Sunday, 16 June 2019

Pulau Ubin

Arrival at Pulau Ubin
While I was in Singapore I was keen to see a very different side to this tiny nation and so I took myself to the small island of Pulau Ubin, a very rustic and quiet corner that feels a million miles from the uber-modern city.  The island is just off the north east coast of the main island of Singapore just beyond Changi Airport.  I took the MRT from the city centre and got off at Tanah Merah where I had to catch a bus to Changi Point.  The bus ride took nearly 30 minutes and deposited me just a stone's throw from the ferry terminal.  I took the opportunity to have a little something to eat before my crossing at the well appointed food court by the bus station.  The stalls were reminiscent of those I normally frequent in Bangkok and were a far cry from the shiny restaurants in the main city.

Pekan Quarry
The ferry terminal offered two alternative routes (the other goes to a port in Malaysia) and there were already a number of people waiting to across to the island.  There is no schedule - the boat goes only when it is full.  As we crossed over the water I wanted to take some pictures and found to my cost that the air conditioning in the public transport played havoc with the lens of my camera and I had condensation in it for a very long time afterwards.  At the other side I wandered down to the end of the jetty and immediately found the bicycle hire places and coffee shops.  I had a quick coffee (or kopi as it is called locally) while I waited for the condensation to correct itself.  After a jolt of caffeine and sugar (kopi is extremely sweet) I was ready to make my way around the island by bicycle.

Wei Tuo Fa Gong Shrine
Pulau Ubin was once a granite quarrying community and the scars of this activity are still evident in the landscape, albeit softened by nature taking over once again.  The quarries are filled in by beautiful azure lakes surrounded by forest and with employment mostly gone the communities have largely gone too, leaving only a small number of people to appreciate the quiet life of the island.  Most of the people left behind look after the natural environment or serve the tourists that make their way here, especially at weekends.  There are few cars here as only those that live here can have them and very honestly the distances are so short that the best way of getting around is by bicycle.  The whole island is only 10 square miles and the furthest points apart are only about 5 miles.  Renting a bike was very cheap - it only cost me $12SPD for the day (approximately £5).

From the main settlement of Pulau Ubin there are two options - to turn left or turn right.  I decided initially to turn left and head west.  I didn't have to go far before the first viewpoint alongside Pekan Quarry.  Looking out over the calm blue water it was hard to believe that this was once full of machinery gouging out granite as now it seems like an oasis of tranquility just a stone's throw from a city of 8 million people.  I paused for a moment before pushing on along a largely flat road through the forest.  The roads have all seen better days but with few cars here now I don't suppose it makes much sense to spend much money on them.

The road looped around the lake until I came to a junction where I took a left (straight on would be take me back around to the road that would head right from the main settlement).  The road led down through a palm forest and soon I came upon a small bridge across some fast flowing water.  There was a group of locals here fishing and all looking intently down in the water.  I took a look too on the other side of the bridge and could see the water teeming with pipe fish.  I wasn't sure they were what were being fished for though as they looked a bit small to be worth eating.

Bukit Puaka View

A little way past the bridge and I took a right hand turn along an unmade track to a Chinese Temple.  It didn't make for such easy cycling especially as I quickly realised that the gears didn't work!  However it was worth the side trip for the ambience and colour of the place.  When I got close I was greeted with the sound of clanging bells, the sight of colourful flags and streamers decorating the shrine and the smell of incense burning from within.  There were a few worshippers around and so I gave them plenty of space and tried not to intrude.  Surrounding the temple were vibrant pink bougainvillea providing another layer of colour and in the stream dividing the two parts of the temple were a number of turtles basking in the sun or lazily swimming about.

Research Station
I retraced my route back to the main road as the temple was effectively at the end of a cul-de-sac.  I went a short distance eastwards stopping again not much further down the road to take a look at Bukit Puaka.  I knew this was going to be a climb and was a bit relieved when it said that no bikes were allowed up the track.  I left it at the bottom and soon realised why it said that when the path got a lot narrower and eventually became a steep footpath.  About half way up was a view point and I stopped briefly to admire the view across the lake that was once a granite quarry.  As with the last one it was difficult to imagine as nature had almost completely repaired the scene.  I didn't stay too longas I sensed there was a better viewpoint further up and that was indeed the case.  On the way up the din of the cicadas started and unusually I got to see one this time.  They seemed to like floating between the trees and on one tree I got to see what I took to be a dead one only to discover that it was discarded skin!  The view at the top was really good as you could additionally see across to the urban part of Singapore, standing in stark contrast to the rural idyll I found myself in.

