Istana Alam Shah, the official palace of the Sultan of Selangor, Malaysia.Photo by author
Ports are always the centre of amalgamation of cultures. I have always marvelled at the buzz of colours and the cacophony of noises that surround these port cities. One of the more understated ones is the royal city of Klang in Malaysia. An erstwhile outpost of the British Empire, this city held its importance due to the flourishing tin trade emerging out of this peninsular nation. With a host of British administrators mingling with Chinese traders and Indian workers, it has left a mark on the city's skyline.
I visit Klang to discover these multicultural influences in the form of the architectural beauties and finger-licking food.
Our discovery starts at the Sultan Suleiman Building or the White House, the nerve centre of colonial Malaysia. The British administrative building imposes itself on the skyline with its stark white colour and typical Victorian-era columns. Although it housed the law and administrative offices of the British, it has now been converted into a museum (1988) that honours the ninth Sultan of Selangor, HRH Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah. It houses artefacts, photographs, along with clothing and ornaments used by the eight monarch of Selangor, and traces his life from being a crown prince, then holding various public offices and finally culminating in him being crowned sultan in 1960. The gallery also traces the royal genealogy of the sultans of Selangor till the current monarch, HRH Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.
After a hard day's work, the Englishmen used to retire to the Royal Klang Club, which is another throwback to the colonial ages. Built in 1901, it served as the centre for recreational activities for the British officers. There is a typical colonial feel to the place with ample use of wood and leather sofas. The dining room, known as 'Smuggler's Inn', has a nautical feel to it, while the old watering hole, Admiral Benbow Inn, retains its cosy colonial touch.
The Royal Klang club hosts a plethora of sports activities like swimming and lawn tennis, among others. Further down the road lies the Istana Alam Shah, the royal residence of the Sultan of Selangor. Unlike many kings in India, the Malaysian monarchs were on friendly terms with the British. So, it should not come as a wonder when you realise the royal residence of the current king was built by the British. This magnificent behemoth combines the best of Victorian and Saracenic architectures in a way that truly befits a royal residence. Entry to the palace is restricted, but the outskirts paint quite a scenic picture replete with beautifully manicured lawns.
During the times of colonial trade, the British settled hundreds of workers from southern India here. Many of them have gone on to make Malaysia their home, and their influence plays a major role in shaping the landscape of Klang.
Jalan Tengku Kelana or Little India is always abuzz with the colours and smells of India. The footpaths are lined with shops selling home-cooked delicacies along with utensils, clothing and items for home décor. Standing in the middle of all the bustling activities, I feel right at home as the smell of coconut oil wafts into my nostrils.
We then visit Archana Restaurant for a taste of South India in Malaysia. The thalis are served on banana leaves. Not only their traditional food, the Tamilians have also brought their colourful garland shops along with them.
The moment I approach the lane, a beautiful scent hits my nose. The shops have been around for decades and sell large garlands used for purposes of worship. Another influence of South India has been the erstwhile Chartered Bank building, which now has a shop selling Chennai silk saris.
One of the most endearing pictures that I remember Klang by is that of a mosque, a church and a temple all present in the same vicinity. The Indian Muslim Mosque is a remembrance of both South Indian and Islam architectures. It is rumoured that the mosque serves biryani during Ramadan. While St Barnabas Church is a modern brick building, it is Sri Nagara Thendayuthapani Temple that draws me in with its colours.
Going into the skyline, this triangular structure is typical of South Indian architecture, and is managed by the influential Chettiyar community. The temple, one of the most beautiful ones, is dedicated to Lord Murugan.
A bit further down the trail is the impact that Chinese traders have left on Klang. The colourful Kuan Yin Temple is one of the most picturesque Buddhist temples I have seen in a long time. The pagoda-style buildings are beset with colours that would dazzle you. Beautiful carvings on the wall will tell you about the life of Confucius and also about Chinese mythology, including dragons.
The central idol is that of Kuan Yin flanked by his loyal attendants, the Jade Girl and the Golden Boy, while the intricate timber carving on the roofs is mesmerising. There's also a small koi garden that has a small tea pavilion sitting right above it.
The skyline of Klang would not have been complete without a Roman Catholic church.
Our Lady of the Lourdes Church is built in a typical gothic style with large windows and coloured glass that throw a lot of colours on the walls of the chapel.
The city of Klang is located at a distance of about 1.5 hour from Kuala Lumpur. It's one place that should definitely be on your itinerary when you visit Malaysia.