Archive for October, 2013

Lenggong Valley: A Site for the Senses

Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong 

Cool and mysterious: sunset over the Perak River at Kampong Labit.

In the nascent days of PHS, the potential of Lenggong Valley (LV) for world fame was being evaluated. It was back in March 2004, when Lau Sook Mei and I had organised the first PHS member only LV heritage trail. Then as now, the first stop must be the museum (now the Lenggong Valley Archaeological Gallery). A guide from the museum led us to the ritual burial ground of the “Perak Man”, carbon-dated to be 10,120 years old. Unearthed in Gua Bukit Runtuh in 1991, his skeleton has remained the oldest and most complete set of human bones ever found in Southeast Asia. Malaysian archaeology took a leap-frog. More digs in LV followed, and up came some mind-blowing finds. Twenty years later, in 2011, LV was tentatively listed as UNESCO world heritage. In support of the nomination, PHS had organised a visit with relevant NGOs. Hosted by the National Heritage Department (NHD), we got an education on LV. (See related story in our archive.) In June last year, the World Archaeological Heritage of LV became the fourth UNESCO site in Malaysia. Now, for more than just the tin in Larut and Kinta Valley, Perak enjoys world attention through the prehistory and archaeology of Lenggong Valley. Sadly, the enjoyable ferry of 2004 at Kampong Labit has vanished some years ago. 

Map showing the clusters of archaeological sites west of the Perak River. Source: lenggong.heritage.gov.my

Citing outstanding universal values

The archaeological finds in LV fulfill two of UNESCO’s four criteria:

Criterion (iii): The series of cave and open air sites along the Perak River in the Lenggong Valley is an exceptional testimony to occupation of the area particularly during the Palaeolithic era, but also during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods from 1.83 million years ago to 1,700 years ago (a cultural tradition).

Criterion (iv): The undisturbed in situ Palaeolithic stone tool workshops located on the shores of a paleolake and ancient river gravel beds and dated in a long chronological sequence are an outstanding ensemble of lithic technology (a landscape of significant stages of human history). 

Together, the four main sites in two clusters: Bukit Bunuh, Gua Bukit Runtuh, Gua Teluk Kelawar and Gua Kajang “represent the sequence of significant stages in human history unrivalled in the region”.

Suevite rock found in the oil palm plantation, where buffaloes roam.

AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY: it was due to low visitation that LV’s archaeological deposits are intact and “relatively undisturbed”. LV holds the potential for further discoveries but its “visual integrity” is impacted by the current industries and plantations, quarries and logging. Exploitation of the natural resources in LV is an issue. We are told, “Much of the documentation has been independently peer reviewed through the academic publishing process, albeit not yet on a fully international scale.” I wonder if things might go terribly wrong under scrutiny. 

For more information, go to http://lenggong.heritage.gov.my/

Developing LV’s tourism potential

Register of visitors to the Gallery in July, 2013; and the sole archaeological dig at Bukit Jawa.

News spread, and droves descended upon the “museum/gallery” in Kota Tampan. But who are these visitors and, will they ever return? The air-conditioned Gallery houses an archaeological exhibition. Outside, in a geological park, are rock samples. LV’s archaeological digs are square holes in the ground, and of little interest to the casual visitor. While an imaginative story board at the digs can do wonders, a world-class one-stop centre with accurate information and edu-tainment (but not Disneyland) is mandatory in LV. No sweat, the NHD and PAM (the Association of Malaysian Architects) have jointly held an Architecture Ideas Competition for “Lenggong Valley Visitor Centre”. 66 entries were received. Fund is being sought by the NDH to realise the winning idea. I can hardly wait. For more information about the winning entries, go to http://www.pam.org.my/index.php/component/content/article?id=452 

Page from the web site for the LVVC; right: standard sign post marking archaeological sites.

What about the sense of place: the memories and legacies of LV’s pioneer residents, the thriving culture of the people in this charming little haven? The relaxed lifestyle and the tranquil rustic beauty of LV are a magnet to visitors. Cultural-heritage tourism is big money and LV is ripe for the picking. However, it is problematic protecting sites which are scattered and relatively isolated. Alarmingly, the NHD “is struggling to develop proper infrastructure for visitors at each site as part of a five-year plan” (New Straits Time: 15 July 2013).

A rural village by the main trunk road would come alive during festive occasions. Right: fun and creative seating in a small road side stall selling snacks and tea.

For responsible and therefore sustainable tourism, both the local authority and the community must stand to gain from this new “experiential economy”. To preserve peace and tranquillity in the kampongs, the narrow roads must be maintained for safe use by increased traffic of cars. They should be off-limits to tour buses. You may think that, being a mere 100km north of Ipoh, LV gets only “day-trippers”. Yet, since the listing, nearby kampong homestays and the Tasik Raban Resort have become popular (NST: 15th July). I am convinced, however, that for a few young graduates who shun urban madness, trades in hospitality make perfect sense. Operating a small, clean and simple B&B (Bed & Breakfast) and internet café for short-term stay may offer a charmed lifestyle. It would not be boring, as “LV country” is set to foster cultural exchange by drawing different people from around the world.

Touring LV’s territory

Like the flow of the Perak River, life in LV is unhurried. Relax. These sites for the sense must be enjoyed at leisure. A user-friendly LV guide book with accurate scientific information in English, at least, is much needed; it would be the Lenggong souvenir. For transport, as Liz Price puts it in her story (TheStar, 7 September 2013), you need a car for this “time-travel through prehistory”.

Good direction. Out the NSE toll and on the highway heading north to Gerik, signs will take you to all the prehistoric sites on the tour radar, and more.

So, what’s in the mix for your money’s worth?