German Girl Shrine
After a few minutes I headed back down to the bottom and recovered the bike before heading further west.  The road curved around past a research institute, which looked rather deserted.  I could imagine teams of scientists and/ or students staying here looking at the wildlife or testing environmental conditions.  Their quarters were much as you would imagine - basic but with adequate facilities given the location.  I wonder what it is like when full of researchers?  It looks like there are plenty of things to look at with evidence of plant trials and water quality experiments.  I pushed on across another bridge, very similar in nature to the earlier one, and even including a set of fishermen trying their luck.

Chinese Cemetery
Just past the bridge I took the left hand turn at a fork and continued along a road that was on a causeway between mangrove swamps.  These specialised trees help protect the low lying coast from tidal surges and tsunamis.  In the areas where these proliferate the coast took much less of a battering from the extreme tsunami of 2004 which devastated much of the region.  Much of the destruction was made worse by removal of mangrove swamps from large swathes of the coastline in the march of progress.  They were so thick alongside the road that in some places it was difficult to see the water at all.  As I left the shoreline the road deteriorated into an unmade track rather than tarmac but it was fairly good riding still despite the incline.  There is a mountain bike track that continues around the nearby reservoir here but I decided that my bike and its lack of working gears wasn't really up to the job.

Army Camp
What I came for was a look at the so-called German Girl Shrine.  This rather strange little place is just off the main track and has recently had its centenary.  The story began in the 1910s, just before the First World War (1914-1918). There was a German family living on Pulau Ubin who owned a coffee plantation. According to historical research, the plot of land used to belong to two German families, Daniel Brandt’s and Hermann Muhlingan’s, but the identity of the German girl remains unknown.  When war broke out, the British military rounded up the German plantation owner and his family. His frightened daughter, who was about 18 years old, escaped into the woods. The rest of her family was sent to a detention barrack on mainland Singapore. A few days later, the girl’s body was found covered with ants by the plantation workers. It was believed that she had lost her way and fell to her death from a cliff. Her corpse was discovered by Boyanese plantation labourers, who threw sand over her body and offered prayers, flowers and incense as a gesture of goodwill each time they passed her.  Eventually, a group of Chinese workers on the island carted her remains to the crest of the quarry's hill and gave her a proper burial.  Interestingly the shrine looks a lot more Chinese than German - the only clue to its past is the title Berlin Heiligtum which appears above the entrance.  

Pulau Homesteads
Before heading back I pushed on a little further to the reservoir a little further over.  I had the whole place to myself and enjoyed the sight of a large heron swooping in to what I assume was a roosting spot by the shore.  The only other sign of life was the incessant din from the local cicadas - they really are incredibly  noisy!  This was the furthest extent I could go along this shore so I retraced my route back to the earlier fork in the road and took the other turn.  This rather cracked and broken looking road looked as if it had suffered a lot from water incursion and drying out - it was in terrible shape.  It was put out of its misery as a through route a little further on with a gate across the road at a rather random looking spot.  I thought I would go on a little further to the beach and so left my bike at this point (they weren't allowed further on) and walked up hill initially.  I soon passed by an old Chinese cemetery, still tended by loved ones judging by its appearance.  Most of the workers on the island were Chinese, so a cemetery devoted to their needs was no great surprise.  It was more remote than I would have expected though.

Chek Jawa Boardwalks
My attempt at finding the beach was fruitless.  Eventually the road ran out and I continued along a path for a while but when I got close to the beach I discovered a rather large pile of army looking rucksacks and voices on what I took to be the beach just behind the trees.  I decided not to investigate further for I wasn't totally sure I was supposed to be there.  It was rather an unsatisfying end to the journey west on the island for I couldn't go any further.  I wandered back and reclaimed my bike and retraced my route all the way back to the turn off at the first reservoir I had come upon.  On the way I took a brief look at the second reservoir from the other side of where I had been earlier.  I cannot say that the view was particularly interesting though and I didn't linger long especially as the heat was quite fierce by now.

