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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Melaka (Malaysia) 2

Authored by

P.N. Sampath Kumar
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi
Emal: sapath_63@redffmal.com

We proceeded to Melaka on a two day trip last summer from Kuala Lumpur in mid March. 

Melaka could only be reached by road.  Its location is about 200 km south West of Kuala Lumpur and located in between KL and Singapore almost midway, though one need not touch Melaka to go to Singapore.

The inter city bus stations in Kuala Lumpur are no less than an international airport in design systems and facilities.   One has to report 15 minutes in advance and wait at the air conditioned boarding area.  Buses could be boarded through assigned gates only upon arrival of the bus; very professional.

The journey was comfortable and took about 3 hours.  Malaysian landscape is full of oil palms and rubber trees and occasional patches of forest.

We landed at Melaka Central (Malaya language has no script of their own; they use English alphabets to write) at around 2.00 noon.  We hired a taxi, paid 20 Ringgits and safely landed in the ‘Old Melaka Guest House’, located in the heart of the city.    

After a quick shower we left on foot, in search of some food to begin with, with a city map gifted by our friend Mr Chua, the owner of the Guest House.

Melaka is famous for its food but it was not the right time to experiment.  So we tried the first Indian restaurant we found on our way.   The food was predominantly non vegetarian which is not to our liking.  We got satisfied with the limited options available.
The streets had shops on both sides varying from grocery shops, hardware shops, flour mills, restaurants, etc.etc., owned either by Chinese or Tamils.  Most of them proudly displayed in their shops portraits of their grand / great grand parents.  The footpaths of most of the roads were seen floored with the then famous decorative Chinese ceramic tiles.

This town is spread over either sides of the river flowing east-west, connected by bridge (only one bridge those days) which could be covered in two days time on foot.  (Subsequent land reclamation of course changed the course of the river and flows southwards towards the end) Northern side included the sultanate, which was later converted into a fort by the invaders.  Southern side of the river had the warehouses and trading / business / public establishments.

Walking towards the north we reached the famous bridge which played a major role during the Portuguese strike. (This bridge was knocked down by the Sultans to block passage of Portuguese warriors but was rebuilt by the attackers with the help of trading community, crossed the bridge and surrounded the palace.  The sultan had by then vacated the palace and fled to Johor on the back of his elephant)

We decided not to cross the bridge and turned to our left and walked through the banks of the river, guided by our son, who was holding the city map.  We ventured into the first monument sighted, a church.   Oh, this is the on seen in the Melakan tourism literature. My son exclaimed.  This (“Christ Church”) built by the Dutch, is said to be the oldest functioning protestant church in Malaysia.  Originally built by the Dutch in 1753, and subsequently taken over by the British and consecrated by the Archbishop from Calcutta. This Church, has in its front a beautiful fountain built commemorating the visit of British Queen in the early 20th Century.

Walking further up, following other tourists, we arrived at the hill top from where the sea and the surroundings are visible.  Here stands the historic St Paul’s church, built by Portuguese in 1521.    When the Dutch took over, they demolished it and created their own place of worship for some time.  When the British came subsequently, they used this monument as their gunnery and a strategic vantage point.


The church seems to have had a prayer hall, an altar, etc. but the major visible proofs of its past history are the graves.  Here is the European priest St Francis  Xavier lived for a long period and converted few thousand locals to Christianity.  He died, on his journey to China and was cremated in some island from where his body was brought back to Melaka and later to India.  The five hundred year old dead body is now preserved and kept on display in the Church at Panaji, Goa.

The Portuguese constructed a huge Fort, after demolishing the Sultan’s palace, around the Malaka hill, facing the river.  One of the monuments that withstood the test of time is ‘AFAMOSA’ (meaning the famous), the gate of the fortress, leading to the hill top, located on the foothills of the St Paul’s Church.  This claims to be one of the oldest surviving European constructions in Asia.

Excavations around Melaka are still on.   In some places, even the excavation sites are showcased with creative lighting and adequate safety measures where wall constructions of different period are identified.

Traditionally, Malaka has a unique architectural method.   Wood is used abundantly to construct buildings.

The Royal Palace of Parameswara and his successors is reproduced in its full size to the left of Afamosa.  It would have been a huge challenge before the archaeological architects.    Made of wood in traditional style, it is claimed that the palace has been assembled without using a single Nail. The mere sight of it from a distance itself is mind-boggling.    The palace acting as a museum is open to public, wherein the whole history of Melaka is displayed with great imagination and creativity.  The landscape surrounding the palace is recreated to suit the period.  Interestingly the forbidden gardens meant for the queens are reproduced (though not known exactly what type of plants and trees were grown), with rare species trees and plants.

Walking towards the river, a giant wheel was seen at a distance on the bank of the river.  We went closer.  It was a wooden water wheel, reproduced and erected, based on the information available.  This system was employed to keep the water at navigable level by drawing sea water to the river.

Thanks to the innovative work of the archaeological engineers to reproduce such structures.  Another such structure is the replica of a famous Portuguese ship which sank in the coast of Melaka.  This is now a maritime museum covering exhibits of various periods.

To be continued.....