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