Malacca

Or more properly Melaka. The name itself has a romantic cadence; history has been made here many many times. It has been a port for half a millennium, standing as a staging post between India and China; traders used it as refueling point and rest station when travelling between the two major cultures of Asia. When the colonial powers arrived, chasing the spices that were essential to preserve their food, they quickly grasped the strategic advantage of this port and it changed hands many times, the Portuguese were here, then the Dutch and finally the English. It was here that Tunku Abdul Rehman declared independence in 1957, incidentally the year of my birth. The building from where this event took place stands as a monument to those stirring times.
We arrived at the Melaka Sentral bus station at about 11 AM after a comfortable and airconditioned journey from Kuala Lumpur. A short bus ride later we were at the heart of historical Melaka. The heritage area has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and it richly deserves the honour. There is a heritage trail where you can walk. Or take a trishaw. This is a cycle rickshaw with the passengers seated in front of the rickshawman. The trishaws are decorated with flowers, posters and look like a colourful boat sailing down the Melaka streets. All have a loud sound box which plays Mandarin, Malay and inevitably Hindi songs while the driver takes you down the streets which are closed to other vehicular traffic. It feels like heaven!
The principal monument is the A’Famosa, a fort built on top of St Paul’s Hill (the renaming disease seems to be little less virulent here; they killed off all their communists before independence). This fort was originally built by the Portuguese who arrived here in 1511. St Francis Xavier who died in China was brought here, his body pickled in lime to be buried in St Paul’s Hill. Nine months later the coffin was opened, (I wonder why?) and his body was found to be miraculously undecomposed and he was then transported to the Portuguese stronghold of Goa where he lies at the Basilica Bom Jesu. The fort was then occupied by the Dutch who gave the town its present shape. There are many graves, the poignant inscriptions reminding one of many Europeans who came out to the East to become rich, but left behind their sons, wives and sometimes met an untimely death themselves far from their native shores. The top of Bukit St Paul (Bukit=Hill), gives one a grand view of the Malcca Straits the very name sends a thrill of romance down my spine!
The Melaka River runs, cutting the old town in half. It is not much of a river though, by the standard of the Indian subcontiment, however the Europeans who are used to “great rivers” like the Tiber and the Thames seemed to enjoy cruising down it, to get a river’s eye view of the city.
Jonker’s street is another great attraction. Jonker literally means “second class gentlemen” in Dutch. Originally this street housed the servants of the rich families who lived at the Herren Street. This is the place to hunt up antiques, and also has several lovely Chinese temples. On weekends it turns into a pedestrian Mall with mobile stalls offering all sorts of food and crafts. We visited it in the afternoon; the street appeared at that time to be resting, in order to join in on the festivities after dark.
There is plenty to do here. There are museums galore, a quay side restaurant offering fresh seafood, plenty of cafes where you can sit and watch the river go by. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan as well it might be, from its birth, Melaka has been a melting pot, it is modern but heritage is everywhere. I sometimes wonder why we do not close off Dalhousie Square to traffic and convert it into a heritage area. It can be a huge tourist attraction and may draw our attention to many architectural gems that still exist in (O Horror!) BBD Bag. The place is reeking with history, and can be a magnificent world heritage site. Close by is Chitpur Road ; also a place which can be a heritage site . I remember seeing some photographs taken by a visiting photography student’s group. It is still the most exotic area of Calcutta, if not the whole of India.
We returned to Kuala Lumpur by bus again, no hassles, right on time. Operation Exploring Malaysia has just begun.

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Mallaca is a place that is worth visiting. You can have fun there
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