Istana Melawati, Putrajaya

 

Istana Melawati, Putrajaya

Istana Melawati was built around 12 years ago as the Putrajaya residence for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Malaysia’s constitutional monarch).

Since Putrajaya is the nation’s administrative capital, it was no doubt felt appropriate that the monarch should have a palace and royal retreat here.

And a very nice looking palace it is too. It sits on the highest hill in the centre of Putrajaya and enjoys fine views over the city. It is built in traditional Malay style with multi-tiered roofs and three high watch towers.  The complex includes a royal wing (private quarters), a ceremonial reception wing and an administration block.

I get the impression that the palace is not used a great deal except for the occasional official ceremony where a Putrajaya venue is deemed more suitable than the main National Palace in Kuala Lumpur.

If the powers that be ever decide that it is surplus to requirements it would make a very nice resort hotel.

Putrajaya’s Diplomatic Enclave

When the city of Putrajaya was conceived as Malaysia’s administrative capital back in the late 1990s, the master-plan included a diplomatic quarter where it was intended that foreign nations would relocate their embassies, consulates and high commissions from their current locations in Kuala Lumpur.

The Diplomatic Enclave

Putrajaya’s Precinct 15 was earmarked for this purpose – a pleasant area of rolling hills providing fine views over the city. The site was cleared, roads laid out with street lamps, signage, pedestrian crossings and so on. The area was beautifully landscaped with trees and tropical plants and small parks were created so that diplomats’ drivers could doze in the shade while waiting to take their bosses to their next appointment.

Gardeners have to keep the parks tidy even if nobody is living there.

Plots for embassies and residences were allocated and signs put up marking their locations.

Qatar's future embassy.

That was several years ago when suddenly, in the words of Monty Python,  nothing happened.

There was no rush of construction and no flood of diplomats’ children applying for Putrajaya’s only international school, Nexus.

I have been living here for two and a half years and still the Iraqi  Embassy is the only one which has been built and I don’t think even that one is occupied yet.

The soon-to-be Iraqi Embassy in Putrajaya.

Putrajaya Municipality’s website says ‘The heart of the Putrajaya Diplomatic Precinct is its mixed use town centre, which includes retail outlets, restaurants, residential terrace villas, shopping, dining and entertainment outlets, which allow the diplomatic community to intermingle with the locals.’  The mixed use town centre has been built, and quite nicely too, but the shopkeepers there are still waiting for the opportunity to sell to the diplomatic community.

Why is this? Probably inertia coupled with the perception that Putrajaya, being a new city, does not have all the facilities and amenities that diplomatic families are used to in KL. That may be partially true but Putrajaya’s facilities have improved a lot and it is a very nice place to live and its only half an hour’s drive from downtown KL. It is also where the Government has all its ministries including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so diplomats would save a lot of commuting if they lived nearby.

Pakistan High Comission in Kuala Lumpur.

Pakistan's plot in Putrajaya.

The Malaysian government has been more than patient but how to persuade foreign embassies to relocate to Putrajaya without twisting arms which is probably not Malaysia’s preferred style?

My suggestion is that Malaysia should revise the system of issuing Diplomatic car number plates by allocating country code number 1 to the first country to relocate its mission to Putrajaya and number 2 to the second country and so on. This might seem a petty matter, but to the diplomatic world it’s a big deal. Britain for example would be most miffed if it were about to lose its prestigious number 1 code (if indeed it is number 1). Perhaps this might start some frantic relocations to Putrajaya.

The Iraqi ambassador could be 01-01-DC

Health Benefits of Tropical Fruit

Suffering from any ailments? If so, try eating more tropical fruits.

At the Agriculture Heritage Park (Taman Warisan Pertanian) in Putrajaya, Malaysia there is an extensive orchard with a wide variety of tropical fruit trees together with information regarding their supposed health benefits and other uses.

Star Fruit can cure hangovers? Now they tell me!

According to this, mangosteen is the best tasting fruit in the world. I usually end up throwing about half of them away as  they bruise and spoil easily. As for star fruit, the look is better than the taste in my opinion but they seem to have a lot of medicinal benefits.

You don't find many cempedaks in Sainsburys.

Ciku or Sapodila has multiple uses. The fruit is rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants, the seeds when crushed have a diuretic effect and can expel bladder and kidney stones while the bark contains chicle, the main ingredient for chewing gum.

