Mandeep and I landed in Kuala Lumpur very late in the evening from Kuching, giving us our first taste of big city life in Malaysia. We stayed at Explorer’s Guesthouse in the Chinatown district (there seems to be a trend here) and left around midnight to check out Jalan Alor’s night market for some late night grub. If you ever get a chance to go to Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Alor is a very busy street lined on either side with open air restaurants where menus are long enough to be small books. Needless to say you will not run out of options here. We opted to walk from our hostel to Jalan Alor and this 20 minute walk through the streets of KL was quite interesting because we got to see the homelessness and ethnic diversity that we didn’t really see in the other Malaysian cities. Typical to the big cities, you would see people sleeping out in the open by doorsteps, under stairwells and by the MRT.
In preparation for Deepavali, there were more people in town and periodically you would see decorations set up along the street and other Indian owned businesses. We spent the next day relaxing and walking around the city. We made it to KL towers for a great panoramic view of the city, in particular a high up view of the Petronas Towers. Walking around in this cloudy day was a great way to see the city. Up until now, the pace of our travel was really fast and we never really got a chance to just relax and wander the streets without a distinct goal. We walked through some Indian parts of town and it was just mayhem. The streets are congested and there are people crowded on the sidewalk all trying to get their fireworks and supplies in preparation for the celebration of Deepavali, the Hindu celebration of lights.
Kuala Lumpur has a notable Indian and Hindu population. Indians comprise 10% of the city’s population and Hindu’s comprise 8.5% of the religious profile. There are Indian parts of town dotted throughout the greater Kuala Lumpur area that are not designated “little Indias”, but offer a great array of local shops and eateries that may be less touristy. That afternoon, we stumbled our way into a giant Indian market. Crowds seems to be a common theme for these days. the lanes between the stalls are no more than a meter wide at times and you’re just shoulder to shoulder if you’re going to do any sort of shopping. The shops are great and there are tons of locals there buying toys, gifts, clothing, fireworks and most importantly, a wide variety of sweets. During Deepavali, it’s traditional to wear new clothes, light fireworks and share sweets with friends and family. This was definitely a Deepavali market and I did not hesitate to try a few of the Indian sweets I was missing from my time in India.
That night, our friend Sam flew in from Vancouver and we managed to meet up for a great night of drinks and awesome food at Jalan Alor. Sticking with our Indian theme, we went to one of the official Little Indias the next day to explore and just take part in the ramping up for the festivities. When we arrive, there are again, crowds and a festive feel in the air. Decorations are everywhere, stalls and shops are busy and the air is filled with the aroma of southern Indian cuisine. We stumble into a little restaurant where they serve food from a pandan leaf. Various condiments are served with flavourful fish, chicken and lentil curries with a mound a rice in the middle, all served on a large green leaf. The meats you order separately and we choose lamb and chicken. Spicy and bold with a wide variety of textures, this meal was fun because you got to eat with your hands and mix a little bit of this with a little of that so that no two bites were the same. I have to say if you ever get a chance to, eating with your hands is quite the experience. The whole meal for the 3 of us, with drinks cost a whopping $10CAD. Sweet! The whole experience is an interesting one. There are pet shops (animal rights advocates avoid this), record stores blasting Indian music and even jewelry stores (which we spend some time in to escape the heat).
These few days have been building up to Deepavali and I felt like I was living my own episode of the show Departures. In episode 3, the trio went to India and got to celebrate Diwali with a local Indian family. This was as close as I was going to get and I was so excited to get to experience a piece of this for myself. Travel Notes I know there is so much potential for writing about what to do in KL and how to do it etc. I wanted to get away from the guidebook type writing for this post and focus on the narrative, what we did, how we felt etc. I’ll be adding a short post about some of the favourite things that we did when we were in KL with some details about how to do it all in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled!