Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lebuh Ampang/Brickfields/Little India - A slice of India in KL

It was close to 2p.m when we unwinded our city tour at KL tower.  We had decided to go to Putra Jaya but then hunger drove us  to  Little India( LI also called Lebuh Ampang). Our Oriya friend who is a hardcore non-vegetarian did not like to eat in Malaysian joints/hotels  so he and his wife too joined us.  He also said his Malaysian friend had referred him to a place called Honey fa’s(that is how i interpreted)  in Little India which stocked varieties of  chocolates and other things at economical rate.  So, that was reason enough to head to LI -  food, shopping and also the curiosity to see India in a foreign land.  
We  decided not to take a cab and so promptly got dropped at Imbi station. It was 2.30  when we started our exploration using maps, pointers and manual  guidance. At the ticket counter we were told we had to take a monorail to a station Hung tuah and then change  to LRT to Masjid jamek to go to little india.
 Just the previous day, I was watching  monorails from my hotel window, the little multicolored coaches  which are slightly longer than a bus and the way they cling to the rails and move is a sight worth watching. And there I was in it,  taking my first monorail ride.
 (image courtesy: google) Ain't it cute? it comes in multi colors
We got down at Hung tuah and changed over to  LRT. The LRT took us to Masjid Jamek. By then it was past 3. All of  us were energy drained but we walked down the stairs on to the road asking for Saravana Bhavan. Suddenly, I sighted Anjappar at the corner of an intersectional  road. (a famous chettinad restaurant in India known for chettinad dishes).  All of us were glad to see Indian food menu( although it serves non-veg too). The food served in typical tamil style vazhelai sappadu( plaintain leaf meals) and also I enjoyed talking in tamil to the hotel staff. Our friends were also happy with the choice and taste of food.
After lunch,  when I stepped outside the hotel, I was stumped!!!  
Was I in India or KL?  It was like a typical Indian street  with open markets and little stores. Such sights are rare even in Modern India now .
 We walked past all those Indian hotels where punjabi "khana" and tamil “saapadu” was served. Some hotels even advertised as food cooked  by Brahmin chefs. We strolled past the many stores selling jewellery, CD's, novelties, pooja items, Indian wear, tailoring for Indian wear,  money exchange shops etc.The ground floor were  shops while  residential houses at the top  reminded me of  houses around mada veedhi( near temple) around mylapore in chennai.
Like most places, this place has an  history. After a massive fire which destroyed the wooden malay houses in 1880. An English man by name Frank Swettenham decided to build buildings with bricks. Initially bricks were imported, later they decided to make their own bricks and allocated this place for brick kilns , so Little India is also called as Brickfields.
 Also KL sentral one of the oldest railway station in Malaysia today, brought in its workforce from India. Parallely this place also became a kittanghi, a traditional money lending establishment set up by the nattukottai chettiars( a business community from TN) and they eventually became the founders of modern banking in Malaysia.  That explains the concentration of Indians especially Tamil Indians here. Today, this place has been taken over by Indian restaurants and shops which are mostly dominated by tamils and punjabis.
Now back to our trail, all of us were lured by this place called Honey Fa’s, which  we were told stocked branded chocolates  and products that costed less. We walked,  walked and walked in the drizzling rain, we stopped over to take directions and took the  foot bridge over the Klang river (the river water is in mud color, no wonder KL got its name) and then finally our friend shouted ‘There it is” and  to my  disappointment do you know what I  found in the place?   
 ‘HANIFFA’s” written in green. 
All along I was thinking I was going to a chocolate factory called "Honey Fa’s" and  Our friend here  shows the building Haniffa’s.
BTW, for those of you who don’t know Haniffa's.
 Much before malls came into India, Haniffa’s was one of the supermarket in chennai's  T.nagar selling all items from a safety pin to gold in one place. Often you would hear about “Singapore Haniffa’s” in TV and radio. It was the same supermarket or single owner mall spread over 4 floors selling everything from a pin to electronics to  gold.
 Honestly, it was here I realized everything is economical in India itself even branded products I found are best bought in Indian malls than in foreign malls by tourists.  There was nothing that was cost less  here except maybe some branded mobile phones which are cheaper by a few hundreds only. Otherwise the cheapest or somewhere similar to Indian rates what I found here was a two pin plug which is sold here in india at Rs 12 and there at 1 RM( 18 rs).
Finally, after some chocolate shopping by our friends  and market research  by us, we were the only ones who came empty handed. But, overall it was a nice voyage to LI where we walked past the colors,  scents and  busy local life. 
Now, it was time to head back to the hotel after a long day of walks and tours. We decided to take a direct bus from LI to our hotel since there was a bus stop in front of the hotel.   We then took a “ getting around in KL” map from an information center,  a few manual directions later, we  boarded a brand new  Red Volvo bus. The chinese driver told us to hop on when we told him Berjaya Times square. We thought it was a direct bus. 
 The bus was conductor less, no vending machines for tickets but we comfortably seated ourselves in the  bus and got down at the last stop. The driver now directed to a green bus. 
                                       GO KL purple line bus ( google image)

