Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lebuh Ampang/Brickfields/Little India - A slice of India in KL

It was close to 2p.m when we unwinded our city tour at KL tower.  We had decided to go to Putra Jaya but then hunger drove us  to  Little India( LI also called Lebuh Ampang). Our Oriya friend who is a hardcore non-vegetarian did not like to eat in Malaysian joints/hotels  so he and his wife too joined us.  He also said his Malaysian friend had referred him to a place called Honey fa’s(that is how i interpreted)  in Little India which stocked varieties of  chocolates and other things at economical rate.  So, that was reason enough to head to LI -  food, shopping and also the curiosity to see India in a foreign land.  
We  decided not to take a cab and so promptly got dropped at Imbi station. It was 2.30  when we started our exploration using maps, pointers and manual  guidance. At the ticket counter we were told we had to take a monorail to a station Hung tuah and then change  to LRT to Masjid jamek to go to little india.
 Just the previous day, I was watching  monorails from my hotel window, the little multicolored coaches  which are slightly longer than a bus and the way they cling to the rails and move is a sight worth watching. And there I was in it,  taking my first monorail ride.
 (image courtesy: google) Ain't it cute? it comes in multi colors
We got down at Hung tuah and changed over to  LRT. The LRT took us to Masjid Jamek. By then it was past 3. All of  us were energy drained but we walked down the stairs on to the road asking for Saravana Bhavan. Suddenly, I sighted Anjappar at the corner of an intersectional  road. (a famous chettinad restaurant in India known for chettinad dishes).  All of us were glad to see Indian food menu( although it serves non-veg too). The food served in typical tamil style vazhelai sappadu( plaintain leaf meals) and also I enjoyed talking in tamil to the hotel staff. Our friends were also happy with the choice and taste of food.
After lunch,  when I stepped outside the hotel, I was stumped!!!  
Was I in India or KL?  It was like a typical Indian street  with open markets and little stores. Such sights are rare even in Modern India now .
 We walked past all those Indian hotels where punjabi "khana" and tamil “saapadu” was served. Some hotels even advertised as food cooked  by Brahmin chefs. We strolled past the many stores selling jewellery, CD's, novelties, pooja items, Indian wear, tailoring for Indian wear,  money exchange shops etc.The ground floor were  shops while  residential houses at the top  reminded me of  houses around mada veedhi( near temple) around mylapore in chennai.
Like most places, this place has an  history. After a massive fire which destroyed the wooden malay houses in 1880. An English man by name Frank Swettenham decided to build buildings with bricks. Initially bricks were imported, later they decided to make their own bricks and allocated this place for brick kilns , so Little India is also called as Brickfields.
 Also KL sentral one of the oldest railway station in Malaysia today, brought in its workforce from India. Parallely this place also became a kittanghi, a traditional money lending establishment set up by the nattukottai chettiars( a business community from TN) and they eventually became the founders of modern banking in Malaysia.  That explains the concentration of Indians especially Tamil Indians here. Today, this place has been taken over by Indian restaurants and shops which are mostly dominated by tamils and punjabis.
Now back to our trail, all of us were lured by this place called Honey Fa’s, which  we were told stocked branded chocolates  and products that costed less. We walked,  walked and walked in the drizzling rain, we stopped over to take directions and took the  foot bridge over the Klang river (the river water is in mud color, no wonder KL got its name) and then finally our friend shouted ‘There it is” and  to my  disappointment do you know what I  found in the place?   
 ‘HANIFFA’s” written in green. 
All along I was thinking I was going to a chocolate factory called "Honey Fa’s" and  Our friend here  shows the building Haniffa’s.
BTW, for those of you who don’t know Haniffa's.
 Much before malls came into India, Haniffa’s was one of the supermarket in chennai's  T.nagar selling all items from a safety pin to gold in one place. Often you would hear about “Singapore Haniffa’s” in TV and radio. It was the same supermarket or single owner mall spread over 4 floors selling everything from a pin to electronics to  gold.
 Honestly, it was here I realized everything is economical in India itself even branded products I found are best bought in Indian malls than in foreign malls by tourists.  There was nothing that was cost less  here except maybe some branded mobile phones which are cheaper by a few hundreds only. Otherwise the cheapest or somewhere similar to Indian rates what I found here was a two pin plug which is sold here in india at Rs 12 and there at 1 RM( 18 rs).
Finally, after some chocolate shopping by our friends  and market research  by us, we were the only ones who came empty handed. But, overall it was a nice voyage to LI where we walked past the colors,  scents and  busy local life. 
Now, it was time to head back to the hotel after a long day of walks and tours. We decided to take a direct bus from LI to our hotel since there was a bus stop in front of the hotel.   We then took a “ getting around in KL” map from an information center,  a few manual directions later, we  boarded a brand new  Red Volvo bus. The chinese driver told us to hop on when we told him Berjaya Times square. We thought it was a direct bus. 
 The bus was conductor less, no vending machines for tickets but we comfortably seated ourselves in the  bus and got down at the last stop. The driver now directed to a green bus. 
                                       GO KL purple line bus ( google image)