Ministry of Silly Walks
At the turning where I had made my earlier choice I took the left hand turn and came upon some more cyclists as I did so.  They were puffing their way up the hill just beyond and as I had seen them from some distance away I decided not to make the same mistake and built up speed so that momentum carried me half way up.  I was glad I did for the setting of the one gear that I had wasn't conducive to hills - I did just about have enough strength to get up though and was relieved to see that the onward route was downhill and not further up.  At the bottom of the hill I had to take a sharp left and passed a small group of houses that had a number of barking dogs.  I was relieved to see that they were behind fences for there is nothing that scares me more when on a bike than a marauding dog.

Fiddler Crabs
The ride over to the eastern end of the island was undulating and I soon came upon a section that was unmade and one way.  This definitely helped with the undulations as the downhill sections were a little bumpy and the uphill required a bit of weaving to give me enough oomph to get up them.  It was very hot too - what would have been a fairly untaxing ride in the UK was made quite tough on account of the bike and the heat.  All that counted in my favour was the fact that the ride was largely through the shade of some very tall trees.  I was mightily relieved when I got to the bike park at the eastern end of the island.  I had to leave the bike here so that I could explore the Chek Jawa wetlands.  This part of the park is quite special for you can walk out across a specially designed boardwalk that allows for an examination of the life that calls this area home, without disturbing it.  I took this section slowly to enjoy the seascape of other islands in Singapore and Malaysia beyond as well as the wildlife below.  In particular I enjoyed watch the herons fishing and the fiddler crabs scuttling across the mudflats.  At the end of the boardwalk the path took a route through more mangrove swamps where rather bizarrely a family of monkeys had made their home.  They are clearly resourceful creatures for on the face of it this was not obvious monkey territory.

Jejawi View
Just before getting back to the information kiosk I came upon the Jejawi Tower, an observation point that is high above the trees that takes quite a bit of climbing.  It was definitely worth it though - the view out across the wetlands was breathtaking.  The importance of this small island can also be appreciated when you see the influence of humans in this area with industry and shipping all around.  After a few minutes I climbed down and completed the loop to House Number 1.  Located at the entrance of Chek Jawa, the visitor centre was converted from a Tudor-style house built in the 1930s. Fondly known as House No. 1 (its postal address in Ubin), the building was awarded conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in December 2003, and was carefully restored. The house now hosts a display about the development of the island and interpretation boards about the wildlife to be found here.  There is also a concrete jetty here that can be accessed for another view of the seaside.  I had decided that I had seen enough of it and didn't walk to the end.

House No 1
I rejoined my bike and headed back towards the jetty via the return loop which went via quite a stiff climb that I was forced to walk up.  I was brave enough to go down the slope on the other side although there were warnings to consider walking downhill too.  I felt in control enough not to worry about that for it was far from being a mountain bike trail.  I paused briefly at the last quarry I was to see today, the rather lonelier Balai Quarry.  I was the only person here but sadly there was no wildlife to see and so I pushed on going non-stop all the way to the bike hire place to drop off the bike.

Police Station
I wasn't quite done with the island though - I wanted to take a look around the sensory garden just to the east of the main settlement.  As I wandered around I walked past the police station, surely the easiest and most picturesque posting in this small nation.  The sensory garden was an easy walk that took me through the backyard planting of the Pulau Ubin village home, where fruit trees such as papaya, banana, rambutan and breadfruit etc are planted. Sadly there wasn't a huge amount to see - I think I was in the wrong season for most of the crops and fruit.  I wandered around for a short while before heading back to the jetty for the boat back to the mainland.  It had been a great day of discovery and I was really pleased I had made the not inconsiderable effort to get here from the city centre.  If you plan to spend a few days in Singapore and the bright lights of the city wear a bit thin I can highly recommend this place.