Again as instructed by him in his broken english, we boarded another green bus. Here too nobody asked us to buy tickets nor there were conductors or any ticket vending machine. Without knowing where to get down went around "times square" and got down a few kms away from our hotel. Again we walked , walked and walked nearly 2 kms till we reached our hotel. (overall we must have walked app 10 kms that day). 
Also, I must tell you about those Red/ green Volvo ticketless  buses about which i learnt later from our hotel staff. These are called Go-KL city buses and are free services  since sept 2012 that connects some sight seeing attractions, offices, malls and markets in the heart of the city. The buses are disabled friendly, clean, comfortable have ac and free wifi . Initially only two routes green and purple were introduced, now since May 1, 2014 two more lines called red and blue have been introduced. The routes overlap at 5 stops so that passengers can switch from one part of the city to another. This is also an eco-friendly bus runs on natural gas and leaves less carbon foot prints. 

Isn’t that an  eco , citizen  and tourist friendly effort  by the Malaysian Govt? 
Now for a slice of india in pics:

These garlands are common sights outside temples in TN, so it is in LI

Lovely burst of natural flowers sold on the pavement for 0.8 cents only per stalk. Care to buy? expecially the blue one

                                  Can you see Saravana bhavan? ( a vegetarian chain restaurant) This is their LI branch

Devotional, classical, bollywood CD's. anybody?
Note the architecture of houses, you will find such architecture in chettinad too. 


  1. Thanks for the wonderful travelogue. We have been to Saravana Bhavan in KL. Good food. I think Haniffa is like Mustafaa in Singapore. Am I right? And, thanks for the beautiful photos.

    1. hmmmm we missed the Saravana Bhavan food and stepped into the first indian hotel we saw. Yes SG, haniffa and mustaffa are ditto ditto. There is a haniffa in singapore also.

  2. Back to struggling to comment, but hopefully this one will go thorugh :(

    Charming post as only you can write. Yes the Indian area in KL is quaint, as indeed is Little India is in Singapore. Like China towns, these indeed are relics from a bygone era. India itself has moved on.

    Hee Ho Ho at Haniffa's. Yes, it makes no sense for an Indian to shop outside of India.

    Where to next ?

    1. oh not again. I hav'nt changed any settings. i am clueless about this ramesh. I hope you get through the next posts.

      Thanks so much for such generous words on my writing. it is a honor coming from a scholar like you:)

      Next to genting.

  3. The monorail looks cute. When you say, "It was like a typical Indian street with open markets and little stores. Such sights are rare even in Modern India now"... well, it's the same at Southall, London. The area has more and typical Punjabi culture, shops, clothes, food than Punjab in India.

  4. Southall - yes, i have heard and seen it in movies like bend it like beckham and DDLJ. Though i hav'nt been to the place.