“Turtle is beauty….Turtle teaches cleanliness, strength….To be like turtle is to be of character….Turtle seems never possessed of things but carries her home within its own life. Carry your home in your heart, not in your things….The turtle is Mother Earth and represents Earth’s many blessings to us….Keep the turtle in your heart….then you will be kind, unselfish and happy…” (But if you must know the turtle’s age, the earliest known members of  ‘Testudines’ – the order to which the turtles, including the extinct and living species, are a part of, dates back to around 230 million years ago.)

The writing is on the wall.

The wall has this writing in the white-and-brown depiction of a turtle. The contents are from a letter written about 75 years ago, to a Dr. E. M. Hoffman by a Creek Indian elder, J.R. Daniels.

Where is this wall? It is in Kuala Terengganu (‘K.T.’). It is a state capital city about 500 km away to the northeast of Kuala Lumpur, on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, situated at the estuary of Terengganu River, facing the South China Sea.

Kuala Terengganu has quite a few tourist attractions, but for the time being we shall only talk about a ‘new’ – 2012 vintage – attraction. Turtle Alley.

So, let’s talk Turtle.

The word ‘turtle’ has different meanings in different places. For example, in North America, it includes turtles, tortoises and terrapins. In Spain too, the word ‘Tortuga’ (turtle) is for all the above three. But in Great Britain ‘turtle’ is used only for sea-dwelling species and not for tortoises.

For this story, ‘turtle’ is being used for all three – turtles, tortoises and terrapins. How many species of turtles are there? The learned-ones agree to disagree, but there can be around 300 species. These include: Sea Turtles, Bog Turtles, Yellow-bellied Turtles, Spotted Turtles, Western Painted Turtles, Texas Map Turtles, Wood Turtles, Box Turtles, Indian Tent Turtles, Musk Turtles, Matamata Turtles and …. The smallest turtle measures no more than 8 cm in length and weighs around 140 g. The biggest ones can be 200 cm long and weigh in at around 900 kg!

Before we take a long walk in the very-short Turtle Alley in Kula Terengganu, shall we take a gastronomic turtle diversion?

In many parts of the world - including North/South America, Britain and Southeast Asian countries -   turtle and turtle eggs are a much-favored food. Turtle eggs are believed to have aphrodisiacal and nutritional qualities.

Let’s talk turtle for the British. Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’, published in 1726, found the turtle flesh “the most savory and pleasant I ever tasted in my life.” After subsisting for nine months on island goats and fowls, a sea turtle containing “three score” eggs was a very pleasant surprise for Robinson Crusoe! However, for the first half of the 18th century, turtle-eating was confined to sailors and overseas adventurers. But between1750-1850, turtle became “….unarguably the most expensive, status-laden, and morally contested feat of English gastronomy.” Turtle still occupies a very high place in the ladder of specialty foods, with Turtle Soup being a firm favorite.

In the United States too, turtle was a traditional summertime treat and was served at early Fourth of July celebrations as soups, ragouts and steaks. Turtle Soup is still quite popular in the United States and is a star on the menus of Creole Food restaurants and many others. Today, turtle is still a popular food item in many countries.

Back to Turtle Alley. Not the Turtle Alley chocolate shops in Gloucester and Salem in Massachusetts, U.S.A which have as their slogan is “Life is short. Sin a little,” but the street in Kuala Terengganu.

Turtle Alley is one of the short alleys joining the picturesque K.T. riverside with the equally picturesque and quaint Kampung Cina (China Town). It is the brainchild of Dr. Chan Eng Heng who has become much beloved of the people of K.T. for the creation of the Turtle Alley. The very narrow street may be short in distance, but it is really ‘long’ in terms of a satisfying and highly enjoyable Tourism Experience.

The unmistakable aim and message of the Turtle Alley is about reminding people about the endangered status of the turtles that nest at the beaches of Terengganu.  The Leatherback Turtles have declined by 99.9 %. At one time, 4 marine turtle species used to nest in Terengganu. Now there are only the green turtles which are there in good numbers. There is a strong message to tell people not to eat turtle eggs.

One wall of the alley is lined with large turtle mosaics. The other wall tells the story of the book “Little Turtle Messenger” through mounted metallic plates in three languages – English, Malay and Chinese. The entire walkway is paved with 28 turtle mosaics.

A walk down the Turtle Valley was an enriching experience. The visuals are striking. The messages and information are interesting, educative and thought-provoking. Some Gems:

‘Say NO to turtle eggs.”

“We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

“Turtles cannot breathe under water. They drown when caught in fishing nets.”

“Marine turtles can swim up to 10 km/ hour.”

“The turtle is a symbol of strength, perseverance and longevity.”

The Turtle Alley was a great experience and showed how a small group of dedicated people can create a wonderful tourism asset.