Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Penang Hill

By:Afra' Fardillah ZaiMustapar

Having lived in Kuala Lumpur all my life, I was initially somewhat reluctant to leave the big city to pursue my education in a smaller state, namely Penang. I was under the false impression that KL had the best of everything to offer. And so I left with a heavy heart, expecting life in Penang to be boring.

My first weekend on the island changed not only my thoughts, but my heart too. My visit to Penang Hill had me falling in love with Malaysia’s Pearl of the Orient.Penang Hill, also known as ‘Bukit Bendera’, is a hilltop holiday retreat situated 830 meters above sea level. There are several ways to travel to the top depending on the preference of visitors.

I had the privilege of riding a funicular train, the most common mode of transport to the hill station. The train travels at a slow and steady pace through dense vegetation and forests, giving visitors a good opportunity to enjoy the greenery and cool air. Upon reaching Penang Hill, I was at awe over the breathtaking scenery. The morning cloud-like mist still hung in the air and dew formed little droplets on every leaf and flower. Butterflies and dragon flies played happily among the plants, and I even spotted an Asian Fairy Bluebird perched on one of the taller trees. Barely 5 minutes into my visit and I was already blown away by the beauty of it all.

We made our way to the Canopy Walk. It was something I had been very excited about and couldn’t wait to try. After a wabbly few steps on the suspended bridge, I paused to observe the nature around me. From tall trees that formed high canopies to lower vegetation on the ground, everything was a flush of green! The forests had been conserved very well despite the painstaking task of building a bridge from tree to tree. I was at one with nature, a feeling I never got living in the city. Walking around Penang Hill, I learned that Penang Hill was also a heritage site. Buildings on the hill were first built in the early 1800s by the British colonies. The Bel Retiro bungalow on Flagstaff Hill belonging to the then Governor is used till today as a holiday home by the current Governor.

The bungalow has been conserved with little change to its architecture. Several other bungalows belonging to diplomats during the British colonial period have also been preserved. Some of these have been converted into hotels and restaurants where visitors can observe the uniqueness of old buildings and architecture. My trip to Penang Hill was an experience of a lifetime. The ongoing conservation efforts on the hill were an eye opener of just how important nature is to us. Compared to the city, the environment at a site like Penang Hill is surreal.

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