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          Volume 10 |Issue 18 | May 13, 2011 |


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The Lure of Malaysia

Dr Shamim Ahmed

The iconic Petronas Twin Towers. Photo: courtesy

Strolling along Masjid Jamek,at the confluence of Klang and Gombak Rivers, where the early settlement of Kuala Lumpur(KL) began, I viewed with awe and admiration the impressive skyline of the metropolis. The next few days were spent visiting different areas of interest in KL.

No visit to KL is complete without visiting the iconic 88 floors Petronas Twin Towers in the heart of the city. Its sheer beauty is appreciated in the evening as it glows brilliantly. A visit to the Skybridge on the 41st floor allows one to have a bird's eye view of the mesmerising landscape.

The equally conspicuous Menara Kuala Lumpur is nearby, standing boldly amidst Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve - the fourth tallest telecommunication tower in the world. A cultural village has been added recently and I was fortunate to witness one of the premiere cultural shows.

I have always preferred to stay close to Petaling Street (China Town) or Little India. The equation is simple, because these happen to be the most vibrant and colourful areas in the capital. Moreover, most of the places of interest are within walking distance. Petaling Street is one of the most popular tourist attractions with vendors found hawking accessories from watches, leather goods and souvenirs till the wee hours of the night. The wayside food courts are simply tempting. Strolling along bustling Little India, one would find anything from saris, fabrics, prayer mats, pan masala, sweetmeats and of course array of foods from ranging from tandoor and kebabs to biriyani and South Indian.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple, within walking distance of China town is one of the most ornate and elaborate Hindu temples. Equally fascinating nearby is the Taoist Sze Ya temple.

Within a half an hour walk, we found ourselves at the magnificent National Mosque or Masjid Negara and found time to say our prayers. The Islamic Arts Museum nearby has one of the best collections of Islamic decorative arts in the world and is worth visiting.

The following day, we visited The National Museum (Muzium Negara) and the nearby Malay Ethnology Museum exhibiting the rich craftwork of the various ethnic groups. The KL Craft Complex is a showcase of Malaysian Arts and Culture, all bundled under one roof and is a must see. Later, we were stunned by the rich collections of orchids and different varieties of hibiscus at the Orchid and Hibiscus Garden.

Petaling Street at Chinatown. Photos: courtesy

Next, we hopped to the massive National Monument that sits on a hilltop overlooking the Parliament House and serene Lake Gardens. The monument has been built to commemorate those who had died in the country's struggle for Independence from Britain. On the way, we had a glimpse of Istana Negara (National Palace) and joined in a photo session with the impressive security guards.

To escape the hustle and bustle of city life, we decided to take a break and visit a few places of interest outside the capital city. Within an hour, we reached Putrajaya, the administrative hub of the country. It was Sunday, a weekly holiday. The city in the State of Selangor was virtually deserted with no commercial life. I wondered at the rationale of spending billions of petro dollars on developing an architectural museum. However, there were some eye catching Islamic architectural buildings. Notable among them are the beautiful pink granite mosque, Masjid Putra, the Moghul style, Perdana Putra,the Prime Minister's office and the imposing capped Convention Centre.

Another one-hour drive brought us to Batu. Some 272 steps lead to the impressive Batu Caves, also in the State of Selangor. Few Hindu shrines have been built inside the many caves adorned with intricate designs and carvings of Hindu deities. The entire spectacle has been enhanced by huge golden statue of Muruga, to whom the caves are dedicated.

In the evening, we ventured to Gentings Highlands Resort - Malaysia's Las Vegas. Once we reached the cable car station, we availed the 12-minute thrilling cable car ride above dense Pahang rain forest to reach the resort. One of the top tourist destinations in Malaysia, the vibrant “city of entertainment” has exhilarating fun rides, world-class casinos, superb lodging, shopping and dining facilities.

