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Fortress of Seoul

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An ancient map of Seoul.

When dynasties once ruled the empire of Goryeo (what Korea was named once), kings were born & thrones were fought for. King Taejo Yi Seonggye declared a new dynasty in 1392 under the name of Joseon, thus reviving an older dynasty also known as Joseon that was founded four thousand years previously and renamed it to “Kingdom of Great Joseon”. He established himself a palace, known as Gyeongbokgung which served as the main palace for successor Kings of the Joseon dynasty and their households until it was systematically destroyed & burnt to ruins during the Japanese invasion. Restoration & reconstruction work began after it was left derelict for centuries & it stands as the most beautiful & the grandest of all five palaces in Korea today.

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Walking alongside the fortress.

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The old & new stone blocks as part of the restoration process.

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Taejo’ is a temple name, a posthumous title used for Chinese, Korean & Vietnamese royalty. Chosen to reflect the circumstances of the emperor’s reign, it means ‘ancestors.’ In Korea, temple names are used to refer to Kings in the Goryeo & Joseon dynasties.

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One of Gyeongbokgung’s grand entrances.

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The palace was not the only grand structure he built. The foresight of King Taejo who was once a General of the army of the dynasty he overthrew, knew the grandeurs of a kingdom should be demarcated by a structure around the city he ruled. He wanted to build a fortress. He decreed & enlisted the service of one hundred ninety seven thousand four hundred (197,400) young men around the country over two years to participate in the erection of an 18 kilometre fortress with four main gates and four auxiliary gates that fell in line with the Chinese cardinal directions of East, South, West, North. They are Heunginjimun (East Gate), Sungnyemun (South Gate), Donuimun (West Gate) and Sukjeongmun (North Gate) with the East & the South gates being designated as National Treasures today. The fortress took 30 years to complete.                 
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Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty.

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The Throne Room.

King Taejo designated an auspicious day for the groundbreaking ceremony on 1 January 1396. The fortress was completed in 98 days after the war along the mountains of Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. The wall contained eight gates, all of which were originally constructed between 1396 and 1398. He ordered for the stones to be inscribed with the names of the county and prefecture responsible for constructing a given wall section, as well as the name of that section, while in the mid-Joseon, they were marked with the names of the supervisors and lead technicians, and the construction date. The inscribed stone blocks in the photo below, can be seen outside the wall, at the end section of the Naksan Trail.

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Mayor Park arriving at the start of the tour.

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Mayor Park elaborates on the history of the Fortress.

There are six walking courses or trails you can do, the Baegaksan/Bugaksan Trail, the Naksan Trail, the Namsan Trail, the Inwangsan Trail, Heunginjimun Trail & Sungnyemun Trail. We were taken on a journey along the Naksan Trail by the Mayor himself, Mr. Park Won Soon, who’s fondly loved by the people of Seoul for his candour & spontaneity. We walked along the path parallel to the section of the wall that cordoned off Ihwa Mural Village from the ‘’outer city’, marvelling at the artists who painted the stairways & walls of this village with vibrant murals, thus enlivening the place. We passed these colourful expressions either adorned with paint or mosaic-plastered on the riser of the staircase making the vertical hike not so challenging. This village was once left out in the urbanisation process, used to be seen as a backward neighbourhood but a collaboration between the public, cultural artists, the metropolitan government and the residents turned Ihwa-dong into a vibrant art village.

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Despite the fact that he overthrew the dynasty of Goryeo, and purged officials who remained loyal to the old regime, King Taejo Yi Seonggye was very much regarded as a revolutionary and a decisive ruler who deposed the inept, obsolete and crippled governing system to save the nation from many foreign forces and conflicts. His sons of different wives, fought & killed each other in a preemptive move after the death of his beloved second Queen (wife). While he was still mourning, he crowned his second son to be king but 2 years later, this King voluntarily abdicated it to his brother, Yi BangWon, who became King Taejong, the one who rightfully deserved the throne as he had demonstrated the best potential of a good ruler even during his father’s reign.

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An artisan in the village who specialises in tie-dye artwork.

