Kuala Lumpur is an easy city. The transportation network, the signboards and the non-fussy people make it easy to start acting like a local who knows her way around from the moment you land.
‘Easy’ was the key word for the brief break I had been looking forward to. KL has its tourist hotspots but nothing so breathtaking that you would drag tired feet to tick off a checklist. So the agenda was going to be a very relaxed one, guided by our whims and instincts.
D has fewer holidays than me this year, leaving me with plenty of time to tick all the places that he has seen and does not propose to see again. So P was roped in for my first all-girl holiday in a longish time.
P and I began exploring the city with a Roti-Canai dinner at the Indian part of town. The locals, especially the women, looked like their attire had not evolved since the 80s. Trying not to gawk, we joined the crowd, relaxed and eventually began to discuss dishes with a local who shared our communal table.
Satiated and energized, we wandered onto Central Market, which abounded with overpriced tourist trinkets that we were happy to ignore. The highlight turned out to be the adjoining ‘Kasturi Walk’ which had a local band, with a super-cheerful lead singer, performing Malay and English songs.
Next stop was Petaling Street in Chinatown, where the hawkers displayed amazingly well-made fake Louis Vuitton and Gucci handbags in narrow and crowded lanes. We walked a bit to soak it all in and then called it a night. We had an early start to the one thing on our agenda we definitely wanted to do – going up Petronas Towers.
Petronas is a bit of a let down when you first spot it in the day. It looks like any other glass and metal structure with just a little bit of height to boast about. However by the time we returned to our hotel (the centrally located Concorde Hotel) in the evening, the two towers were lit up like a glittering and classy space age building. The other buildings around had faded into darkness and Petronas shone like a beacon. We could not wait to be a part of its magic.
The next morning, jet-lagged and sleepy, we reached Petronas five minutes before opening time to see a crowd that looked like Dadar station at peak hours. It was no surprise when five minutes later we spotted a board stating that the tickets for the day were sold out. Petronas permits roughly 1200 visitors on the sky bridge everyday and while we had been warned that this quota usually got over by 11.30 a.m., we were not prepared to be turned away at 8.55 a.m. Disheartened, we wandered past the KLCC Suria mall that was slowly stirring to life and the aquarium that showed no signs of waking up. Finally we decided to head to Masjed Jamek to get started on our sightseeing.
Masjed Jamek has a pretty North Indian look-alike façade and a rather serene environment. Unless you are Muslim you are not permitted inside the buildings and have to be satisfied with a tour of the compound. And if you are female, you are politely told to pick any burqa (all dark blue) and a headscarf (throwing me into palpitations over potential infections, allergies and lice I could catch) that the mosque provides. Both of us were rather taken in by the elaborate outfits we had to don and suppressing big grins, did so. When we finally reached a slightly private spot in the compound, we must have spent a good half hour laughing at each other and taking snaps.
From here, most of KL’s wonderful historic buildings were quite accessible. We walked down the road, taking photos from various angles till we reached Merdeka Square, where KL’s independence had been declared. The Square was big, green and a wonderful spot to sit and watch the world go by. Which we did till the sun began to get too hot for comfort.
Then it was onto the cool confines of KL’s famed shopping malls. For the next couple of hours, P and I were in shoe-shopping bliss and emerged, with happy smiles and a shopping bag each. Post which, P decided to check out the aquarium and I chose to head back to the hotel and read my book.
We were meeting a couple of my friends in the evening. S and F had just moved to KL and were discovering the city as much as were. After quick dinner at one of KL’s many mall-based food courts, we headed to Jalan Ramlee (a.k.a Ramlee road) for an evening out. And somehow ended up in what must have been a small, concentrated form of Pattaya stuffed into a night club. Partly curious and partly depressed, we watched the hoardes of dolled-up women try to chat up a customer for the night. When we had managed to finish our first order, we beat a hasty retreat to the totally touristy but wholly reliable confines of Hard Rock Café and spent the rest of the evening listen to a short, old , Chinese man belt out Beatles in the most wonderful voice ever.
The next morning, we had only a couple of hours before the long journey to the airport. Petronas was closed that day. Both of us decided that if it was not going to be Petronas, then Menara KL it would be. Menara KL is slightly shorter than Petronas but on a higher elevation and with a viewing bridge at a much higher floor. It turned out to be a brilliant move. We could see the whole of KL spread out under KL Tower's feet. Most of all, we could see Petronas in all its glory, piercing the skies with the twin antennae. Petronas does grow on one...
From there, it was the reverse loop back to the airport. I could have easily gone on for a couple of more days, checking out the rain forests, more malls and perhaps a side trip to Batu Caves.
Atleast I got the three days I did!