sir stamford raffles had built a house on the hill even though they called it bukit larangan, the forbidden hill. the kings of ancient times had their palaces and burial grounds here it was believed. sir stamford also initiated a botanic garden on the slopes of the sixty odd metre high mound which is the highest point in the heart of the city and there was a christian cemetery by the side too. later the british built a fort here which remained in use for many years.
question was, what was i doing huffing and heaving up the endless flight of steps to the top of fort canning hill? my daughter was with us today on our sg50 walk and as she ran up barely stopping, she said i reminded her of kung fu panda.
yeah, it did feel like that. whether i was the corpulent panda or not, those steps were certainly too many and quite endless, especially on a hot sunny singapore afternoon. the rain had chased us away from the west where we sought to amble today. so aj had suggested a jaunt down hill street, then a hike up these steps. why had i not insisted on entering fort canning park the easier way, from oxley rise? where was good sense when you needed it?
the colourful windows of the former police station and current ministry of information always distract me, today the red old doors of the old fire station had added to the muddle heading clearly.
anyway, we reached the top and the park stretched quiet calm elegant old and gracious all around. i almost forgot my rant. who’d believe just there, barely minutes away was the cbd hurtle of singapore. central business district, a place of constant action and transaction. despite ever higher erp (electronic road pricing), the traffic only grew thicker. cars zipped over the flyover at oxley and the gleaming roads bordering the park. office goers, students, tourists, shoppers, diners went about their day purposefully all around. and in the middle of all that, wide stretches of many shaded green and a slow time free zone.
even the business of fitness was not gone about with an eye to sweat and speed here. i saw walkers and a planker, no whizzing joggers. a dear friend of mine would come here often to get her fix of steps and core workout, aj lamented the disappearance of the bench where she exercised. yes, things change. but here, a lot had remained too. the trees were old and of many kinds, we saw the gnarled trunk of a madras thorn tree which is a heritage tree now. i just found out that it comes from tropical america and was brought to singapore by the portuguese and spanish.
we were walking along a curved path on the outer edge of the hill and on our right, at a height ran a high fence with do not trespass signs all over it. just beyond the fence a row of young trees, nicely pruned. what was that? a service reservoir apparently, still operational and for some strange reason we were not allowed to take a look.
we trooped around discovering nooks and turns, a part of the fort built in the mid 1800s is still here with that splendid patina of age. the fort was named after viscount charles john canning, who was then governor general and the first viceroy of india. ever since i’ve come to singapore, i’ve heard of how the british thought in 1942 the japanese would attack from the south and shored up their ammunition and resources on the fort, but the japanese walked in from malaysia over the causeway in the north and completely overran the british who had prepared well but got it wrong. today though, that story wasn’t topmost in my mind as we roamed about.
i recalled the very first time i’d come here. it was to see the first womad concert in singapore. it had been wonderful. some great music, new sounds and a concert lying around casually on the slopes of a park? i’d never done that before. i had no idea that evening that right by where i hung out drinking wine with friends, lay a line of tombs with epitaphs marked on the flat stones along a path. i am totally petrified of ghosts, yet at fort canning park i have never felt uncomfortable.
two cupolas sat prettily for no reason by a tree, they had an air of an era gone far away about them, the main building has become an art gallery now, swish one i gather… no more womads i think. i could see the gothic looking gate in front, the other entrance, that simpler one to the park. i think it used to be the gate to the cemetery originally. now it just brings you in non kung fu panda state to one of the prettiest places in singapore. seriously, the trees deserve another deeper look and that reservoir where no one is welcome is most intriguing.
on our way out we trundled past the registry of marriage office and a sign outside said… real love works. again work? all i wanted to do was flop down and pass out.
road to singapore, hill street, fort canning park, canning rise, 24/06/2015 #SG50
end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty years of independence. singapore has given me much and i am fascinated by the spirit of this gutsy city state with hardly any land or resources, but oh what dreams and chutzpah (the finest interpretation of the word), the ability to reach big, hunker down and hold and strategise and act and grow. despite my many years here, i haven’t seen a lot of the island, which started out at only 28 miles by 18. now of course it’s bigger, thanks to that spirit i spoke of. so anthony john or aj as i call him, my walking partner, and i decided to do fifty walks in the island to celebrate #SG50. well, we didn’t stop at fifty; couldn’t. there was still so much to see and feel and also how not to let the hot, merciless, climate-change sun not have its way with us. so the walks continue, as does the walk talk. hope you enjoy, try to bring an umbrella.