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The artisan explains the colouring process.

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The Joseon period has left an indelible mark on modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues. A substantial legacy was left to the Koreans of today, with much of the modern Korean language and its dialects derived from the culture and traditions of Joseon.

This fortress, even with some parts of it torn down in the city’s development process, significant parts had been preserved as a historical reminder of the dynasty that influenced the culture of Koreans today. It has in the running to be listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site by 2017.

What else can you do in Seoul? Gwangjang Market food experience, silver ring smithing & kimchi making workshop in the next post as I bring you other hidden treasures!

For more information, go to Seoul Tourism’s official page of the Fortress here and download your guide book! http://bit.ly/1gc6iJl
To download the English version, you need to view the site in Korean to get to the download section because the English section of the guide book doesn’t work. I’ve simplified the process for you by including the direct download link here:- http://bit.ly/1IuQ88R

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Arriving in Kunming, Dali & Erhai Village, China in 24hours

As far as my eyes could see out of the little pane on my window seat, we were descending into a mountainous region. Whatever I’ve seen in paintings of old China plastered on the wall of coffeeshops as I was growing up actually reflected what was before me. Landing in Kunming, Yunnan, China, my 12 day trip began. The superfluous road journey was enough to set my hip off if it weren’t for the BackJoy Posture+ seat that I had lugged along. Absolutely necessary for long car rides. Each day, we travelled between 150 – 350km, stopping along the way for scenic spots & photo opportunity. Given the chance, I would have loved to stay put longer in one place to experience the culture & life of the people.

Our first stop was at ErHai Fishing Village, a lake that the Chinese term as the sea for the never-ending sight of the horizon. Not getting much sleep from the night before when we arrived at The Ancient City of Dali (Dali Gusheng), I woke up to a temperatures too low for my liking. A cotton-loving girl donned in Uniqlo HeatTech, fleece & technical jacket is hardly anything to marvel at. I saved my waterproof ski pants for the coldest sector of my journey…….Yading, in Sichuan near the Himalayas.

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At dawn, these boats are parked by the lakeside.

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Boats parked.

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Fisherfolks row out to haul in the catch.

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Wheat clusters left by the road.

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Mode of transport for the village folks.

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Taking out the vermicelli noodles at the factory.

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Noodles hanging out to dry.

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Garbed in balaclava, beanie & hooded jacket.

This was our first stop on our long & arduous journey to Yading Nature Reserve. On the bus, there were 12 other photographers & an MPV with 6 people plus the driver. Travelling 350km upon arrival in the evening was anything but nice. The fun only began on the 3rd day when I was accosted by Leong Taoping (Long Bean Army as I called him) and the demure but bean-bashing, Angela.

Visiting Kuala Lumpur’s Colourful Past

The Chinatown walking tour is one of the most enlightening tours of Kuala Lumpur that you can be in. Arriving at the meeting point for the Rakan KL’s 2-hour tour, I had just picked up Wolfgang from KL Sentral where he had just landed from Italy! Entering an old hotel and walking along the buildings on the streets that have somewhat lost its lustre, I looked at what will be demolished in due time for the erection of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) in the area. It was interesting to note that before Pudu Jail, there predates it was a smaller prison that sits on Jalan Panggong (Theatre Street) where arts & culture once thrived. This street served as the centre of entertainment & cultural development of sorts from street arts to opera. A few legacy shops selling artistic wares still exist today but for how long, we don’t know.

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We continued to venture with the guidance of the prominent artist, Victor Chin & environmental guardian, Adrian Yeo & his team to the back lanes where we got the chance to enter a house that resembled a ‘secret society’s den’ in the heydays. It looked like a clan house. The doors had vertical bars as barriers, something that you don’t see in modern architecture anymore. Then we stopped for a mid-morning snack where I had a bowl of yee mee for breakfast & a generous handful of spongerusks that Victor handed out. I forgot what it was like savouring the flavours of Petaling Street where my late mother frequented when I was growing up. Four generations of my family have lived & breathed the air of the confluence of two rivers, known as Kuala Lumpur & never before have I felt so depressed about the lost of a heritage site. Sitting by the sidewalk is an gentleman of Indian heritage who came here as a boy at 5 years of age. Today, he 58 years old. He sells sundries, newspapers & magazines for as long as he had been there.

