KLANG - I have, in the past, suggested to colleagues in the newsroom that we sign up for the free Royal Klang Heritage Walk over the weekend. Some were kind enough to feign mock interest, but most … well, they shut me up the moment I mentioned the venue.
“Klang? That’s like the other side of the world, dude. What’s there to do there?” someone piped up. But that’s the whole purpose of the trip, I protested – to show that there’s so more to the place than just, er….bak kut teh (pork ribs stew).
Alas, I found myself driving alone to the royal port town one hazy Saturday morning. The guided walk kicked off at 9am from The Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery.
There couldn’t have been a better starting point, really. The itinerary for the day covered various heritage structures and traditional buildings. But the Royal Gallery – housed in the striking Sultan Suleiman Building – has to be, arguably, one of the handsomest colonial buildings around.
Julie Chang, a sprightly woman in her early sixties (or as she jovially points out: “I’m only 26 years old young … in reverse!”) is our guide for the morning.
For Chang, the gallery reflects Klang’s noble status.
“This is a royal town,” she reminds participants as we duly sign a consent form at the start of the tour, “I do hope you will feel the royal presence here.”
“Just be aware of cars when you cross the road. The hand wave you do in KL might not work here,” she humorously adds, a subtle hint that Klang residents subscribe to a different code when it comes to their roads.
The group for the day comprises a miscellaneous bunch – a young Klangite intent on showing off his hometown to an out-of-town companion, a Japanese expatriate couple and a group of friends who call themselves the “Makan Kaki” (loosely translated from Malay to mean “foodie gang”).
“We get about this number of visitors usually,” Chang reveals, referring to the turn-out.
While walk-ins are welcome, most local participants register with Tourism Selangor – joint organisers of these tours with the Klang Municipal Council – by calling 03-5513 2000; foreign tourists are often referred by travel agencies.
After ample explanation about the Selangor sultanate’s genealogy at the Royal Gallery, we make our way to the former Chartered Bank (which the younger generation will remember as the Standard Chartered Bank).
Although the Neo-classical building once housed Klang’s first financial institution (Standard Chartered is, in fact, Malaysia’s first and oldest bank with over 140 years of history), today colourful silk sarees and brassware fill the interior which has been converted into an Indian boutique – Chennai Silk on Jalan Istana. “That over there,” Chang points to a flight of steps, “is completely original. Just imagine English bankers walking up and down them in the past.”
If there’s one thing that doesn’t require much imagination it is the original architecture of the building. While renovations have been made to cater to commercial demands, much of the building has been carefully preserved to uphold its century-old legacy.
The same can be said for the other attractions that span the nearly three-hour walk. Klang takes pride in its storied past, and this is reflected in the preservation of many of its buildings.
The anecdotes that pepper our walk shed light on this busy port town which amongst other things, is, yes, the birthplace ofbak kut teh! But there’s more.
“Malaya’s famous striptease queen, Rose Chan, used to perform here at the Smugglers’ Inn,” our tour guide explains while at the Royal Klang Club, about a 100m walk uphill from the old Chartered Bank.
And over at the Indian Muslim Tengku Kelana Mosque, Chang lets us in on a local secret – the mosque serves the most amazing nasi briyani instead of the conventional bubur lambuk during the holy month of Ramadan.
More than just bits of trivia, the Royal Klang Heritage Walk also grants access to locations that are otherwise out of the public eye. The Royal Klang Club, for instance, shuns non-members.
Another example is the Sri Nagara Thendayuthapani temple. Built by the Nattukottal Chettiar merchants, the ornate place of worship, dedicated to the Goddess Parvathi, is often only visited by select clans in Klang. And on the day of our visit, we are lucky enough to witness prayers being performed.
Another religious institution included on the trail, was the gothic-styled Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Jalan Tengku Kelana, which turned out to be a pleasant visit. The church holds the famous glass panel bearing the purported image of the Virgin Mary that made headlines back in 2012.
For Japanese expat Mayumi Nomura, who took the early train from KL Sentral with her husband so she could join this walk, the various sights and sounds of the town was a welcome change from the bustle of their home in KL.
Mayumi was game to try out a few Malaysian delicacies when the walk reached Tengku Kelana street, or Little India, as it is more commonly called. A cornucopia of Indian snacks and sweets can be found along the rows of narrow antiquated shop houses.
Seasoned structures aside, the trail also showcases the strong sense of community spirit in Klang. At the Victorian-styled Klang Fire Station, the local firemen have taken the initiative to set up a mini gallery in support of the heritage walk. The gallery, while simple, is a heartwarming gesture.
“It’s a good thing they’re doing here and I hope that we’re able to show more of Klang to visitors,” Chang says of those who played a role – from the merchants to relevant tourism bodies – that have helped sustain the walk. The amount of love and effort poured into this trail certainly deserves praise.
We arrive at our final stop for the day – Gedung Raja Abdullah. Built in 1857, this building was first used to store weapons, tin and food, according to tourismselangor.my. The British then converted the warehouse into government offices in 1874. It later became the police station, then a museum, but is now closed for restoration undertaken by National Heritage Department.
“That over there,” she points to a corner coffee shop, Kedai Makanan Seng Huat, after we pass our final stop “is one of the places where you can find the best bak kut teh in town.”