Our first trip to Malaysia and our first stop on the road in Penang. The story behind the formation of Penang is a heart wrenching tale of imperialistic ambition and Western European trickery. Located in the straights of Malacca, this small island acted as a stop for the traders of the 16th century. The island was a part of the Kedah Sultanate. The story follows a similar pattern as a cunning opportunist Brit landed on the island, Captain Francis Light.
The usual trickery continued as the simple thinking King of Kedah, offered the island of Penang in return for protection against neighbours. The first order of business by Captain Light was to stamp his authority all over the island. The ominous Union Jack was hoisted and named the island” The Prince of Wales island”. Soon after realising his trickery, the Sultan tried to capture back his land but the British wasn’t going to give in so easily. A treaty was signed for a paltry sum as Penang came under the British colonial rule. The settlement was known as George Town after King George III.
British elements in Penang
Our first post centres about a trip around George Town. After a quick breakfast at the Hard Rock Hotel where we were staying, we headed out. The tour started out at Captain Light’s initial fortified position, Fort Cornwallis. The medieval era fortress is reminiscent of the British architecture combined with South East Asian elements. The star shaped fort still houses the huge brass cannons of yester years. Before rifling was introduced in guns, the length of the barrel of the cannon determined its range. This led to the gargantuan sized cannons, Seri Rambal being a classic example.
The Baroque Edwardian era Town Hall is our next destination. Built out of white stone, the Town Hall stands erect against the majestic backdrop of Penang’s skyline. A cenotaph stands across the road to commemorate the dead of the World War I. Being situated bang right in the middle of a shipping route, Penang’s culture and its inhabitants have been influenced from all over the world. Captain Light’s original home still stands to this day. The Christian convents have taken over and converted it into a girl’s school, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus.
Indians were one of the first traders to start trading here after the establishment of British East India company’s rule here. The Little India market transports you back to the modern bazaars of India. There is Bollywood music blaring out from the speakers while hawkers try to make you buy stuff that you don’t require, albeit at throwaway prices. There are a few restaurants serving South Indian food as their ingredients are pretty easily available in the region. The Sri Mariamman Temple is one of the oldest marks of Hindu influences over the island. The morning and evening Puja(prayers) is something that you should check out.
But if you seriously want to understand how rich these traders were, you have to see their mansions. Just like the forts of Rajasthan, these opulent homes have been recreated and open to the public. Although I will only be giving you a sneak peek into these, I’ll be covering them in detail in my later posts. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion takes us into the home of a prominent Baba from the Chinese settlements. The intriguing quality of this museum is the admixture of cultures you find. There are Chinese wood panels, English floors and Scottish iron works. Although Jodhpur’s blue houses may have enticed you, but it pales in front of the majestic blue of the Blue Mansion: Fatt Tze mansion.
Do explore Penang for the multicultural mixing of cultures and specially the mansions. We had booked our stay in Penang with Traveloka and they made your journey seamlessly easy.
All images are courtesy of Tourism Malaysia.