Last month I happened to visit Melaka or Malacca as it was when I learnt about it at school. The Strait of Malacca was famous or rather notorious for the pirates that used to attack the ships sailing in the water on their way to and from the East. So the Sultan of Malacca offered protection for a fee of course which was a fifth of the cargo on board. Thus the tiny port of Malacca became a rich trading hub of spices, porcelain,silk and gold and was colonised in turn by the Portuguese the Dutch and the British who all wanted control of the waterway on the India China Route .However, somewhere along the way, it lost its prestige and reverted to a sleepy old town undisturbed by the world till it found itself on the tourist map after being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008
|The Melacca Club now the Independence Museum|
On the way to the UNESCO World Heritage site we passed a magnificent colonial building. Our guide Jeevan told us that it was the former Malacca Clun where Tunku Abdur Rahman, the country’s first Prime Minister met the other Sultans of Malayasia who contributed to his onward journey for pre-Independence talks in London. He landed in Melaka after the historic talks and first made known the Independence of Malaysia to thousands of Malays who had gathered in Dataran Pahalawan ( Warrior Square) which today is home to a mega mall.
|The Porta de Santiago, arched gate way to A Famosa,|
We drove up to the ruins of the stone arched gateway to the A Famosa, the Portuguese bastion in Melaka which is now the oldest surviving European ruin in South East Asia. Jeevan had a surprise lined up for us , 6 gaudy trishaws or becas they are known locally.
Seeing them lined up I felt a bit sad because I remember how this mode of transport was looked down upon by human right activists and demanded that this be stopped in countries like India where it was the only form of transport in many a small town. How ironic to think that this is now revived as an eco friendly mode of transport to ferry tourists around heritage spots to avoid ennvironmental pollution!!!
|The beca lined up for us to visit Jonker Street|
Pink and hello Kitty seemed to be the pre-dominant theme and after we’d all settled down, our trishaw drivers enthusiastically took our photographs for us to flash on Twitter and Instagram. While the entire area is easily walkable it is quite a unique experience to do it in the old fashioned way with the whole street turning to stare as your beca plays blaring music along the way. Incidentally most of the becas have music streamed through iPods and one particular beca driver was proudly telling us that he had driven Shah Rukh Khan all the way!
|Me in my gaudy pink Hello Kitty beca|
We drove up the hill till we came up to the painted red houses – the Stadthuys which was the original home of the Dutch Governor and was later used by the British Administration. It has now been converted into yet another museum which was closed for refurbishment.
Other buildings in this area known as Red Square had a windmill that looked strangely out of place, a fountain to commemorate the jubilee of Queen Victoria , a clock Tower and the oldest Protestant Church in South Asia Gloria Church
The Melaka Tourism office which is a fine example of traditional Malaccan architecture.
Yes this is a windmill!
Through the streets of Melaka
Driving through the streets we passed the street of Chettiars and a street lined with Chinese lanterns, adding to the festive charm of Melaka.
There are many street cafes and plenty of shops from where one can pick up unique Tees, fine examples of Batik and cane work that Malacca is famous for. You can also find money exchangers here though the rate you get may not exactly be what you want. Unfortunately no shopkeeper accepts currency other than RM so make sure you have enough local currency before you go shopping or even sight seeing.
It was getting on to lunch and we caught up with lunch at a local Indian restaurant where we were served on the traditional banana leaf. It was a set meal with rice, sambhar, papad and the option of some chicken or fish.
Melaka River Cruise
In the evening we were scheduled to go for a Melaka River Cruise, yet another example of how Malaysia has turned every opportunity into a tourist opportunity. The river which was just a narrow dirty waterway was cleaned up. The adjoining waterfront was spruced up with the residents of Kampung Morten, a regular Malaysian village given assistance to remodel their homes. They are also encouraged to take in tourists interested in homestays.
|Casa del Rio hotel|
We caught the river cruise from the Taman Rempa Jetty and sailed up all the way to the Muara Jetty where the Flor de Mer is docked. ALong the 90 minute 9 km cruise we enjoyed the breezes as we passed painted buildings, cafes and even joggers running on the embankments that had riverside boutiques and hotels like the Mediterranean inspired Casa del Rio hotel that we’d seen in the morning. We were visiting off season but Jeevan told us that during school holidays the place comes alive with street performers, jugglers, magicians and buskers.
An Aside :
Jeevan told us that the Flor do Mar a Portugese ship steered by Alphonso de Albuquerque during a storm is still sitting at the bottom of the Malacca strait waiting for a treasure hunter to bring her up with her holds filled with diamonds and precious stones.
From the rooftop of Hatten Hotel we could spot a mosque in the distance. Jeevan told us that it was the Malacca Straits mosque built for the workers who were working on a project to pull Melaka into the 21st Century. This man made island is part of an ambitious waterfront project that will have residential space, commercial space and leisure-cum tourist amenities like a marina and theme parks.