WHEN a large group of people of a common ethnic background leave their homeland to live somewhere else, they take their histories, crafts, food and other talents with them. As that new place establishes it attracts more people of the same background and that is why many countries have distinct ethnic areas such as Chinatown and Little India.
Often these places become real functional communities preserving their age old practices, and therefore you can have an authentic experience of China or India outside those countries. Thanks to the way our world mingles and intertwines today there are lots of these places all around the world. Malaysia is one of them.
Few countries in Southeast Asia are as diverse as Malaysia. It is very interesting to see how harmoniously the distinct areas for Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities coexist within the country.
When I went to Kuala Lumpur for a holiday I was eager to visit Little India and see for myself the Indian community that has developed there through the years. Through research, I figured that the original Little India in Kuala Lumpur used to be located along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman. In 2009, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak officially announced that Little India would be relocated in Brickfields. This development project was initiated because Brickfields offered a larger space thanKuala Lumpur’s busy streets.
I took the train to reach Little India, just to make sure that I got there fast. I was on a short holiday; time was essential and missing the fun that Little India had to offer would have been disappointing. Alighting at the central station, I didn’t have to walk far until I’d entered the busy neighborhood.
Colorful buildings are abundant in Little India, and Indian music pulses through the air bringing distinct images of Bollywood to mind. It is an exciting place to be, with lots of sights and sounds and people. Stalls with long, colorful and beautifully designed saris and textiles are abundant, making it easy to grab some souvenirs for oneself or for friends and family at home, especially female members. For men, there are also clothes, CDs of Indian music and movies, and fine gold jewelry. Shops sell almost everything that you can imagine or wish for – spices, bags, flower garlands, shoes, saris, trinkets, and body jewelries – so it is not difficult to find the perfect souvenir.
I walked with vigor through Little India, in many ways demonstrating myself the energy of the town. It is loud, busy, full of color and vibrant. Shops here are usually open until late at night. They take business seriously and want you to consider the price before walking away. Haggling is practiced so bid for your price, but make sure you purchase it when the price has been negotiated.
It is also noteworthy that Little India used to be a quiet residential area now developed into a busy, wide street for Malaysian locals and foreigners alike. If you want to replenish your energy after walking through it you can get a dose of the abundant and delicious authentic Indian food. It’s fun to sample food everywhere and hop from one stall and restaurant to another. Banana leaf lunches are popular and I recommend you try this at least once. Just be prepared for the rich taste of Indian cuisine and local delicacies that are bursting with strong aromas. It can get spicy but you can always request a milder version. But where is the fun in alterations? I was brave enough to get an authentic curry dish that brought some tears to my eyes! But a little cold soda helps to at least wash away the spiciness and strong flavors of the dish. This is the best way to immerse yourself in a culture: eating the local food.
Little India is a lively district that is worth including in your itinerary. The neighborhood offers a city adventure worthy of your time, money and energy. It may be loud and busy but for those curious about other cultures and adventurous enough to explore it is an absolute must.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about traveling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website.