Again as instructed by him in his broken english, we boarded another green bus. Here too nobody asked us to buy tickets nor there were conductors or any ticket vending machine. Without knowing where to get down went around "times square" and got down a few kms away from our hotel. Again we walked , walked and walked nearly 2 kms till we reached our hotel. (overall we must have walked app 10 kms that day). 
Also, I must tell you about those Red/ green Volvo ticketless  buses about which i learnt later from our hotel staff. These are called Go-KL city buses and are free services  since sept 2012 that connects some sight seeing attractions, offices, malls and markets in the heart of the city. The buses are disabled friendly, clean, comfortable have ac and free wifi . Initially only two routes green and purple were introduced, now since May 1, 2014 two more lines called red and blue have been introduced. The routes overlap at 5 stops so that passengers can switch from one part of the city to another. This is also an eco-friendly bus runs on natural gas and leaves less carbon foot prints. 

Isn’t that an  eco , citizen  and tourist friendly effort  by the Malaysian Govt? 
Now for a slice of india in pics:

These garlands are common sights outside temples in TN, so it is in LI

Lovely burst of natural flowers sold on the pavement for 0.8 cents only per stalk. Care to buy? expecially the blue one

                                  Can you see Saravana bhavan? ( a vegetarian chain restaurant) This is their LI branch

Devotional, classical, bollywood CD's. anybody?
Note the architecture of houses, you will find such architecture in chettinad too. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

KL city in 5 hours

Anthony Burgess, an English writer who taught in Malaysia seems to have said that Malaya was perhaps the only country in the world for any man who cares about history. I am not sure I accept his words completely, (even India has a rich history) however, the history of Kuala lumpur is fascinating.

 From muck and marsh some 150 years ago Kuala lumpur literally meaning  muddy estuary was  a tin and mining town. It has evolved into a cosmopolitan capital with tall buildings, swanky malls and an active night life. But for all its sheen, it has a rich history.  The city tour I took on a sunny morning authenticated it.   I will make this a visual post with descriptions of the place below.

The first place we visited is Istana Negara or national palace.

It is the official residence of the King of Malaysia since 2011, constructed at a cost of 900 million dollors. The old palace at jalan istana has now been converted into a museum. A grand place with beautiful surroundings on a hillock. Public are not allowed beyond the gate which are guarded by horsemen. This was just a photostop for us nothing much to do except get clicked and click the monument. It was interesting to note some people driving sporty bikes on the hilly roads inside. below is the closeup view with the lens between the gate grills.

The next place was the national monument. Erected to commemorate those who died in malaysia’s struggle for freedom, particularly during world war II and the Malayan emergency. The 15 metre high bronze monument to the right sits on a hilltop overlooking the parliament house and the serene perdana botanical garden. Interestingly the gardens had lampposts of hibiscus which is the national flower of Malaysia.Nothing much to do except go around and click photos. But the place is impeccably maintained. One has to carry water bottles, caps, hats or umbrellas, if you are here in the afternoon. Very very sunny.


The next place is for anybody who likes history, art and architecture and one of the most interesting place- National heritage site. I can make multliple posts about this place, but I will keep it short and sweet. Nearly 20 national icons are located here at the place called Dataran merdeka or independence square.

The whole area is a delightful contrast to the modern Malaysia which is in the centre of the city. The buildings here are colonial. The first building our tour guide pointed to here is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Much before petronas towers was built, this building was supposed to have the been the signature of KL. It was initially an administrative building for the Federated Malay states, later turned into a highcourt, surpreme court and now it occupies the ministry of information and culture. The building has symmetrical brick structure and is supposed to have been built by Indians with bricks brought from India and this is how Indians arrived in Malaysia . ( info courtesy: tour guide)

Just opposite this building is Dataran Merdeka or independence square which is a huge broad platform on which stands a tall flag pole. The  100 metre flagpole is supposed to be one of the tallest  and the flag  was first hoisted on 31st aug 1957 signifying  the independence of the country.

Beside this is the KL city gallery which is in a 116 year old heritage building. The story of KL is beautifully presented here in photographs and descriptions. It also houses a spectacular model of the city with a short video about the city’s history. The building also houses an architectural modeling workshop ARCH where artisans sculpt and make miniature models of the city’s buildings. One of the places where I would have loved to spend more time, but time was ticking and so ended up clicking photos of all those places and at the I love KL structure.