Sensory Garden

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Singapore Botanic Gardens

On Hands
The Botanic Gardens in Singapore are rightly celebrated as one of the premier attractions of this city state and it was top of my list of places to visit on my recent trip.  What I was completely unprepared for is the scale of the place - I imagined that I would be visiting for a couple of hours to do it justice just as I had with its counterpart in Kuala Lumpur.  However, it wasn't long after getting off at the dedicated MRT (tube) stop that I realised that it would take a lot longer to see everything within the gardens.  It is probably twice the size of the Kuala Lumpur gardens and has a lot more to it, with areas dedicated to orchids, wetland plants, trees and even agricultural crops.

Water Gardens
The gardens were established in 1859 when English garden design was being exported to a number of the colonies in the British Empire.  The reason that the gardens started was mostly for agricultural reasons - one of its greatest success stories was to grow rubber after transplanting it from South America.  It did so well that within a few years Malaya was the largest producer in the world. It's transition from colonial garden to one of the foremost botanic gardens in the world was recognised with UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014.

Morning Exercises
Bukit Tanah gate is right outside the exit of the MRT station - no chance of getting lost!I started my journey at this point turning right just inside the gate and heading up into the Trellis Garden.  It was here that my eyes were drawn to some interesting sculptures - they were a couple of entries from a Polish art trail that had come to town.  They fitted their surroundings so well it was hard to believe that they weren't put here a lot longer ago than the previous autumn.  They were going to be short-lived too as they are due to be removed almost immediately having served their time.  My favourite one was called 'On Hands' an acrobatic figure clinging on to a tightrope.  I wandered around this small area of the garden for a while enjoying the flowering bougainvillea and trying to avoid a nursery school outing.  This was not because the children weren't delightful but because they formed a large snake as they held hands through the park.  I certainly didn't want to get in their way!

Meranti Tree
At the far end of the trellis garden I crossed a large open space and entered the herb and spices garden.  This was immediately more intimate than had gone before with the foliage from the plants alongside partially covering the path and a little further on was a small glade with a pool at the heart of it.  I walked through on a concrete boardwalk and enjoyed the ambience of a garden that I could only have seen from the artificiality of a greenhouse back in Europe.  Here the butterflies and tropical fish were right at home and not apparently in captivity.
Ginger Gardens Pond

It was a very hot day and it wasn't long before I needed to have a sit down.  I did so at what was once part of the garden that crop experiments were conducted at.  It has now transformed into a lovely green space that was a relaxing place for a seat.  I wasn't alone - a man had also chosen this spot for a nap.  I kept my distance as he looked out for the count.  Just below my position was some form of visitor centre with a coffee shop which looked very inviting.  I decided though that I wasn't quite ready for a coffee or indeed lunch and moved on wandering past some more mini-waterfalls.  I realised that just as I had done with the botanic gardens in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks earlier that water plays a big part in the landscape of a garden in these parts. I guess with so much to manage during rainy seasons that it is vital to channel the water somewhere and have plenty of capacity to deal with it.
Parasol Dragonfly

As I wandered away from the visitor centre I came upon a small group of older women doing their morning exercises. This is a sight that never fails to mesmerise and fascinate me - the slow movement of these Asian exercises (I think Tai Chi in this case) always looks so controlled and deliberate.  I didn't get long to watch in this case though - they were just about at the end of their session and they dispersed within a coupe of minutes.  I took a small path away from the main tarmac roads that led up into the rainforest part of the garden.  As its name suggests it is a small tract of rainforest of approximately 6 hectares in size that actually predates the garden.  Once up through the steps it was hard to believe that I was in the heart of a major world city.  Within this area are some remarkable trees, including a species of fig that relies on a specific species of wasp to pollinate it.  The was in turn is  wholly reliant on the fig tree for its survival - rather an amazing relationship.  Another was the enormous Meranti, a gigantic tree that  throws roots down from high up on its trunk.  There are approximately 50 of these trees in Singapore but despite wide scale searches no seedling or sapling has been found anywhere in Singapore and it could be that once the existing ones die it will become locally extinct.  This particular one is the only one that is publicly accessible anywhere in the city.

