We set out from Colmar Tropicale at about 2 pm. As we descended the gentle slopes, the car enthusiast in me was in for a most exciting surprise. A Porsche Boxster first passed us by from the opposite direction. But as we took the next turn, it was an entire convoy of Porsches — from the haloed 911 to Cayennes, and every model in between. That they also came in pastel shades made the sight all the more exciting. And much as I reveled in the visual pleasure, I also listened in keenly to their deep and gnarly exhaust notes.
Some 10-15 minutes later, we were once again on the highway that we’d driven on from Kuala Lumpur. To get to Malacca, we’d have to retrace our ‘steps’ back to the capital, and then drive south to the historic town.
Now in India, if you’ve noticed, toll booths on highways are springing up at shorter intervals. But if this is a pain point, then Malaysia is a notch higher. Toll booths there come up even more frequently.
Breaking my highway reverie, however, were some very fast and extremely furious two-wheeler riders. Astride the equivalent of what we popularly call ‘scooties’, these riders would overtake even when we were cruising at over 100 km/hr. And when traffic would crawl because of construction or a collision ahead, these scooties would ride on the hard shoulder with equal fury. I was quite taken by their daredevilry.
A navigation error turned out for the better
We had to drive through the heart of Kuala Lumpur because we missed an exit that would have connected us to a southbound highway, without having to navigate bumper-to-bumper traffic. But the upside of this detour was being able to sample a bit of the city, even if from the confines of our car.
Personally, my eyes were fixated on what I call the ‘carscape’ — or the major kinds of cars that make up a particular country’s or city’s streets. In Malaysia’s case, while the majority of vehicles were either Protons and Peroduas, there was a fair share of premium German name plates too. What was also interesting to note were the various Chinese auto makers’ offerings. Some of their SUVs were gorgeous.
Once we were beyond the city limits, it was once again driving bliss. The six-lane highway meandered past rolling hillsides, a lot of which had palm plantations. Malaysia, it turns out, is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers. And among its largest importers is India. If you’re health conscious, you’re aware, I’m sure, that palm oil is not seen in positive light.
The sun was setting fast when we stopped for some fuel at a rest stop. Adjacent to it was an A&W’s outlet; I was fond of their burgers when I lived in Canada. After some six years or so, I was able to dig into a juicy A&W burger with sweet potato fries.
Further observation of the ‘carscape’
Once we were back on the highway, a classic Rover Mini overtook us. It seemed to be doing a pretty good clip for a car of its age. Now, the Rover version of the Mini was its original iteration. It was the Maruti 800 equivalent for the UK and several other European economies. Designed by an automotive legend called Sir Alec Issigonis, the car has now acquired a cult following, much like the original Volkswagen Beetle.
If you’re familiar with the Mr. Bean series, his trademark yellow vehicle is a Rover Mini. Now, Rover at some point was sold to BMW. The German automaker then gave the world its current iteration — an absolute phenomenal work of engineering.
Not too long after, we exited the highway towards Malacca. Beas had made a booking at the Bayview Hotel Melaka — a fairly fancy property. It wasn’t difficult to find and quick refreshments later, we decided to explore the city on foot.
A cosmopolitan city
Malacca is steeped in history that goes back to the 14th century. Its medieval history began with a Sumatran ruler. He’d settled there after being driven out by a Thai controlled army from his earlier base. There was also a Chinese association formed by way of the explorer called Admiral Zheng He.
With its coastal location, Malacca became an important trading hub. It was visited by traders from the Arab world, and from India and China. At some point, the Portuguese came calling. They assumed control of the sultanate in 1511. Melaka prospered as a Portuguese colony and this was probably when it caught the attention of the Dutch. With help from a neigbouring sultan, the Dutch overthrew the Portuguese and ruled until a third coloniser came along. Not surprisingly, it was the British this time around. In 1795, they assumed the reins and continued to wield power until Malaysia became an independent country in 1957.