Monthly Archives: October 2013

Ganesha Street

Kuala Lumpur in my opinion, doesn’t have the most interesting sights. The Petronas Towers are ok for two giant cucumbers, but nothing mind blowing. There’s a few mosques, some colonial history and a king’s palace. The reason I like KL, is that it serves it’s purpose as a convenient transit city. It’s a lot cheaper than Singapore so you can stay here and arrange things for the next part of your trip without breaking the piggy bank. The food is great, especially if you’ve just stepped off a flight from somewhere like the Philippines. You can spend hours aimlessly strolling around the posh shopping malls looking at things that you can’t ever afford or just go in and out of the hundreds of 7elevens to have a few seconds of air-con and escape the sweltering heat.

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One interesting thing about Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia for that matter, is the high number of Malaysian Indians. The mostly Tamil people of Indian descent make up almost 8% of the population in Malaysia. The Indians and other south Asian people were brought here during the British times to work as plantation workers, traders, soldiers and of course, corner shop owners. Hence, the muddy estuary has a very multi cultural atmosphere and some areas, for example Dixon street, actually feel like you’re taking a walk down Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, although the smell of human excrement and sewage isn’t half as bad.

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Tamils are predominantly Hindu, and what do you get where there are Hindus? Not a bunch of milfs stumbling around in fancy dress with the bride-to-be wearing an L plate around her neck, that would be a hen-do, I’m talking about temples.

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Sri Ganesar temple

When I pass through Kuala Lumpur, I always stay in a place close to a Hindu Temple named Sri Ganesar Court Hill, dedicated to the elephant god, Ganesha.

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Ganesha is the protector, the god of wealth and prosperity, the deva of intellect and wisdom and the remover of obstacles. The previous high court was adjacent to this temple and back in the day, lawyers who had to represent clients would come to the temple and pray for a favourable outcome. The temple is said to be very powerful because it is built on a sloping moona muchandi (three adjoining corners). With that, this is the only temple in the world that performs conch shell prayers twice daily, where the chanting of Hindu mantras take place during the dressing and bathing of the idol Ganesha with spiritual water, this explained the clarion sound of trumpets and bells, along with some quite strange goings on, such as devotees setting fire to coconuts before smashing them on the road outside…

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Does it all sound a bit daft? Get this, former colonist Wagner Durai who owned the land which the temple now stands, once asked to have the original statue removed as the temple bells were doing his head in. The day after his grumpy complaint, he suffered a paralytic stroke. It was only when his gardener was instructed by Lord Ganesha in a dream to sprinkle holy ash on Wagner’s legs he fully recovered and regained the ability to walk. Wagner converted to a devout Hindu and remained one until the day he died.

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Hindus have 330 million gods, 330 million plus one if you include Sachin Tendulkar. The thought of these giant gods walking the earth may seem a little bit far-fetched or even pokemon-esque, but these paradoxes when examined closer can make more sense than what meets the eye. The court hill temple was facinating and got me wondering about Ganesha and why he has an elephant’s head. Hindu mythology can be very confusing indeed, so here is my simple, soap opera version about the birth of Ganesha.

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Parvati is Ganesha’s mam, Parvati wanted to have a kid with Shiva, but Shiva didn’t want a kid, so he went out on the lash with his mates. Parvati went and impregnated herself anyway with some turmeric and Vinayaka was born without the intervention of man. The child was told by his mother to watch the oven while she took a bath and not let anyone in, which he did. Shiva returned after one too many Stellas and was refused into his own house by the boy, so he must have thought ‘Who’s this little mug having it away with my missus?!’ A furious Shiva proceeded to chin Vinayaka and cut off his head. Parvati needless to say was raging and claimed she would end her own existence if her son was not brought back to life. So Shiva told one of his mates who owed him a favour, to go out and bring him the head of the first living being he saw. The first thing he saw was a Mackem, a wild and unwashed one, so instead he brought back the head of the second living being he saw which was an elephant. Shiva placed the new head on the severed body of Parvati’s son and ressurected him, thus becoming the father of Ganesha. A few months later Parvati had an affair with his best friend and Shiva was killed in a car crash after a dramatic show down…

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The temple has a telly, but only one channel, Ganesha TV

Believe it or not, the Sri Ganesha court hill temple provided a little bit of intrest to what would otherwise have been a boring visit to Kuala Lumpur. May I add, that it can’t be a coincidence that after visiting the temple I successfully jumped the LTR, was given too much change in 7eleven and found half a bar of dove soap in the hostel shower. The powers that be!

For More insight into Hindu mythology made slightly easier to understand check ‘Myth = Mithya’ by Dr Devdutt Pattanaik

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Categories: Malaysia | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Trans-Sumatran Express

The Trans-Sumatran highway by name may sound like a modern day road you’d expect to find in the West, don’t be fooled, it should really be named the ‘Trans-Sumatran dirt track, whiplash inducing, wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy passage’. The Indonesian busses are cramped, smokey, loud and the air-con is either on full or off, truly living up to the ‘no logic’ zone tag. The 17 hours overnight from Toba to Bukittinggi is not a nice experience but is essential, never before have my eyes been so dry that a thin layer of crust has formed over the cornea. For anyone planning to do this trip be prepared to be ill for at least 24 hours.

