The War memorial located on the Batasia loop is a monument built to remember the Gorkha soldiers of Darjeeling. Here you can get a clear view of the surrounding mountains and also you can use  binoculars that are available to view the mountains and  the China border (at least that’s what the people there said!) A fun thing to do here- you can dress in traditional attire and pose for a picture.

As our last stop in Darjeeling we made our way to the world famous and recognized Darjeeling Zoo. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological park is home to a array of wildlife ranging from high altitude Himalayan animals to highly endangered species. The roadway leading up to the entrance is lined with shops filled with small traditional colorful trinkets and food ( Ideal for shopping! ).

Once you enter the zoo you will be amazed to see the number of different species who live here, some of which you only get to see on Discovery channel. Red pandas are without a doubt the highlight of the zoo since they are highly endangered!

Also you can visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute just located next to the zoo to learn about Mountaineering in the Himalayas and the history surrounding it .

 

Darjeeling is a city that has so much to offer to its visitors! There is so much to do and see in this small hill station if you dare to wonder around!I highly recommend Darjeeling to anyone heading to India and I can’t wait to go back again !!

So hey,  I hope you enjoyed reading the longest blog post in my (short) blogging life and please feel free to share your thought about Darjeeling and what-not !!

Until next time,

Safe travels!

XOXO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First stop- Kolkata

Howrah station- the entry point to Kolkata for us, was rather calm, clean and deserted than expected-a treat to the eyes (Perhaps because it was still early in the day) The first stop on a long journey.. Not bad at all!!

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Howrah Station
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Howrah Station (Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

But, we had no idea what was waiting for us outside the station gates!

The memory of the first few moments after stepping in to Kolkata is a blur. The sounds, the heat,  the crowd.. everything overwhelms you to the highest possible level. All the elements hit you so hard it takes a while to recover. But once you do .. You’re in for a treat!.

Having had 3 Bengali roommates for 3 years, Bengali culture was not new to me at all. So it was exiting to see true Bengali culture unveil in front of me. Hearing the oh so familiar Bengali words (roommate magic!), finally getting to see the things I only got to read in books was well, exiting!!

Densely packed with human entities this city is home to a rich history, literature, architecture, extremely pretty faces, sea food and much more.  The moment you enter in to the city of Kolkata you are enchanted by her presence and a little amused by the head to head traffic near Howrah bridge where yellow cabs are barely touching each other. (looking like a minion army!)

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The Minion army! (Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

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Howrah Bridge- Up close

But once you pass the bridge the traffic reduce and you get to enjoy the city for what it truly is. The busy streets, the many fish markets, the tramcars, the friendly people, the ladies with to-die-for Bengali style sarees and last but definitely not least Bengali sweets (Rasgulla and Sandesh!!) are just a few things that make Kolkata a unique city.

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Tramcars and Yellow cabs ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

Once we reached our destination- our home for the day, exploring as much as we can in the limited time we had was priority #1! Walking through the inside roads, coming out of nowhere, getting lost here and there, drinking tea from small clay pots, experiencing the best of local life, are just a few things that I will dearly cling to as my memory of Kolkata.

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Why go to a fancy Salon when you can get a hair cut on the road! (Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
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Road side shopping (Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

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Sugarcane Juicer  (Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

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Fish Market (Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

life in Kolkata is like something right out of a story book, I still remember as a child I read a book about a Rickshaw driver from Calcutta (the former name of this city). The image the author planted in my brain was so strong that I was desperately trying to tally the image I have in front of me and the image I had in my brain. And they did finally overlap perfectly the moment I saw this rickshaw wala – A rare sight !

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Rickshaw Wala  (Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

Every bit of Kolkata was enchanting and breathtaking ! Getting the chance to experience and see a glimpse of the local life was quite something! A memory that I will always cherish!

Kolkata has so much to offer to its visitors, Victoria Memorial, the many museums, Nakhoda Masjid, Alipore zoological park, Dakshineshwar Kali temple are just a few of the many main attractions. Even if you are not someone who likes tourist attractions you can enjoy this city just by walking amid the many roads and markets- experiencing the true local life.

If you are planning to visit India do make sure to add Kolkata to your plan- you will definitely be able to collect a great load of memories on your way out.

Must! In Kolkata-

  • load up on Bengali sweets because this is the only place you will get the real deal
  • Visit a fish market- it’s amusing to see how it all works
  •  Do fabric shopping  ( I’v heard that you can find good quality fabrics at a cheap price)
  • Try to learn a few Bengali words (Bengali is definitely an interesting language)
  • Learn how to wear the Bengali style saree
  • Do a little bit of book shopping ( in my experience there are some rare books that are only available in kolkata- it is a literature paradise after all)

 

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have anything to share about Kolkata feel free to comment below.