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Walking further along the street heading to Chin Woo Stadium, I got to see the art along the side walls of Yan Keng Benevolent Dramatic Association. Here is where a prominent tailor, Kwong Fook Wing, made his royal commissions. The KL Commercial Book Store is also situated here. After the final stop at Chin Woo Stadium, the highest point in Kuala Lumpur city, we made our way to lunch in a backstreet restaurant before parting ways. It is reported that one is able to look directly at Bukit Aman police headquarters where before it wasn’t possible during the British occupation in Malaya!

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What To Find While Birding in Kuala Selangor

This month, Tourism Selangor takes us to celebrate the return of migratory birds & explore the resident species that make homes in the entire state. Migratory birds use the mangroves and coastal areas around Kuala Selangor as a transit area to feed and rest before continuing on their journey down south, much like a rest & relax area for birds! Kuala Selangor Nature Park has been designated as an Important Birding Area (IBA) – in compliance with internationally set criteria by BirdLife International. What can you find in this huge park? Let me take you to the permanent inhabitants……

Before you go, here are the list of things that you must carry on you when you set out on the long walk. You are not adviced to go if you don’t have these things on you.

  • Insect repellent <– compulsory. Midges will get you otherwise. These are nastier than mosquitoes & they come in swarms. Preferably, wear long sleeves or you will be considered as one with the colony of monkeys nearby.
  • Hat. The sun has no mercy. Stay cool & stay in the shade. Machismo can’t take you far in this park. Use a brolly if you have to. There are camouflage collapsible ones sold in tactical shops to prevent you from sticking out like a sore thumb as you wait for the birds.
  • Polarised sunglasses. <– you will need this to prevent you from squinting the whole day. Go to Peak Vision Optics & get yourself a pair of Cocoons.
  • Drinking water. <— compulsory. When you find a bird stalking a prey, you wouldn’t want to run back to the park office to get something to quench your thirst.
  • Batteries for all gadgets. Your phone, your camera, GPS, torch, whatever you need to power up everything for you to document the journey (of birds).
  • Portable/handheld fan. You will thank me for this.
  • Camouflaged attire or any green, brown or khaki coloured clothing will help you blend into the surroundings & get nearer to the birds.
  • Folding chair to rest at will. 🙂

Leave word with your friends & the park ranger of your expected time of return. They will send for a search party if you are caught ogling at birds longer than you should. We set off early in the morning to get there after breakfast. The loop around the wetlands is several kilometres long but you will see plenty if you keep your eyes peeled. The only migrants who arrived sooner than expected were the Blue Tailed Bee Eaters.

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Blue Tailed Bee Eaters. I think they were having a bit of a domestic quarrel here!

Walking along the fringe of the mangrove, we spotted a huge bird lying on the ground. When we got closer, it flew to the nearby trees, settling just above our eye level. It was a huge Crested Serpent Eagle! We had a good 20 minutes shooting it at all lighting conditions & angles never thought possible. A Black Naped Oriole was consistently attacking it to chase it away from its nest, assumed to be nearby. The eagle didn’t budge until it spotted a bigger morsel further into the jungle.

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Soaring above us was a White Bellied Sea Eagle, taken here just after a successful hunt. The fish it caught in its talons was a sizeable one! We weren’t really looking up into the sky if we weren’t having a break & thankfully, I had the camera ready. They will usually give out a shrill but most come unannounced when they hunt.

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Us taking a break in the shade while waiting for the kingfisher.

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Flying Lizard (Cicak Kubing)

Birds are not the only kind of wildlife we see in the park. There are Flying Lizards too! When we went up to a watchtower, we got to capture a few woodpeckers looking for worms in the woods.

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Spending a good 5 hours at the park & returning with all these beauties in our memory cards was all we came after. On the way back, we were treated to another session of birding when we saw a tree filled with nests that turned out to be Baya Weavers’ nests. Treading carefully & slowly, I was able to film one doing the deed! See video here:-

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They are normally built on the same tree.

