If you a history buff like me, one of the places that you must visit in Johor has to be Johor Lama (loosely translated as Old Johor), one of the seats of government of the old Johor Sultanate who were descendants from the Melaka Sultanate. And as in the case of the Melaka Sultanate, it was again war with the Portuguese which made the then reigning Sultan move his seat of government elsewhere shortly thereafter.
It was just a few week ago that my wife and I went for a trip to Tanjung Balau and Desaru. It was the start of our journey to visit and discover as many historical sites and places of interest in Johor, a journey that, deep in my heart, I know I should have made many, many years ago.
Admittedly, the new Senai-Desaru Expressway (SDE) was one of the ‘pull’ factors that had helped make it easier for me to make the journey to these places of historical interest. That plus the fact the house was still standing when we got back from our trip to Tanjung Balau and Desaru. Thus we felt safe enough to go on another adventure (sounds a bit like Bilbo Baggins, corny isn’t it?)
This time around, we both agreed to make it a point to go to Johor Lama, having read about it since our school days. Since I am not one for maps nor am I one for asking for directions (it’s a man thing, I guess), we filled the car with a full tank of petrol and began to make our way to Teluk Sengat.
Teluk Sengat is a small town on the bank of Sungai Johor (or Johor River, in English) and is about 40 km from Kota Tinggi and is en route to Desaru. Judging from the busloads of tourists that we saw passing through the main thoroughfare of the little town, Malaysians and Singaporeans, Teluk Sengat is apparently quite well-known for its seafood offerings.
A small and idyllic town, not much hustle and bustle here, as can be expected except for the buses of gastronomy tourists. One of the main features of Teluk Sengat is the array of eateries by the river banks with a long jetty stretching out to the river. From the river bank, you can see a few ‘rumah rakit’ or river houses, where the owners not only breed fish and other forms of seafood eg ‘kupang’ or mussels, prawns etc, but also offer the angling enthusiasts the opportunity to use the ‘rumah rakit’ for fishing as well. Mind you, to fish and try your luck with the fishes swimming wild in the river, NOT breeding in their nets.
Just what kind of fish you can actually reel in here, this fishing enthusiast can’t say. But give me a few months and I may perhaps be able to tell you. But whatever it is, I have been reliably informed that a fishing competition is held every two weeks when its high tide, and along the jetty.
The entrance fee is a princely sum of RM3 (about USD1) and the prizes are hampers. But as any fishing enthusiasts can tell you, it’s not the prize that matters (UNLESS it’s a cash reward) but its the ‘Pull’ factor as you reel in the fish that is the main attraction. Literally. The fight and the pull. That’s what it is.
From the jetty at Teluk Sengat, one can view the Sungai Johor Bridge in the background. Forming part of the Senai Desaru Expressway, a sight to behold especially at night, I was told. This we have got to sample but would entail us staying overnight, coupled with a bit of fishing I suppose. No big hotels here, that I can see. Not even a medium size one. But a few homestays, yes. It does seem to me that another trip would be required, one that involves fishing and sampling the homestays available in Telok Sengat. But not for the moment, despite our penchant for doing trips unexpectedly. Unfortunately.
There is also a crocodile farm nearby but as my wife wisely pronounced, the only crocodile (on four legs that is) that is allowed anywhere near us are the ones either in the forms of handbags or belts or what-else-have-you, thank you very much.
After taking in what Teluk Sengat has to offer, other than the fishing that is, we made our way to Johor Lama, which actually is about 3km or thereabouts from Teluk Sengat. We found our way easy enough to Johor Lama via all the road signs available and we reached there in good time, ‘there’ being the Johor Lama Historical Complex.
As a matter of introduction, the Johor Lama Historical Complex is managed by the Department of Museums of Malaysia, and its design is a replica of the palace that used to grace Johor Lama centuries ago.
Johor Lama, which housed the seat of government of the Johor Sultanate under Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II (1528-1564), is essentially a fortress. The Sultan was a descendant from the last Sultan of the Melaka Sultanate, Sultan Mahmud I, who, in 1511, fought and lost Melaka to the Portuguese forces led by Alfonso d’Albuquerque.
This was during the period when the Portuguese decidedly began to expand their influence to India and to this part of the world. After losing Melaka to the Portuguese, Sultan Mahmud I established the Johor Sultanate and became its first Sultan, reigning from 1511 to 1528.
Johor Lama is placed atop a hill overlooking Sungai Johor. Even today, with a bit of imagination, you can visualise the military thinking in picking out the spot to place a seat of government.
On top of a hill, with steep slopes and a clear view of Sungai Johor, any unannounced visits by friends and foe alike would be virtually impossible with mounds marking the old fortifications can still be seen til today. I have read about the Johor Lama fortress but to be here at Johor Lama, actually taking in the whole scene, you can’t help but feel the history of the place.
After taking in the scenery, we made our way into the museum located within the complex. The museum or should I say, mini-museum is dedicated totally to the history of Johor Lama, with portraits of the Sultans of old adorning the walls as you make your way into the museum. Artifacts, portraits and Malay weaponry of days gone by form a major part of the exhibits.
For me, I have always been a history buff (History was a favourite subject of mine when in school, believe it or not) and so reading all the narrations accompanying the exhibits is a must for me. Its time-consuming, I know but hey, it’s not everyday you get to be in Johor Lama.
Reading who’s who and when and what happened during that period of time, you can’t help but be transported in time, back to the time when the Sultan received dignitaries and holding court at the palace, discussing matters of state, matters of diplomacy as well as matters of trade and back to the days when kingdoms of old battle it out with each other for supremacy or influence or even to right a slight.
When the Portuguese came, the same warring kingdoms joined forces to battle the muskets and cannons of the Portuguese with the best of what Malay weaponry has to offer, after which the very same kingdoms would then resume fighting each other again. Some even joined forces with the common enemy to wage war on their Malay brethren and after succeeding, not willing to pay the heavy price demanded as reward and thus go to war with their former allies.
Taking all this in, it dawned on me that nothing has significantly changed to whats happening today. But that’s another blog and for another day.
We left Johor Lama with a heavy heart, to say the least, with Desaru our next port of call. The history of Johor Lama does leave an impression on you, of the blood spilled, of the lives lost and of the glory that once was the old Johor Sultanate.
It would be nice if the Johor Lama Historical Complex can be enlarged with a replica of the fortress built on the current locations with the surroundings depicting as closely as possible to the Johor Lama that once was, thus making it a living museum. That would be feat, if it can be achieved, what with land acquisition being part of the equation. Maybe the authorities can get together to make it happen.
After all, if done and managed properly, it can attract another form of tourism to the area ie history tourism. Coupled with gastronomy tourism and four-legged crocodiles, proper places to spend the night and a spot of fishing, this part of Johor DOES have something to offer.
As for us, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, we’ll be back. When? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, where to next, my love?
Date : 13 August 2012