The island nation of Singapore is one of my favorite places to visit, even on business trips. The imposing skyline of the city’s business district, immaculately landscaped urban centers and the many avenues for luxurious indulgence are symbolic of the global success story that is Singapore. Add to it a delightful cosmopolitan cultural mix and you have yourself a premier tourist destination. However, the immense natural heritage contained within this tiny island would have remained unbeknownst to me, if not for an impromptu business trip.
It was one that wasn’t meant to be; a work-related emergency saw me cancelling my vacation to Kanha National Park, and desperately finding my way to Singapore as soon as possible. Luckily for me, I hold a Club Vistara SBI Card PRIME, which allowed me to cancel my flight tickets for free. Further sweetening the deal, a last-minute ticket to Singapore turned out to be surprisingly cheap thanks to the points and rewards I had accrued from my previous trips with Club Vistara membership. By the time I settled into the luxurious lounge at the airport after priority check-in, I was already feeling better about missing out on my vacation. What I did regret was the wildlife photography I had planned for Kanha.
When I lamented about the same to a Singaporean friend, he told me – in the most matter-of-fact tone – “So? You can enjoy the wildlife in Singapore instead.” He then proceeded to address the bewildered expression on my face by educating me about Singapore’s rich biodiversity.
Though Singapore is largely a sprawling urban centre, the government has actively taken efforts to preserve the undisturbed flora and fauna remaining on the island. Apart from the 300 parks, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and Central Catchment Nature Reserve are repositories of avian, reptilian species and tree-dwelling wildlife. On reading up more about the nature reserves, I resolved to make this trip count.
Photo by: GoWildGoNature Pictures/Shutterstock
After my meeting the next morning, I headed to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, my friend’s borrowed camera in hand, and I must say I was not disappointed. Though relatively small, covering only 163 hectares, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve contains a staggering 40% of Singapore’s undisturbed flora and fauna! Though there were no big wildlife species in the reserve, I hoped to sight macaques, the flying squirrel and the otherworldly pangolin. The nature reserve gets its name from the Bukit Timah Hill, which is not only the dominant land feature of the nature reserve, but also Singapore’s highest point. Shaking off the lethargy, I embarked on the trail to the summit, photographing lizards, squirrels and macaques along the way. The exhaustion from the climb disappeared instantaneously when I reached the summit and took in the magnificent view of the surroundings. Witnessing the sun set in the distance from the summit was the perfect way to cap the day off, yielding excellent pictures too.
My next nature adventure was going to be the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, a birder’s delight and naturally, a photographer’s too. Fortunately for those with little knowledge of ornithology like me, the good people at the Information Center offer free guided tours. Wetlands are one of the most important ecosystems on Earth owing to their capacity to hold water and support diverse species of flora and fauna. They are especially crucial to birds, serving as a pit stop for food, fresh water and shelter on their migratory flights. Thus, for the next two hours, our able guide pointed out to us numerous drongos, sandpipers and terns perched on the branches or coasting in the air. We were also lucky to spot a group of the threatened Chinese egrets standing tall in the water, fishing for food as their feathers glistened in the bright sun. Apart from delighting the photographer within, the few hours I spent at the Information Centre and the nature reserve turned out to be the perfect introduction to birding.
Photo by: abcwildlife/Shutterstock
The next morning brought bittersweet news – my meetings were cancelled which meant that I could be on the next flight back to India if I wished to. However, I was yet to visit the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, the largest in Singapore. Through my Club Vistara SBI Card PRIME benefits, I was already getting a hefty discount on my hotel stay and so I booked myself on a flight two days later. The next day, I made my way to the Central Catchment Reserve – which neighbors the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – where I was overwhelmed by the many ways I could explore it! Spread across 2000 hectares of lush green, the reserve features a one-of-a-kind treetop walk, the massive Mac Ritchie Reservoir and the Jelutang Tower, a seven-storey observation deck for the perfect pictures of the panoramic forest vistas. The route that I eventually chose was the MacRitchie Nature Trails weaving through the tropical rainforest of the Central Catchment region with lemurs, macaques and lizards keeping me company along the way. The luckiest break was my brief encounter with a balled up pangolin, which was unlike any animal I had ever seen. I waited for a while hoping it will un-ball itself for my camera, but gave up eventually – after all, the central ethos of any nature reserve is to preserve natural heritage as is, isn’t it? Another highlight was the tree-top walk along a 250-meter suspension bridge which connects the highest points in the park, giving visitors the feeling of floating through the foliage up close and personal with the tree-dwelling squirrels and owls.
The day and the entire trip were exhausting given the ground I had covered in just a few days, but undoubtedly, the sweat was more than worth it. And as I found myself in the international lounge the next day, one of many Club Vistara SBI Card privileges, I reflected on a trip that wasn’t supposed to be, but one that I am extremely glad about!
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