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City of Kings

TRAVEL: Visit Malaysia’s federal administrative centre, Putrajaya, on a Sunday, and you are reminded of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”


By Alasdair Forbes

Friday 11 November 2011, 04:27PM


Visit Malaysia’s federal administrative centre, Putrajaya, on a Sunday, and you are reminded of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Visit Malaysia’s federal administrative centre, Putrajaya, on a Sunday, and you are reminded of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

The irony in the poem is that this is the inscription on a plinth for a giant, broken statue in a city that has long since disappeared under the sands.

Unlike most cities that grew from villages to towns and then kept on going, Putrajaya is on the list of instant government centres that includes Brazilia, Canberra and, most recently, Naypyidaw, which is currently under construction in Myanmar.

Practical reasons are always cited for these places, that the old capital suffers from gridlock, floods, earthquakes, lack of room to expand and so on – but almost always the driving force is a politician with grandiose ideas and a desire to leave large physical reminders of his time in power.

Enter Malaysia’s former PM Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, the force behind the building of the Sepang F1 course, the Petronas Towers (still the tallest twin towers in the world), and Putrajaya, 25km outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur. While KL serves as the capital city, Putrajaya is the administrative capital.

Putrajaya is big. It covers 45 square km and officially came into being 10 years ago when the land was ceded by the State of Selangor to the federal government. As part of the deal, the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, was built a palace in Putrajaya.

The city was carefully planned, with the local river being dammed to create artificial lakes. The largest of these, Putrajaya Lake, was the 2004 venue of a race in the F1 Powerboat Championships.

Around the edges of the city are homes for Malaysia’s thousands of civil servants who work in the area, ranging from modest blocks of apartments to rather grand mansions.

Closer in are giant hotels, banks and the offices of Malaysia’s major corporations.

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But even these seem insignificant when one takes a ride down Persiaran Perdana, the city’s main throughfare. The road itself is vast: it’s 100 metres wide (as wide as a football pitch is long) and four kilometres long, as straight as an arrow, with the UFO-shaped International Convention Centre at one end and the huge Islamic-Palladian-Neoclassical Perdana Putra, the PM’s office complex at the other.

It’s worth taking it slow along the boulevard. Stop to admire the Masjid Putra, the large but beautiful pink mosque; feel the weight of Malaysian justice outside the Palace of Justice with its five onion-shaped domes; but above all, admire the nine bridges in Putrajaya.

The brief to the designers was to go out on a limb and come up with original designs. Hence, they range from the massive three-deck Putra Bridge, with one deck apiece for monorail, cars and pedestrians, to the delicate cable-stayed Seri Wasawan Bridge, resembling a yacht with spinnaker flying.

Putrajaya not only projects the power of the Malaysian government and Dr Mahathir, but also Islam. There are no churches, Indian or Chinese temples in this federal capital of a multicultural and multiracial nation. Nevertheless, it is rather serene, and very grand.

Go at the weekend when the government offices are all closed, and it resembles a vast lost city, the only people in evidence being rubberneckers like yourself – hopefully not a portent of some distant future.

Getting there: A taxi from central KL costs about RM50 (about B500). Alternatively, the KLIA light rail goes through Putrajaya on its way to KL International Airport. Bus tours can also be booked through most hotels.



 

 

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