Orchid Garden
I could have spent a lot longer in the rain forest but I was conscious that there was an awful lot more to see and I went from here to the orchid garden, the only part of the site that you have to pay to access.  I cannot say that I am a particularly big fan of orchids but I think that is borne of the fact that I have rarely seen them growing in their natural climate zone.  This part of the garden was truly stunning and worth the fairly modest admission fee to access.  The gardens were beautifully kept and included imaginative planting schemes and sculptures to heighten interest throughout.  I eventually made my way towards the top of the slope that the garden is arranged on.  At the top is a rather palatial looking house,  once occupied by  the director of the gardens called Burkill Hall.  Nowadays it hosts a display of many of the hybrids that have been bred here.  There is a tradition of presenting these to visiting dignitaries and VIPs.  Some of these are the people you would expect including Queen Elizabeth II, but there were also ones for such people as the President of Bangladesh and the King of Lesotho.

Burkill Hall
I stayed in the orchid garden for about an hour and much of the time I spent there was under large threatening looking clouds.  The sun came out completely when I left and by now the day was getting really hot, necessitating regular stops for refreshment.  I wandered through the ginger garden next door to the orchid garden, where I saw plenty of what would become a familiar sight in Singapore - the rather dandy looking parasol dragonflies.  They aren't camera shy either - they rest for quite a while on leaves and rocks giving you all the time in the world to take a shot!  From the Ginger Garden I headed up towards the bonsai garden and then on to a rather British looking bandstand.  I'm not sure whether it is used but playing a big brass instrument in the tropics sounds like very hot work to me.  It is surrounded by some very beautiful trees though so if it is used it must be one of the most glorious places to listen to a band anywhere in the world.

Torch Ginger
Beyond the bandstand were a couple more heritage trees - the first was called the Cannonball Tree.  This giant tree develops snake like stems that grow from the trunk.  Each one has a huge flower at the end which is pretty hard for any bee to pollinate as they have to go right inside to achieve it.  When the flower dies it forms a fruit that resembles a rusty cannonball.  The Monkey-Pot tree is also one with unusual fruit - in fact pretty much as you might think they look given the name.  The fruits aren't very popular though - they certainly aren't used by monkeys and the flesh is rather tasteless.  Originally from Brazil there were brought to Singapore in the 1920s to establish whether they might have some use as an oil producing tree. Its neighbour was more intriguing - torch ginger.  This eye-catching plant had beautiful red flowers just starting to come into bloom.

Also at this end of the garden was a set of steps built by prisoners of war overseen by occupying Japanese troops in World War II.  They are a bit of a memorial to the thousands of PoWs who suffered the tyranny of the occupying forces.  A touch of defiance can still be seen in some of the bricks that have arrows imprinted in them to indicate that the forced labour was due to "detention by the authorities".  Just across from there is the most amazing looking palm tree - it almost resembles bamboo but clearly with palm shaped leaves.  Apparently it grows well on Borneo and yield black thorns that were used for blowpipe darts and fruits eaten by local tribes.
Monkey Pot Tree

By now I was feeling pretty hot and bothered and was thankful for a bit of time in the air-conditioned small museum a little further on in Holttum Hall.  The display in here describes the history of the garden from its early beginnings as an experimental commercial garden where species from all over the world were brought to see how they coped with the tropical climate of Singapore and how they might be used commercially.  The biggest success of these trials was with rubber but it was by no means the only one - various others including fruits, vegetables and spices.  After my air-conditioned interlude I felt refreshed enough to continue and made my way down to Swan Lake.

Little Lizard
Swan Lake is so called because it houses a couple of swans that were imported from Amsterdam.  Sadly I didn't see them but I did see the fabulous sculpture of swans taking off that adorns the middle of the lake.  This part of the garden has a very different feel from what had gone before - it was almost like I had made my way into a new park entirely.  At the head of the lake was yet another magnificent tree - there are so many in this park that it is impossible to mention them all.  However this one was memorable for all the vines that hung down from the branches.  It covered a part of the lake in shade and this was obviously to the liking of the fish in the lake that had all come to this end to enjoy the relative coolness of the water here.  They were massive carp too, many of them sucking in great gulps of air.

