All the mega cities in the world have history wrapped around them in layers. The center of the town is usually the core around which the city grows and one day this core becomes the core tourist attraction. To visit the earliest days of a city you have to visit this center wherein lie the beginning of these great cities. So on my last day in Malaysia, I went to the beginnings of Kuala Lumpur and took a heritage walk that starts from the central market here and takes you around the beautiful heritage buildings of the city. Allow me to take you to this walk with me.
Confluence of two muddy rivers Gombak and Klang gives Kuala Lumpur it’s name that literally means ‘Confluence of muddy rivers’. So when you see the pale brown rivers through the city, understand they are not dirty, they are muddy. Around these rivers and their meeting point were the Tin mines that brought the first inhabitants to the city. The whole economy developed around the tin mines and it first became a settlement and than a town. Houses here used to be made from wood and thatch, but they were all gutted in a fire that broke out in 1881 and after that the brick and tile houses were built, as Kuala Lumpur was re-built almost from scratch. Different communities lived in different directions from the central point of the town. Chinese lived towards what is now China Town, Indians around what is now Jalan Tun Perak and British around what is now Merdaka Square.
Central market is the area where there used to be an open market, a market for everyday things like vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and groceries. The new modern Central Market that you see today was built later, as the earlier market square had to be shifted to make way for the British area. As you walk out of the air-conditioned market, you would see a row of small carts used by hawkers to sell food and other small items and an open ceiling designed to resemble a kite. There are a few old shops that sell so many varieties of fish that for a no-fish-knowledge person like me it was a revelation that dried fish is such a big market. As an Indian the shops seem very similar to the ones that we find in our old markets.
Go around the market and you would see a cobbled square with colonial buildings, with their typical arches, colored facades, slanted roofs and pillared corridors. In an attempt to preserve the heritage structures and also make space for the new one, we saw a building whose façade is being maintained while the rest of the building has been brought down. A star shaped, light grey tall building with latticework is the original Petronas tower, called DayaBhoomi. Our guide explained the star shape of the building and the fact that Jaali has been carved with Islamic symbols of moon and stars. Crossing over the confluence of rivers, you reach the Masjid Jamek, which may be better known as a LRT station. This 1909 CE built mosque combines the Moorish and the Mughal architecture with style of arches following the former and that of domes following the later. Masjid Jamek is built in unusual rustic brick and white color that makes it look very pleasing on a hot summer day. Symmetry is followed like all Islamic buildings. As non-Muslims we could go around the Mosque but not inside, but we could see the prayer halls for men and women and we could admire the architecture as we took a round around the building. Big and small domes along with big and small minarets create different scenes from different angles along with some coconut trees and birds. Apparently this is the only place in KL where you can find coconut trees.
We walked over to Merdaka or the Independence Square that has a lot of stories to tell. Here you see a huge double storeyed Pink Sultan Abdul Samad building with copper domes that were apparently gifted by Australia and a clock tower. This building used to house the courts of Malaysia, but after they were moved to the new capital Putra Jaya, this building now houses office of ministry of Information technology and Culture. Opposite this building is a ground lined with palm trees and Malaysian flags. This is the parade ground for national parade and I assume many other events. Across the ground, our last stop was at Kuala Lumpur City Gallery that has a huge I love KL sign to click pictures with. The entrance of the gallery has a huge map of KL and a huge board gives interesting tidbits about the city along with explaining the various architectures through sketch diagrams. Inside the gallery there are models of all the heritage buildings of the city and old photographs of the city, followed by Arch gallery that makes the unique heritage depicting wooden mementos and souvenirs from thin wood. I am lucky to receive one such memento from the Tourism Minister of Malaysia.