Jugra ~ Selangor , Malaysia
In 1905, his dream came to life. Sultan Alauddin remained in residence at Istana Bandar for 35 years. From this palace he governed, received numerous important British and foreign dignitaries, held important official and religious ceremonies, and taught his descendants the strategies of becoming powerful rulers.
The fifth Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Alauddin Sulaiman had a dream. He visualised a big palace made of wood and marble, with fifteen rooms to cater for countless royal functions. He would design for his Queen a spacious and beautiful courtyard where she could repose and enjoy her moment of quietude. He would also need a grand balcony from where he would stand behold, while addressing his subjects. In keeping with Malay architecture, the roofs of the palace would be adorned with trimmings of intricate wooden carvings.
Take your time to dissolve into this realm that Sultan Alauddin had created. Be captivated by its fascinating architecture. There are unmistakable marks of Islamic influence in its aesthetic design - a delightful blend of Indian and Middle Eastern elegance; all this inspired Sultan Alauddin in building his dream palace. Masterful craftsmen from China were shipped in, their skills utilised in the making of wooden carvings, adding a dash of Chinese brilliance in the general overall artistry.
An enfolding atmosphere of romanticism permeates throughout the grounds of Istana Bandar. A huge tree stands guarding the courtyard, magnanimously stretching its arms providing a generous canopy. This rouses visions of the Queen sitting gracefully in a swing strung from a sturdy branch. Ladies-in-waiting gently pushing the swing to sway smoothly and lightly. Before the great Lady, courtiers sit around entertaining her with melodious songs and beautiful smiles.
Wander around the back, and you will find an altogether different domain. This must have been the dominion where the loyal servants reigned. Small rooms with tiny windows for them to bunk in. Spacious long halls for them to dine and mingle. Perhaps to have a game of congkak or may be even checkers. And probably also where senior servants reaffirmed the rules of the House, and disciplined the irresponsible and the neglectful.
Today, Istana Bandar still stands. Regrettably, unlike its glory days, it lives a solitary life, destitute of its genteel inhabitants. Its rooms are quiet and empty. Its grounds no longer hears the sweet serenade of the ladies-in-waiting. Istana Bandar now shares its compound with the Centre for Quranic Studies. It also plays host to the Islamic Department of Selangor. According to a friendly local, during the fasting month of Ramadhan the Sultan returns to Istana Bandar to listen to the recitation of the Quran. Happily, during this holy month, Istana Bandar once again glows as it reminisces the happier memories of days gone by.
Many ships had tried, but all of them failed to reach the beaches that support the elevation which the locals called Cockle Hill. These late19th century navigators had been travelling for weeks along the Straits of Malacca, and each time they closed in, the shores sneakily moved backwards further inland, breaking these mighty armadas to yield frustration. The English wanted no more of this nonsense. So, they constructed a lighthouse on top of Cockle Hill. And from then on, deep in the night, when everything was still and the locals were all snuggled and asleep on their woven mats, a beacon of light would part the darkness looking for ships welcoming them to the shore.
And that is how the legend goes; and it goes on to tell the story of how the hill continued to bleed for 30 long days after the erection of the Sri Jugra Lighthouse. The waters surrounding it assumed the rusty-red colour of the cockles that resided there. Ironically, not long after the incident, the cockle population started to dwindle, and then they all disappeared.
But then again, this is all folklore, romanticised tales to spice up an event. Much of the earlier history of Malaysia was passed on by the 'penglipurlara' or storytellers. They frequented little villagers to update the people on important affairs. The more colourful the story was, the greater the crowd he would gather. Thus, his tales needed to be exciting. And never mind if it blurred the line between reality and fiction. And that is just why the coastal land could be cheeky and unwelcoming,, and the cockles all died away without any logical explanation. After all, isn't inexplicable tales part of the mystification surrounding all legends.
Not all who visit Bukit Jugra are there for the exercise though. Young girls and their boyfriends, while on their brief recess from looking into each other's eyes, throw their glance away to admire the spectacular view of the Langat River that cleaves the lowlands, winding and curling as it meanders sinuously to converge with the river mouth. Nowhere else can Selangor boast a peak from which one can be inspired by such a spectacular landscape. Its picturesque panorama stretching into the horizon, reaching mountainous divides, and transgressing beyond the Straits of Malacca, and at times almost into oblivion.
If you are planning to venture into the unbridled Bukit Jugra, be prepared to lose some centimetres off the sole off your shoes from all that walking, be blown away by the sprawling scenery, and perhaps lose a few ringgit on the purchase of water and refreshments. Expect activity, because the main attraction here is just that; and this pretty much rules out a social call to see the master, the immortal lighthouse. Within its compound, all is unmoving, somewhat idle. Everything is silent. Only, and only if you listen hard enough, you might just hear the quiet and unimposing humming the lighthouse makes as its light goes round and round in a circular motion, day and night, night and day. A lonesome edifice, solitary and isolated within its neat compound that welcomes no visitors.