Palm - Or Bamboo?
From the lake to the treetops and another change of scenery courtesy of a set of steps that I decided to explore.  At the top my choice of routes was limited by the fact that one side of a loop had been closed off while the park staff were doing some maintenance.  I was promised sights of butterflies and birds according to the interpretation boards but in reality I saw few as I imagine most are not as silly as me as to be out during the heat of the day.  Nevertheless I really enjoyed the treetop walk and was a little disappointed when it slowly descended to ground level.  I took a right turn shortly after and crossed via a magnificent bridge to the other side of the valley and over what I found out later were the Keppel Discovery Wetlands.

Swan Lake
I retraced my steps across the bridge so I could continue through the forest for longer.  I bumped into a girl here who was anxious for a picture showing the surroundings.  I duly obliged and also watched a couple of workers below who were taking weed out of the lake.  Inexplicably on this warm day they were dressed in sweat shirts!  I continued through the trees around the top of the lake and across a fast flowing stream that I thought would be cold as they normally are when I am in the temperate zone.  Of course I was wrong - the water was the temperature of a warm bath!  As I looped around I passed an area of the gardens being developed as the next extension.  I also caught sight of a colourful small bird that teased me for a while, stopping on branches for a short time but not long enough for a picture before scuttling off.
Bridge Over Keppel Wetlands

I descended into the valley for a closer look at the wetlands and was pleased that I did for I saw a number of colourful dragonflies, a couple of which obliged me with a picture.  The boardwalks around the wetlands allowed plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife even though there wasn't actually much about.  When I had looped around I was surpised to find myself at the back end of the Ginger Garden once again.  The scale of the park is most deceptive - it seems a lot bigger than it actually is in parts.  I stopped briefly for a very welcome ice cream at the side of the Ginger Garden before wandering down through Palm Valley to the Symphony Stage.  Orchestral concerts are performed here - they must be quite a treat to see (making mental note to find out when they are).

Weed Clearance
As I wandered down the side of Symphony Lake I saw the most enormous fish jump out of the water and it gave me a bit of a fright.  At the far end I stopped in the pavilion where I saw a number of young women nattering.  They spoke to me as I think they realised I was English and it turned out that they were all students from Hull University here on a field trip to study how Singapore ticked.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed talking with some English people - it had been quite a few days since  I had.  We enjoyed watching the turtles and the monitor lizards at this end of the lake.  No doubt the latter are always on the lookout for the weaker ones of the former to nourish them.

Symphony Lake
We headed off in different directions - I took a section of the former Cluny Road that used to head through the park before it eventually closed in the late 1980s.  Its origins are unmistakable though - it is clearly a lot wider than most of the paths in the gardens.  It took me over to the visitor centre that I had been past earlier.  I went down to look at the Healing Garden beyond here only to find to my annoyance that it was closed on Tuesday.  I had to retrace my steps and wound my way around to the fragrance garden, which lived up to its name with the most beautiful smells emanating from the various flowers there.

Turtle Time
I was well and truly on the return path now and probably because I was hot and tired the last part of the walk was a bit perfunctory.  You shouldn't read into this that it was any less interesting than earlier in the walk - I passed by the ethnobotany garden which was devoted to the crops useful to people.  I also went around the Eco-Lake which looked rather short of water.  It is supposed to be a haven for wildlife but I only saw a few pigeons there and moved on.  In fact it wasn't far past here that I was back at the gate and on the MRT leaving.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and it was a bit of a whistle stop tour but in truth I think I would need 3-4 visits to really get the most from this place.  It will certainly be on future itineraries!

Banana Flower

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Kuala Lumpur Botanic Gardens

Tasik Perdana
An unexpected opportunity came up to visit Kuala Lumpur when I had to attend to some immigration business.  My visit to the Thai Embassy was mercifully short which meant that I had a good amount of time to explore the city.  Top of my list was a look around the botanic gardens for I had heard such good things about it.  When looking at my three day schedule I actually thought that it would be best to explore on the day I arrived and so I made my way directly there from the airport.  The airport rail link made for a very easy way of getting into the city but when I arrived at KL Sentral Station it wasn't so obvious how to make the very short distance from there to the gardens on foot.  Even Google maps wasn't at all helpful as it wanted to send me a convoluted way that would  take at least half an hour extra walking. As I was trying to figure out the best way to go I bumped into an Australian chap having similar troubles and we figured it out together - basically we had to cross a couple of roads; negotiate a lift in a building and a nearby subway station escalator before finding an entrance at the back of the national museum.

