Kuching is steeped in history and three of this main streets would tell fascinating tales of Rajahs, trading ships and the influx of immigrants if only they could talk. For now, the wealth of information in historical archives and history books will have to do.
The first official road to appear in Sarawak’s landscape, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman or better known as Main Bazaar is where Kuching’s modern history began.
It functioned as the city’s centre before expanding to its current boundaries. As the name implies, it was the city’s first trading centre due to its proximity to the waterfront’s piers and wharfs.
When James Brooke came to Sarawak in 1839, the row of shops along the street and sitting on the edge of the river’s mudflats, was made of only wood and nipah.
As the British Raj administration flourished and Kuching prospered, Main Bazaar experienced a tremendous increase in activities, with various vendors opening up shop along the most popular street in town.
Under the governance of the second Rajah Charles Brooke, some of the wooden buildings along the road were replaced by Kuching’s first brick shophouses in 1872, further solidifying the importance of the street in the state’s history.
The 1884 fire devastated the remaining wooden buildings, giving way to an entire row of shops made of brick.
Main Bazaar is where Kuching’s “kaki lima” or the pavement originated, deriving its name from the pedestrian walkways that measured precisely five feet when they were originally built.
As time passed, Main Bazaar slowly lost its stature as the business hub of Kuching. Today, it is the go-to place for antiques and souvenirs, as well as boutique hotels like The Ranee.
Unofficially regarded as Kuching’s “Chinatown”, Carpenter Street has preserved much of its authenticity, alongside Main Bazaar.
It was the centre of Chinese immigrants to Kuching as well as those who came because of Rajah Brooke’s promising campaigns.
As more people migrated to the street and Kuching in general, the area thrived as the cultural heart of the Chinese community housing temples, cultural centres, association offices, businesses, and food courts.
Initially known as Attap Road (because of the use of nipah in the buildings), the Great Kuching Fire of 1884 ravaged the buildings along the Main Bazaar, burning down more than 160 shops.
These shophouses were then rebuilt with brick, the same structures that are standing to this day. The street’s name was also changed to Carpenter Street to reflect the many woodwork workshops in the area.
Originally called “Kling Street” (Kling means Indian in Hakka), it was changed to India Street under Rajah Brooke’s administration in 1928. The state derives its name from the fact that many merchants from India set up stores along this street.
Having always been known as the hub for textiles and jewellery, India Street is much the same today after being converted into a pedestrian shopping mall in 1992.
Adjacent to the street is the first Indian Muslim mosque in the state as well as Jalan Gambir (where the aphrodisiac gambir is sold) and “Kucing Transformers”.
This article first appeared in uppre.com