Have you heard of a place specifically designed and planned as a new city?
Most metropolis naturally grow and flourish, taking a life of its own. But few cities are exactly conceptualized from scratch. I know of Brazil’s capital – Brasilia, which was planned and developed in 1956 (and shaped like a butterfly or an airplane). It became Brazil’s capital in 1960 and is home to 3.4 million people. (Rio de Janeiro has 14.3 million.) I also know of Canberra who, in 1908, became the capital of Australia as a compromise between Melbourne and Sydney (I specifically remembered this from my friend Helen’s stories). The population is surprising spare at about 360,000.
Closer to the archipelago is Myanmar’s new capital, Naypyidaw, elected by its military junta after dethroning Yangon as it’s queen city. It was moved 300 kilometers north of Yangon, and is still set to be completed next year (2012). Tourists aren’t allowed to visit the capital, but I was fortunate enough to have awakened from my deep slumber in the wee hours of the morning as my bus navigated the road from Mandalay back to Yangon. It felt like a dream then – this was a city bathed with a hundred lights. I literally had to pinch myself as my bus unobtrusively careened through Myanmar’s immaculate, albeit clinically barren streets. In Malaysia, it is the city of Putrajaya!
The first time I was here – not so long ago when I was still too green to be adequately confident with my travel choices, Putrajaya was in its incipient stages. There wasn’t much to see, except the jaw-droppingly awesome showcase buildings of Malaysia’s government offices. After all, Putrajaya’s raison d’etre is as the country’s Federal Administrative Capital located some 30 kilometers south of KL. To decongest the city, this was where government offices were located.
The juiciest rumors circulating then was that the seed money in its evolution originated from the deep pockets of Bill Gates, who also supplemented construction of Putrajaya’s twin-city – Cyberjaya, not so far from here.
True enough, everything in Putrajaya looked new. Each building was designed following traditional Malay influences admixed with modern architectural form. The hybrid end-product is quite fetching to the senses. Heck, even its surrounding lake is man-made! It was about 60% completed the first time I was here. But this time around, the city has come alive (population – 70,000). Fountains, landmarks and new buildings are still under construction, but basic “city life” has already settled into common place functionality.
NAMING A CITY
“Putrajaya” is word play that literally means "princes' (putra) success (jaya)". Officially, the site is named in homage to Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, but Wikipedia mentions that it's also a tip of the hat towards the "princes of the soil" (bumiputra), a euphemism for ethnic Malays (as opposed to the richer Chinese minority) and one of the key concepts of Malaysia's affirmative action program. Putrajaya is one of the only three self-governing federal territories aside from KL and the controversial island of Labuan that was started in 1993, and officially moved in 1999 as the nation’s federal capital (covering a vast 4,931 hectares).
TRAIN TO PUTRAJAYA
My latest visit started early with a McDonald’s breakfast in KL. From Pasar Seni station, I took the Rapid KL train to KL Sentral (which is just one stop, at 1 ringgit or $0.32). I changed trains and hopped into a KLIA Transit train (9.50 ringgit) to Putrajaya Sentral.
Even the train station (Putra Sentral) has come alive. It used to be eerily deserted; you could run around naked without much concern for spectators. I took the escalator down the station where a row of local buses await. These would take me to the city's different “sectors”, and a convenient take-off point to nearby Cyberjaya (a new city designed to house the IT industry).
TAKING THE BUS
I took Bus no. 100 (no. 300 was also an option), paid 50 cents ($0.16), and told the driver I wanted to see the pink-domed Putra Mosque which I missed last visit. This particular bus couldn't take me directly to the mosque. I was instructed to alight from a waiting shed facing a hill, then take a leisurely walk towards Putra Mosque. The good news - I could visit Putrajaya Hill on my way to the mosque to see the Putrajaya Landmark. The Perdana Putra (Prime Minister's Office) is also in the vicinity.
Taman Putra Perdana (in Precinct 1) is beautifully landscaped. From the waiting shed, I crossed the street and started my climb up the hill which was pleasant (there were no stairs so I stepped through coiffed grass). Except for a gardener trimming the hedges, I had the place to myself. This garden provided the best views in town. Last time I was here some 3 or 4 years ago, this wasn’t even a tourist sight yet. How fast this city has evolved.
At the apex of the park stands Putrajaya Landmark – Mercu Tanda- shaped like Merlin’s wizard hat, glistening in silver (or tinfoil)! There was a row of fountains directly facing the landmark. From here, you could see the city sprawl – high rise residential edifices, the Putra Bridge, the skeletal marvel of Seri Wawasan Bridge, the sinewy lakes. It was exhilarating to be catching my breath after the climb, and getting rewarded with such view.
Money and inspired planning made this city, that’s for sure.
I was headed to the Putra Mosque, but at that particular moment, I found my favorite spot in Putrajaya.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
A popular steward at the Putra Mosque becomes an unexpected celebrity. Everyone wanted a photograph with him.
If you're inappropriately clothed (shorts, skirts showing knees, skimpy tops), you will be required to wear these pink gowns if you are to enter the mosque.
Perbadanan Putrajaya or Putrajaya Corporation (PPJ) is a local authority which administers Putrajaya. PPJ is responsible for public health and sanitation, waste removal and management, town planning, environmental protection and building control, social and economic development and general maintenance functions of urban infrastructure. It's probably equivalent to Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
Up next: Prime Minister’s Palace, Putra Mosque, and more
Interesting why tourists are not allowed to enter into the capital?
Myanmar is ruled by a military ironfist, and they keep a lot of things a "secret" like there's a clandestine set of things going on within this country. They do not want media attention, and they prefer to keep it that way. Because of this, they:
1. Regulate internet use, thus twitter, yahoo mail/google mail/ msb live have all been blocked. You cannot access these sites in Myanmar. (Though there's a way of circumventing this - by using wap!)
2. Yangon has become too populated and its people have become restless, thus, to keep its military rule "away" from political destabilization, they made a new city away from it all. They recruited local folks at gun point to build a new city 300 kilometers north of Yangon (the former capital) which is in the middle of nowhere.
3. Finally, visiting tourists who apply for visa are made to sign a conforme as requisite for a visa that he/she is NOT a jopurnalist or a writer of any persuasion. Writers and journalists are BANNED from entering the country
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