Village Life at Jugra
Cradled within the bosoms of its hills, Jugra suckles its population with the natural bounty that abounds within it. Tall swaying coconut trees line many parts of its ten foot wide roads; and, at some particular belt, the locals have decided that banana trees would best assume this role instead. Hill slopes are dominated by trees bountiful with fruits: durians, rambutans, oil palm, and even the bitter jering. Men on their 15 year old motorbikes would stop by the roadside to fill their woven baskets with the fruits of their labour. In someone else's orchard, young boys contemplate mischief as they surveyed the trees for fruits that they can run away with.
In this part of Jugra, the natives still reside in quaint wooden houses. They wake up with the crows, feed the fowl, and chase the neighbour's rooster out of their compound. Just like it was decades ago, the ladies would leave the bath area in their *kembans to hang their laundry out in the backyard. Aroma wafting out from the kitchen promises homecooked food that is quadruple as nice from what you will find in the city. This is the life.
In little villages around Malaysia, people are a lot warmer and welcoming. In Jugra, if you lose your way, you are sure to find a helpful and approachable soul to point you in the right direction. In fact, they might just do more than that. Ask one question, and they may reward you with an answer worth tenfold the value of your query. Jugra is located on royal grounds. Once, this was the valley of the kings. Once, this was the land where lay the throne of the Sultan of Selangor, where the Sultan declared important and momentous rulings and proclamations. The people of Jugra have not forgotten this. Sharing a trifle bit of information about Jugra with a wanderer is their way of telling you that they have not forsaken their pride for their heritage and ancestry. So, don't forget to be extra courteous. For you may well be talking to a very important dignitary.
*kemban. a sarong wrapped around the wearer's body leaving the shoulders bare. In the olden days, the only place where women could be seen (and only if you were a peeping tom) attired in this way was by the river, away from the eyes of men, where they washed their clothes and bathed. Once their chores were done, they would cover themselves in modest, acceptable attire and return home. Their chastity remained intact.
Mausoleum of Sultan Abdul Samad
Up, on top of another hill, overlooking a quiet village, drones a hive of activity. Above, on the bows of a tree, there are squirrels performing daredevil acrobatic acts, and capricious Philippine glossy starlings gleefully outdoing one another, flitting about from branch to branch, busily feasting on the bounty that nature offers. Yet, in spite of it all, tranquillity abounds.
This queer eccentric marriage of calmness and nervousness penetrates through the entire compound where lie the final resting berths of the departed monarchs of Selangor, each sharing an eternal space with other members of the family. There they rest in neat rows. Some more privileged than others, where their resting places are exclusively theirs and are respectfully insulated with thick bricks emphasising their superiority.
The late Sultan Abdul Samad enjoys the greatest reverence of all. He lies asleep in a brick house fashioned like a mini mosque, roofed with a golden yellow dome to mark his royalty, granted with a spacious veranda to greet his guests. Death does not discriminate the Sultan from being tended and waited. A caretaker minds his little palace, and occasionally entertains the queries and curiosities of the Sultan's visitors.
It is not difficult to lose yourself here. You can stand under one of the big trees and simply shut your eyes and breathe in the fresh aristocratic air. The canopy will shelter you from the sun and heat. A constant gentle and unimposing breeze will keep you company as you wander on effortlessly in your thoughts.
Yet, for all the peace and quiet, and its all-over inspirational setting, it is in all essence a graveyard on high grounds. So, what better place there is to park yourself under that tree and enjoy a book for a few more hours, before the sun sets on the other side of the hill.
The Deer Park
So, you have done the right thing by paying your respects to the dead. It would be a good time to head for the foot of the same hill where you will come to a charming enclosure. This is by no means just an ordinary park. This was a pet project of the late Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Salahuddin.
According to the villagers, the late Sultan used to frequent this park to meet his favourite deer, Awang. So attached was Awang to the Sultan that when the Sultan departed, Awang refused any food or nourishment, which led him to embark on a journey of his own to join his beloved master not long after.
Apart from Awang, numerous deers of various breeds, shades and sizes mingle freely, sharing the same food trough. Here, birds of a feather flock with those of other plumes; swans both black and white, peacocks be it white or colourful, ostriches, egrets and pelicans.
Here is also what seems to be a meeting place of the young people of the kampung. In the evenings, teenagers alight their bicycles and squat down in a single file (with their backs against the road) facing the high fencing of the park. They chat. They exchange gossips. They talk about matters of the heart that only teenagers would understand. It is not the least surprising if they find this to be their happy place. The late Sultan has bestowed upon them something that no other kid can boast of, a deer park within their own little Jugra.