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Closer look at the nest.

Coming away with a few residents & one migrant specie in my list is a great boon to come back again & again. More birds will be arriving in these shores as December approaches so it’s the best time to be watching them at Kuala Selangor Nature Park! Don’t forget that list of things to bring!

To get there, you can take the bus or taxi but it’s more advisable to drive.

(Taken from Wikipedia)
Visitors can board Selangor Bus No. 141 from Medan Pasar Bus Hub in Kuala Lumpur. The bus departs half-hourly from KL between 6.30am and 7.30pm, and takes 2 hours (++) to reach the bus terminal at Bandar Malawati, Kuala Selangor. (The last bus for the return trip from Kuala Selangor to KL is at 7.45pm) The one-way fare is RM7.30. The bus hub is about 100m north of Central Market. From Masjid Jamek LRT, walk 100m southeast along Jln Tun Perak before turning right into Lebuh Ampang. After walking another 100m, you will see the bus shelter next to a grey “clock tower” in the small square.

Directions from Bandar Malawati Bus Terminal: The terminal is in Bandar Malawati, which is about 1km southeast of the town centre. You can then take a RM5 taxi ride / local bus to the town centre of Kuala Selangor (alternatively you can take a 15-20min walk). [The bus terminal is also served by Cityliner buses from Klang]

It’s a one hour journey by cab. The cab might also not be able to pick up a passenger on the way back, so expect fares to be high. For comparison, the distance from KL to KLIA is about 80km and a one hour journey. Taxis typically want RM 70 for a trip to the airport. So you would expect something similar, or higher for this trip. You might be able to negotiate a good deal if you book the taxi for a return trip.
Hourly hire rates for a small taxi (red/white) is about RM35 an hour if you would like to book one for the duration of the trip.

If you drive, set your GPS to Kuala Selangor Nature Park & navigate your way there! I use Waze, available on iPhone & Android.

Independence Day 2012

At India’s 66th Independence Day celebrations on 15 August, I met some incredible people like Uma Pushpanathan, the talented & award winning dancer Ramli Ibrahim, artist Siva & Miles, the Australian High Commissioner & his lovely wife. Uma talked about her involvement in dignifying the charity-giving of essentials through a card that they go to the grocers with. Recipients of this aid can use the card to ‘purchase’ items on the list for a specified time each month. I asked her if she can obtain help for some of the hardcore poor communities that Caring Communities is working with & she was all for it. How timely to be meeting the right people at the right time.

In all of the events, I always get to enjoy the delicious Indian food served & that night was particularly good because the catering had a whole roast lamb & a huge fish on the platter. This just means that I would have to cycle an additional 10km each time & take a different route home to work off the weight to allow me more for each function!

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Taken with my host, the Indian High Commissioner His Excellency Mr. Vijay Gokhale.

On the home front, I spent Merdeka Eve (30 August) cycling to Merdeka Square & back, had supper with a group of people & headed home at 3am only to wake up at 7:30am to get ready to cycle to Petaling Street for the Merdeka Festival 2012 where I bade farewell to Yook Woo Hin Restaurant with my last order for the century. They closed after lunch on 31 August, to make way for the MRT project. This was the dim sum place that my grandpa & parents brought me to as a kid & I sat there reminiscing my childhood as I waited for my lunch for more than an hour. The hive of activity came to a halt when patrons finished up & vacated the restaurant. I was all morose & upset. Upset because I couldn’t come here anymore to savour their morning dimsum & morose because it was a childhood experience.

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Truly, the last order……
Thanks to Victor Chin, the renown artist of heritage buildings, who informed me about the event, I was able to make time to be a part of this festival of saying goodbye. I took a photograph with Madam Mooi, the daughter in law of the founder of the restaurant after chatting with her. She’s 82 years old! After circumventing the place with Aziz, Yoo Yee, a China Press journalist whom we met there & Felix who cycled all the way from Wangsa Maju, I was ready to go home. After 55 years of independence, I really wonder what we will achieved by removing heritage businesses & buildings……..

