As I have mentioned earlier, Melaka port was attacked by a Portuguese armada in the year 1511 and had defeated the Sultan ruling there. For 100 years prior to this, Melaka was a capital of a Kingdom ruled by a Sultan in the Malaysian Peninsula. In the year 1400 a Hindu king known as ‘Parameshwar’ was ruling over Singapore. He was dethroned and had to run away from Singapore. Eventually, he arrived at Melaka and decided to make Melaka as the new capital of his kingdom. At that time, most of the subjects of this king were also Hindus. In year 1409, king ‘Parameshwar’ accepted Islamic religion as a precondition to his marriage to a Muslim princess, then he accepted a new name for himself and became known as ‘Iskandar Shah.’ After this, most of his citizens also accepted Islamic religion. ‘Iskandar Shah’s’ descendents ruled over Melaka until 1511 and after their defeat at the hands of the Portuguese, then ruling Sultan ran away to Bukit Bintang in Malaysia and then to Sumatra island.
The new European rulers of Melaka were not able to hold on the importance and historic glory of the Melaka Port. The trade passing through this port declined further and further. After the British took over Melaka port from Dutch, they appointed a figure head Sultan and called him ‘Sultan of Johar.’ He was asked to look after the affairs, particularly concerning labour strife between local Malay labour and Chinese labour brought in for working in Tin mines and rubber plantations.
The traditional palace of the sultans of Melaka from ‘Iskandar Shah’s dynasty was actually located near the fortified post of ‘Porta d’ santiago’ built by the Portuguese. After Portuguese defeated the Sultan, they destroyed this palace totally. In 1984, The Government of Melaka and the federal Government of Malaysia, rebuilt a new wooden palace, exactly as per original plans, which luckily remained conserved and housed a museum of artifacts and objects from the Sultan era in that building.
I am walking on my way towards this palace, not very far from the gate of ‘Porta d’ santiago.’ After seeing this great effort put in by the Governments of Melaka and Malaysia, my heart is saddened again, as I remember the empathy of the Government of Maharashtra in India, to conserve the historic heritage of the city of Pune, my home town. It is a sad reflection, that leave alone establishing museums etc; even historic structures are not being conserved and are just allowed to decay and crumble.
The villages in Malaysia are known as Kampung. The houses in these villages are built in an exquisite manner. Thick wooden poles are made to stand up in the ground by burying their ends, deep under ground. Horizontal wooden beams are tied or nailed to these poles at a height about 5 or 6 feet. A wooden hut is constructed on these horizontal beams. It is easily possible for any one, to walk below a house in a Kampung. The rebuilt Sultan palace here, looks like a long series of Kampung houses. built one after other. The central portion of the palace has a built in stair case, which can take you the second floor. Since the lowest floor itself is at a height of about 6 feet, to enter the palace, one needs to climb a flight of stairs. The palace however, appears very comfortable and suitable for the hot and sultry equatorial weather.
A Tea pot
The museum exhibits include a beautiful collection of the attires and dresses, Jewelery, Ceramics, silverware of those periods. As I have mentioned above, a large number of traders from different nationalities had settled down in Melaka. Some of the exhibits show the distinguishable clothes worn by these traders along with the items they mainly traded. I have been wandering around this museum for more than one and half hour and realize that I have yet not had anything to eat since morning, and reluctantly step back from the palace.
The Royal Boat
After lunch, I decide to visit the Maritime museum, not very far away from the palace. A Portuguese man-of-war or a warship ‘ Flor de La Mar ‘ was sunk off the Melaka harbour in the naval wars between Portuguese and Dutch. In 1990, Government of Melaka built a replica of the original warship according to original plans and have housed this maritime museum in this ship standing on hard ground. In Pune, we have a club called Boat Club or in Mumbai, there is another club known as Yacht Club. In both these clubs, I have seen many items used on ships and boats. That probably is the reason for my subdued level of interest in this museum. But the warship itself is worth a visit. They also have many models showing old cargo ships and warships, which are very noteworthy.
A bridge next to the Maritime Museum takes me to a narrow congested street. This street is well known and is considered as Melaka’s top tourist attraction. Almost every visitor to Melaka, definitely visits this street at least once, during his visit. This street is known as ‘Jonkar Street’ The street, prima facie, looks like Mumbai’s famous ‘Luhar Chawl Street from a distance, but as I go nearer, it opens for me a gold mine of antiquities, curios and small tidbits. No one asks you about buying anything here, You can do window shopping comfortably even for 2 hours here. In the night, this street gets converted to a street food mall and is like a street banquet for foodies, who love southeast Asian food. I keep wandering on the street and indulge myself with some of the snacks and purchasing some totally unnecessary stuff. Obviously, making purchases of such things, is and essential part of any tourism. It is a great fun, I am sure.
Chinese labour started arriving in Malaya from Nineteenth century, to work in Tin mines and rubber plantations. Those arrived, naturally settled down here later and brought their own Chinese culture and food with them here. After almost two centuries, the original Chinese food and culture has got amalgamated with the Malay food and culture to produce a new food and culture for these people of Chinese origin, now settled in Malaysia. These Malay Chinese are called here as ‘Nonya-Baba’ or ‘Baba-Nonya’ and their special recipes are called as ‘Nonya food.’ In Melaka city, specialized restaurants have now come up, who serve ‘Nonya’ food. I am on my way to have my dinner in one such joint called ‘Ole Sayan,’ which specializes in Nonya food.
Nonya Restaurant (Specially decorated for Deepavali)
The restaurant is jam packed with a mixed crowd, mostly of Chinese origin, few Caucasians and sprinkling of other Asians like us. In Mumbai, we have Udipi restaurants, where taking of orders and delivery of food is done at super fast speed. This restaurant has a similar culture. The basic ingredients of Nonya dinner still remain as made from rice, noodles, chicken and prawns. The dishes are quite tasty and sumptuous. I order a special Nonya desert after my dinner. It is called as ‘Chandol,’ and is made from Noodles made from red beans flour, palm syrup and frozen coconut milk.
The Government here is making an earnest effort to create more and more attractions for the tourists to make Malaka a great tourism spot. There is a monorail now, that runs along Melaka river. Off course, one can always take a river cruse. New attractions like Butterfly park, Amusement Park, have come up. The efforts are being made to make this a recreational spot, where the whole family can spend few days of fun. Since Malaysian Ringgit is much cheaper than Singapore Dollar, Singaporeans find this spot very attractive. However, largest number of tourists that come to Melaka, appear to be Japanese. Bus loads of Japanese are seen arriving in Melaka from Japan via Kuala Lumpur.
Better the vacation spot, quicker goes the time. This is very true and time for my departure has already arrived rather hurriedly, I keep thinking. Still, I have to leave Melaka now. We are told that we can have some high tea before we leave. Actually, right now, neither I am hungry nor it is the time for my meals. But when on vacation, do we have to follow routine or rules? Off course not, then why not sit at home only? I decide to indulge myself in one of the finest cuisines that the hotel offers. As we leave Melaka, I know that I shall cherish and remember every small detail of last few days for long time to come.
(concluded)(First published in Akshardhool on 5 March 2013)