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A day in Penang

We spent a day in Penang before our departure to Langkawi.  We boarded the flight to Penang from Chennai airport.  We reached the city late night and checked in at Hotel Malaysia.  Penang also known as Pulau Penang (Island of Areca Nut Palm) has still preserved its old cultural charm.  We took an early morning walk on the streets of George Town and the deserted Lebuh Chulia. As the day progresses, the street changes its appearance to one of the best selling food streets with hawker stalls  grilling skewer after skewer of marinated pork and minced meat.  With a day to spare we decided to soak in the traditional culture visiting the heritage and historic sights of the city.

Hainan Temple : Built in 1866 by the Hainanese Community in Penang, this temple is dedicated to Goddess Mazu (Sea Goddess). Excellent craftsmanship can be seen on the temple with stone carvings depicting the stories and popular legends of the goddess.

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Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple : Two temples Burmese and Thai Buddhist temples are located opposite to each other.  This temple has a tall standing statue of Buddha whereas the Thai Buddhist temple has a huge reclining statue of Lord Buddha. There were several pots stating each of the wishes like happiness, luck, prosperity, success and many other adjectives representing material and spiritual gains.  People poured coins in each of the pots based on their preferences of their current state of life.

Thai Buddhist Temple : Thai Buddhist temple also known as Wat Chayamangkalaram is a Siamese temple with a 180 foot long reclining statue of Buddha resting in a peaceful and graceful pose symbolizing detachment from the worldly pleasures.  The reclining position of the lord symbolizes achieving Nirvana. There are paintings and wall murals with stories and legends of Buddha. The temple is lavishly ornated with colorful statues of mythical creatures.

Fort Cornwallis : Fort Cornwallis is the largest and most intact fort found in Malaysia.  It was built by Sir Captain Francis Light from British East India Company and the fort was named after the governor general in Bengal at that time – Charles Cornwallis. Sir Captain Francis Light’s statue can be seen on the fort.  He first landed on this island in 1786 and wanted to take possession of the island from the Sultan of Kedah.  He wanted the island to serve as a base for the East India Company’s silk and spice trading route.  To protect the base he built a fort which is the present Fort Cornwallis but unfortunately after he built the fort there was neither any combat nor any attack from the foreign invasions. Hence this fort served as an administrative and storage base.  One can also see a huge canon facing the sea which was gifted to the Sultan from the Dutch which later on landed on the Cornwallis fort. A machinery meant to be violent and spark fiery flames to protect against enemies is now served as a superstitious symbol to grant wishes.  As per the legend infertile women would be able to conceive if they place flowers on Rambai canon. Ironically, a weapon believed to take life is now assumed to be the main source of giving life!  We can also see gun powder magazine where explosives were stored in the event of combat.  A small jail cell with prisoner’s number is now served as a photographic site for the visitors.  People go behind the bars to experience life on the other side of the law- although for a few moments!

A brilliant strategy adopted by Sir Francis Light was when he wanted to clear the land from the jungle.  In order to motivate the locals to work for him and clear the jungle, he used to fire silver coins into the jungle using the cannons.  Natives were automatically motivated and started deforesting the place very quickly in search of these coins!

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Snake Temple : This is the most bizarre temple of Penang with live poisonous snakes like pit vipers coiled on the branches of plants and also inside the main prayer hall of the temple.  I tip toed inside the temple in the fear of getting bitten by any creepy crawling creature roaming openly in the temple premises.  The first thing I noticed is that the temple had a huge incense burner and the smoke literally surrounded the area.  You see snakes coiled on the twigs and planks of the temple stands beside the main shrine but they appeared drugged. People believe that the snakes get paralyzed by the smell of the incense. Today the resident vipers are de-venomed but still have their fangs intact.

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Kek Lok Si : A beautiful must see temple during your stay in Penang! The Pagoda has three layers of architectural design depicting Chinese, Thai and Burmese style of art. The literal meaning of Kek Lok Si is Temple of Supreme Bliss or Heavenly Temple.   A huge bronze statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy is located on the hillside above the pagoda which is also the tallest Guanyin statue in the world. Spectacular view of Penang city can be seen from the hillside when you get to the top via cable car.

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As the sun set, we descended down from the peak of Kek Lok Si and proceeded to explore the night market of Penang.  We could not make it to the Penang Hill and Bridge in this visit, hopefully will make it in our next visit!

Copyright ©2010, Lakshmi Nair . This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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