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A Rail Journey (Singapore to Kuala Lumpur)
Jaswinder Kaur

Rail journeys are far more relaxing. While the world zooms by at super speed, the train chugs along slowly and surely, bringing you ever closer to your destination.

Kluang, Kulai, Segamat, Tampin, Gemas…. these are but some of the train stops and towns that the traveller catches a glimpse of, enroute to Kuala Lumpur. The state and size of the train station itself gives a clue as to the size or importance of the town. Segamat is a bustling town compared to Paloh.

My travelling companion and I were going to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend to grace the wedding of a schoolmate. The journey from Singapore’s Tanjong Pagar rail station to Kuala Lumpur’s KL Central terminus takes approximately 6 hrs, give or take an hour, considering the occasional delay. It may be a longer journey as opposed to taking the plane, but it enriches you with wonderful mental snapshots of the journey itself. Rail journeys are far more relaxing. While the world zooms by at super speed, the train chugs along slowly and surely, bringing you ever closer to your destination.

Early in the journey, a seemingly endless sea of palm oil plantations greets the traveller. Further on into the journey, palm oil plantations are interspersed with groves of slender rubber trees. The plantation landscape tells the story of Malaysia’s agricultural history. In the 19th century, during the rubber boom, a considerable portion of the country was opened up for rubber plantations. Now, in the 21st century , rubber’s appeal as an export commodity has waned and palm oil has taken over. A sharp eye alludes one to wild durian* trees heavy with fruits. As the train pulls into the next station, houses, shacks and Hindu temples come into view. There are many Hindu temples along the line. Why is that so? As a student of Malaysian history, I realised this train journey was a long overdue field trip to study Malaysian history and geography. The many Hindu temples dotted along the railway line are reminders of the contribution of the early South Indian immigrants that came to work in the rubber plantations and the railroads. These temples of varying sizes are a legacy of the immigrants. Many of the immigrants eventually settled down in Peninsular Malaysia.

As the train leaves the state of Johor, the physical landscape changes, from that of plains to rugged mountains and ravines, all swathed in a dark jungle green. We are now in the state of Negri Sembilan. A memorable sight is that of seeing water buffaloes grazing in the open fields. Negri Sembilan is the home of Minangkabaus who migrated here from Indonesia. As the train approaches Rembau, you can see neat rows of traditional kampong houses on stilts, set amidst homesteads dotted with local fruit trees and flowers, together with the ubiquitous roaming chickens. Seremban train station is the biggest, most modern station the traveller will encounter after leaving Johor Bahru. It also means we are on the outskirts of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and thus on the final leg of our train journey.

Kuala Lumpur Central terminus is just 45 minutes from here. As the train pulls away from the station, the remaining passengers aboard, the familiar faces from Singapore and Johor Bahru start prepping themselves, grooming, visiting the restroom to refreshen one’s sleepy face, in anticipation of disembarking at their final destination. Newspapers are folded away; empty drink cans are thrown into the bin.

Kajang’s the second last stop. The train seems to be picking up speed as stations whiz past us. We near the metropolis, suburbia surrounds us, tall buildings and condominiums spring into view and fade. The towering coils of steel that are the Petronas Twin Towers, glisten in the afternoon sun. The train manager makes the announcement first in Malay and then in English "Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be arriving at KL Central shortly. Please ensure you take all your belongings with you. Thank you for travelling with KTM railways………"

The train pulls into its final stop, its subterranean cocoon. We struggled with our luggage, disembarked and made our way up the escalator into the spanking, sprawling complex of glass and steel. After purchasing our return tickets, we got into a cab and were whisked off to the hotel. I fell onto the plush bed, sighed and proclaimed, "we are here!" Journey’s end but the holiday has just begun.
* Durian is a tropical fruit. Know as the King of Fruits in this region, it is round and thorny, with a distinctive pungent smell. Once opened, the inside reveals creamy, yellow-ivory coloured fleshly morsels. Each morsel contains a large seed. An acquired taste!

© Jaswinder Kaur 2002

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