If you stumble on many of the ‘What-to-do-in-KL-in-48-hours’ guides, and you feel that the whole experience is very Westernised, its time to head a bit north to see what the real Malaysia looks like. Its a problem with most part of the world which has tourists coming from the west, that become ‘internationalised’ with a Subway, Mcdonalds or a Pizza Hut. While it helps us travel easily in a standardized format, knowing what to expect, it does take some sheen off the whole experience of discovering a place and its culture.
Melaka – ‘The Historic State’
So, I landed at KL’s airport and took off on the first bus to a little strait along Malaysia’s South West Coast called Melaka/Malacca. A town which was discovered by a king called Parameshwara in the 14th century when he made it to the fishing village and discovered a rat being able to counter attack a dog and push it into the river. Melaka, was the name decided by the king, since he saw the toughness in the rat, and named the little village after the toughness of a particular tree (Pokok Melaka), and that’s how the island got its name.
As I made it into the town, after a luxurious snooze on the AC bus from the airport, I ended up noticing references/similarities to Goa. Maybe it was the color of the buildings. The red brick colour of the buildings I saw all around.
Or maybe it was just the Portuguese, who had a distinct way of painting their towns red. The Portuguese were the first connection, apart from which the other connection was St Francis Xavier who had spent a lot of time in Malacca spreading Christianity as he did before passing away in Goa. On walking a little further I could see that the third connection this little city was now fiddling with my brains, was that of Venice. I saw the Melaka river flowing through the city, with houses on either sides and people traveling by ferry through the canals. It piqued my interest to explore the city further through its little bylanes.
In and Around Melaka
I settled into what was meant to be a quick breakfast at a bakery, but it went for well over 45 minutes before I decided to get away from the trap that food usually casts on unsuspecting travelers. I decided to burn some calories in exploring the town and found my first point of call to be the ‘Christ Church’, as suggested by the British expat running the bakery.
The Christ Church in Melaka, dates back to the 18th century when it was built. It has a tomb, and the tomb clearly shows out when you look at it from a distance. The church belongs to the Dutch Square, which is almost the heart of the little city.
A couple of minutes away, or a few more given Melaka’s tropical weather lies a Youth Museum, which was formerly an Anglo-Chinese school and a Post office. This was opened in 1992, and shares space with the Malaysian Art Gallery. While it did have caricatures on Malaysian youth movement, I did not quite get the gist of the museum. It certainly was a welcome respite from the heat outside which helped me preserve my youth and keep more energy for the walk ahead. 2 Ringgits for a refreshment didn’t really do much damage to my wallet.
I walked further across the bridge by the huge Discovery cafe and get into the ferries plying on the canals. You usually have a wait time between 15-20 minutes.
Some of the houses have caricatures and art forms. I am not quite sure if it is showcasing culture like the way temples do back in India, but it sure was colourful to look at, while the ferries were traversing the zig zag curvy routes of the canals into the city.
Home away from home
Sapped by all the walking, I turned towards Little India (a part of Melaka), for some predictable vegetarian fare, given that vegetarian restaurants are rare in this part of the world. I did stumble upon a Tamil Restaurant, and my taste bud did not find a reason to be as drought stricken in this tropical climate, as the ‘monsoons’ came soon in the form of Sambhar and Chutney. Melaka was suddenly my home away from home.