There were banners like these depicting the origin of KL from a marshy estuary to that of the modern day KL housing Statesque buildings

It seems miners and traders first came upriver to where the rivers klang and gombak converge in search of tin. They named the settlement KL meaning muddy estuary in malay. by 1860's the flourishing village was the reason for rivalry over mining claims and water rights which led to bitter feuds and gang clashes. Finally, a chinese settlement was put under the leadership of the above person. Under his leadership it grew into a thriving town. Later a british resident Frank swettenham moved his administration to KL when brick building were introduced street by street and wooden shanties were pulled down.

 KL model measuring 40ftx50ft with an audio visual tour of the city.

                                                               A model of masjid jamek                     
The ARCH architects at work. It involves concentration and hand dexterity.  A glass wall separates my camera lens and the artisans at work. 

After merdeka square we were off to petronas towers( i will make an exclusive post on this) and then to the various  shops like pewter shop, leather shop, chocolate(malaysian cocoa is supposed to of the premium quality in the world and is said to be exported to other chocolate makers around the world)  factory, batik printing workshop etc. Our final stop of city tour was  at KL communication tower whose sundown version is a delight to watch and is also my room view. But we were here on a cloudy afternoon. We sped up to the observation deck in the lift car of the tower in just 50 secs that is 421metres tall.

                       The day suddenly turned from sunny to a cloudy noon.  we could capture such city views  and stand tall against petronas too. 

NExt our visit to little india.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

KL - food, friends, fun and some trivia

When our  taxi pulled up in front of the tall hotel, the first thing that struck me was ” Wow! classy and minimally stylish!!"  The 12 floor hotel was conveniently located in the city’s renowned entertainment, shopping and business district and close to the imbi station as we found later. 

 The rooms we were allotted came with stunning views.  I woke up  looking at KL tower, menara Maybank, Polis HQ ,the colorful monorails made an unusual  and cute sight like a toy train. We chose  to stay at the lower floor(5th) since we wanted two rooms on the same floor.  This was also the first experience for my teens  to stay independently in a hotel, they checked in on their own and handled every service independently.    After refreshing,  we opened the inhouse menu card , only to see there were no vegetarian dish.  Alas! Class and style does not spell good vegetarian food in this hotel.  Even Salads were served with chicken pieces.

Our driver a Malaysian Tamil who drove us to the hotel had already informed us the only place to eat vegetarian food in KL is at the likes of Saravana Bhavan  or lakshmi vilas at Little India. The famished us,  walked over to Berjaya times square which was a mall nearby hoping we would find Subway or McD.  We had to walk through a small Chinatown eat street to reach this place. The  sight and stench (or aroma if the Chinese may call it) that emanated from the kitchens were stomach churning. Gosh! What all they eat, anything that creeps, crawls, flies. They spare no living organism.  

Food I realized was tough here for us vegetarians.  At times square, where we ate pizza,  We had to say “ Purely vegetarian, no eggs, no fish, no chicken, no meat, etc” Or else for them all the above are considered vegetarian.   Even the uncut fruits looked scary and the fruit Durian is banned in public places like bus due to its awful smell.  

While in KL,  we traveled away from the hotel  (where we stayed) to eat  dinner  and lunch at  Indian restaurants.  The complimentary breakfast  i never dared to try. Just once when i wanted to try  their vegetarian local cuisine  nasi lemak( rice kanji) a fried anchovie got mixed with the fried peanuts. The foreigners who serve themselves end up mixing the spoons and so the  anchovie ended up in the peanut bowl. From then on it was only corn flakes and milk which was kept at the farthest end.  We even travelled one afternoon to Little India  just to eat vegetarian food along with our friends.

About our friends,we met them in the hotel  lobby that day evening.  A 70+ couple from Chennai, A 60+ couple from Bangalore, A 25+ couple from Orissa and us.  Together we were  a group of 10 in KL and  this group taught me old age is never a deterrent for fun and  one need’nt be from the same age bracket  to enjoy.  It was  humour  and fun unlimited with this group from then on. We hired a cab, took a monorail, LRT, LCCT( low cost carrier terminal)  and explored KL like a local and sometimes with guided tours.

KL - this city is a marriage of the old and the new and has   The Malays, the Chinese and the Indians living in  harmony.  Though the migrant  Malays (not the native, those who migrate from neighbouring Indonesia) have an upper hand and get citizenship in 5 years  while the Indians and Chinese take 10 years to get a citizenship.  Reason, the Malays have a say (vote) in the formation of the government which is a muslim government . Many Indians whom  we met said they don’t face racial discrimination and enjoy freedom unlike Singapore.  Wherever you go, you can’t miss the photos of the king, queen and the Prime minister.  Their King or Sultan is more like our President.  The  Defence forces  comes under his wing.  The current king is very special they claim  because at 85 he has been elected for the second time. No other king enjoyed that privilege.