The following day, we visited the city state of Malacca (Melaka). Only two hours drive by road through the lush green palm plantations, we spent the entire day exploring the historic town centre, wandering through rich Portuguese, Islamic, Dutch and Chinese architecture. The historical city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Malacca's ethnic Portuguese populations are the descendants of Portuguese colonists from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Portuguese Square located within the Portuguese Settlement is the culmination of Portuguese culture in its full splendour and colours. The ruins of St.Paul's Church and the Porta de Santiago are the only remains of the Portuguese presence. All that remains of the five hundred years Fort A Famosa, constructed by the Portuguese is a gate and a ruined wall.

The old-world charm of Malacca.

The colonial areas are also focused around Dutch Square and Christ Church standout prominently as the reminders of the Dutch. We browsed the captivating Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. It showcases the local history of ethnic Chinese-Malays called Baba-Nyonya in Malacca. Other places of interest include Cheng Hoon Teng Temple located along Jalan Tokong in the core zone of the World Heritage Site. It is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia and grandest temple in Malacca.

Having a passion for antique goods, we spent hours browsing and bargaining at Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat), best known for such items.

Our next destination was Langkawi - Malaysia's best known holiday destination.Langkawi, is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca . Surrounded by stunning turquoise sea, fringed with white sand beaches, the interior of the main island is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills.

Some of the most popular beaches are Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Pantai Kok and Datai Bay. Pantai Cenang is a picturesque beach with seemingly unending stretches of fine white sand enriched tall coconuts and casuarinas. It is the most liveliest and popular beach in Langkawi and has the biggest concentrations of hotels, beachfront restaurants, chalets, cafes and bars. We came across two Bangladeshi restaurants selling Bangla recipe. The colourful shopping street crammed with boutique shops specialises in array of goods including batiks and souvenirs. The same continues over Pantai Tengah.

We took time to visit Langkawi Craft Complex Museum for Malay arts and crafts, Pisang Handicraft & Art Village and De Zone Craft Centre. The rich wooden craftmanship is simply wondrous.

Nestled at the foothills of Mt Machincang is the quaint oriental village, home to Langkawi Cable Car. A premier tourist destination,it is a great place to visit. The Langkawi Skybridge tour took us on a cable car ride to the top of 700m high Gunung Machincang. As the gondola-style cab makes its way to the top, one cannot but appreciate the stunning view of legendary Langkawi as well as numerous outlying islands in the distance. The village town situated at the base of the geo-park's mountain range hosts a myriad of activity including amusement and shopping. The tour provides an opportunity to view Telaga Tujuh also known as the Seven Wells waterfalls and Temurun Falls.

The thrilling Langkawi Island Hopping tour across the blue serene Andaman Sea takes about 4 hours to explore Langkawi's most illustrious islets. We first visited verdant 'Pulau Singa Besar' Big Lion Island. The boat stops just shy of the shores and it was a delight to watch the king of the skies eagles as they soared overhead.

Next, we headed for Pulau Dayang Bunting the silhouette of the pregnant maiden from a distance is truly awe-inspiring; the fresh water Lake of the Pregnant Maiden overflowing with supposed 'magical' waters is another breathtaking sight. The walkways are frequented and visitors are robbed by the monkeys. The tour ended with a visit to 'Beras Basah Island' or Wet Rice Island another pristine Langkawi beach with clear waters and far-reaching views of the sea where one idle and soak up the sun and sea.

In the evening, we found time to visit Kuah, the capital and largest town in the State of Kedah. The rather sleepy town, Kuah has a reputation for shopping outlets including Langkawi Mall and Langkawi Parade.

For dinner, we settled at Perdana Quay (Telaga Harbour) most elegant district resembles a Mediterranean coastal town. With huge variety of food served at numerous restaurants and cafes, it was like attending an ongoing international food fest.

Malaysia - A fusion of modernism with the rich colonial past. A peaceful co-existence of Islam with all its glory in harmony with Buddhism and Hinduism and other religions. With diverse culture and many places of interest to visit, visiting Malaysia has been highly entertaining and rewarding. Malaysia is truly amazing.


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