Saturday, September 08, 2007

Malaysia Part 3 - Genting


Sunday 3rd September. I had spent 2 days of my 3-day weekend doing nothing worthwhile. So I decided to go to Genting on Sunday. Genting is a sort of hill station about 50 kms from Kuala Lumpur. In local parlance, hill stations are called “Highlands”. It was confusing in the beginning – I always used to think people are referring to Genting Islands, whereas is fact it is Highlands! So things are now clear – Genting, Cameron are Highlands; and Langkawi, Penang are Islands.

The Journey:

I had booked both my onward and return journeys the previous day. The fare for the bus ride is 3.50 RM and the skyway costs 5 RM one-way. I boarded the 1 pm bus from KL Sentral. The buses for even such short journeys are really comfortable. This particular bus even had seat belts for passengers! Needless to say, it was an A/C bus (the term aircon is used here for A/C).

The first half hour of the journey was along the “plains”. I recognized the route as the one we had taken to Batu caves. This suspicion was confirmed when we actually passed right in front of Batu caves :). After some time, the climb started. I realized just how hilly this area was. The roads were good – divided 4/6 lane throughout. Because of some real steep climbs, some proper hairpin curves, and the omnipresent rain; by the time we reached the base station (Gohtong Jaya), it was an hour.

The Skyway:

The bus dropped us at the bus station at Gohtong Jaya. You have to take the lift to the top of the same building to catch the skyway. The skyway was a one-of-a-kind experience.

Each cable car (called a Gondola), can seat a maximum of 8 persons. The skyway takes you from a height of 900 odd metres to 1700 odd metres. The total length is 3.5 kms and takes like 12 minutes. The skyway “flies” you over the lush tropical rainforests of Malaysia. I almost felt like I was in a helicopter shooting for NGC or Discovery :D. However, the rain and mist were taking a toll on the visibility. At first, I was disappointed that there was nothing that was “photographable” – thanks to the wall-like mist and the rain. But then I thought – to hell with photographs – I’l capture this particular experience in my memories :D. After all, I dint want to spoil the ethereal experience just because I couldnt capture it in pics.

The skyway system is computerized and there is no “driver” at all. During our ascent, the Gondolas all stopped when we were about 2 minutes from the destination. The voice announcement told us not to panic; and that this was perfectly normal. The computers apparently “pause” the Gondolas in order to make adjustments because of changes in weather and other external conditions.

Genting – the city of Entertainment:

From the moment you alight from the Gondola at Genting, you realize this place is entertainment unlimited. There’s all kinds of shopping, restaurants etc. But nothing had prepared me for the next once-in-a-lifetime experience – the Casino. This place has a special gaming license. Gambling is legal here. Genting is sometimes referred to as the Las Vegas of Malaysia!

Cameras are not allowed inside the casino; and I had to deposit mine in a locker outside – which is a good thing because had this not been the case, I fear I would have spent the rest of the day just clicking away at the casino

When I entered the huge casino, it was like entering another planet. I have never felt so hopelessly lost before. There were thousands of people gambling here. But I could hardly make sense of even one of the hundreds of games here. I did see the wheel of fortune; but again couldn’t quite figure out how people place bets or whatever for this game as well.

Anyways, since I had come here; I made up my mind to try my mind at gambling. I mentally set aside a budget of 35-50 RM for the same. After all, gambling is all about luck, I told myself. As long as I gamble responsibly (now that’s an oxymoron isn’t it?); and know when to quit, I would be OK, I convinced myself. This self-persuasion however lasted only so long. Reason?

Try as I might, I couldn’t make head-or-tail of even one of the hundreds of games here. Shame on me. Disappointment turned into desperation – but none of it was any help. After spending more than 2 hours at the casino, I still had absolutely no idea about any of the games.

Dejected, I left the casino by around 4:30. But not before I had made a curious observation – the number of ladies almost equalled that of gentlemen here at the casino (of course I am not talking about the pretty assistants – but the real gamblers ;). Lots of Chinese ladies were trying their luck at the slot machines.

Other observations included the ads showing the winners of the jackpots. And jackpots they were I tell you! People won everything from cars to millions of Ringgit. There was also a kind of stage show going on where a really cute Chinese woman was singing (seemingly) popular songs. And she was singing really well I must say (or was it just me??; ;)

Anyways, as I mentioned, I moved ahead in search of greener pastures (Ok that was a bad joke)

Theme parks:

There’s more to Genting than the casino. It provides a complete “family day out” experience too. There are 2 theme parks – an outdoor theme park and an indoor one. The outdoor park has some scary rides like the roller-coaster and “parachute ride” and as such caters to adults. The indoor theme park is for children primarily. There are all kinds of water and train rides here. This indoor park is also integrated into a mall; where you can do all kinds of shopping. I dint take any of the rides; but just soaked in all the sights and the crowds. That was entertaining in itself.


When I arrived at Genting at about 2:30 pm, I happened to step outside the comfy environs of the main hotel complex. And the mist hit me like anything. The wind and mist made the weather really chilly. This was in striking contrast to the sweltering heat in KL – just an hour away. Who would have thought you could face temperatures of sub 10 degrees Celcius at 2:30 pm at a place which is right next door to (if not right on) the equator!

Return journey:

I had booked my return bus journey from Gohtong jaya at 8:30 pm. This is because I wanted to experience the skyway at night. Unfortunately for me, it was raining when I got into the Gondola at around 7:30 pm. That dint dampen my spirits though. The sights at twilight are just too good to be true. The forest below are so dense, the huge powerful floodlights which illuminate the way for the skyway could hardly scratch the surface. I am told that even the sun cannot penetrate this forest canopy!

Anyways, I reached the base station and took the bus back to KL Sentral.

