Saturday, August 13, 2016

My Penang Diary - Part-2

While we were still in awe of street arts of Penang in George Town, here is Penang diary part-1, we decided next day we would have a spiritual journey day.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple- Penang

We went to Sri Mahamariamman temple in the morning. We offered our prayers and the deities over there were nicely decorated.  Sri Mahamariamman   temple is one of the oldest (200 years) Hindu temple in Penang. The main entrance is colourful and has all the Gods and goddesses. 

When we were still deciding which temple we should visit next, there we met a group of enthusiasts. They were part of a game-hunt organised by Penang heritage centres. And what a pleasant interaction that was, it was pouring and yet they were out, seeking out clues and solving a puzzle on the go. They even clicked some pictures with us. Yes life is full of surprises.

We then went to visit Wat Chaiyamangakalram Thai Buddhist temple or the temple of reclining Buddha of Penang. The temple is famous for its giant sleeping Buddha idol which is 33 m in length. 

Reclining Buddha in Wat Chaiyamangkalaram

And then also Buddha images in various postures according to year of Chinese birth year. The walls are painted with Gautama Buddha’s life-inspiring stories. 

We even spotted the story of ‘Angulimaal’ and enlightenment of Buddha under Bodhisattva tree. 
The temple was built by a Thai Buddhist monk who followed Theravada sect of Buddhism. There is another small temple just adjacent to the main temple, where Buddha is seated. If you are not in rush, you can sit here meditate and pray.

Burmese Buddhist temple

We came out form this temple, and visited Burmese Buddhist temple just across the road. The Dhammikarma Buddhist temple is a Burmese temple. The temple is in a big complex – which consists of main shrine hall, a sima hall, dining hall, monk’s quarter, a library, a lodge, a lecture hall and a Sunday school. The entire complex is well maintained and the greenery all around it makes it a very pleasant and a calming landscape. The Buddha idol is large and looks breath-taking.

The Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas

After spending much time over here, we headed to Kek Lok Si temple in Air Itam in Penang, where we had a lovely meal at the restaurant in the temple complex of Kek Lok Si temple. The restaurant is big, but the atmosphere is relaxed and also the ladies who were managing the restaurant were polite and friendly. Although, they have a fabulous menu – ranging from traditional Chinese cuisine to local Penang style recipes, but we opted for vegetarian fried noodles and vegetarian spring rolls.

Kek Lok Si temple complex

We took the steps towards Kek Lok Si main temple, enjoying the view from above, taking breaks on steps. The way towards the temple, reminds me of our Kashi Vishawanth temple in Varanasi, as one ends up moving and manoeuvring many commercial small stores selling all sorts of things, souvenirs, dresses, T-shirts, toys and handicrafts. The passage way leads to a pond where many tortoises were kept.
The Kek Lok Si temple premise is set amidst the backdrop of hillside view and the city view. The temple first opened for public in 1905.We were amazed to see the giant statue of The Kuan Yin- the Goddess of mercy, which is a 30.2 m bronze statue. 

Kuan-Yin in Kek Lok Si temple

The temple is a major tourist hub and spread across consisting of many shrines and pavilions.
The temple is first approached by the three-tier pagoda at the ground level and then towards middle layer of main prayer hall, in between we also passed the Laughing Buddha, and horse headed shrine of Kuan Yin.
After taking another turn we went to the area towards Grand hall, but our eyes were set on the pagoda of the Ten Thousand Buddhas.

The pagoda is differentiated into three tier and each tier is defined differently namely – Chinese, Thai and Burmese architecture. The crown of pagoda is called Chedi. In total there are 10,000 Buddhas and we climbed each level up to the top. The view from top was splendid, we can view the city, the entire Kek Lok Si temple complex and all the greenery scattered over hill top.

We came down and made our way to the Grand hall. There we also came across Buddha statues in Grand hall and where we lighted a candle and sat there for a while absorbing the tranquility of the atmosphere.

We took the inclined lift to reach the main prayer hall, where there is a zodiac garden and a place for prayer set amidst a beautiful pond and a miniature waterfall .

We did our prayers here and lighted some incense sticks as well. The prayer ribbons were also very vibrant and colourful.
We spend last leg of our visit in Kuan Yin pavilion, admiring the giant Statue. This remained one of our best memories of Penang. No visit in Penang is complete, if you haven’t been to Kek Lok Si temple.

