DAY 1 - The Golden Triangle of Kuala Lumpur

We hauled our suitcases out of KL Sentral towards a taxi to find a woman taxi driver - in a full sleeve shirt, trousers and a hijab that covered her head - waiting to drive us to our destination. When was the last time you experienced something for the first time? (remember the BMW ad?) Being driven by a lady taxi driver was a first for me. And Kuala Lumpur would have been the last place for me to expect it.

"To KLCC please," I told her as I shut the door.

Her id card on the dashboard read Rozelina Binit Mahadi. "Where in KLCC would you like to go?" she asked as she pushed the stick into the first gear.

"The Petronas Towers."

There was a pause for a minute before she asked, "Just a quick trip to the Petronas? Would you be a needing a hotel later?" Rozelina solicited with a hint of guilt in her voice.

"No thanks, we are meeting a friend there," I told her.

My friend Ali had given us crisp instructions to get from the airport to his office: "Get out of KLIA and take the KLIA Ekspres to KL Sentral. From KL Sentral, take a prepaid taxi to KLCC and get down at Petronas Towers." (KLIA was the international airport and KLCC was the city center. Er, what would the police department in KL city be called?)

KL was a growing metropolis, pushing out the thick tropical vegetation and rain forests on its boundaries. It was a clear warm morning in KL. The air humid and heavy. Just what you would expect in April in a city that lies 3 degrees N of equator. We settled down in Ali's (rather plush) apartment.

That afternoon, Ali took us out for lunch at the Little Penang Cafe in Petronas Towers. Now if you know Malaysia a bit, then you probably know that food is a big deal here. We went with Nasi Lemak Penang (rice cooked in coconut cream with fish), Chicken Nasi Lemang (rice cooked in bamboo with chicken) and Penang Rojak (a fruit and vegatable salad). White china with blue floral borders arrived with very presentable food on it, and were swept clean very soon. Now either the food was too good or I was too hungry. I also ordered Siamese Lemak Laksa (spicy noodle soup in rich coconut gravy with fish). All this was washed down with fresh coconut water.

Malaysia had an interesting way to adapt English words to Malay. Express was Ekspres, Taxi was Teksi, Police was Polis, Central became Sentral and Train became Tren. This little game of guessing or spotting Malay spellings of other English words provided great entertainment. Who took the cake? Komuter, Otomobil, Kaunter. Oh wait, did I mention Kolej.

That evening, we went for the Golden Triangle walk. Golden Triangle is the area loosely bound by Petronas Towers, Bukit Bintang and KL Tower. Petronas Towers is to Kuala Lumpur what God is to believers. Omni present. The glass and steel of the shiny twin towers was visible for almost all our points on our walk. We went to the top of KL Tower (Lubna had to! She has been to the highest points of all cities she has visited so far - Hong Kong, New York and now Kuala Lumpur) which offered a great 360 degree night view of the city.

Later that night, we settled for some Nasi Kandar (steamed rice with a variety of curries and meats) at a street side eatery densely packed with locals. Pick your meat - chicken, fish, lamb, goat offals and sea food - the restaurant had me at hello. Back in Ali's apartment, from the 22nd floor balcony, I could see the bulb of KL Tower perched on a stick that tore the city skyline and rose towards the sky. An hour ago, we were inside that bulb looking at where I was standing now.



DAY 2 - Canopy Walk in the rain forests of FRIM

White water rafting or rain forest trek? Rain forest trek or white water rafting?

With Ali in our team, the answer was pretty easy. Extremely aqua-phobic, Ali digged up articles on the web saying why a six stitch wound on your forehead was not worth the 30 minutes of adrenaline rush in white water. And then he looked up pages in the guide book saying why FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia) in Kepong on the outskirts of KL was a great place to see the rain forests. The rain forest trek it was.

But before we shuffled through trains to get to Kepong, we had to put a checkmark against the quintessential Kuala Lumpur experience - climbing up the Petronas Twin Towers. The towers were the world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. They remain the tallest twin buildings today. Since Ali worked in the Petronas Twin Towers, getting the tickets wasn't a problem (otherwise you have to queue up early in the morning to get the free tickets). We showed up in our alloted time slot and a volunteer took us to the 42nd floor skybridge that connected the two towers. We had all of 10 minutes to enjoy the city views from the skybridge. Petronas Twin Towers. Check.

An hour or so later, we were trekking the Rover Trail in FRIM. Beads of sweat trickled down my back. The breeze was our friend in this humidity. Never ending trees shot for the sky and checkered sunlight barely filtered through the tree tops. I could see patches of blue sky if I craned my neck 90 degrees. From the inside the woods, birds chirped and monkeys gibbered. These rain forests seemed an infinity away from the speactucular steel, glass and concrete of Kuala Lumpur city.

The trek circuit was roughly 5 km long. And somewhere around midpoint was the Canopy Walk - a 200m walkway of five suspension bridges hung 30m above ground level between trees. We hiked our way up to the walkway. The climb was short but steep. Lubna would give intermittent threats of giving up and heading back to the base. But with a little tag and push, we did manage to reach the canopy.

The volunteer sat us down and briefed us about the walkway.

"The walkway is made up of five suspension bridges. Only one person is allowed on one bridge at a time." And after a pause, he added "The planks in the bridge are made from the most expensive teak."

Thanks for all the confidence, it was very reassuring - I thought. The swinging rope bridges were enough to induce vertigo in the mild hearted. Ali, Lubna and I tip-toed the first bridge, but the subsequent bridges were more fun. The rain forests looked beautiful as they swept the hills around; and so did the city that glimmered in the distance. A picnic of tuna and chicken sandwiches form KL Sentral that we had stuffed in our bags turned out to be god-sent.

When we were familiar with all the muscles and bones in our bodies, we returned home.

You know food is serious business when you are in KL. That evening, we had our share of tastings. We started out with China Town (damn, these China Towns in every city are almost identical! How do they do it? Factories?) where restaurant tables spilled into the streets lighted up with huge red paper balloons. Tourists gulped down bottles of chilled beer brought to them in buckets. Plates of grilled meats and wok-fried seafood emerged from smoky kitchens on the sides. We sat down for our Satay-ed Chicken. The atmosphere was lively, but a bit touristy.

Next up were burgers from a street-corner cart. This guy took even the humble art of frying eggs to the next level. And given how busy he was, we had to wait a while before we could dig our teeth into the greasy meat packed inside fresh buns.

Further up, near Jalan Masjid India, eateries served football along with food. The regulars had mastered the skill of keeping the eyes fixed on TV screens while popping food into their mouths. We went with items on the blackboard - Roti Canai and Mee Hoon Goreng (surprise me!, I volunteered). Roti Canai turned out to be the humble Indian roti along with chickpea curry. And Mee Hom Goreng were thin rice noodles with prawns.

After the three street pitstops, our final food destination for the day was at a classy Italian restaurant on Jalan P. Ramlee, the nightlife hotspot of KL. The thin crust pizzas were yum - a meal I am sure Ali finally approved.



DAY 3 - 2010 F1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix

On the afternoon of 4th Apr 2010, Sunday, I saw God. He showed up briefly wearing a shiny red helmet in a glistening silver car.



DAY 4 - Sentral Market and Masjid Negara




PLAN YOUR TRIP: Flights - Cleartrip.com / Maps - Kuala Lumpur Metro and Kuala Lumpur Urban / Visas - Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia and Visa form (.pdf) / Currency - 1 MYR = 14.35 INR



Tags: Asia, Sports

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