Cempedak is a native Malaysian fruit from the same family as the jackfruit, the main difference being that cempedak grows in bunches whereas jackfruits grow individually. The fruit has medicinal qualities and the tree’s strong timber is used in house and boat-building. Jackfruit timber is used for making furniture and musical instruments.

Pomelos are the largest member of the citrus family and are useful for losing weight as they satisfy hunger and speed up the breakdown of protein and fat. When they are in season you should eat them as often as you can to remain in perfect health.

Rambutan is derived from the Malay word ‘rambut’  meaning hair. I find them very satisfying to peel. Monkeys like them too.

Just about to rain in Putrajaya.

Dragon Fruit have scaly red skin and pink or white flesh with black dots. They are great to look at on the breakfast buffet but the taste usually disappoints (rather bland). But they are high in vitamin C, they can reduce the risk of cancer and treat high blood pressure.

Durian is the most famous of Malaysian fruits due to its powerful aroma, distinctive taste and custardy texture. The famous 19th century naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace said ‘to eat durian is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience’. I agree with him. I love them but they are not everybody’s cup of tea. As you can see from the photo they grow big  and they sprout from the tree already wrapped in plastic bags because they smell so bad!

Longan, also known as mata kucing or cat eye, contains anti-oxidants and apparently can cure snake bites. Not very useful information unless you happen to be carrying a bunch of longan when you get bitten.

Other fruits featured in the park include guava, which has 3 times more vitamin C than an orange,  vitamin A and B, can help treat type-2 diabetes,  inhibit the growth of cancer cells and is good for anti-aging skin care.

Pandanus relieves wind - hence the name?

Apart from fruit trees, the Agriculture Heritage Park has herbs and spices, rubber trees, oil palms and even a mini rice paddy field.

Lemon Grass (serai) is of course famous for dishes like tom yam soup and rendang. No only does it add a delicious flavour, it can treat headaches, rheumatism, sore joints and urinary problems.

Pandanus or screwpine (pandan wangi) is a common food flavouring and colouring in Malaysian  cuisine. It can help to relieve wind and aids digestion problems.

Citronella (serai wangi) is well known as an insect repellent (especially mosquitoes) but it is also a snake repellent. So rub some of this on your body and you won’t need to carry a bunch of longans with you!  Citronella oil can also relieve abdominal pains.

Java Tea or cat’s whiskers (misai kuching)  is a non-descript sort of herb (looks a bit like mint) but it seems to have miraculous qualities. It is claimed to clean blood, treat kidney stones, lumbago, kidney inflammation, fever, diabetes, high blood pressure and urinary problems.

Another miracle plant apparently is Ylang-Ylang (kenanga) , a vine said to be an antibiotic and antiseptic, good for pimples and matte-face, acts an anti-aging agent, can reduce malarial fever, cure asthma and breathing problems. It smells nice too.

So remember, a durian a day keeps the doctor away. It also keeps everyone else away.

This guy has been eating too many pomelos.

Taman Wawasan – Putrajaya

Taman Wawasan with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the hilltop.

I went for a cycle ride in Taman Wawasan the other day. I might have mentioned this place before in an earlier post. It is a pretty park in the centre of Putrajaya. It’s like having my own private park because I am usually the only person there apart from the teams of gardeners from countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Indonesia who keep the park looking pristine.

These friendly gardeners do a great job.

I don’t know why the park is so empty. You would think that hordes of civil servants from the Ministry of Finance next door would come here at lunchtime to eat their sandwiches.  Too hot I suppose.

Empty park benches next to the Ministry of Finance.

I suspect there is not a lot of drama going on at the amphitheatre either. Better to convert it into a rockery.

Friends, Putrajayans, Countrymen lend me your ears.

It is probably time to remove the phone booths now – even I’ve got a mobile phone. The phone companies must be saving millions from not having to maintain call boxes any more.

Redundant phone booths.

The civil servants are missing out on the many exotic plant species found in the park. Here are a few I snapped (I looked up the names in my copy of ‘1001 Garden Plants in Singapore’ so please correct me if I have misidentified them):

These heliconia marginata look like flamingoes.

Heliconia Marginata

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A different type of heliconia – heliconia rostrata.

