Sad as it was, after three days in our tropical jungle idyll the moment had already come again to say goodbye to our romantic little hut set in the midst of green hills and mango trees, heading towards the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur, where we were going to take our flight into China three days later.
In the rattly local bus to Jerantut, the transport hub close to Taman Negara for express buses to the capital, we met a French-Russian couple, also long term travelers on an around-the-world ticket. They had been in Kuala Lumpur previously and so we took advantage of their knowledge of the place and guesthouses, sparing the time searching the map and asking around.
The hotel we ended up in was set right in the heart of the main market road in Chinatown on Petaling Street, stuffed with copied brand products – you can get anything from a Prada purse to tailor-made Hugo Boss shirts – , food and fruit stalls. The guesthouse was maybe the weirdest and crappiest one we’ve been to so far, especially regarding the cleanliness of the (shared) bathrooms. It had opened recently, construction works of the third and forth floor were still en route and so the whole place was filled with a smell of fresh painting, wallpaper glue and cigarette smoke. We seemed to be the only foreigners among the guests, the remaining guests were local tourists and the young guys doing the construction work. The whole day some funny creatures were hanging around in the lobby smoking, playing pool or playing video games on their smartphones. Rooms were minuscule, about 6 sq meters, and without windows, but they had Wifi and AC – something very important in a humid, hot place like KL -, people were friendly and for being the tourist heart of KL, it was cheap and well situated.
Unlike Bangkok, KL is not a place with a particular appeal. It reminded us quite a lot of Sao Paulo – even though it is not as polluted and ugly – with its chaotic structure, the skyscrapers dotted around crumbling colonial buildings, highways and undefinable architectural innovations, its traffic jams and the hot but cloudy and rainy weather. It certainly has some interesting places to see – Merdeka Square, several beautiful mosques (were as a non-Muslim one is however not allowed to enter), the botanical garden or the lively streets of Chinatown, and Little India and its charming cultural mix – but it is not the most pleasant city to walk around, especially during the day heat.
We came to KL more on some administrative missions than for sightseeing. We had to send a package home to alleviate our quite heavy gotten backpacks, before heading towards China, and to purchase some electronic equipment to back up all our pictures and information from our flagging PC. So we ended up spending most of our time in air conditioned shopping malls, something KL offers in great abundance. Thanks to the well organized service of Pos Malaysia, ten kilos of presents and souvenirs from our first two and a half months of traveling are now on their way towards Germany – hopefully arriving in one to three months, so the tracking information says.
Our tasks accomplished, we were still left with one day to explore the Batu Caves, a limestone hill hosting several caves and grots, some 15 km outside Kuala Lumpur city centre. The caves take their name from the nearby river Sungai Batu. The cave host the most famous Hindu shrines and temples outside India and is focal point of the Thaipusam festival celebrated by the Hindu community in Malaysia. Thaipusam is a festival mostly celebrated by the Tamil community, on the full moon of the Thai month (January/February for us). It has something to do with vanquishing a demon called Soorapadman, but as so many things in Indian culture and religion, understanding the full background and the significance of the involved deities is quite complex and requires a lot of specific cultural knowledge. Thaipusam implies fierce ceremonies of spiritual piercing, which was banned by Indian officials for the festivals hold there, but happily goes on at the Batu Cave celebration.
The Caves host a temple dedicated to Hanuman and to our great joy just as in India, this meant crows of monkey families living all around the place – a Malay monkey temple. As in the other Hanuman temples we’d visited in India, there were also two different types of them, some kind of naughty macaques and a the shy black species with white surrounded eyes we had already spotted on monkey island in Penang (and we still couldn’t find out how they are called). Inside the cave temple different monkey families were fighting over the food offerings by devotees in the shrine and the place was filled with the smell of South Indian spicy Dal and Naan – it was really a little bit like returning to India for one afternoon.
Back to Chinatown we merged ourselves in a culinary adventure on the night market, having manta with traditional rice clay pot at a small food stall – one of the most delicious things we tried so far in Malaysia.
Even though after traveling for so long we notice that we are more and more difficult to impress by buildings or monuments, we could however not leave KL without getting a glimpse at its landmark: the Petronas Towers, seat of the national petrol and gas corporation and with their total height of 452 meters the highest buildings in the world until the termination of the Taipei 101 in Taiwan (508 meters) in 2004. And yes, we have to admit they are quite impressive to look up at, especially as standing at their foot it is not really possible to see the top – and one quickly gets neck pain when trying.