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Obligatory headscarf required to look *around* (never mind, *in*) the mosque

Today we followed the two walking tours in Lonely Planet around the centre of Kuala Lumpur. From our hotel we walked up Bukit Bintang to get the Monorail to the main train station. One of the things that seems really confusing here is the public transport system, probably not helped because our edition of LP is a bit out of date and no doubt newer versions have more up to date information. There is the monorail, the three LRT lines (run by two different companies), and two Komuter train lines. Although they all seem pretty efficient and punctual, they are not integrated and this made us realise how good the system is in London (despite it being hot, cramped, dirty and not on time)!

The monorail, so well air conditioned that you catch your breath as you walk on board, took us to KL Sentral station and it took us a while to realise that this was not the start of the walking tour. The Komuter train then took us to the old KL station, which is a fantasy building of spires and minarets that I more usually associate with markets or mosques. We followed the walk past the Post Office and to the Kompleks Dayabumi, a large office block that from the outside has an intricate almost lace like pattern to it full of arches and windows.

Our route then took us down to the main Merdeka Square, home to the Royal Selangor Club, where the well to do hob knobbed in days gone by as well as the present day. On the corner of the square is the National History Museum. Small by London standards it was an interesting stop charting the development and history of Malaysia over the last forty thousand years.

On the ground floor exhibits mainly cover the pre-historic era. An old set of wooden stairs in the front corner of the building then curls up and round to the first floor where exhibits cover more recent history. The displays here chart the development the Malacca Sultanate and the history of the country then unfolds with the various different periods of foreign intervention. There is a real mix of cultures that have all come to play a part in Malaysia from the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Indian, Chinese and Japanese. Some of the treaties signed to agree territorial holdings were shown on the walls. They are interesting and quirky documents detailing reciprocal arrangements for dealing with debtors, criminals and other forms of mischief as well as for the trade and exchange of areas of land.

The 1900’s were still a period of big change for Malaysia. Japanese occupation during WWII set the scene for future calls for independence, which came in the 1950’s. But even that was not straight forward with original (British) plans being rejected and new plans formulated a few years later.  Now the nine Sultans of the different states of Malaysia take it in turn to do five years stints as the Federal Ruler.

Contrary to the description in Lonely Planet, we found the museum to be a worthwhile diversion and it certainly provided a welcome break from the heat of the day. From the top floor of the museum you also get fabulous views across Merdeka Square. Along the left hand side of the square is the Royal Selangor Club, which had a very inviting looking bar. Unfortunately it seemed well and truly inaccessible from the square, no doubt their way of keeping out the riff raff of grubby travellers! The square itself is a perfectly manicured lawn, originally a cricket ground and with signs that it is still used for the game today.

Across from the club the Sultan Abdul Samad building is a beautiful fusion of Victorian and Moorish architecture which to me looks more like a fairytale palace than a building where serious business is conducted. The memorial arches frame the square at the northern end providing a cool place to relax for a while and creating the temptation to dip your hot feet into its very inviting surrounding fountains to cool down. Although there were no signs prohibiting a dip I had the feeling that it would have been frowned upon.

We by passed the cathedral opting instead to ponder what possessed someone to create the Tree House Fountain which is certainly an acquired taste. It is a mock tree trunk with huge pitcher plant style decorations around it. Its saving grace is that it is located in the middle of a small and pretty garden which makes the detour worthwhile.

Collection urns at the Tamil Hindu temple

We then looped across and down to join the second walking tour, somewhat strangely named the Chinatown walk. Or at least we thought the name was strange because it was the least Chinese Chinatown we have ever come across. Little India, an area a bit further north, seems to have spread southwards. One of the early stops on the tour is a small street home to a Chettiar Indian community. I cannot say that it had the vibrancy that Lonely Planet implied but the old colonial buildings were interesting to see and the peacocks are still present at No. 85.

The Masjid Jamek was worth a look. Neither of us was dressed in a way that complied with Islam requirements for people visiting a mosque but help was at hand with a supply of scarves and long overcoats so that we were able to go in. I wished that they had people on hand to explain the purpose and function of the buildings and to explain some of the background to the rites and customs of the religion but unfortunately that was not the case. The mosque seemed to mainly consist of open sided pillared rooms where people were taking an afternoon nap. I am sure they are really prayer halls but I only saw one person praying. Water seems to be an important component not just in the areas designed for “ablutions” but also from a number of fountains in the grounds. We left none the wiser but the buildings were interesting to see.

From here we passed down Jl Benteng past more old colonial buildings and wiggled around past an art deco bank building, the old federal stores, painted in very faded green and pink, and KL’s oldest pharmacy which was shut. The walking tour then diverted off to the Taoist Sze Yah Temple which whizzed us back in time a few months taking us straight back to China. From the number of large executive style cars parked outside the Chinese community are obviously living up to their commercial reputation and doing quite well for themselves.

The red and gold of the Taoist temple was fantastic but very much overshadowed by the Sri Mahamariamman Temple further down the road. This time we were whizzed back a couple of years to when we were in India. The temple gate is topped by a large highly decorative tower similar to many we had seen in Southern India. Inside, the temple was full of people counting large piles of money. They all seemed very busy but there was no indication that any progress was being made, they simply seemed to be shuffling piles of money around.

Trying (yuk!) bitter tea in Chinatown

By this stage the heat was well and truly getting to us and we popped into a shop (one of the many Seven Eleven’s in town) to buy a cool drink. I was in seventh heaven to find bottles of Ribena, an old favourite that I stopped buying at home because I was drinking so much of it. It was just the ticket to refresh and cool me down. We did a brief stop into the Petaling street market which was still setting itself up in readiness for the night’s trade. As neither of us are great shoppers we headed off and back to our hotel.

The hotel’s outdoor pool beckoned to us and we succumbed to the pleasure of relaxing in cool water with the sun beating down overhead. Unfortunately our peace and quiet was soon disturbed by a French family with two very lively young boys. Even though their Dad told them a couple of times to watch out for the other people in the pool they were having too much fun to heed much notice so we left them to themselves in the water and crashed out on the sun loungers for a while.

In the evening we headed out to an Arabian place we had passed coming back to the hotel last night. We had had no mid afternoon storm today and rain started to threaten as we reached the restaurant. In less than ten minutes the heavens opened and the rain cascaded down accompanied by big flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder. People sought sanctuary under whatever cover they could and only a couple braved the elements to dash to their destination. Fortunately for us the rain ceased as we paid our bill so we had a dry walk back to our hotel and to bed.