I ended this trip with almost no photos; but tons of memories. Who would have imagined that a one-day (no – a half-day) trip would provide two unforgettable experiences!!!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Malaysia Part 2 - Batu Caves

Photos Here

Batu caves is a Hindu shrine about 12-15 kms outside KL. I’ve been there twice – the reason being first time I had gone there, I had missed the most important feature of Batu, i.e., the Dark Caves.

The First Visit:

Saturday 25th August. I left from my hotel after lunch, alone, in the hot sun. The taxi drive to Batu caves, which should have taken 20 minutes, took more than half an hour because of a traffic jam. It turned out there had been a minor accident in the opposite lane, and hence the jam in our lane!

Anyways reached Batu around 2:30 pm. The most dominating feature of the spot is the mammoth statue of Lord Murugan. Right behind the statue one can see about 270 steps leading up to the caves. The sun was now relentlessly beating down on me, and climbing the 270 steps took some effort. The fact that the stairs are very steep did little to help. The steps are also narrow (not the stairway itself, but each step). This makes it difficult to get a firm foothold before proceeding to the next step. Adding to all the misery are the monkeys here. I have no idea how they recognize any packet containing eatables or drinks of any kind; but the monkeys just pounce upon anyone who has any eatables in their hands; and disappear with their loot. Curiously enough, they don’t inspect the bags, cameras etc.. the monkeys of the digital age seem to have evolved to learn that cameras are not eatables :D

The Batu caves are the location where the annual Hindu Thaipusam festival terminates. Thousands of devotees throng the place; and many of them undertake the climb with a whole lot of body piercings. The pictures of these piercings are really unsettling.

Upon reaching the top, you are greeted by an enormous cave; whose ceilings are over a 100 metres high. The light inside this cave is not all that bad because its mouth is very wide. All along the circumference of this cave, you see idols of Hindu gods. The diameter of this cave is like 40 meters approx. When you exit it, you ascend a short flight of steps to reach the main temple atop the hill.

However, there’s not much to do here. I just spent some time trying to get some snaps and videos; and then started my descent :)

When I was descending the stairs, I noticed one branch leading towards another cave. I went there and found a board at the entrance saying “No Admission”. So I just turned around and returned to the base. I had my food here, and then took a bus to KL.

The Second Visit:

When I reached back to the hotel and spoke to my friend who had already visited the caves, I was in for a shock – the “No Admission” cave was in fact the main attraction at Batu! This cluster of caves is known as the “Dark caves”.

There was one more guy in our group who had not been to Batu. So we decided to go there the next day.

This time too the timing was more or less the same as the previous day. We reached Batu around 2 pm. We first finished a quick tour of the temple complex, and then proceeded to the Dark Caves.

The Dark Caves:

Entry to the caves is only with an entry ticket of 35 RM per head. It is a guided tour; our guide was a Tamilian lady. This tour of the Dark caves was an experience in itsef!

The entire tour is about 2.2 km. The guide had warned us not to take photographs inside the caves, and not to touch any of the geological formations inside. We were given helmets fitted with flashlights to wear.

The first short stretch was nothing much. There was “Guano” all around – that’s bat shit. Our guide told us that the caves are full of three kinds of bats – insect-eating, nectar-eating and fruit-eating. When the cave was discovered late in the 19th Century, the Guano was dug out and sold as manure. Even today, one can see the level to which the cave had once been filled with Guano; as the marks are clearly visible on the walls. The Guano also acts as breeding ground for lots of insects, particularly cockroaches. You can see tens of thousands of them on the floor of the cave. It’s a good thing we stuck to the passage constructed for us!

Next came the various kinds of formations – stalactites (conical rock formations formed by water depositing minerals on the ground), stalagmites (upside-down conical formations formed by dripping water depositing minerals on the roof), pillars (when stalactites meet stalagmites); and a 4th type of formation whose name I forgot. I think its called a wall rock or something like that. Here, the structure emerges sideways from the wall – not from roof or floor. We were absolutely fascinated at these structures, and marveled at the way Mother Nature works for millions of years to form one such structure!

We saw various kinds of deposits around the cave – each being a different mineral. For example, the white material was calcite. I don’t remember the colours of the other minerals, but there was magnesium, sulphur, iron, copper. Some of the structures looked real powdery, while others appeared to be real smooth. It’s a pity we were not allowed to touch the formations; but I guess it is necessary to keep it that way for sake of preservation.

Our guide told us that the caves had been opened for the public a few decades back, but people drew drawings on the walls, touched and scrubbed the mineral deposits; and in general disfigured the surroundings. So, the caves were closed down until a few years back when they were again thrown open to the public.

We were shown around some more, and by then we had reached the end of the tour. We were told that trekking was permitted inside the cave but it required us to take special permissions. There is supposed to be a Communist’s kitchen somewhere deeper inside – The Communists had stayed inside the cave probably during some war period.

Pitch Black:

Well, we turned back; but on the way back was an unforgettable experience. When we reached a particular spot, our guide told us to close our eyes. The she told us to switch off our helmet lights. Then she switched off hers too and finally the big flashlight that she was carrying. And she told us “This is how the cave really looks. Open your eyes slowly”. We opened our eyes and saw …. Nothing. We were speechless. It was so damn dark, you could see nothing – as in absolutely nothing. Now I know what darkness really means. Every time I remember the experience, I get the goosebumps! Imagine being in a place where there’s not even one tiny miniscule ray of light. Normally when you close your eyes, there’s still some sort of light that you see. But here, there was nothing like that. It was almost as if having your eyes open was darker than having your eyes closed! I can rave on and on about this, so I guess I’l stop and move ahead with the rest of my life; so that you people can go ahead with the rest of yours’ :D

Well, what else? After this totally mind-boggling experience, we exited from the cave, took a taxi and headed back to our hotel!