If you have missed the earlier parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
******** DAY 6: The Malaysian 'cithee thuah' ********
I woke up in one piece, sans my voice. I suspected the cold of Genting more than anyting else... and the water in one of the restaurants we dined at. On coming down after breakfast, down to the reception we discovered that we (the people of bus no.2) had a new guide - Hasina, as Zai had duty elsewhere. A couple of our co-groupers were yet to come, so I ploked myself onto the plush chairs and got down to talking in a hoarse whisper to my friends. All of us missed Zai very much and more so, after A told me that the guide in her bus, Linda was not very talkative or good humoured as she heard about Zai from me. A few minutes later we boarded the bus and traversed the smooth roads to the King's palace. Well, I have not a good memory for names, and the King's name is not easily memorable either. Anyway, our arrival was bang in time to witness the change of guards... stiff gentlemen sitting upon chestnut-brown horses, guarding the palace gates. We stopped for a few minutes to allow ourselves a couple of photos with the horsemen. Everyone seemed scared stiff of the horses. Our guide had told us to approach(and touch, if needed) the horses gently, but some of our co-groupers took it as a warning and as a result, came out in the pictures looking as if they were standing next to a lion or a bear or something. Yours truly ended up holding the bridle of one of the stallions :D
The bus rolled on at some 80-90 kilometers a jam(hour) and stopped next at the lake garden. which was a tribute to the soldiers killed during the fight for malaysia's independence. And so it read, "may the blessings of Allah be upon them"... Fountains, lampposts with the national flower (the hibiscus rosasinesis - 10th std biology, hehe) as shades for lights... the details fade in my mind... it's someting like two weeks since I've been there. Too many happenings, places in a day dont stay well in my memory... yet obscure details like the reg.number of the bus, colour of fellow-travellers' clothing, etc stay... weird brain of mine :-\
We then zipped off through the traffic to reach Independence square, near the confluence of two rivers that gave KL city its name. There was a considerable difference in architecture around the place, from British to moorish. All thoughout our afternoon ride we could see the twin towers and the KL communications tower since those two were so freakin' high.
Next up was the original chocolate-making centre, where we were treated to some mouth-watering samples of exquisite oriental cocoa, almond, strawberry, durian, tche-something, coconut, white cholocate, etc etc delights... Premium quality at premium price... bought for family members and close relatives to chew on :)
After a sumptuous lunch at an Indian restoran, the next stop was the famous twin Towers, landmark of KL city. This is the office of Petronas, Malaysia's petroleum company. This structure is incredible... It ges straight up unlike the Eiffel tower and the like so one never got enough of (literally) lying on the ground to look at the tower(s) rising to touch the jets :) Weird feeling leaves you speechless... but with a doubt - What the hell do those Petronas blokes do inside such a huge structure everyday? Accelerate subatomic particles?
We went into the public domain at the base of the building and spent sometime loitering around and playing about with the info touchscreens and 360 degree view machines (a telescope like thingy into which you peered and touched buttons to zoom in/out or turn left/right within the image you saw inside).
On the way, in the bus Hasina pointed out a long painting on a tumbledown wall and called the place a seven star hotel, where one could get accomodation and food for free. A moment after surveying our bewildered looks, she announced - "kuala lumpur prison house!" She then mentioned the torture(aargh!, no detailing now) and punishment to drug traffickers. Horrible :|
The rest of the evening was reserved for shopping at the Sungei-wang Plaza - a huge shopping mall where we purchased some stuff. After about two hours of wearing away our feet, we parked our weary bums at the entrance to it, where there are a big, wide feet of steps. It was raining heavily, with a lot of thunder :) In the first few minutes of sitting thee I had spotted a monorail way running above the road in front of us and I spent a few minutes trainspotting the stupid, silent monorails! A short while later I was conscious of the fact that I had been passive-smoking like hell and had come to the conclusion that if I were to remain sitting any longer there, I probably would pee out smoke the next time I visited the tandas :) A few other friends of mine had also come to similar conclusions and we spent the nexty half an hour or so talking, standing away from those disgusting smoking bastards.. (I prefer smoking-locomotives, not homo sapiens). After T,M,Mb,S1,S2,Aj,A and yours truly finished a not very engaging conversation, our guide and Mr. B had finally decided to brave the rain and walk to the restaurant.... and so it was - on a wet, sulky evening, the whole group walked down the slippery pavements and reached Restoran Ghazal (Authentic fine dining North Indian cuisine, the subtitle read)... and it went happily down the digestive tract.