CORE ZONE CLUSTER 1:

The Lenggong Valley Archaeological Gallery and Geological Park at Kota Tampan is the first stop for all first-timers.

Toilet signs and “Identity Card” for the “Perak Man” in the Lenggong Valley Archaeological Gallery.

Plague, in awful English, describing the suevite sample in the Geological Park outside the Gallery.

The site of the “meteorite impact 1.83 million years ago”, Bukit Bunuh is now an oil palm plantation, where some suevite rocks lay in situ. Don’t fret – samples of suevite rock can be seen in the Geological Park. Bukit Bunuh itself can be viewed from the concrete bridge over the Perak River near Kota Tampan while you enjoy the river breeze; Kota Tampan is a small, friendly, predominantly Chinese village with a couple of tea houses for snacks and drinks. 

From the bridge over Perak River, Bukit Bunuh is the low hill in the middle of the picture.

CORE ZONE CLUSTER 2

Most of the archaeological sites are found at limestone caves. Of these caves, the most interesting and beautiful is Gua Puteri but it is not for everyone; a guide, a torch, proper shoes and a certain degree of fitness are needed. The most accessible one is Gua Kajang – you can drive right up to its entrance and there is a boardwalk for most of the trail. Gua Teluk Kelawar is a rock shelter, not a cave. You’ll get there by a nice walk through a rubber estate. Gua Harimau has a spiritual feel and a lovely shady clearing outside its entrance. Some lovely century-old rock art drawn by Orang Asli are found at Gua Badak.

Iconic “heritage” shelters at Gua Harimau and Gua Badak has “wall space” for illustrated stories.

The layer of river rocks on Bukit Jawa; right: Orang Asli’s charcoal drawings at Gua Badak.

The layer of rocks with evidence of stone tool “workshops” can be found in Bukit Jawa. Gua Bukit Runtuh of the Perak Man is out of bounds, for now. Traditional Malay houses abound, and you would have to pass some to get to the caves. Worthy of note are Kampong Gelok and Kampong Temelong, a heritage kampong with an exceptional colonial Malay house. Go and discover and share your finds. A word of caution: drive slowly. 

A map of Kampong Temelong graces the gateway right near a pre-Merdeka colonial-Malay house.

A typical reflective sign board at the various archaeological sites, and one that’s vandalised (left).

A charming Malay house on the road to Kampong Labit.

BUFFER ZONE AND BEYOND:

Between the two core zones is the buffer zone which includes the town of Lenggong and several villages. Within this area, Kampong Banggol Belimbing boasts a landmark mosque, dated 1939, and a wonderful Malay house right next door.

Architecture in Kampong Banggol Belimbing: mosque from 1939 and the exceptional Malay house.

Lenggong is the town for food and drinks, and the human touch. Find Mr Tan, the friendly rubber trader with an original old shop interior in a row of double-storey timber shophouses. A double-storey timber shophouse here is featured in the sumptuous publication: Landmarks of Perak. 

The shophouse featured in Landmarks of Perak stands alone next to the Shell Station in Lenggong.

FOOD: Apart from durian, the local specialty is freshwater fish. A wide range of local fruits can be found in the town’s market. Chinese restaurants on the main drag of town are commercial but they do serve tasty fish balls and steamed freshwater fish. For halal food, Dataran Lenggong is just north of town centre. The legendary kampong fare at Restoran Tasik Raban, open for lunch only, is a short distance south of the turn off to Kota Tampan. 

STAR ENCOUNTER: The Orang Asli of Lanoh and the Negrito tribes “descend” from the Perak Man. They come to Lenggong town mainly to sell their jungle produce, and their seasonal harvest of (jungle) durians.

SPECIAL TREAT: Lenggong “tea estate” Permaculture is a “sustainable farm” situated at a cool 800 metres above sea-level. Here, “local materials and renewable energy sources, composting and recycling, are used to produce food”. For information on this vegan homestay, email permaculture.perak@gmail.com. You can tell the lovely people there you found them through PHS. 

Most of the archaeological sites are at limestone caves. This rock formation is at Gua Badak.

Looking into the crystal ball

The responsibility of preserving the LV archaeological heritage rests squarely on the NHD, which recognise that “sustainability” requires a collective effort from all stakeholders. Clearly, site management involves shared responsibilities taken by authorities and institutions. Here is the crux of things:

The Property Management Plan for the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley needs to be completed, approved by all parties concerned and then the Plan will set out objectives including the development of tourism and visitor management strategies, risk management strategies and provision for stakeholder participation and collaboration.

In order to manage any increases in visitors, more active conservation needs to be undertaken to manage visitor impacts on the sites, to prevent graffiti and to address pressure for the development of tourism facilities in the buffer zone.

We also need to prevent opportunistic digging for artefacts for sale to tourists as trophy and souvenir.

Responses to other potential threats, such as change of land use, housing development, and quarrying activities, need to be addressed through specific measures in the management plan and the introduction of appropriate protection measures in planning policies.

As in other tourist spots, businesses here must adapt to the weekend crowd. Locals must play their part as ambassadors of LV, welcoming tourists and visitors as they practise good ethics. In reality, mass tourism is a major threat.

This year, to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the inscription, a five-day Lenggong Carnival was held at Dataran Lenggong – eyewitness has informed that its programme lacked relevance. What is the problem, and why this wasted effort in styling the community as beneficiary of a world heritage they don’t get to understand?

Serene and picturesque, the eastern hills show off their own crowning clouds on any sunny afternoon.

Heritage tourism in Lenggong can be the new cash crop for this prehistoric territory. Good scientific and heritage guiding is a bank account. LV’s future in world heritage lies in genuine, dedicated hard work rather than an unyielding optimism that things will work out eventually. 

 

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