and Colleen Gantzer witness first-hand the evolution of a
historic, colonial city to a new age urban hub
Lumpur is, in most ways, a First World capital: broad roads,
high-rises, glitz, glamour, razzmatazz, good dining, great
shopping. If thats what you are looking for then theres
no alternative to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. But if you prefer
to travel at a more leisurely pace, probing behind the facade,
savouring varied lifestyles and the byways of history, then
Malacca, or Melaka as the Malaysians prefer to
call it, is the place for you. (We will call it Malacca
before Independence, and Melaka, after).
proclamation of Independence memorial building
Stadhuys, once the mansion of the Dutch governor with
a mock windmill in front
of the fort of A Famosa
Malay Muslim girls
rebuilt palace of the Sultan of Malacca
diorama of a Sultanís court
certainly captured our imaginations, and also snuggled into
a warm place in our hearts. We have a soft spot for Kochi,
where we spent many years; and Melaka reminded us of that
Keralan city on the sea and a slow-flowing estuary. Melaka,
too, is on the sea and the unhurried Melaka River. Both Malacca
and Cochin...as Kochi was then known...became major trading
centres under the aggressive Portuguese, Dutch and British:
and left their imprint on the town and its people.
We checked into an interesting leisure resort outside Melaka.
But though we were impressed by its extensive green grounds...
designed for golf, tennis, horse-riding, dining, a water park
and even a stockaded Cowboy Village... we still
wondered why it was called A Famosa. We thought that
it had something to do with the Taiwanese peninsula, and had
been misspelt! We were wrong. A Famosa is the name of
the fort built by the Portuguese in 1511 when Alfonso dAlbuquerque
took over the town from the Malays. We drove in from A
Famosa resort to the base of the hill on which A Famosa
fort stood; and thats where our discovery of Melaka
not much left of the fort; but whatever there is, owes its
existence to Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore.
He persuaded the irate Dutch to stop demolishing it, when
they ousted the Portuguese in 1641. We walked through the
massive stone gateway; trudged up the long flight of steps;
and entered the shell of the Church of Our Lady on the Hill,
renamed St Pauls by the Dutch. A statue of St Francis
Xavier stands outside. The missionary-saint was buried here
in 1553 before his body was transferred to Goa.
When we paused to catch our breaths, on a slightly humid day,
we looked down and saw Melaka spreading at our feet. The Portuguese,
questing for food-preserving and flavoursome spices, must
have prided themselves for securing such a rich prize. At
the base of the hill, and slightly to the left, was the re-built
Palace of the Sultan from whom the self-righteous Iberians
had snatched Malacca.
Palace has the multiple roofs associated with the temples
and palaces of Kerala and China. Inside this wooden monument,
for that is what it is, we saw many features which reminded
us of the stately homes of Kerala: long wall-benches; rails
with curvilinear balusters; perforated wooden screens. But
the most striking resemblance was the diorama of a Sultans
court which could have been a replica of the court of the
kings of Travancore. The first king of Melaka was Parameshvara
who, in all likelihood, was of Indian descent. Murals in the
main hall depict the legend of how the king chose the location
of Malacca because he saw a normally timid mouse-deer challenge
his ferocious hunting dogs, here.
The descendants of the Sultans must have been gleeful when
the arrogant Portuguese were evicted by the dour Dutch.
We drove past a replica of a Portuguese galleon to the flower-bright
square where the old Dutch buildings stood, carefully preserved
in all their red glory. The Stadhuys, once the mansion of
the Dutch Governor, hulked at one side, smug in its status
as a History and Ethnography Museum; at the far end was Christ
Church built by the Dutch in 1753. Someone, to underscore
a visual point, had erected a mock windmill overlooking the
slow, brown river. Tourists in jeans and mini-skirts were
being pedalled around in decorated rickshaws; others hunted
in the souvenir shops built into the ground floors of buildings
once occupied by the Netherlanders. Laughing Malay Muslim
girls drifted through the square-like windblown petals, delighted
with all this activity.
Malaysians are, clearly, very comfortable with their history
and have no desire to downplay their colonial past. In fact
they use it to prove how far they have come and the excellent
tourist office, across the busy street from the Dutch square,
offers a great deal of information about the sources of Malaysias
Thanks to the tourist office we decided to head for a fascinating
network of winding streets and lanes around the famous Jonker
Street. This haven for antique collectors is now known as
Jalan Hang Jebat but though its displays appealed to us we
are not great collectors. We much preferred to trace the roots
of the many ethnic strains that make up the Malaysian people.