We then headed straight back, past the mall, to Bukit Bintang station to board the KL monorail that would drop us somewhere near our hotel. The ticketing system is like our own Delhi metro... drop the torkens(or touch the cards) into the slit and the gates open... at destination station, drop the damn thing into the collection slit and hurry home... simple.
After a long queue we were waiting at the platform for the train. It glided in smoothly a few minutes later and after the mass of outoing humanity got out, we, the incoming humanity got in. I got a place right behind the driver to stand, so I was able to examine the controls. The throttle and brakes are fused into one lever that is at the left hand armrest of the driver. Simple - move forward, it applies tractive force and accelerates. Ease it back and you coast at no power... bring the lever backward and it brakes. Small cab.. minimal power(duh, what do you expect for a small, silent thing that glides on the rails - a WAG9?) Three stations away, we simmered out and walked for about fifteen minutes through the drizzle and reached our hotel.
I was desperate to find a computer to unload all the pics from my tiny 256 MB card to my mp3 player(which fortunately had 2GB), but the reception would not entertain me.. nor did they have a business centre nearby. It was somewhere around midnight and there were no cafes nearby. Then Mr. B invited me to his room and had it not been for his laptop, I would not have those five hundred plus pics on my hard drive now.
******** DAY 7: Down the expressway to Singapore ********
Our coach(in Malaysia and Singapore calling a bus, a 'bus', is taboo) was waiting and ready for the 250+ kilometres down the supersmooth expressways to Singapore. We boarded, sniffing for the umpteenth time the citric smell of the lemon-flavoured air freshner, inside. "GIVE us lemonade dammit, not just let us sniff it!", exclaimed one of the guys. After a few initial quirks like M3 forgetting his bar of chocolate inside the fridge in his hotel room, we were off... We revved up once outside the busy city roads and went at the maximum permissible speed. I once or twice wondered if the bus had cruise control.. well they needed it anyway! I tried a few vain attempts at playing dumb charades with S1,S2, T, M and Mb, but couldnt concentrate, owing to some restless feeling hitting me. M3 also seemed to be similarly affected, so the end result was both of us plugging our earphones and switching on some metal... Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Metallica, went flashing by.. I contemplated nodding off. I was vaguely aware of some cultural outrage going on, with T and some other folks of the upper generation singing and stuff, so I increased the volume on my player >:)
Losing track of time, I woke up when the bus pulled over to a drive-in for a bite and a quick Tandas :)
The sun was blazing outside. Running through the shelter of some trees, I took a leak at the spanking clean public Tandas, and bought a mug of scaldingly hot tea from one of the numerous little shops there. I had about fifteen minutes to kill before I could make the slightest attempt at sipping the tea. At around t = 10 mins, our pairing bus came up and we booed at them, reminding how we had started off after them.
We left the place after a while, when I decided to travel in my way - right up front, enjoying the view, chatting with the driver, and not sleeping under some air-con spoilt seat. So the rest of the journey was covered with me sitting in the small seat right near the door, left of the driver. And from there I couldnt help but click my tongue in pity at the view those people inside were missing!
The speed limit for buses was 90kmph, liberalled out to 120 in many places.
And most of the time, Suresh, our driver(and owner of many buses) was just relaxing with his hands crossed over the steering wheel, making just flicks of his elbow when a small turn was required(which was very rarely), with the cool breeze pouring in from the aircon vent above, and music streaming from his Nokia Nseries into his bluetooth headset! The drivers seat was a special one (and quite unlike our buses, where only the passengers get the benefit of the AC), with springs beneath it, so when we hit a slight bump on the road, he went rockin up and down :)
The expressway stretched like some huge ribbon of grey, down the green slopes, through the little valleys, and winding through palm-plantations. Behind me, a lot of interesting activity was going on. Hasina (our guide) had been discussing how the people in this country used monkeys to harvest coconuts from palms, and how they made toddy(to loud cheers from drinkers inside :). Then Mr. R held a sort of quiz, based on stuff related to the tour. The prizes were donated by many, and the result was, most of us ended up munching Malaysian chocolates :p Then it was down to Mr. C and Mr. SM who discussed anecdotes from their life.. to peals of laughter and amusement of the co passengers. It was real fun inside :)
We then alighted at the border state - Johor Bahru, to have some food at 'Restoran Amma', run by Tamils. It was damn hot outside but we the younger generation braved it and stood chatting till the buses arrived to take us to the border for customs inspection. The guy behind my counter was an ass. He took as much time to dismiss one passenger as the other officials took to dismiss THREE. (He ignored my parting "Wow! You're FAST". Damn)
Here, my folks and I had a change of bus - over to bus No.1, since there was a change in accommodation. Disappointed at leaving the jolly group behind, we boarded the first bus. The only remnant of the later-teenage-plus-or-minus-a-few-years generation was me, A(a couple of years my senior) and A2(a contemporary :). Apart from the three of us, the bus consisted of the upper generation and a couple of pretty young half-tickets ;)
We headed straight for our Hotel Windsor, and headed out after a quick fresh up. We met our guide, Mr. John, an enthusiastic sixty seven year old, "one of the most experienced guides in Singapore", according to our tour guide Mr B. Well, Mr. John looked so much an English gentleman, but his face showed a little bit of his SouthEast-Asian Ethnicity.