Gurney Drive

After a day visiting temples and much like an inner spiritual journey, we decided to explore some shopping options next day. When you are in Malaysia, and if you haven’t done any shopping in big shopping malls, then something you are missing out. We went to Gurney drive where the Gurney drive plaza and Gurney Paragon are famous shopping malls.

Queensbay Mall

They have a good range of stores from designer brands to local stores selling lots of things. I don’t have to write about those famous international brands, if you think about them they all have stores over here. And then there are people shopping and doing more shopping, some even lost in the mall, what to buy and why we are here- ‘ like us ‘.

Queensbay Mall

Anyways, we went to the food court and tried the famous Penang Char Koey Teow and

Nasi kandar ayam.

Food was absolutely delicious, what is not to like in Penang cuisine.
The food-joint owner even posed for my camera-how gracious of her.

She even called me back to show me Char Mee.

While we went to the top floor, we saw an exhibition of Penang lifestyle, back in 70’s.

After all those shopping and temple visits, we finally decided to relax in a beach. The last day was a refreshing change for us with a beach day.

A question one always seeks out is, what does the mind wants. Sometimes it’s as simple as to listen to the waves and feel the cool breeze over face. And a serene feeling when you walk on the beach. Batu Ferringhi is the most famous beach in Penang.

The golden sands stretch as far as you can see. Although this has become a commercial hub recently with various water sports and activities- like parachuting, boating and biking but still if you can get a corner of peace somewhere, which I do hope you still can, the peace leaves you with harmonious sound of waves. Try to go early morning, the beach is rather not that occupied, but after lunch, the area is crowded with hordes of tourists. We had a lovely lunch in one of the eateries near the beach. The chicken curry and steamed rice was delicious. As we came to our last day in Penang, the beach day was fun and relaxing as well.

As Henry Davis Thoreau has said ‘Not until we are lost do we begin to understands ourselves.’ And Tolkien has also said something similar ‘Not all those who wander are lost.’ We were lost in Penang for couple of days- away from maddening rush of our daily lives  – exploring its natural beauty, landscape, culture and people. But when we arrived back in Kuala Lumpur, our vision and perception about the place has changed, perhaps we found something even though we were lost there. And this is what Travel does to you.
Penang has left us craving for more, next time if we visit again, we have plenty of other things to do and see. For the time being, we are calling it a day and taking out our traveller’s boots.

You all have a relaxing weekend.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My Penang Diary- Part 1

The best way to be lost.....
And found.....
All at the same time...
        ~Brenna Smith~
Sometimes you need to travel to understand more about yourself.
Each new destination brings out some new avenues to explore.We were doing exactly that, when we were visiting Penang in Malaysia. I have mentioned Penang in this post, never realized that I will be soon visiting this place. 
Penang is a great representation of a living testimony of multi-cultural heritage and traditions of Asia. The co-existence of various faiths together, with beautiful amalgamation of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European cultures and also UNESCO world-heritage sites, makes it even more vibrant, diverse and colourful.

I didn’t plan it this time as much I used to do for past outings. The only criteria for this itinerary was to unwind ourselves from a hectic and fast paced life that we were experiencing during past couple of months.
We took a relaxing coach bus service by Aeroline, that had a pick-up and dropping point from Corus hotel. I guess there are other commercial coach services available also. On the day of our departure, we arrived early and had our breakfast in the hotel. The journey from Kuala Lumpur to Penang took approx. 4- 4/12 hrs, roughly .And in between the journey ,me and dear husband dozed off, while dear daughter caught on watching ‘Zootopia’.A short halt in Ipoh was a relief. And after that the journey from Ipoh towards Penang Island became very scenic. As we passed the Cameron Highlands, the lush greenery, small mountains and scattered thin clouds over mountains, were very refreshing to watch. We crossed Penang Bridge to enter the small island Penang.
Our final stop was Bayan Lepas, a sub-urb in Penang, where we rented a small apartment for our leisure visit this time. The owner, a Chinese gentleman was friendly and courteous. The views from our rented property were really nice and refreshing, and to top it all, the balcony view where we used to sit with my morning cup of tea was rejuvenating. 

One fine day I was awake early, and watched a beautiful sun-rise as well. These are precious little things which comes free to us and perhaps some of the best as well.
We short-listed some of the places to visit, keeping in mind our slow-paced journey motto.
On the first day we went to Visit George Town, capital of Penang. George Town is also a UNESCO world heritage site and perhaps it is one of its kind in the East and South –East Asia. In 2008, George Town was awarded the coveted World heritage sites. This was once a British trading post and named after British King George III.

