Putrajaya is quite something, with swans on the new reservoir, a huge mosque and palaces.
Razak, my tour guide in Putrajaya, enthuses about the city. “Everything is built by our own designers! Look, that’s our White House!” he tells me. “Razak means protector,” he says, “so I am your protector!” I feel safer already.
Development of Putrajaya only started in the early 1990s and the government moved there in 1999 (although Kuala Lumpur is still the capital). ‘Putra’ means ‘prince’ and ‘jaya’ means ‘success’ in Malay and the city is named after Malaysia’s first prime minister, Abdul Rahman, the son of a sultan, who led the country to independence.
The ‘White House’ that Razak is so enthusiastic about is actually a Green House, with the color of Islam predominating in the prime minister’s palace. Although Razak stresses that the city also features other ethnic groups and religions, it is clear which one is in charge.
A cruise around Putrajaya in a small gondola is the coolest way to see the city, if a slightly surreal one. Razak shows me the Botanical Gardens which offer some of the bewildering natural variety of Malaysia. At night, the Seri Wawasan Bridge has a lovely view of the Putra Mosque – there is no getting away from it here.
One other quirk of Putrajaya is that it has some of the cheapest five-star accommodations in the world. Grandiose hotels and a lack of population and visitors lead to some of the lowest prices for top facilities you can find. Where else can you experience the renowned Shangri-La brand of pampering for $120 per night for a room for two? Happily, the infinity pool has a great view of Putrajaya and at night you can see – you guessed it – the Putra Mosque.
Well, it is easy to smile at the quaint charms of a place like this, but the dreams of Dr. M., as the visionary prime minister was called, have taken a lot of money to realize. The ambition cannot be denied. Spending on such grandiose projects kept a lot of people at work during the Asian economic crisis. The result is also that Malaysia has grown from insignificance on the world stage to a country with a lot to be proud of.