His English was flawless, with a hint an accent. "It's more than a welcome to people like you", he said. "For your people and our people have lived so long together... harmoniously, ya, both peace-loving. We have borrowed a lot from you - Buddhism, ya, was from India.. and it was your people who helped us build this wonderful city".
We liked him immensely... his age, his dedication and his experience.. all spoke volumes about him. He had his own ways, assigning each family its own 'numbah', "so that I just need ta call out, Numbah one - Yes, Numbah Thoo - Yes, and so on... I don't wanna leave anyone bahain... in Singapoh. Y'all haf come spending youah hard earned money, and y'all will haf a wonderful time, ya"
It was already evening, so we were going to the 'Night Safari'. Throughout the bus journey Mr. John was pointing out peculiarities, and listing ways and means by which his Singapoh had become a neat city - "We shoot the crows! They littha the roads, turn ovah trash cans... ya". The talk had progressed to criminals(the lack of them) and city lighting, when we reached our place.
The night safari venue is brilliantly designed, with quaint little oil lamps right in the midst of green bushes(they looked awesome!) and the whole place constructed(or made to look as if it was) with rock and timber. Our guide carried(till the last day) his identification symbol - a stick, with a thin red ribbon tied to it("Red keeps off the evil spirits"). We stood in a long, never ending queue for the first show, "Creatures of the night". The host was a lady, proficient in almost five or six languages. The hosting was almost like the ones we see on American and European TV, very good. Sadly, we are yet to see such enthusiastic, humorous and indulgent hosting anywhere in our blessed country. We were treated to hyenas, owls(wow), A PYTHON(which also had a volunteer let it crawl around him!), anteaters(or so), and various other animals. All through the show, a few of us were seated at the edge of the spectator-steps, so we were treated to ominous growls and howls from the nearby pit where they caged the creatures :)
A loooooooong queue was awaiting us for the next major show - the tram ride through the forest. This one was awesome - people seated in a silent (electric?) tram with trailing coaches, which moved through the dark, softly lit forest-like enclosures, showing us animals in their natural habitats, a guide sitting in the front car, speaking softly through the PA system... all very quiet and dark. Awesome way to see the animals so close(Yes one could almost touch them, but it was strongly warned against, for our own safety)... Couple of hyenas, deer, cattle, lions, pigs, zebras(why not 'zebrae'?), giraffes, the rhino(this one's fearful), Asian elephant, etc. made up the show.
After that enjoyable experience, it was back to our coach, which took us to the famous "Little India" area to dine at a tandoori restaurant (with the same name)... and yeah, God bless the Paneer :)
We hunted about to buy a calling card, and A's family also wanted one, so we went round and round till we came to a 'callable' phone(ie, where you could actually use the card). A few attempts were not working... when a little door popped open near us and a man told us in HIndi not to prefix 91 to the number. Thanking the good soul profusely, we made our telephonic conversations. It was already past midnight. This part of Singapore never sleeps, as the famous 'Mustafa' shopping mall, open 24x7, selling everything under the sun(and the moon ;) is bang in the middle of it. Our hotel was a couple of miles away.. fortunately Mr B was around and he hailed his familiar cab driver, Kuldeep Singh (yes, there are so many Indians around the place that we wondered if there'd be any left back in India). A and I had become good friends now (what with those long, boring queues!) and she, my sis and I spent the time chatting in the cab till it dropped us back at the hotel. Then it was a sleepy pull to the room, and the eyes shut.
Finish it off at Part five