By Irene Hoe

The meeting place at SMU is an ideal spot to gather. Good shade, bench seats aplenty on a Saturday morning and right by a bus stop.

Our guides Melissa Diagana and Jyoti Angresh, authors of the recent coffee table book “Fort Canning Hill: Exploring Singapore’s Heritage and Nature” were ready and waiting.

The walk up the hill was sweaty but taken at a leisurely pace. At our first stop, a historical marker, our friendly and knowledgeable guides gave us a potted history and a brief overview of the place.

Then it was up the (stationary) escalator (the hardest climbing we did) to a series of sights that included the old cemetery and the funerary headstones and assorted statuary (original and transplanted), the remains of the archaeological dig that was led by dr john miksic, the spice garden created by NParks, the flagstaff (apparently a shadow of the huge original), Raffles’ old house, the keramat supposedly the grave (what tourist guides like to describe fancifully as The Last King of Singapore) of Sultan Iskandar Shah, and the Battle Box (bunker).

Breaking News: there was no fort canning. Just a collection of buildings behind a low wall that most anyone could have vaulted over.

More than their knowledge of the place – Jyoti and Melissa were bursting with information – what made this walk special was their infectious enthusiasm for the place and their addiction to continuing research. They have probably forgotten more about Fort Canning than most Singaporeans will ever know -about the place.

Along the way, we also learnt to recognize the wild pepper plant (daun kadok), the Areca nut Palm, cloves, nutmeg, mango – all sorts of edibles – that have been put in by NParks.

The more energetic among us took up the last challenge to climb the stairs to the very top.

More elderly than energetic, I walked down the gently curving road that slopes down to that other Singapore miracle – an air conditioned taxi that happened to cruise by.