A TRYST WITH THE PAST
Travel+Leisure India|September 2021
The sleepy Malaysian city of Melaka charms visitors with its mishmash of cultures, ancient religious structures, and simple life.
SUSHEELA NAIR

REVISITING MEMORIES OF pre-COVID vacations with friends and family has become my favorite exercise to cope with the cabin fever and sense of doom evoked by the second wave. One such vacation that keeps cropping up in conversations is Melaka (also spelled Malacca). I vividly remember rambling down the meandering lanes of the Malaysian city a few years ago. It seems surreal now, a vacation without masks or physical distancing.

Melaka is not as flamboyant as Kuala Lumpur, but it abounds in history and architecture. It is no wonder tourists come in hordes to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though it’s small enough to explore on foot, Melaka has sufficient attractions to fill an itinerary of several days.

I wandered at leisure in this ancient city, admiring its old churches, Hindu temples, gilded Chinese temples, grand mosques, opulent mansions, red colonial buildings, and streets lined with tile-roofed louvered shophouses where traders reside. The foreign influences —from early Indian civilization to Portuguese and Dutch, were discernible. I was, at times, transported to the late 18th century when Melaka was a busy outpost for the British, who stormed this part of the world in search of spices and stayed back to reap the benefits of the lucrative trade.

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum (babanyonyamuseum.com) was my first stop. This private museum, located along with Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, is owned by the fourth generation of the Chan family. Built during the Dutch occupation, the structure offers a glimpse into the rich and colorful Peranakan lifestyle. “Peranakans are a group of wealthy families who evolved from the intermarriage of Babas, or Chinese traders, and Nyonyas, or local residents. This was once the ancestral home of a Baba Nyonya family,” explained our ebullient guide. The ancestry altar, an archive of costumes, neoclassical furniture, Victorian-era chandeliers, and other artifacts created a delightful time warp in the unique museum.

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