Until we meet again,

Safe travels.

India- The tug at my heartstrings!

India is a different experience for each one of us, for some it’s the best and another- the worst. But one thing is common, we all love at least some aspects of India. For most there is a clear demarcation of the love-hate relationship- you either love it or hate it. But for some of us it’s just not that simple- it’s a complicated feeling.

For me India is more than just a country, it’s a feeling.. a second home.. a safety blanket.. a magical place right out of a fairy-tale filled with smiling individuals, warm hearts and vibrant colors. She and her great inhabitants make me so comfy, that I feel right at home in any part of this country! ( It definitely takes time to adjust but once you do its “home sweet home”)

Getting the opportunity to experience India first hand was one of the greatest blessings in my life. During the 6+ years I lived in India I got to travel throughout, experience, and feel so much of what she has to offer. Most of the best memories I have, best people I have met and without a doubt best food I’ve tasted (Gulab jamun!!) was in India. She is a country that I’ll never stop loving.. a country I would run back to in a heart beat.. and a country I’ll never get to completely explore how ever hard I try because there is so much to see so much to experience from Tip to Toe.

I proudly boast that I’ve at least seen 50% of this country (more than many of my India friends 😛 ).. but in reality I have not even see 15% of her true self. Every nook and corner in this country has so much to offer. Every Ghalee every Mandir or Masjid has a story and a life of its own. We as travelers only get to see the surface of what India truly is, if you dare to dig deep she will amaze you with all her hidden gems. The fact that she has so many hidden treasures alone makes me want to go back again and again- a true addiction.

Being so emotionally clingy to this country, its sooo.. hard to compile my thought about her , there are so many!! (it doesn’t help that I have a photographic memory on travel either)  So this article series is an attempt to compile my thoughts and a humble effort to tell the world about the lesser known face of India.

So follow me to learn, experience and feel India and all that she has to offer. (Yes I promise I’ll keep my emotions in check and not let each article be this emotionally dramatic 😛 )

Until next time,

Safe travels..

Sembuwatta- The hidden Gem

Sri Lanka is home to many spectacular locations that are under the radar of many tourists and locals both alike. Most of these gems are tucked away safely in one of her many terrains and are quite hard to access. One such location is the Sembuwatta Lake located on the Alkaduwa estate in Matale district.

When my family decided to go on a picnic to Sembuwatta I was not that exited. I thought it will be just another drive with a view of tea plantations as far as the eye can see. (You got to understand being someone from the hill country and someone who has taken the Kandy-Nuwaraeliya road more times than I have ever visited my next door inhabitant, it doesn’t excite you as much as it should!!) But, boy was I wrong!!

To get to Sembuwatha Lake you have to go through the Alkaduwa estate, through lush tea plantations and greenery on a winding up hill road. Once you reach the old tea factory there is a small counter where you have to buy a ticket to enter the lake area. Here you can park your vehicle and go see the old tea factory up close. Then from there a small path leads you to the lake. From the ticket counter you can either opt for climbing your way up till the lake or you can go on your vehicle up to a certain point. Being a sucker for treks/climbs/walks however small it is, I chose the hard way! So we start climbing up the road and.. Behold a pretty little waterfall – small but pretty! The water that comes out of the lake through the outlet forms this waterfall. Again you have two options 1) you can climb up next to the waterfall – the hard way or you can just walk along the road till the lake.

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The view leading to Sembuwatta
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Tea Tea and Tea
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More tea
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The old tea factory
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The road leading to the Lake
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Pretty little Waterfall

Once you pass the water outlet you start seeing a clearance over a small hill, walk over the small hill and you finally see the lake. Trust me it takes your breath away at first sight. It’s like a backdrop from a Hindi film. The lake surrounded by tea plantations and a thick pine forest, just the sight of it is enough to calm your nerves.

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The lake

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Wildlife around the Lake
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Tea plantation around the lake

There is a small path around the lake, through tea shrubs that you can walk and also there are small huts for you to sit and enjoy the view. And if you want to take a dip, there is a fresh water spring pool just next to the lake. There are no shops anywhere around the lake so you have to bring your food and drinks along and make sure the vehicle you take has good ground clearance- let’s just say that the road to Sembuwatta is not the most car friendly road. Sembuwatta is a great location if you’re searching for a place to relax and enjoy. Specially good if you are heading to Kandy and want a day off from hard core travelling.

