There I entered the departure lounge trying to put up a brave face, although feeling shit scared being all by myself on my first vacation abroad.
In the few minutes before the announcement, my mind was buzzing with all kinds of advisories – “Hira don’t trust anyone, don’t take responsibility of anyone’s luggage, blah blah blah”, and there was that funny suggestion, “Keep all your money in socks, it’s safer there”.
Just then came the announcement and I darted towards the exit door.
Once I was airborne, I felt so relaxed and relieved, and why not? As a solo traveler I had been able to break all the societal shackles that a girl of my age can only dream of, but perhaps this freedom was short-lived, because there came a Pakistani looking Steward showing the same old protective attitude by offering a safer seat not shared by anyone. Mr. Protective really did annoy the crap out of me by sneaking into my momentary independence of a free soul.
The moment I landed at the Kuala Lumpur airport I was awestruck – for the first time the meaning of ‘life on the move’ really dawned on me. Whether one likes it or not, in Pakistan girls are so used to being stared at – both friendly and unfriendly looks. Seriously for once I got really offended of why nobody cared to look at me. Another thing I felt exactly the opposite was the sultry and humid weather of KL, as against the pleasant and in fact, a bit nippy evenings in Islamabad.
Out in the streets of KL, which were another sweet reminder of Islamabad, I saw waves and waves of people, some tiptoeing, some rushing, but all seemed unconcerned about their surroundings. Perhaps the one person wonderstruck and trying to find some clue of this beautiful city, welcoming with open arms people of all hues; black, brown, yellow and of course white, was a lady called Hira Amjad.
Can you believe it? The first person I met was a Pakistani looking uncle, on a stall in central market selling all kinds of trinkets and trivia, who remarked just as I reached him, “OMG! You really are from Pakistan. Akaili Larki (A girl all by herself on a vacation). How come? My people are getting wiser. What a tragedy we don’t repose confidence in our kids allowing them to explore the world around”. Amazing remark from an ordinary Pakistani, isn’t it?
Another day, another experience. And this time a photo buddy, young Brazilian, nice to talk to, without whose help I wouldn’t have had such a nice pictorial record of my journey. However, one thing which touched me most was his rather hesitant statement about my religion, “I hope yours is a different one from ISIS people”. I know for sure that innocent remark didn’t mean much to him, but to me it triggered the thought that it is for us to show what true Islam and Pakistan are through our behavior.
More so, because all around Kuala Lumpur there was a feel of accommodation and respect for each other. For instance, while on one side a prayer leader was calling the faithful, across the footpath the start of Deevali celebrations were in full swing. Close to that Chinese were enjoying their happy hour in a pub. To me this mix of spirituality and colors was a rainbow of its own – you may paint it as a world in a small place.
Taking a break from the monotony of free advice from a typical Pakistani, let’s walk around KL. Starting from Genting Highland, an exotic hill resort which certainly was a welcoming relief from the humid KL, while much more beautiful than our own Murree, yet one can’t help getting a little nostalgic about some of the scenic spots back home as well. Aquaria KLCC, Orchid Garden, Bird Park, Sultan Ahmed Building and Pewter Factory have also had a distinct stamp of KL, perhaps without which your trip would be half accomplished. For the spiritual types Batu Caves, Sri Mahamariaman Temple and of course The National Mosque definitely have a divine touch.
Now the yummy-licious part of KL – the chocolate factory. Before I visited this delicious factory, to my misfortune I hardly ever enjoyed chocolates. But WOAH, seeing is believing, the very look of chocolate melting and forming into cute little cubes and balls was not just mouthwatering, but heavenly.
And now hold your breath, the dazzling Petronas Twin Towers, in KL evenings are a sight to behold, not just for record breaking height alone, but the entire ambiance they have brought to the city of KL. By the way you can’t fit them into your lens somehow – no way can you have yourself photographed in their foreground. Luckily I managed to learn the trick from a Philipino friend I made there, Juna Lisa. By the way, if you are waiting to know the trick, forget it. No way am I going to tell you.
Unlike the girl next door, I am not a crazy shopper. But even I couldn’t resist a shopping binge. After all I am only 23 baba, and a Pakistani to boot. Now seriously speaking, KL is a city for those who love shopping, with low rates and amazing discounts, especially Central Market, where you can have your pick from India, Japan, and China and of course Malaysia. Well talking of Malaysia, WOAH their handicrafts are just fabulous, but they do carry a price tag. In my view, another shopping stop should be KL’s Batik Factory where artisans literally play with colors to your liking. And last but not the least, Kuala Lumpur City Center, which to my mind is Islamabad’s “Centaurus” plus, plus. By the way, the real plus of KL is its public transport system, which is convenient, safe and economical.
To me the only downside of KL was limited food choices, especially for a vegetarian Pakistani, and one who loves her cup of tea – Pakistani style.
Before I wrap it up, my little message to my fellow age group and to their parents is, to have confidence, both in their self and children. It was undeniably difficult for me to breathe easy in the face of societal stereotypes. But then, once I made up my mind there was no going back. In my case luckily I have the kind of parents, especially mother, who wholeheartedly supported my little adventure of stepping out to a world beyond. And I lived up to her reposed confidence. Believe you me, the nine days of absolute independence was an experience of a lifetime and for a lifetime to cherish.