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Excursions Around Kuala Lumpur

July 8, 2008 By: Mark Rogers


Mark Rogers in Putrajaya

Today I am exploring Putrajaya, the new government administration capital and an example of a government-designed community, and Batu Caves, a huge limestone outcropping of religious significance to the Hindu faith.

Putrajaya is 15 miles from Kuala Lumpur, and currently has one hotel: the five-star, 119-room Putrajaya Shangri-La. A standout, architectural feature at the 12,185-acre site is the group of five bridges spanning the man-made lake and linking various parts of Putrajaya. The Seri Wawasan bridge is especially eye-catching for its futuristic look.

Kim Loi ([email protected]), who is a freelance guide, was my companion for the trip. She explained that Putrajaya was created with the following three principles in mind: “Men and men, men and God, and men and the environment.” (I don’t think she was knocking women; pretty sure it was just a language issue.) The men and men component can be seen in the numerous government administration buildings, and the distinctive Putrajaya Convention Center.

Putrajaya mosque

Tourists at the Putrajaya mosque

The men and God aspect is shown by the pink-domed Putra Mosque, which is large enough to hold 15,000 worshipers at one time. The mosque is open to visitors. Note: Women have to don a pink garment called a jubas. The men and the environment part of Putrajaya is represented by its 12 parks, including the Taman Wetland—the largest man-made freshwater wetland in the tropics. (Another note: Malaysia is obsessed with being the largest at everything. Said one guide: “We’re always trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.”)

Putrajaya is a work in progress and, at this stage, is probably more interesting to urban planners than the casual tourist. If you do make the trek, an enjoyable option is Cruise Tasik’s lunch cruise or sunset dinner cruise on Putrajaya Lake. Pricing varies according to the menu, but you can expect to pay less than $50 per person for the two-hour sunset dinner cruise. Both cruises are limited to 14 persons per booking. Ideally, you wouldn’t combine Putrajaya with Batu Caves, since Batu Caves is north of KL and Putrajaya lies to the south. If you do decide to combine the two, you’ll have to pass through KL, where you’ll have plenty of options for lunch.

batu caves

The entrance to Batu Caves

On the ride to Batu Caves, Kim told me that I’d probably encounter Manglish during my trip, a combination of Malay and English. For example “Don’t you know?” in Manglish would come out mangled as “You don’t know—ah?" You’ll also be passing one of Malaysia’s award-winning attractions on the way to the Batu Caves, The Royal Selangkor Visitor Centre, the headquarters for the company’s pewter works. The center comprises a pewter gallery, factory and retail store. If you’re in the market for superbly crafted pewter items, this is definitely a stop worth making. The center also has its own School of Hard Knocks, which gives visitors a chance to tap out their own pewter bowl. It’s a 30-minute workshop that costs about $16 per person. Prior booking is required ([email protected]).

The caves are located in a massive, limestone outcropping nine miles north of Kuala Lumpur. If you’re not part of a tour, it’s still easy to make the trip; a taxi from KL will cost you about $14 roundtrip. Make sure to set the price with the driver beforehand. Kim puts the Batu Caves at number two on her list of KL must sees (Petronas Towers holds her number one position). I wasn’t aware until I arrived that Batu Caves is the site of the annual Hindu festival, Thaipusam. I’ve caught grisly footage of this event on the Discovery Channel, in which Hindu true believers pierce their flesh with skewers and hooks as part of their religious pilgrimage to the caves.

macaques monkeys batu caves

A macaques monkey at Batu Caves

Batu Caves consists of three big caves, including the main-temple cave which features ornate Hindu shrines. You’ll have to scale 272 steps leading up to the main-temple cave. It’s not as taxing as it sounds: the ascent is broken by the appearance of curious macaques monkeys in search of food. If you have snacks in hand, pack them away in your bag or pocket; otherwise you may have a closer-than-you-wish monkey encounter. Throughout the ascent, and in the caves, you’ll find evocative paintings and sculptures depicting scenes of Indian epic myths. When you reach the top of the stairs, you’ll enter a huge chamber that lets in sunlight from above. With the Hindu iconography and limestone caverns, the whole effect was very Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom.

There’s no charge to visit the caves and even the refreshment stands at the top of the stairs are reasonably priced. After a steep climb in the heat, you’d expect them to be charging four bucks for a bottle of water. Instead it was only 60 cents. When you make your way back down to the parking lot, stop at the vegetarian Restaurant Rani #10 for some authentic Malaysian teh terik (stretch tea) and freshly made roti Chennai bread. Stretch tea is a fun and showy method of pouring tea back and forth between two containers, with both arms stretched out as far as possible.

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