Sri Lanka has a large number of lesser known places like this.. Go explore and let the world know about your findings below!!

Until next time, safe travels!!

xoxo

Travel

Travel is a form of addiction. Once you get your first dose of it there is no turning back. It drags you so deep that it becomes a part of you. You get so intoxicated by it that sometimes you plan your whole life around it. You day dream about your next destination, you turn in to a cyber-stalker on all things travel, you type in random dates and destinations on travel or airline websites just to stay updated (and drool !! ), You make it a point to save up your leave at work for your big getaway, You save every penny that you can to use for travel, Your whole face lights up when you talk travel, Your heart turns mushy when thinking about a place that you have been to or a place you badly want to go to, The longing is so bad that if you haven’t traveled in a while it feels like a part of you is missing, on a quiet day you sit back close your eyes and remember a place that you have been to, trying to remember all the details every sound and every color (Free therapy sessions!! Yey!).

A wise man once said traveling leaves you speechless but makes you in to a story teller. How many of us can vouch for this? I for one can go on and on about my travel stories for days at an end.. 😛 (Hence the blog!! )

Traveling doesn’t necessarily mean an exotic location in a far far away land. It could be to a close by location just in your country, a place less seen (or a popular tourist destination- its your call ). Nor does it need 5 star hotels and maximum comfort, a cozy little hotel tucked away in a great location can give you all the comfort you need. And if you are truly someone passionate about traveling you won’t make excuses for not going on one.. You won’t say you don’t have the resources or time, you will make it work!

Going on a trip doesn’t only make you happy it turns you in to a different person, it gives you confidence, helps you to understand who you truly are, brings families together, makes you appreciate what you have and teaches you what is really important in life, shows you a new side of people, gives you the chance to conquer your fears – gives you a whole new set of wings!  And that’s the beauty of travel it brings out a whole new person in you!!!

1 Merlion, 2 Merlion.. and Counting

What is the one thing I regret the most not doing in Singapore you ask? Well there are a few (A pretty long list to be more specific), but the 1st place would definitely go to- Not getting to see all 7 of the Merlion statues located in Singapore.. Yes there are SEVEN approved Merlion statues in Singapore (Some say only 5 are officially recognized by the Singapore tourism board).. SEVEN!!! .. Who knew!!

The Merlion is a mythical creature popular in Singapore, who is part lion and part fish. This creature is used as the marketing symbol of Singapore and is without a question the most commonly used symbol to represent this great nation. The fish part of this statue represents Singapore’s past as a fishing village and the lion part represents Singapore’s original name “singapura” (lion city), the city where prince Sang Nila Utama discovered a lion.

This iconic symbol was created by Alec Fraser-Brunner as the logo for the Singapore tourism board and was trademarked in 1996.

So let’s begin the list shall we?

The boss of all Merlions – Merlion at the Merlion Park.

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8.6 meters in height and 70 tons in weight the original Merlion located at the Merlion Park is definitely the star of the show. Originally located at the mouth of the Singapore River this giant was relocated to the current location in 2002. This water spouting Merlion is one of the only two Merlions I got to see.

Fun Fact- The eyes of this Merlion is made of red tea cups.

Mini me- Cub Merlion

Popularly known as the cub Merlion this 2 meter tall Merlion is also located in the Merlion park right behind the 8.6 meter original statue.

King of the beasts- Merlion of Santosa Island.

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The tallest Merlion of them all, the 37 meter tall giant is the only Merlion in Singapore where you can enter in to its body. Has the superpowers to shoot lasers through its eyes and it is the 40th tallest statue in the world.

Singapore Tourism board head quarters

A 3 meter tall Merlion resides outside the Singapore Tourism board and it is the skinniest out of all. Also this Merlion is peculiar looking.

Mount Faber

Located at Faber point, the highest point of Mount Faber, this 3 meter tall Merlion attracts a lot of tourists to it self and Mount Faber.

Ang Mo Kio Merlions

Built by the Ang Mo Kio residential committee in 1998, there are two Merlions stand guard at the entrance of the car park of this residential area. According to locals since the committee did not get prior permission for these 2.5 meter tall statues they were nearly removed… but thankfully they still stand tall now properly authorized.

The cutest one of them all….. 

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Oky so this Merlion does not fit in to this list but I had to add it because its SO CUTE!! Hangs out near the entrance of Universal studio, Santosa Island and makes every one go gaga over him !!!

If you live in Singapore or planning a visit be sure to check out all the Merlions and while your at it you can turn this in to a fun treasure hunt!! And if you know about or find any other Merlion statues let the world know by commenting below!! 🙂 🙂