I was afraid it would be impossible to surpass the simple high-altitude perfection of the Cameroon Highlands, but today I find myself here in Penang, tired and hungry from a day of walking in the heat and following self-mortifying Hindu penitents and exploring Georgetown's old British fort, and I'm very much surprised at just how great this city is.
Wait, what's this about self-mortifying Hindu penitents?
It's a festival called Thaipusam, and I know as much about it as this Wikipedia link. Fascinating bit of travel, to find yourself in a strange new city, and a gentle tip from a kind stranger results in stumbling upon something so interesting, people so ecstatic and joyful and welcoming, not just as witnesses but welcomed to come and pray together.
Removing your shoes and entering the temple, all were welcomed to pray or reflect. I was given a coconut laced with a banana leaf, a banana, and some incense. We entered the temple and were marked with a chalky white powder, making our way toward the deity at the heart of the temple.
Outside again, we followed the crowd further down the street, music blasting, people dancing, food and celebration everywhere.
Making our way up the holy mountain.
Climbing the hill, traditional music was blaring out of loudspeakers, but as we reached the top, the music faded and nothing but a giant bell could be heard, renewed with fresh strikes from worshipers. It was a powerful moment, climbing the hill, tired from the long walk and the heat, the bell pounding in your ear and setting the rhythm for the climb, and inside people were praying, laughing, happy that the celebration was over and those hooks and spears could be removed.
And ending the day with a leisurely stroll through Fort Cornwallis.