By Yoon Lai Wan
Perak, the treasure trove of peninsular Malaysia is a land full of fascination. Tantalizing food, sun-kissed beaches, enchanting landscapes and heritage trails are some of the examples which make up the heartbeat of this beautiful state. To walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, to feel the ambiance of the past and to learn to appreciate the rich heritage that exists in our own land was the call of the day on a recent Perak Heritage Society (PHS) excursion to Chemor.
Neolithic Rock Paintings, Chinese and Indian Temples, On the Chemor Heritage Trail
The event, lead by Law Siak Hong and his team was opened to the public and an enthusiastic group of 14 people turned up for the memorable occasion. In reality, this nostalgic trail is a loop which starts from Tambun and ends in Tanjung Rambutan.
Gunung Panjang, Tambun was our first stop. This place is famed for its Neolithic rock paintings dating more than 2,000 years back. One needs to take a leisurely walk along an overgrown trail and climb a flight of steep concrete steps before reaching
Gua Tambun where the Tambun Rock Paintings are found. We were enthralled by the red-pigmented paintings which bears a slight resemblance to the aboriginal paintings of Australia. It has been noted that there are more than 600 prehistoric rock paintings but they are rapidly fading due to exposure to natural elements through time. Illustrations of dugongs, deer, tapirs and wild boars can still be seen and with a vivid imagination, many others may start appearing too.
Flora & fauna is abundant in Gunung Panjang. We took our time to soak in the beauty of nature and were admonished to not deviate from the path as we may unknowingly tread on some artefacts and destroy a part of history.
Tong Wah Temple
Tong Wah Tong or Tong Wah Temple, located along Batu 7, Jalan Ipoh-Tanjung Rambutan was our next stop. Most of Ipoh’s cave temples nestled among the many limestone hills in Kinta Valley but this interesting site is wedged half way up Gunung Layang Layang. One has to be physically fit to climb a flight of 168 steps before reaching the main entrance. Do take a breather while ascending as one can be rewarded with a great panoramic view of Kinta.
At the entrance of Tong Wah Tong, two gigantic murals depicting a green dragon and a tiger are paired off on each side of the wall. The murals of the mythical Chinese dragon & tiger are symbolic to ward off evil spirits. Having been there before, I noticed that the green dragon has been repainted gold. I was told by a temple helper that the reason for doing so is that golden dragons represent themost sovereign of the metallic dragons and they are also the mostdedicated to defeating evil.
On entering, an impressive altar is seen inside the main chamber. We were also shown a meditation centre located on another level.
Tanjung Rambutan was our next destination. This is a multiracial small town where everyone is living in harmony. On the main road, one can spot a gurdwara (Sikh temple), an Indian temple, a mosque and a Chinese temple quite close to each other.
Pre-war architecture like SJK (C) Tat Choi and the railway station can still be seen. The rustic railway station, built in 1897, has seen better times. Sadly, it will soon be Mandailing architecture demolished to make way for the new double track. Trains do not stop here anymore but one can still visit this nostalgic place to look at the architecture and try the local delicacies which are being sold around this station. Don’t miss the Railway pasembor stall which opens from noon till dusk (closes on Friday). The pasembor is simply one of the best that I have tasted.
Kampung Mandailing, Chemor was our next call. Kak Nadimah, a descendent of Raja Bilah, was there to welcome us to her lovely house built in the 19th century.
We were shown her collection of heirlooms. Solid antique furniture, four-poster beds, collections of lamps and bottles,a giant cookie press and the beautiful century-old tekat(embroidery) were artistically displayed. Kak Nadimah, being the perfect hostess who not only speaks excellent English but is a fantastic cook as well, treated us to a spread of Malay/Mandailing cuisine which included her specialty, the Kuih Makmurfilled with pineapple jam. Chronicles of her father, the former head-man of Kampung Mandailing were later shared with us.
Chemor railway station which was built in 1896 was our next stop. Shady trees and wild flowers lined the path leading to the station. Manned by Hassan, the station master, this place has also seen better days but trains do stop as key drops are still carried out here. Hassan graciously showed us around as we noted a phone with single line, antique train ‘keys’, and mechanical lever frames.
Our final stop was back to Tanjung Rambutan. This time we headed for Hospital Bahagia, Ulu Kinta (HBUK). With Gunung Korbu, the second highest peak in west Malaysia standing majestically within a short distance, one can feel the invigorating fresh mountain air blowing gently in the valley invigorating and refreshing the soul. This place is indeed the perfect location for a psychiatric hospital.
HBUK, built a century ago on 503 acres of land, was formerly known as Central Mental Hospital, Tanjung Rambutan. We were much honoured to be escorted by James Anthony, the supervisor of HBUK, around the vicinity. A brief history of this place was shared with us and we were taken round in a bus to visit the wards, gardens and lovely old colonial buildings which have stood the test of time.
Heritage trails evoke a sense of nostalgia. I hope that we will not let the old world charm disappear from our lives. As we are living on borrowed time, it is imperative that we preserve the rich culture and heritage found in Perak for future generations to appreciate.