As you enter Kuala Lumpur (KL), your eyes scan the city skyline for a glimpse of Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers. You've read about them, seen them in numerous 'Malaysia, truly Asia' ads, but never in all their steel-and-glass glory. It's impossible to visit Kuala Lumpur and find a space or experience that isn't affected by them; they tend to overshadow the other, equally fascinating monuments.
Kuala Lumpur tower
Jelutong tree near the KL tower
The 421-metre-high communications tower (also called Menara Kuala Lumpur), the seventh tallest in the world, stands out in the city's skyline too. Standing majestically at the top of a hill, it looks fabulous at night.
The lobby's glass domes sparkle through the day. After a 54-second ride up to the top (276 m), you step out onto the observation deck (littered with tourist stalls, binoculars and maps pointing out the important sites) to a 360-degree view of the city.
If the good view isn't enough, the KL towers have other attractions including a 100-year-old jelutong tree. During construction, builders were forced to shift the tower, at a considerable expense, when they realised its construction was harming the tree. Now it stands behind a protective wall, close enough for tourists to be able to touch its bark, but far enough that they can't disfigure it.
Up in the air
There's more to Kuala Lumpur than steel and glass buildings glittering in the sun. The Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) has an open green ground and the Malaysian flag is hoisted atop a 100 m flagpole. It stands in front of the heritage Sultan Abdul Samad Building with gorgeous Mughal architecture, built by the British. The Masjid Negara (the National Mosque of Malaysia), situated amidst lush gardens, is a 73m-high minaret with a 16-point star roof, which can hold over 15,000 people at a point. You can get a better view of the city from the nearby Selangor district, home to the Batu Caves. Climb the 272 concrete steps to reach these limestone caves studded with Hindu shrines and paintings.
At the bottom of the stairs is a 42.7 m, gold-plated statue of Lord Murugan, the highest in the world. The best time to visit is in the morning, as by afternoon the place gets crowded with devotees.
The Indian connection
Lord Murugan outside the Batu Caves
The crowded Leboh Ampang street takes you back to the hustle and bustle of India–vendors seated on footpaths sell religious figurines, fried and dried snacks and different herbal powders; and pavements crowded with parked vehicles and spill-over displays from the stores. You can even find your favourite Tamil movie CDs here.
At lunch time, the sound of sizzling fried food fills the air, and the aroma of chutney and curries waft out of the Chettinad and south Indian restaurants. After a heavy meal, step out into the sunshine and look up. If you crane your neck correctly, you can see the peaks of Petronas and of KL towers.
KL and the twin towers awe you at first glance and make you so comfortable that saying goodbye is difficult. All through your journey, the twin towers stand like a kindly parent, providing you a sense of familiarity but never imposing their presence.
Every year, the Malaysian Tourism Board organises Visit Malaysia Year, the nation's biggest and grandest tourism celebration, which is also worth checking out.
Images by Joanna Lobo