The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest Chinese temple in
Malaysia. It was built in 1648 and has a resplendent interior.
A burly man in a black bush shirt emblazoned with golden dragons
told us that Buddhists, Taoists and Confucianists alike, worshiped
in this temple. A young woman in a blouse and skirt, an old
man with a wispy white beard, and an executive in a button-down
shirt and tie, prostrated themselves and filled the air with
the smoking fragrance of their joss sticks.
A short distance away we stopped at the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar
Temple. A bare-chested pujari informed us that it was the
property of the Chetty Malaka Community. A government
pamphlet said: Chittys are Straits-born Indians and
offsprings (sic) of Indian traders who came from Panai. These
people embrace the Hindu faith... None of the pujaris
could tell us where, exactly, Panai was but they were certain
that it was somewhere in India!
the corner from the temple, we came to the high wall of the
Kampong Kling Mosque. Though there is reason to believe that
Islam was brought to Asia by the missionary Abu Bakr, who
built the first mosque in Kerala, there is nothing Indian
about this masjid. Many of its architectural features, we
were told, seem to have come from Sumatra, in Indonesia. We
are not sure, however, if the multi-tiered roof, the absence
of a dome, and the strange, pagoda like minaret are of Sumatran
origin. As a major port on the east-west sea-lanes, Malacca
attracted settlers from all over Asia. In the Baba-Nyonya
Heritage Museum we saw how the marriages of Straits Chinese
with Malay women, created the rich cultural traditions of
the Baba-Nyonya people with their own dress, customs, and
Sunset had begun to cast long, soft, shadows when we drove
back to the base of A Famosa hill. Here, we walked around
a museum with an excellent display of photographs, charts
and documents which encapsulates Malaysias struggle
for freedom from British rule. Forty-six years ago, Tunku
Abdul Rehman had led a delegation of his people to Britain.
They returned via Singapore and Malacca. On the 20th of February
1956, in Malacca, the Tunku announced that the British had
agreed to give independence to the Federation of Malaya. We
stood in the pillared portico of the memorial to Malaysias
successful quest for its rightful place in the sun. This impressive
building had once been a retreat for many starchy Brits who,
fortified by whiskies, loudly proclaimed that the natives
were not fit to rule themselves. Fittingly, this former Outpost
of Empire has now become the Proclamation of Independence
Memorial in historic Melaka.
Malacca is located on the West Coast
of Peninsular Malaysia facing the Straits of Malacca,
about 147 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur between the
states of Negeri Sembilan and Johor. It covers an
area of 1,638 sq. metres and is divided into three
region namely Alor Gajah, Central Malacca and Jasin.
If you are in West Malaysia, the best way to travel
to Malacca is by road. Travelling down south via the
North-South Highway from the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International
Airport) takes only 90 minutes. If you are travelling
from KL, the journey is about 2 hours.
This ranges from the 5-star Malacca
Renaissance Hotel (RM 450-725) Fax: 06-2835351; through
4-star ones like The City Bayview Hotel (RM 318-518)
Fax: 06-2836699; 3-star ones like Grand Continental
Melaka Hotel (RM 200-240) Fax: 06-2848125; 2-star
ones like Air Keroh Country Resort (RM 150-500) Fax:
06-2320422 down to 1-star Selecstar Hotel (RM 77-115)
Or stay an hours drive away at the AFamosa
Resort Hotel, Fax: (6)06-5528101.
Malacca is well-known for its baba
and nyonya style spicy cooking which normally gets
served with rich coconut milk. There are numerous
specialist baba and nyonya restaurants in town and
the suburb area where they serve the mouth watering
food, not only known to be the best in Malacca, but
in the South East Asia region too. Then theres
the satay celup (Satay stick with raw
meat/Vegas dipped in hot boiling satay sauce for cooking),
ikan bakar which literally means barbecue
fish served in grilled aluminium foil or banana leaf
heavily marinated with spices that tingle the senses.
Malacca is truly an antique shopper's
paradise. Many artifacts and authentic antique items
are available at more than 15 antique shops lining
the busy streets of Jonker Street, affectionately
known as the street of antiques and is
well known among the international antique collectors.
The street is named Jalan Hang Jebat.