Kuching is the capital city of Sarawak, one of Malaysia’s rainforest states on the island of Borneo - a land of myth, of great apes, deep caverns, towering waterfalls, mighty rivers, wild jungle and even wilder headhunters. Even so, modern Kuching is a bustling riverside city with high rises jostling for position amongst temples, traditional shophouses, and wooden kampungs hugging the riverbanks. Our city offers a rich blend of cultures – in people, in practices and, of course, in food – a blend born of a unique history and heritage that is evident in the landscape and lifestyles of the Kuching of today.
Travellers between India and China have been drawn to this part of Borneo since at least the sixth century, trading with the indigenous peoples and leaving an important archaeological legacy. But the narrative of Kuching itself really began in 1841 with the arrival of James Brooke, the first famed White Rajah of Sarawak who established a nation around his new capital. His dynasty continued for three generations, through his successors Charles and Vyner Brooke, right up until 1939. During their time, this one lane settlement grew, adding shophouses, administrative buildings, infrastructure and places of worship, many of these still standing beyond the formation of Malaysia, all part of the evolution of Kuching into the varied city it is today.
Visitors can stroll from the city mosque topped by its five onion domes, down India and Gambier Streets, lined with fabric and spice shops where the heady aromas of salted fish, belacan, cumin and other spices mingle in the air. Then they can wander on round the rambling Old Brooke-era Courthouse, built in 1874, with its uniquely Sarawak architecture – a hybrid of Malay, Indian and European styles. From there, Carpenter Street gives a glimpse into the history of the early Chinese settlers, from the traditional shophouses housing Chinese medicine stores and tinsmiths still plying their trade down to the various temples, Hainanese, Teo Chew and Hokkien. At its end, the temple to Tua Pek Kong, the oldest in Kuching, sits atop a small hill overlooking the stately Sarawak river as it makes its way out towards the South China Seas.
People fall in love with the rhythm of Kuching and its easy approach to both diversity and unity. A day can begin with coffee shop chatter over a bowl of Sarawak’s famous laksa, and end over a shot of tuak in a Dayak karaoke bar. The opportunities are endless and open. So, for newcomers, Kuching may prove to be a wonderful new discovery, and for regulars or residents alike, you can fall in love with its story all over again through the Kuching Heritage Race.
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