Heliconia Rostrata

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Spathoglottis plicata or Philippine Ground Orchid.

Spathoglottis plicata

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Lophanthera lactescens. Common name: Golden Chain Tree.

Lophanthera lactescens

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Cochlospermum (said the Chinese fertility doctor to his male patient) religiosum. Known as the buttercup tree among other names.

Cochlospermum religiosum.

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Maniltoa browneoides or handkerchief tree sprouts new growths of leaves which suddenly appear in white bunches.

Maniltoa browneoides

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Ixora ‘Sunkist’. I have some ixora in my garden but not this variety.

Ixora 'Sunkist'

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These would have been lunch if I could be sure they were not poisonous.

Fungus of some sort.

Taman Wawasan is a nice place to spend a couple of hours.

Taman Wawasan, Putrajaya

Putra Mosque – Putrajaya

Putra Mosque, Putrajaya 

Putrajaya’s pink mosque – the Putra Mosque – is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and tourist attractions and I have driven and cycled past it on many occasions. Today I thought I would take a look inside.

Non-Muslims are welcome to visit outside of prayer times provided they are suitably attired. Female tourists are respectfully requested to proceed to the Robe Counter where they are kitted out with fetching pink robes.

Pink robed sightseers.

If anything, the vast interior of the massive mosque is even more impressive than the exterior. The inside of the dome is more beautiful than I expected.

Interior of the dome.

The qibla wall facing the entrance is ornately decorated with verses from the Quran engraved on sumptuous marble.

The qibla wall.

There is a poster near the entrance with a quotation from George Bernard Shaw, the famous Irish playwright, dated 1936 which reads:

If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam.

Given the growth of Islam in the West over recent years, and with 25 years still to go, his prophesy could prove to be more accurate than anybody could have imagined in 1936.

Stain glass windows at Putra Mosque.

Putrajaya’s Museum of Nature

I took a quick look at our local museum the other day, Putrajaya’s Museum of Nature, or Natural History Museum as it is sometimes called.

There is not a great deal to see. Mostly information about endangered Malaysian mammals such as tapirs, tigers, bears and so on together with stuffed specimens so that kids know what they look like ‘in the flesh’ .

Endangered deer at Putrajaya Museum of Nature

I was more interested in the insect section upstairs where they have a number of old fashioned display cabinets containing  somebody’s meticulously mounted and labeled bug collection.

Yellow Umbrella Stick Insect

This colourful chap is called tagesoidea nigrofasciata. The common name is Yellow Umbrella Stick Insect or Yellow Fan Stick Insect. These are native to Malaysia and I see they retail for USD55 on My.Bugs.com.

Moths and moth balls

Curiously, each display case had a small bag of moth balls inside. I always though moth balls were intended to protect our clothing from moths rather than to preserve moths from disintegration!

Putrajaya – Kites and Balloons

There has been more wind and hot air than usual in Putrajaya lately.

First of all in February we had a kite festival.

Putrajaya Kite Festival Feb 2011

Putrajaya Kite Festival 13feb11

Then in March the city hosted the 3rd Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. These balloons below were wearing the faded logos of Dubai Land, DIFC and Al-Tatweer, three Dubai-based entities which have no doubt had to cut back on their marketing budgets following the Emirate’s recent financial setback. Unfortunately I missed the opportunity of photographing the balloon shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet due to heavy rain. Next year perhaps.

Putrajaya Balloon Fiesta 18Mar11

Putrajaya Monorail

When the powers that be were planning the city of Putrajaya (Malaysia’s purpose-built administrative capital) they decided to include a monorail system for intra-city commuters. The network is intended to have two lines, 23 stations and 18 km of track. During the construction phase of the city some of the heavy infrastructure for the monorail was put in place but it was concluded in 2004 that the remainder of the construction should be shelved until such time as the population of Putrajaya could justify the viability of a monorail service.  The city’s population has since grown to around 70,000  but there is no firm news yet on when the monorail will be de-mothballed.

I had a look round the other day to see what infrastructure is already in place. Starting at Putrajaya Sentral, the future monorail station has already been built above the mainline railway station for the KLIA transit service.  The monorail is normally screened off by some hoarding but on this day the cleaners had left the door open so I took a peek inside.

Escalators to monorail platform. 

putrajaya monorail platform and track.

