*6 & 7 July 2013 – Taiping, Bukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar and Batu Gajah.
Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong, with photographs 1, 2, 3 & 4 by courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Perak Office
What is happening in Perak ahead of Visit Malaysia Year 2014? By all accounts, the initiative which began in 2011 will continue and players are pepped up for success. There are more hotel rooms in Ipoh. There are old buildings being turned into food and hospitality outlets, especially in Ipoh. There is a new state exco who leads a young and enthusiastic team. Things look bright. But heritage tourism is yet to be understood and tapped into. Read below a couple of stories for an uplift of spirit.
Homecoming for the Minister of Tourism and Culture
Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, the Member of Parliament for Padang Rengas came home for his first official visit as Minister of Tourism and Culture. Appropriately, his itinerary covered the most important triangle of heritage towns in Perak, from Larut to Kinta: Taiping, Bukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar and Batu Gajah (just outside Ipoh). PHS President Mohd Taib Mohamed was the tour guide at Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah, where the Minister officiated the opening of the new Tourist Complex.
Naturally enough for the Minister, having only visited Sabah and Sarawak, his objectives were familiarization with the agencies while seeing some tour destinations in Perak. The most remarkable thing was, as Mohd Taib recounted, that he took the wheel to arrive at his destinations; his driver and aides were the passengers. Even the police outriders had not realized the minister was in the driver’s seat. Standard operation procedure was dropped unceremoniously. That set the tone of his homecoming.
In Taiping, the Minister visited the recently refurbished Perak Museum, the oldest museum in Malaysia, and the new exhibition at the Zoo on Taiping heritage walk, which was opened earlier in the day by another VIP. What a day for Taiping heritage! Later, in Bukit Gantang, he was welcomed by over 200 kampong folk, including the hosts in the homestay programme. He was treated to the local specialty: durian, which he must know well. That was topped by a “gazal” party: a traditional musical in modern costume.
A cruise on the majestic Perak River led to the evening’s highlight: the opening of the Sayong Riverfront Recreational Complex “Persisiaran Sayong”, which kicked off the “VISIT MALAYSIA YEAR 2014” campaign in Perak. The big crowd was entertained by traditional dances: Malay “Tarian Dabus”, Chinese lion dance, yo-yo play-dance, fan dance, Bangra dance, and a percussion band of drums from different Malaysian cultures. The legendary Dato’ M Daud Kilau, a native of Teluk Intan and pop diva, Azlyn were the singers who lighted up the stage.
Boost for tourism at Kellie’s Castle
The following day, Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah was the star feature. While various schools of thought perpetuate, Kellie’s Castle remains an eye-catching edifice despite questions about its heritage value. Money has been splashed on the site, so the least we can do is go and see for ourselves and rate what has been done before we make our own judgment. For sure, personal experience underlies heritage tourism.
1 Mohd Taib briefing the Minister and his entourage.
2 An enthusiastic Minister captures an audience.
3+4 The display on William Kellie-Smith and the history of Kellie’s Castle inside the unfinished castle. Mohd Taib makes a point. In blue batik is the D.O. of Batu Gajah, Dato Haji Jamrie
Under 10th Malaysia Plan, RM5 million was allocated by the Tourism Ministry to upgrade Kellie’s Castle as a tourist destination. With the Works Department as the lead agency the project was completed early this year.
To refresh your memory, our national daily The Star had made a report back in April 2011. The Batu Gajah District Officer then, Dato’ Razali Othman was quoted: “Among the upgrading works are landscaping, setting of a walkway and new stalls while the present outlets would be demolished… The castle is one of the top 10 must-visit places in Perak and
we want to ensure the premises are well maintained.” Indeed, the eye-sores of sub-standard service buildings are gone but one wonders about the wisdom of such an “activity centre” for a destination which has not achieved critical mass in terms of sustainable visitation.
As for the new garden of Kellie’s Castle, despite the annoying “cow grass”, it is best experienced. It features outdoor signs with historical images of the various buildings in the romantic setting. Go see it, and let us know what you think. Extra parking bays have been added to cope with the expected increase in tourist arrival. Here are some photographs to give you some idea of the new works.
5 After some rain, a puddle would form at the entrance to the Complex.
6 Blooming pink tabebuia shade the pavilion by the car park.
7+8 The commemorative plaque which marks the official opening and a board with detail “directional signs”.
9 Without critical mass (of visitors) the stalls of the cafeteria are not viable.
10 The display at the gallery comprises a few pieces of handicrafts. Are these samples of the souvenirs on sale and why is labu Sayong not featured as our iconic product?
11 A covered patio looks up to Kellie’s Castle (see photo 12), with a map of attractions in the environ of Batu Gajah (see photo 14).
12 Settings for “I was here” and wedding shoots are the latest additions to this tourist spot. Note the gentler hexagonal garden pavilion in the background.
13 The ticketing kiosk next to the footbridge which takes you across the river to Kellie’s Castle.
14 Map of “tourism products” in the environ of Batu Gajah.
We wonder how the current management company would deal with the new amenities for lecture, exhibition and “thematic activities”. It seems the District Office is still “looking at appointing a new management company to look after the castle”.
15 A view of the new Tourist Complex from the road.
16 Less than one kilometre away is the Arulmigu Maha Mariamma Temple. Contributed by Kellie Smith to calm his builders as a rash of sickness downed the workers at the “castle”, the family (his wife and daughters in Indian attire) are commemorated in figurines surrounded by other figurines of Hindu significance on the parapet wall of the temple.
PHS and Heritage Tourism
Since becoming PHS President, Mohd Taib has focused on tourism and intangible heritage, working with various authorities. Worthy of note is the Director of the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural, Perak office, Shahrudin Abdul Hamid, who managed the official visit of his No.1 boss. To be given the honour of being the guide to the Minister on his official visit means that PHS’ hard work has not gone unnoticed. It may be wishful thinking, but we hope one day the Ministry will make decisions with due respect to our recommendations on heritage tourism. That’s one way an NGO in heritage (and tourism) like PHS can contribute to society.
Postscript: That same Sunday evening in Damai Laut and over the following two days, 140 persons attended a “Perak Tourism Retreat” held at Swiss Garden Hotel and Spa, for tourism players in Perak, destination operators, tour guides and relevant NGOs. The aim was for the new state exco for health, tourism and culture to get to know the tourism players and chart the course of tourism development in Perak. Mohd Taib was the facilitator for the session on Heritage.