Railway Loco at National Museum
The weather was immediately apparent as I left the world of air conditioning.  It was hot and steamy with lots of cloud cover and the walk would need to be taken slowly.  The museum looked interesting - outside were a couple of former railway locomotives on static display that were manufactured in the UK.  In spite of how far they are from Britain they had unmistakable British styling about them.  The entrance to the botanic gardens was via a footbridge across the neighbouring freeway.  I ended up at the entrance to the Planetarium which looked interesting but deserted.  I wandered through the empty car park and past a rather interesting looking monument to various historical astronomical observatories including a replica of Stonehenge.

Deer Park
I was faced with a deserted road that acted as the entrance to the Planetarium and took a left turn past a large building that was once the home for Tun Abdul Razak, the second Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1970 to 1976.  He was clearly a well respected politician for the house now acts as a museum in his memory.  It has free admission but sadly for me it wasn't open on the day I visited.  I was slightly disappointed as I would have liked to know more about this gentleman, who also acted as a secret agent in World War II.   passed the rather impressive looking building and took a left down some steps through the deer park just to the north.  

Tuna Sandwich
The sky looked pretty threatening as I wandered down through  the so-called deer park and I wondered how long I might get before the weather changed entirely for the worse.  The deer seemed to instinctively know that rain was on its way for they were mostly sheltering under the elevated walkways through the enclosure making it quite difficult to see them in some cases.  I didn't linger too long at the deer park due to the lack of activity but crossed the bridge at the bottom of the valley and headed towards the lake.  I couldn't help noticing the large number of golden fish in the stream - something I always associate with Asian gardens ever since I went my first in Beijing a good number of years ago.

Lobster Claw Flower
I looped around on a level path eventually finding the lake known as Tasik Perdana.  Before exploring further I decided to avail myself of the cafe at the northern end.  Even though I'm in Asia sitting in a cafe by a lake seems such a European thing to do.  I wasn't alone but the numbers of customers doing the same thing seemed very small compared to a UK equivalent.  I had an ice cold drink which was very welcome and a snack which was described as a tuna sandwich but which was unlike any tuna sandwich I have ever had.  For one thing is was rolled over like a tortilla and secondly it appeared to be covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.  For effect it had a chilli pepper sticking out of  the end.  It was delicious - how could it not be given that it was deep fried?

Cannonball Flower
Feeling restored I decided that I would walk around the lake next and as I headed towards it I came across a huge group of what I took to be school children having a picnic in a large covered area.  I looked at the clouds again and wondered whether they were fearing rain too but I decided that probably they were just sheltering from the sun - only Westerners are mad enough to be walking about in sweltering heat I decided.  Most everyone else just sat about talking or doing the mildest of pursuits like playing cards or drawing.  Only the park workers were really extending themselves and even then it all seemed to be in slow motion.  The gardens are exquisitely manicured and perhaps most visually at the topiary garden alongside the northern end of the lake.  Not only is the maintenance taken care of so efficiently but each of the trees and notable plants along the way have identification plates by them too for anyone who wants to be a student about such things.

As I walked down the side of the lake I saw that there were a number of offices that overlook the gardens and I couldn't help thinking that it would be no good me working in such a place for I would probably spend much of the time looking out of the window at the view.  When I got to the far end of the lake past a number of different palm tree specimens I could see my way out at the end via an underpass under the freeway.  At this time I turned right and continued around the lake however.  On the other side I saw where the monitor lizards hung out - there were a couple lurking in the hibiscus bushes.  I had half expected seeing them on the way round - they seem to like municipal parks!  I imagine they mostly feast on the numerous turtles in the lake that popped their heads above the water on a regular basis.