Our first stop was Queen Victoria memorial clock. We then took a leisurely walk towards Fort Cornwallis and then towards the waterfront/Esplanade, passing in between a Hindu temple. As it was mid-day and the heat was getting unbearable, we sat under the cooling tree- shadows for a while. 

I bought a chicken nugget stick and a refreshing chocolate drink from this street-vendor.
Khoo Kongsi – Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, is a clan house built some 600 years ago, is part of five big clans that formed the initial backbone of Hokkien community in olden Penang. 

This is a clan house of Khoo family. Beautiful interior decor took our breath away.

Actually some of the scenes from a famous Hollywood film – ‘Anna and The King’ were shot here.
We had our lunch in a local café near Khoo Kongsi – Ben’s art café .The Fried rice and grilled chicken was delicious. And so was local coconut rice Nasi Lemak. The interior was well kept with antiques and lanterns.We found them fascinating as well.

After wards we started to roam around in old George Town streets. We saw Kapitan Keling mosque from outside. The mosque was built by initial Indian Muslim immigrants who came here for work. 

This year they are celebrating 215 th years of establishment. The architecture is alluring and so is the well-kept garden outside.
We also saw Cheah Kongsi- another clan house .It is set by Cheah Yam who came here in Penang way back from southern China. 

Cat is a universal thing here in Penang I guess.

We also happened to hire one of these, trishaws on left , and paddled across the interiors streets.

The street arts in George Town are cute and amazing and some of them are little eccentric (Well I have a thing for eccentricity)

 Like the boy on the bike (where actually ahem, the bike is real) 

and ‘little children on bicycle ‘even the bicycle was real. 

These eccentric artworks were painted by artist Ernest Zacharevick. 

We came across many such cute art works. 

And a fine street performance by this group, all instrument made out of rubbish, now that’s what I call real recycling process.We also spotted Bruce Lee in action as well, I mean street art.

We also strolled in the streets of Little India, where there were hordes of stores selling nick-knacks specifically everything Indian- Sarees, suits, home décor and what not.
After paddling through the old city streets with our trishaws, we were tired and had our coffee in Armenia House. Ipoh white coffee was refreshing. 

What is this with white coffee in Malaysia, I really don’t know, but this is getting like an addiction for us. The interior was laid back and the atmosphere was also relaxing. 

One can come here and spend hours, reading a book over a cup of coffee or perhaps write a blog entry. And yes - life begins after coffee.

May be next time when I am in Penang, this will be my to-do-list.

We also visited Gertak Sanggul, a laid-back quaint fishing village. And we had all the beach to ourselves. The beach is not at all touristy, and in fact very quiet in the morning. 

But come in evening time and the place is alive with lots of local eateries/hawkers selling fresh seafood. The Hai Boey Seafood restaurant is a very famous food-joint in Penang. There is a bus ~ 308 by Rapid Penang taking people to this beach, but frequency is very less and the drivers are not in rush also. 

We waited for about 40-45 mints for the bus and the driver also. It’s better to have your own conveniences.
As we find mid-day to afternoon perhaps the hottest part of the day, we decided to come back to our rental property for some rest.

In the evening we took the funicular to reach Penang Hill. We had a clear –blue sky and the crowd was less as it was a normal working day in Penang. Weekends are no-no for us, this place becomes overly crowded during weekends. 

We sat there up on the viewing podium in the restaurant (They even had some nice songs playing in the restaurant over hill top) with a glass of chocolate shake, watching the entire Penang skyline lit up brightly. That was really a very breath-taking view. 

We also saw a temple and a mosque side-by side in one place. And believe me people do come to offer prayers here. The temple resembles many south-Indian temples in India, felt like I am in Rameshwar temple. The temple is dedicated to lord Murugan. 

While I also spotted these heart locks over there, I couldn’t stop wondering the motives of people doing these- countless heart locks, god knows how many are still together or have parted their ways, but their heart locks remained together here forever. In this conflicting time of chaos, this looks so pretty and calming. Yes, we need love to prevail, more the merrier.

And while we were there, we took a leisurely paced stroll towards the hiking path. The view from stop-over points are really nice, one can keep on walking till Monkey Cup garden. 

We couldn’t make it to the last bit, but the walk was still very refreshing.

I will write more in next part, as Penang visit is incomplete without Buddhist temples and Batu Ferringhi , and not to forget those crazy shopping malls.See you next week with second part.....