Everything looks neat and well maintained but the tracks do not go far.

End of the line for now. 

The monorail’s handsome suspension bridge is in place.

The monorail bridge.

The bridge to nowhere. 

After the bridge the route disappears underground.

putrajaya monorail 023

I took this photo through the railings. Considering that construction ended 7 years ago, the tunnel looks in good condition. A bit creepy though!

Any creatures living in there?

The tracks are intended to run on the lower deck of the Putra bridge.

 Putra Bridge. The monorail will run under the road.

Monorail signage.

Future station entrance.

Putrajaya is set to reach 150,000 inhabitants in the next 5 years and the eventual  target population is 320,000. Once all the housing units which are currently lying empty, or are nearing completion, are filled up there should be sufficient demand for a monorail service. To improve the utility of the monorail it should be linked up to the planned MRT network so that commuters in nearby towns like Kajang, Puchong, Seri Kembanang and Banggi can travel into Putrajaya on public transport. Neighbouring Cyberjaya should also be linked in.

The supporting cables are pretty big up close.

Putrajaya – Four Parks Walk

Putrajaya, the federal administrative capital of Malaysia and the place I call home, is a green town. Often described as a City in a Garden, around 40% of its 4500 hectare area has been set aside for parks and green spaces. Putrajaya has a population of around 70,000 (planned to increase to 330,000 eventually). During office hours the population surges to 100,000 or so as hordes of civil servants commute into the city from outlying areas. At weekends though the streets are fairly empty and the parks are completely deserted. I don’t know where the 70,000 residents go at weekends – perhaps to the malls – but it seems they are not keen on walking which is a pity because Putrajaya’s parks are very beautiful. Last Saturday I took a circular walk lasting 4 hours which included four of Putrajaya’s many parks. I had the place to myself as usual.

Putrajaya Four Parks Walk

Taman Putra Perdana

This park lies in the heart of Putrajaya on a low hill affording fine views over the city. At the highest point sits the Istana Melawati, a royal retreat for the King and the second-ranked national palace after Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur. The Shangri-La Hotel is located next door.

Istana Melawati atop Taman Putra Perdana Perdana PutraI wish my bougainvilla looked like this. View of the Prime Minister's OfficeThe pink mosque, Putra Mosque

Taman Wawasan

Crossing the Putra Bridge on Putrajaya’s main thoroughfare I was able to stand in the middle of the road to take this photo without fear of being struck by traffic.

Putrajaya's roads are quiet during weekends.

A happy couple in traditional costumes was posing for wedding photos.

Ugh, there's a caterpillar in these flowers!

Leaving the road I entered the second park, Taman Wawasan. This park has plenty of picnic spots, gazebos, jogging tracks, cycle paths and even a pebble beach though I am not sure I would brave enough to swim in the lake having spotted some rather large lizards cruising around.

Looking back towards the Prime Minister's Office. Taman Wawasan

Wisma Putra Pretty pathway Lotus ponds

Taman Warisan Pertanian

Nearby is the Agricultural Heritage Park which highlights the important role agriculture plays in Malaysia’s economy. This is the only park where you have to pay an entrance fee (cheap). The park contains rubber trees, oil palms, coffee, fruit and cocoa trees and has a demonstration of how rubber is produced.

Rubber trees. The food stalls are popular.

At the entrance is an outdoor eating area including a branch of the famous Kajang Satay.

Presint 16 Promenade

Close to the Agricultural Park is the start of the promenade which runs along the lake shoreline all the way back to the Putra Mosque via the Alamanda shopping mall. On some islands in the lake, isolated from humans, live colonies of egrets, night herons, grey herons, green herons, purple herons, cattle egrets, black crown neck herons, painted storks and cinnamon bitterns.

Painted Storks

This group of painted storks seems oblivious to the threat posed by the large monitor lizard behind them. Judging by its fat tummy, perhaps it has already eaten. Or maybe its a female lizard about to lay eggs on the island and the storks are hanging around to dig up the eggs and eat them as soon as the lizard leaves. Who is the predator here?

Don't look now but there's someone behind us!

For information on two more of Putrajaya’s lovely parks, Taman Wetlands and Botanical Gardens, you can take a look at my website http://www.malaysia-traveller.com/national-parks.html

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