 I also understand that Malay has a little influence of Sanskrit. For instance, you can’t miss the word Jaya in most places like  in Putra Jaya, Kelana Jaya. Jaya means victory as in Sanskrit. At some  places,  I was able to decipher malay through english .  for eg., central is sentral and clinic is Klinik and pudu means new which also means the same in tamil. Bas is bus while teksi is taxi.  Apa khabar? is How are you? Sounds so much like Aap ka  khabar?    

We were warned to keep our valuables in hotel lockers as KL is supposed to be an unsafe place.

In my next post, off to Istana Negara – the national palace and other places .

                                     the room with a view 

This photo reflects the window glass. the yellow light at the top is maybank hq and the little blue and red light is the polis hq

one of the arty creation displayed below our hotel's restaurant staircase. twin towers assembled with plastic bottles

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Selamat Datang* to Kuala Lumpur

 There have been many a slips for me when it comes  to international travel. Even after visa stampings, my travels never happened. So, this time, i was'nt sure till my 8.30 a.m flight took off from anna international terminal. After the various security checks and immigration when i walked into the aerobridge, the feeling was  similar to a domestic flight, but the excitement and chuckles on my children's face gradually infected me and slowly it sinked into me that  I was seated on my maiden international flight. Destination Kuala Lumpur fondly called KL. 

The day prior to our departure was a rushed day for us as we took a 500 km journey( to an fro) from Chennai to Siruvacchur( our family deity temple). So,the lovely ambience of the flight lulled our tired bodies to sleep. The 3.5 hour flight came to an end tad early for us.

Our first moments in KL were a bit disoriented, the broken sleep and the 2 hour time lag notwithstanding. When I walked out of the airport, I was'nt excited and it felt so much like Shamshabad (hyderabad)airport. As I stared out of the taxi taking us to our hotel, I could'nt see any of the familiar Malaysian motifs, not even far in the skyline. No towering skyscrapers,no neon drenched malls and certainly no sprawling malls. The roads and toll booths were so similar to NH45 that we drove on the previous day. Nothing that i had envisioned about this city came across my sight. Later, I felt it was a disservice to this city to be confined to my imaginary thoughts.

As it turned out, I was just a little out of KL. The heart of the city evidently lives in those cliches, as you will find out from my future posts. But it also has a side that is more intimate and closer to the ground  which are worth discovering for that is what makes this country with a rich history and  closer to the equator different.  The rain and sunshine has given rise to the rainforests which are home to unique flora and fauna like the worlds largest flower Rafflesia, fruits like rambutan, mangosteen, starfruit,passion fruit, Durian.You easily see the banana trees growing on the roadsides along with abundant palm trees. Most tree barks have creeper, ferns or parasitic plants around them making it fodder for a camera with good pixel to capture.The sights of all these are what differentiates Malaysia from other countries. Local architecture wise, The beautiful gable styled roofs and tiled sloping roofs  like our own kerala styled houses are another unique feather of the countryside along with stilt houses on the farming side.

I found some of these local architecture  on my way to the  hotel at Bukit Bintang. And also some familiar landmarks like the Sepang Formula 1 grandprix circuit, the administrative capital Putra Jaya and.... and...  Can you sense the feeling when i first sighted the world famous   KL landmark Petronas twin towers?!

  More in my next post.

                                           My first glimpse of the land from air

 When i first sighted the world famous landmarks KL communication tower and petronas twin tower on a foggy early evening on my way to the hotel

  traditional houses and the plantain plants that easily are grown on road sides.

(photos from a moving car, so may lack clarity)

Selamat datang is welcome in Malay

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Vacation 2014

At the outset, I am grateful for all the heartfelt wishes, messages and blessings from you all for my previous post. Thanks so much. She got what she wanted.

The admissions are over, the vacations, celebrations are over too, but i can't get over the hangover of my summer vacation 2014.

Will be reliving my vacation here by blogging about my first international trip to Malaysia and Singapore. There is so much to say and write about my experiences, the stories i collected and the everlasting memories I made  with people and places. This will run into many posts, since i don't want to miss any detail.(hopefully, my internet is very erratic these days)

Meanwhile, will be hopping over to your blogs to get myself updated on the various happenings around the world:) but not before posting some of my holiday pics.

Aerial view of Malaysian rainforests

Two eyes were'nt enough to behold this lighted twin tower(petronas)

Singapore - the place, the people, their values like discipline, punctuality, cleanliness and everything about it is simply unbelievable and  like a dream. Once is not enough, i want to go again .

Marina bay sands hotel connected by a park at the top called skypark
This pic clicked from a bridge connecting gardens by the bay( the lighted super trees) and marina bay sands hotel over singapore river. The giant wheel is the observatory wheel of singapore called singapore flyer from which you can see malaysia and indonesia. It was like a dream standing on the bridge and simply watching those sundown sights.