Bukittinggi is the main town within the Minangkabau highlands, and was once a Dutch hill station. You won’t hear anyone speaking like they have a mouthful of peas nowadays, but the centre piece of the town is the Jam Ganang clock tower which was built in the 1920’s as a gift from the Dutch queen. A stone in place claims that the clock’s faces are unique because the Roman numeral for four is displayed ‘IIII’ and not ‘IV’. I find it hard to believe that this was intentional and not just another typical Indonesian clock-up, no logic zone!

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Bukittinggi has a zoo, and like all other zoos in Asia, it’s depressing. Underweight camels, three legged tigers and one armed monkeys, maybe this was some kind of zoo for land-mine victim animals. Seeing the caged orangutans was very different from seeing them in the national park, the male had a broken finger and the female was a little overweight like she’d got settled in a comfortable relationship and ordered too many Chinese takeaways, in all honestly they didn’t seem at all bothered by being locked up all day. The highlight for me was the baby gibbon, which isn’t even in a cage, this is the first zoo that I’ve ever visited where you can freely grapple with the animals…

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We didn’t waste too much time in Bukittinggi as we wanted to check out the surrounding areas. We opted to rent a room, pardon, a shed in Lake Maninjau for a total of £2.50 a night. Like Lake Toba, Maninjau was also a volcano, but that’s where the similarities end. Maninjau has more of a local feel to it, in fact we were the only white people there. Fish farming is the main source of income for the people and it was nice to live a ‘back to basics’ lifestyle of washing in the lake and shitting in the woods. Here the locals use old school buffalo ploughs in the crop fields and have a genius idea of using trained baboons to climb trees to fetch coconuts…

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One man and his baboon

The Harau Valley (pronounced like how a Chinese man would say hello…harrow) was a three hour drive away from Maninjau but we decided to jump on the bike and go anyway. We arrived at the valley just in time to spend a few minutes admiring the sheer cliff faces and see some paddy pickers before the heavens opened, for all the valley was beautiful it turned out to be too much of a literal pain the backside after six hours worth of driving…

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What a pair of helmets

Our time in Sumatra has ended too soon. Sadly Indonesian visa regulations and the massive distances have restricted us from seeing any more of this enormous island. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the gentle, charming people or the amazing and interesting landscapes, but Sumatra has ticked all the right boxes for me. I believe I’ll be back one day to explore some more and to see if Indonesians can ever find some logic for their zone, although, then things just wouldn’t be the same. As usual I found an international Toon fan just as we were leaving for the airport, even though this one thought he was wearing a Juventus shirt…

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Have you ever seen a Mackem in Maninjau? Not likely!

Categories: Indonesia | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

The Biggest Bang Theory

Danau Toba, from space looks like a giant donut, and is the largest lake in South-East Asia. Superficially it is an amazing place, you can dream your days away on the ‘island’ of Samosir while swimming in the azure blue waters and trying some delicious local food. What made Lake Toba so special for me was learning the story that lies beneath the calm shores, only then can you truly appreciate the sheer mind-boggling beauty of this mysterious place.

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Toba was once a volcano, until it erupted some 69 – 77 thousand years ago. The eruption was the most gargantuan that Mother Earth has ever witnessed, making some modern day volcanic blasts seem like nothing more than a few wet farts. The biggest eruption in recent history, Mount Tambora of 1816, was but one hundredth the size of the beast that was Toba.

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It left one hell of a crater

Scientists believe that the Toba catastrophe sent the world into a 10 year volcanic winter which wiped out countless species and resulted in a bottleneck in homo sapiens. A bottleneck, as well as being something an Englishman might be on the receiving end of in a Glaswegian boozer, is also a term for a sudden drop in population numbers. Toba volcanic ash has been discovered in Africa, Europe and even as far as the UK. To comprehend the significance this explosion had on our planet whilst chilling with a Bintang and looking out onto the world’s largest crater lake, is enough to make your head spin. For more superlative Toba info check here.

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It took Toba one thousand years to eventually cool down, it was then that the surrounding mountains provided protection for the Batak people, who are direct decedents of the mountain tribes of Thailand and Burma. Here they lived in isolation for many years and were among the most fierce people in all of Sumatra, known for their strict adat (traditional laws) and cannibalism. Thankfully human isn’t on the menu in the restaurants around Tanjung Tuk-Tuk, the main settlement on Samosir island.

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Traditional Batak House

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Batak Grave

Driving around Samosir is the best way to take in the scenery, one of the few sights include the ‘stone chairs’, a 300 year old ritual ground where the Batak elders would practice black magic, discuss legal matters and where guilty parties would be executed in a bloodthirsty manner. It’s 10,000Rp to get in, but a guide that can barley string an English sentence together is free. Part of the fun is trying to decipher exactly what the stone chairs are all about from what he tells you, I still don’t have a clue…

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Batak torture device

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Although Sumatra is a predominantly Muslim island, the Bataks are Christians after being converted by a bit of Dutch courage

Magic mushrooms grow in buffalo shite around this area and are a favourite pastime for locals. This could be the reason behind the crazy Batak art and architecture. They’re also widely available for the tourists if Toba isn’t magical enough…

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Things ain’t as they seem on Toba…

Before I left Tuk-Tuk, I thought about that eruption all those years ago and how it led to mass migration throughout the world due to changes in climate. It got me thinking what the Earth could have been like nowadays had this historic event not have happened. White people in Africa, Turks in Germany, Africans in France, Afro Caribbeans in London, a mile long stretch of Indian restaurants in Manchester, imagine…

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