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Melaka or Malacca it’s fascinating by any which way you call it


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!

Replica of the Malacca 
Before we started off, Jeevan pointed out a magnificent wooden structure which was a replica of the Malacca Palace that was burnt down by the Portuguese and which housed yet another museum. Sadly we didn’t have any time to visit any of the many museums that make up Malacca and I will have to make another trip to explore them thoroughly. 

Me in my gaudy pink Hello Kitty beca

Red Square

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 Majestic terracotta Stadthuys or City Hall that is the oldest Dutch building in Malacca.

All around this square is evidence of colonial rule in well preserved buildings.


               

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.


Portrait of Kapitan Lee Wei King
 who built the temple

Harmony Street is a street in Chinatown that has three important places of worship : the oldest Indian Muslim Mosque in Malaysia, the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia and the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. We stopped at the Chinese Temple of Cheng Hoon Teng which has been in continuous use since it was built way back in the 17th Century. It was interesting to walk around the temple complex and see the various shrines dedicated to ancestor worship, a grotto with figurines depicting the life of the Buddha and an alcove which had the painting of the original builder of the temple

Baba Nyonya Museum

The Baba ( Man) Nyonya ( Woman) are the original Peranaken or Straits Chinese – immigrant Chinese traders who intermarried with local Malays. They evolved a culture that is a unique mix of Chinese and Malay traditions. One of the townhouses in China Town has been converted into a museum with all the artefacts on display which as my friend Naheed once remarked, is quite like a Parsi house in Mumbai! 
But this is definitely worth a visit especially with a guided tour explaining the traditions of the Baba Nyonya. Sadly no photographs are allowed and visitors have to wait their turn to be taken around. 
The buildings on this street have narrow frontages as the Dutch taxed house owners according to the frontage on the street. SO typically the houses were deep with beautiful ornate decorative elements on the facade. 

Jonker Street

So finally we came to the street that we’d all been hearing about – Melaka and Jonker Street are almost synonymous. Jonker Street gets its name from the owners of the Chinese Junks or trading vessels who used to have their warehouses/offices on that street.  Today it is a haven for antique hunters and tourists who want to buy local art and craft. It is also a place where Peranaken Culture is still thriving and one can actually sample goodies like these sweets and snacks that are sold in shops along the street. 


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.

Little India

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.

Little India was just like being back home right down to the plantains hanging outside the shop to the fierce looking matron waiting to cross the road.  When we stepped out, we realised that we were just on the other side of the Red Square and it was just a pedestrian crossing that divided two very distinct cultures.  

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.

Pulau Melaka 

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.

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