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St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sharm El-Sheikh

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If visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site is on your list to do when you visit Eqypt, then make a trip to St. Catherine’s monastery & catch a glimpse of Moses’ burning bush & the well of his destiny at Mount Sinai! It’s located a few hours away by road from Sharm El-Sheikh. We got off on foot after trailing across mountain ranges to get to St. Katherine city to see the place where Moses purportedly met with God.

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Opposite the monastery….

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The view on the road to the mountain was breathtaking to say the least, I was blown away by the terrain & vastness of the dry desert. It was in December when I visited Sharm El-Sheikh & it was a good 10?C. Reaching 1500m above sea level, we got down to walk the rest of the way to the monastery from the parking area. I had to climb a monstrous mountain to take a picture of the monastery! In my Crocs!

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At the base of the rocky range, vendors sell their wares along a row of little shops. It’s interesting to see & not be able to buy as I’m already over-weighted with all that I had to bring on my journey to Sharm El-Sheikh. The drive kept me in awe & seeing the size of the ranges up close truly made me marvel at what God can do. We went inside the monastery but many areas were cordoned off, sparking my curiosity to break in ala Tomb Raider style. I wasn’t dressed for the part neither did I have my cloak of boldness worn when I went pass the fortress. Still, I’m sure I would have headed straight for the kitchen if I were allowed to roam.

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My fascination for animals & especially animals I hadn’t seen before, was quite apparent judging by the expressions I got from my subject & the people around me. This camel was rather cautious as I pointed my camera at him. And camels sleep with their entire neck & head lying on the ground! I also learnt that walking on these pebbly & sandy ground is rather uncomfortable. Be sure you have the right kind of shoes when traversing hard terrains & wear socks to cushion impact. Wearing a hat helps & be sure to have polarised sunnies.

I flew to Sharm El-Sheikh with Emirates Air with one stopover in Jordan. Once you have your ground arrangements taken care of, getting there is a breeze with the many airlines that fly to Sharm El-Sheikh.

The monastery is Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report, this monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world together with the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, which also lays claim to that title.

Cherish Whats Left of Our Cities

Some of the issues I have had to deal with in my line of work are not your day to day operational issues where you can summon help from your peers, colleagues or subordinates. I get calls for help. Calls of distress. Calls of emergency nature that sometimes, I think I need to be equipped with not just a boat, a tent & a rations bag but a comprehensive first aid kit that includes a plaster big enough to cover hurts & an automated defibrillator to stun guilty parties out of their stupidity. And I’m licensed to use one. I train people to use them too. (Don’t try it on stupidity, it might backfire on you.) With so much happening, cycling & photography have become my best pastime.

Emergencies aside, I did find the time to board the KTM train to Klang for the Tourism Selangor Day Out on the 26 May 2012 for the Selangor Heritage Photo Trail & exhibition beneath the Klang City Bridge. Meeting Dian, Nigel, Hannah & David again was good as we explored a bit of the town to bring you the old charms of the place. David broke his leg when he jumped onto the boat fully kitted up & out of disbelief, I laughed out loud. I couldn’t believe it. Get well soon, David! LOL! Sorry, I always look at the brighter side of things, not laughing at your misfortune but at how it could happen to you! 😀

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We went into an old antique shop where I found an old pair of rollerskates amongst the knick-knacks that you won’t find anymore. There was an old ID card dated back in1894!

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Old radios, photos of yesteryears & even a magazine with the dashing young P.Ramlee were for sale. (Pictures above were taken with the Samsung Galaxy S3.)

Taking a walk around the shops was interesting because we came by many florists that had many kinds of fake flowers for decoration.

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The competition was launched by YB Elizabeth Wong, who was as usual, super punctual for the function.

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The event drew many studios, photography buffs & models who were dramatically made up to don on the Mardi Gras costumes.

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I never thought water meters were this artistic. I want the pink one…..where can I find it?

