Historically speaking, Melaka or as the westerners would call it Malacca is the most important city of Malaysia, as the origin of Malaysia lies here. It is here that the Portuguese first landed and established a trading port. This is where the Hindu king Parameswara converted to Islam and called himself Sultan Iskandar Shah. And laid the foundations of the cultural mix that the country continues to have to date.
The city owes its name to the tree that grows here. The legend is that the king was tired and sat under a tree when someone asked him what to name the place. He asked the name of the tree under whose shade he was sitting. And was answered ‘Melaka’ and he said ‘Let’s call this place Melaka’. Now I know that we get a dry fruit in India by the same name. Which is like a bigger version of Kishmish or dried grapes and is used in many herbal preparations. I wanted to know if it is the same fruit and kept looking for it through my two days in the city but could not find it. Most people in the city seem to have written off this as a myth or legend. And maybe never connected the name and its meaning.
Melaka or Malacca or Malaka city – a World Heritage
It has been designated a world heritage city for its cultural heritage. You can see its culture being showcased as soon as you land in the city. The colors catch your eyes wherever you look. The bright red color adorns the streets along with other bright colors. There are hardly any boring off-white or grey buildings. In fact, the houses by the riverside have been painted with kinds of themes. Each house is unique because of these paintings. I am not sure if this place was always as colorful or there is a conscious attempt to keep it so for the tourist.
Things to do in Melaka
It is a small place that ideally you should cover on foot. The narrow streets in the main town are filled with museums, restaurants and big and small memento shops. Local handicraft shops selling face masks, fridge magnets, key chains, postcards, porcelain. Local cookies and dried fruits make the streets lively and cheerful. A few art shops almost look like the museum. As do the crystal shops that display them in the form of miniature carved pieces to raw rocks. Colorful temples sometimes doubling up as restaurants are intricately painted with mythological figures. And are bound to make you stop by and admire them for a while.
Tour of the heritage town
My rendezvous with the heritage town started with a sumptuous lunch at a restaurant that must have been a Portuguese house in good old days. The ambiance is still maintained in the same way. Ornate doorways, partitions, mirror frames, and cupboards still carry a golden shine. In case the guests still miss the hints of its past, a look at the typical Portuguese tiles on the floor would spill the beans. Next thing to catch the eye were colorful cycle rickshaws called Trishaw’s here. Each Rickshaw was colorfully decorated in brightest possible colors, with a matching umbrella on top and playing loud music. Tourists enjoying Trishaw rides were mostly from the west. I think in the east this is still a part of our lives.
City of Museums
The city can easily be called a city of Museums. I saw a poster talking about the 24 museums in town and I am sure there are much more. I am going to write a separate post on the museums. River Melaka flows through the city. In the evening you can go for a small cruise on the river where you get a feeling of being in Venice. I am yet to go there, though. You pass underneath the multiple bridges that connect the city on both sides of the river. And the sidewalks remind you of river walk in San Antonio. For a long stretch, the buildings on both sides of the river are painted with all kinds of themes representing various cultural elements of the place. The lights of the city reflecting on the water give a romantic air to the place.
Walking on the streets
As I walked the streets of the heritage town, I noticed that all the building, especially the houses were very narrow on the side facing the street. But they were very long on the other two sides. Our guide told us that this is because during the times these houses were built, the property tax used to be calculated on the width of the house. And that explains the long narrow houses of the town. I had heard a similar story of Window Tax in Bath, UK. I wonder if taxes were always as painful and as much as dictating our lives. There are areas that primarily belong to native Indian, Chinese and Portuguese communities. And hence carry the strong fragrance of the individual cultures.
Thank you Tourism Malaysia for giving me this opportunity to be in this lovely city. And for being a perfect host.
Recommend you to read the following travel blogs on Places to visit in Malaysia.