The far side of the lake was pretty quiet as I was quite some distance away from most of the other points of interest.  Given that it was a Sunday I had expected the park to be busier but was thankful that it wasn't for I got to see more wildlife and insects that way.  The butterflies deserved a special mention - it was like walking through one of those butterfly greenhouses that we have in Europe and North America.  I even recognised some of the species that are beloved of such places.  Trying to capture any of them with a camera was nigh on impossible though and I eventually gave up.  The squirrels were perhaps the busiest creatures in the park - they seemed to have as much fur as their European and North American cousins and yet still ran around just as quickly in spite of the sultry heat.

I wandered up the back side of the lake and on to the top of the park which was mercifully shady and turned at the top where there was yet another deserted car park and a deserted playground.  I wasn't particularly surprised by the latter - surely much too hot for any children to want to play on.  Even though I am only a few hundred miles south of Bangkok I couldn't quite work out what season I was in for the weather was quite different from the warm and comfortable dry climate I had come from.  I was feeling very hot and sticky by the time I reached the shade of the herb garden where I lingered for quite a while enjoying the ambience , watching the busy insects and smelling the various fragrances from the flowers and herbs.  Eventually I felt that I must make some progress and so pushed on to the sunken garden not too much further on.

Tree Group
The sunken garden is clearly one of the treasures of the park for it has seats all the way around under the shade of some very thick and lush vines.  This has the effect of shading visitors and was actually quite well used.  Apparently this used to be a playground area but the equipment has now been pushed out to the side enabling the landscaping to be used for a more decorative role to which it excels.

Reflective Bridge
Next door to the sunken garden is a conservatory area that was full of bright flowers and a plethora of dragonflies and butterflies wheeling about.  I wandered about here fascinated by the riot of colour provided by both plants and insects - each plant seemed to have its favourite.  Unfortunately for me it seemed to be mostly the dowdy butterflies that were willing to pose for me rather than the ones with the brightest colours.  The dragonflies were a little more accommodating and I did manage to get a couple of those.

I headed from the conservatory up a side valley that seemed to be given over to a more natural environment - certainly the lakes were allowed to be covered with more vegetation that encouraged frogs and insects to dwell here.  I pushed on up the valley before coming to a rather astonishing looking open air theatre.  I imagine sitting and watching a performance here must be quite a magical experience.  I found a number of people snoozing in this part of the garden - surely they weren't waiting for the next performance?  By now the exploration was getting to me a bit.  A combination of the heat and the backpack I was carrying made me want to sit down with a large drink again.  I wandered back down to the cafe via the water garden and the edible garden.  The water garden was strangely cooling and I was thankful for that - it made me linger for a short time and watch the fish swimming around in what must have been quite warm water judging from its shallow depth.  The edible garden largely consisted of tree fruit and banana trees.  I have to say that I still get a kick out of seeing banana flowers even after all these months.

I sat in a different spot with my drink just away from the cafe.  This enabled me to watch life a bit more and across the water I caught sight of a kingfisher that looked remarkably like the ones I used to see in the UK.  I tried to get a picture of it and largely succeeded despite the distance it was away from me.  I had to smile when I downloaded the pictures for I did not see the rather large turtle looking at me in the same picture and just below the kingfisher!  There was a large group of Chinese ladies sitting just along from me feeding the fish - ducks don't really get a look in here.  I helped them out with a selfie - another popular pastime here - amidst lots of giggles.  Such interactions never fail to amuse me.  Asian people have a very different demeanor towards strangers and especially Westerners than anything you would come across in Europe.

Sunken Garden
I saw the clouds were really turning black at this stage and took the hint.  I could have spent more time in such beautiful surroundings but one of the lessons I have learned about being in South East Asia is don't argue with the weather!  The storms here are legendary - you will get very wet very quickly and run the very real risk of being struck by lightning if you are caught out in the open.  I headed back down the side of the lake and into the subway network just beyond the National Museum.  As I headed to my hotel the heavens opened - I managed to get out just in time!  It was a delightful afternoon with surprisingly few people in the gardens allowing me the time and space to explore fully, inspect the flowers and planting schemes.  The main problem was the heat and therein lies the clue as to why it was so quiet!  I cannot recommend this place highly enough - it should definitely be on your itinerary if you visit Kuala Lumpur.

Turtle and Kingfisher