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Seeing veteran citizens using the bridge with their classic bicycles brought back nostalgic past of this town. We hardly see any old folks using the bikes in Kuala Lumpur any more. I had to ask if it was ok for me to take a snapshot of him!

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And I’m glad I got to be a part of this historical event under this bridge on that day, and was told that one of my photographs won the #TSDayOut Shot of The Day Competition! Thank you, Tourism Selangor!

All pictures here were taken using the Samsung NX200 unless stated otherwise.

The Selangor Heritage Trail on Wheels™ Event on Boxing Day

This post appeared first on Detours US blog under the Ambassador Program of which I had become a part of. Detours is the maker of bike bags in the USA. You can see it here.

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Selangor Heritage Trail on Wheels was a cycling event that took approximately 100 cyclists to get to know the historical sites & places with heritage value at Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB), Selangor, Malaysia. We went to recce the places & earmarked them to let participants experience the splendour of that destination on bicycles! An initiative effort by the state government of Selangor under the Tourism & Environment portfolio of YB Elizabeth Wong, the Head of Tourism Executive Committee, we collaborated with the Hulu Selangor Town Council (Majlis Daerah Hulu Selangor or MDHS) to bring cyclists & cycling enthusiasts together to participate in a non-competitive, non-race event to seek out the heritage trail with a map on a route led by authorities.

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Traffic Police Station.
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How it looked like in the old days. It was once a church!

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Group photo with Well Tan (in white top to the left of person in black shirt) & her darling riders.

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So many foldies!!!

Recognising the need to reduce our carbon footprint, we designated two segments of the program for that day, one being the main trail in town, the other being the adventure trail to see the historical broken dam of Ampang Pecah, the Masjid (mosque), the Chinese & Indian temples located just outside of KKB town. The dam that collapsed in 1884, was responsible for flooding the old town of Kuala Kubu, causing the death in untold numbers, one of the reasons why they moved the old town that’s now submerged, to the new site called Kuala Kubu Bharu. There are a few churches in town & a lot of interesting eateries that have been around for ages. There’s a little quaint restaurant that used to serve chilled herbal tea in brandy bottles & ordering them is equally fun!

The cook in the kitchen of Teo Kee Restaurant at Big Tree in front of the post office in KKB.

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The heritage spots.

The route promised to be exciting with a famous Butter Sponge Cake shop as one of the stops & a police station that was formerly a church. Riders went to all the spots encompassing a 25km loop with a stop at a broken dam & a hot spring. At the end of the event, I was asked to do a similar event in a different district & it looks like the heritage trail will soon go places!

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Ampang Pecah, the broken dam.

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King George Monument

The town has a cycling lane, an effort to get citizens back to riding bicycles but the route of the heritage trail covered everywhere else.

I managed to get Folding Bike Trading to be the official supporting bicycle shop to standby with technical support for the cyclists & Lafuma as the sponsor of discount vouchers for the goodie bags. Even breakfast & lunch were catered for together with a lorry load of fruits (durians, dukus & rambutans) for the cyclists to feast on!

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Cyclists in full coloured fashion!

We asked the ladies to come dressed in their most fashionable attire as riding is not just about racing but about looking good on your bike! We wanted them to come accessorised with gadgets & bags too! Then we asked the men to come in anything but racing outfit. The photo opportunity depicted them in cool attire rather than in competition vests. They redefined Sightseeing on Wheels! The launch was officiated by the President of the town council, two Members of Parliament & head of police in the district & we had a bike acrobat to perform some really cool stunts that put people half his age to shame. 70+years Ramanathan did some calisthenics & balancing act on his bike to the stunned audience before the ride.

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Flag off!

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Bike acrobat & riding around the block.

As the country was developed without the cyclist in mind, we are helping the state gazette cycling lanes to make the roads safer to ride in & create any event that will bring cyclists together in numbers. Working with local councils who are all for the idea is a great experience & nothing beats the thrill of riding in the countryside discovering new places & finding food along the way. Follow my journey as we convince others to get on the bike again!

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Yours truly having a picture taken with YB Elizabeth Wong!

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Hot spring – a soak after a cool dip at the dam….