KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
On our second full day in Brunei, we retraced our steps on the walking tour and took the time to visit some of the buildings and museums along the route. The Royal Regalia Museum was our first stop. We walked through rooms full of photographs detailing the popular Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s childhood, education, coronation and rule. Following that, we were allowed to view the incredible gifts from the world’s leaders that have poured in over the years to the man who has ‘everything’.
When we returned to the central foyer on the first floor, I was allowed to retrieve my camera to take photos of the recreation of the sultan’s coronation day parade. The highlight of the display is a massive, wheeled, gilded royal cart that was pulled through the streets of the capital with the newly crowned sultan sitting proudly before his subjects.
The skies had been somewhat cloudy and we had been caught a couple of times in short bursts of rain, but on this morning, the sun was shining and the bright blue sky made a terrific backdrop for the magnificent Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the father of the current sultan.
It was built in 1958 for US$5 million, and stands in the middle of its own lagoon. No building in Bandar Seri Begawan is allowed to rise above the height of the 44m minaret attached to the mosque. I read that the Islamic Bank of Brunei had to remove its topmost floor because it had the audacity to think it could be the tallest modern building in the city.
Within the shadow of that stately minaret stands a portion of the extensive Kampong Ayer, the watery stilt village that is home to over 20,000 citizens of this wealthy country. Apparently, it’s really a string of 28 villages along the banks of the Sungai Brunei and is considered to be the largest water village in the world.
We were more than a little disappointed to learn that the new Cultural and Tourism Gallery that was built to shed some light on the history and lifestyle of the residents wasn’t open for us to visit. I would have been most interested to learn why so many people live in such apparent poverty in this exceedingly affluent country.
On our way back to our hotel, we discovered a Pakistani restaurant that had just opened the previous week. We made it our new destination of choice and managed to squeeze in a couple of terrific meals before our time in Brunei came to an end. Grilled meats, freshly made pita bread, rice with onions and almonds and cups of spicy chai could not be taken for granted.
Our flight wasn’t due to leave for Kota Kinabalu until 4:00pm the following afternoon so we took advantage of the morning to ride a city bus another direction to visit the largest mosque in the country. The Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque was built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the current sultan’s reign. It is not possible to photograph the interior of the massive prayer hall, despite the fact that non-Muslims are allowed to appreciate it in all its glory.
Thank goodness there was no restriction on taking pictures of the exterior or the grounds, because I went a little crazy capturing it from all angles. I loved the elaborate tiling on the columns and the chubby minarets, though I’m told that most people prefer the simplicity of the white mosque standing in the lagoon near the centre of the city. To tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mosque in all of Malaysia and Brunei that I didn’t like. There is a stunning array of architectural styles on display, and I love taking photographs of them all.
We had filled our nearly three days in Brunei, but there was plenty more to see and do if we had allotted more time there. For longer stays, it would be a good idea to rent a car as most of the other sights and indeed, the national parks are far flung. However, it’s a relatively expensive place to visit, and we were keen to push on the Sabah and Sarawak, and thanks to Air Asia, we were on our way once again.