|River Melaka runs almost entire length of the town. River-walk is stunning|
Melaka was not a part of my travel plan this time. In fact, it had not been ever before. I had heard about this city, its history and its magnificence, but had never given a serious thought about going and spending some time there. All I wanted to go to in Malaysia -apart from Kuala Lumpur- was the Malaysian part of Borneo Island. Natural wonders of Sabah and Sarawak have always lured me, and there has been a constant urge in me to go wandering in the rain forests of Borneo. So, as soon as I got to know about a good offer for Mumbai-KL route from Air Asia, I was searching for flights from KL to Kota Kinabalu and reading about places I could visit there.
|Church at Town Square|
And, then it happened. Nicole Felhosi, my friend from Germany, was online and we started talking about my travel plan. I had met Nicole while I was travelling to Bali. She was on a world trip at that time, and had happened to travel to Melaka once during her trip. She told me that Melaka was not to be missed at any cost and I must have included it as one of my destinations. She even stressed that I should have prepared my itinerary in such a way that I happened to be in Melaka from Friday to Sunday. She said that the weekends in Melaka were fabulous and colourful, and Jonker Street in particular was a site to watch and it was fun to be there in night. She also gave me some information about the places to stay in Melaka. So, I made up my mind, and one fine Friday afternoon, I was in Melaka, the historical city of Malaysia- admiring its quietness, beauty and colonial charm, and thanking Nicole in my heart.
After landing at LCCT of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, I boarded a direct bus for Melaka. There is only one bus company that operates between LCCT and Melaka, and that is Transnasional (yes, the spellings are that way only. It is Malay way of adopting foreign words). They have one of the finest buses; you get to travel in a club class. One can book tickets online also with Transnasional, but I preferred to book them at their counter at LCCT as I was not sure if my flight from Siem Reap to KL would land on time. Interestingly, you will not find their counter in the international arrival hall. You will have to come out and then walk a few minutes to the domestic arrival hall where you can book your ticket. I preferred to book a return ticket @ RM 22.10 one way. When I boarded the bus, I did not know that the next three days were going to be some of the most memorable ones of my life.
The road journey ended exactly two and a half hours later, when our bus entered into Melaka Sentral. It is a huge octagonal building in the north-eastern part of the city that lies on a north-western and a south-eastern geographical axis. Melaka Sentral houses a bus terminal along with many good food outlets and shops. From the terminal, buses seem to operate for every corner of the world. From here, you can go cross-border into Singapore, or to almost every part of Malaysia; and from here only, you get local buses for various destinations in the city.
The Heritage City
The main area of interest for a traveller in Melaka is the heritage city which is situated along the sea-shore and is spread a couple of kilometers inland on the both sides of Melaka River. Melaka is a natural port and it has been an important stop-over for trade-ships plying on the routes connecting east and west since ancient times. Beacuase of its high importance as a port, it invited foreign invasions and has seen Portugese, Dutch and British as its rulers. So, during those times, area around the river and near the sea had been the centre of activity and was important from strategic point of view.
|In memory of Queen Victoria|
So, naturally, you find most of the ancient buildings or places of historical importance in this area only- thus, giving it its name as heritage city. And in this part only, you find the Jonker Street, the A’Famosa Fort, St. Paul’s Hill, the St. Paul’s Church, the Town Square (also called Dutch Square, or some times as Red Square... but the last name should not be confused with the nomenclature of Red Square in Moscow where it is associated with communism. In Melaka this name comes from red colour of buildings here which is a characteristic of Dutch colonial architecture) and a cluster of museums housed in ancient buildings. So, very obviously, most of the backpacker hostels and guesthouses are in this area only.
There is a 24-hour taxi service from Melaka Sentral to this area. A one-way taxi trip costs you RM 15 till midnight. And after midnight up to 5’o clock in the morning, one has to pay just the double of it. So, if you are on a budget travel and want to spend more on good food and beer during your stay, better board a local bus. Bus no. 17 takes you to Red Square in just 1 RM, and from here one can easily walk to the nearby areas. Remember, Melaka is not a very big city, and walking around is a fun there. And that was what I did exactly while I was there for three days. I just strolled around during evenings. Not just I saved a lot of money; I got to feel the city.
What imparts Melaka its original colour is its ethnic diversity. Apart from the local Malay people, Melaka is home to Baba Nyonyas, Chittys, Portuguese, Chinese and Indians. Baba Nyonyas are the strait-born Chinese people. They are a mixed race which came into existence when Chinese settlers came here some 600 years ago and married Malay woman. They have a very interesting cultural history, about which I will be detailing in my next articles. Like Chinese, early Portuguese settlers, who were fishermen, also married locally and their descendants are still living in Melaka. Chittys are strait-born Indians, who are descendants of early Indian settlers which came here in 15th century. Also, there are Indian people called Chettiars, and a Chinese community that came to Melaka during British rule or after that. These communities still maintain their own cultural identity, and thus contributing significantly towards overall cultural scenario of Melaka.
Text and Photos by Ajay Garg
|It was where the most important bastion of Melaka fort was situated|
|The street market at Town Square, also called the Dutch Square|