Posts Tagged 'tourism'

PHS GOES TO SAWAHLUNTO

By Law Siak Hong
PANSUMNET GATHERING 2015
Conference and Workshop: Industrial Heritage at Stake
22nd– 24th October 2015, Sawahlunto, West Sumatra

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City Cultural Centre: the conference venue

A confession: before the invitation to speak at the conference, I had never heard of Sawahlunto. So, google I did. I learned quickly that it is in West Sumatra, not far from Padang, and it is already tentatively listed as UNESCO world heritage for its authentic historical urban landscape and the industrial heritage of coal mining. For universal significance, they fall in with Criteria (ii) and (iv). It also boasts a contented community: it has the second lowest poverty rate among cities in Indonesia. The people are steeped in cultural history, homegrown and yet well-adjusted to contemporary sensibilities.

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The Wayang Kulit Festival Sawahlunto 2015 was on and we caught some of the action after the evening conference session.

Built not only along hairpin roads hugging the hillside, houses and other buildings also line the river banks. Bridges link the various parcels of land, which are shored up by concrete embankments, engineered to impede erosion. Workers quarters are provided by the mining company and they exist now as kampongs in the city. Most of the historical institutional and commercial buildings, relatively small in size, date from early 20th century. Then, there is the viaduct for rail and road, and the triple silos fed by a conveyor belt riding on a tall, skeletal steel structure. They are huge, yet they melt into the landscape confidently. Get up close and you will realize the power of these industrial structures.

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Kota Sawahlunto, bridge over the town’s river

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Kota Sawalunto, homes on the slopes

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Kota Sawahlunto street scene

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Kota Sawahlunto triple silos and conveyor belt structure and vip tent for Wayang Kulit Festival.

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Former mayor Pak Amran Nur addressing the conference

Started in 1887, coal mining ceased in 2000. People left and the district went into decline. Along came Mayor Bapak Amran Nur (2003-2013), now Director of Indonesian Heritage Trust. Pondering on his hometown’s fate, he began to restructure its economy and effectively eradicated poverty and improved welfare through healthcare and education. To prevent land degradation, he donated rubber and cocoa seeds, even fertilizer, to the people for cultivation and long term income. Small and exotic museums were set up, indigenous performing arts were developed, and tourist spots were generated. In a few years, he turned this beautiful verdant Minangkabau valley into a tourist destination. Already, tourism contributes one-third of the city’s income. But what is the sustainable number of tourists for this constricted valley? If the UNESCO inscription happens, more hotels and eateries will be needed. How would its cultural identity and that all-important “sense of place” survive under the pressure of tourism development?

With the theme of Industrial Heritage at Stake, Sawahlunto is a choice host for this Pansumnet Gathering. The conference attracted over 70 participants from Pansumnet and speakers from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Bandung and Jakarta (Java), and, of course, Sumatra. Led by our president, Mohd Taib Mohamed, the delegation of seven from the Perak Heritage Society arrived in thick smog, which registered an API of 1000, way above the health hazard level of 150! Despite that, clearly, each of us took home memories and knowledge beyond our expectations.

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Group caption: While sessions were held indoor, walking to and fro the hotel and the conference venue took us to the street.

Through this encounter with Sumatra, my understanding of its cultural and industrial heritage made a quantum leap. Deeply rooted in culture, Sumatrans are warm and friendly; smiles are everywhere. In Sawahlunto, even boys and young men cruising by on motorbike would greet me with a respectful “pak”.

Sawahlunto awaits a new designation as world heritage. Go visit soon.

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Gathering of heritage lovers.


Postscript: PANSUMNET is the acronym for Pan-Sumatra Network for Heritage Conservation. Our heartfelt thanks to: Sawahlunto Municipality, Pansumnet and Heritage Hands-On, joint organisers of Pansumnet Gathering 2015; the convener, Hasti Tarekat; the deputy mayor of Sawahlunto, and all the participants. A special mention: Pak Asdian of SEMEN PADANG, for his warm hospitality and the privilege of witnessing the SP Journalist Award at Basko Hotel in Padang.

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Post conference site visit: in Padang, a special treat awaited. Built by the Dutch in 1905, SEMEN PADANG is the oldest cement plant in Southeast Asia. As technology advanced and plants were built, the old one was abandoned. University groups were invited to study the site and plan adaptive re-use, to turn them into public facilities.
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PHS delegation to Sawahlunto

 

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Industrial Heritage and Ecosystem: Charcoal from the Mangrove Trees

Text and photographs: Law Siak Hong 

It is impossible to forget that first time you set your eyes on the Kuala Sepetang charcoal kilns. They form a surreal dreamscape.

Ensconced in a voluminous shed that has been darkened by rising tree oil vapour and the smoke from wood fire, a row of smoking igloos appears to pulse relentlessly. The spectacle is entrancing. While a crisp, dry scent hangs in the open air, you inhale wisps of tart fumes of the oil expelled from the wood in the kilns. It’s atmospheric.

Unforgettable is the experience of the igloos in a darkened shed.

Raised on a base lined with firebricks, the hemispheroid bricks kilns are handmade by a travelling band of craftsmen-builders. Around the kilns, the ground is raw earth, trodden on by men and machines at work, yet powdery from the ash and bits of stray charcoal. In these fascinating kilns, bakau wood is slowly ‘cooked’ for up to 28 days to become charcoal, the best fuel for time-honoured slow cooking as well as frying in a hot wok.

The new may improve efficiency but the old has survived with traditional technology.

Filling the kiln with 10.5 tonnes of bakau billets is a day’s work for eight strong men

For retail, pieces of charcoal are packed in paper bags.

The kilns have always been easily accessible from the main road into Kuala Sepetang. It may be mere coincidence, but until metal roofing began to replace the expansive attap roof twenty years ago, the place did not even figure on the tourist radar. Since then, plenty of visitors have come to see the enthralling charcoal kilns, as photographers, curiosity seekers and tourists throng the place.

For durability, old attap roofs are being replaced by metal sheets

Perhaps surprisingly, the kilns are a legacy of prewar Japanese who introduced the technology in 1930. They gave the industrious Chinese a challenge and a new livelihood. Today, workers in the charcoal industry comprise local Chinese and Malays, both men and women, while foreign workers make up the numbers required in this labour-intensive industry.

A door becomes a convenient black board for reminders

Demonstrating industrial progress: new concrete structures are beginning to replace the traditional wooden sheds.

The Japanese have never really left. Today, they are the biggest buyers of the best charcoal produced here. Even the crumbs are not wasted; they are bagged and exported to Japan, and then moulded into briquettes for barbeques. A couple of decades ago, Japanese traders also began to tap the oil extract expelled from the wood. It’s a lucrative business, as barrels of the miracle liquid are refined to make medicines and cosmetics.

Stretching from Kuala Gula to Pantai Remis along Perak’s coastline, the 40,000-hectare Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve is the largest mangrove tract in peninsular Malaysia. It’s been managed as a sustainable production forest since 1905 and is considered to be an exemplary sustainable mangrove estuary, renowned throughout the world. The management of the mangroves is based on silviculture – allowing for a balance between production and conservation.

Here, then, is the focal point of Perak’s charcoal industry. According to the Malaysian Timber Council, there were 348 kilns in operation in the area in 2009, but today the figure is closer to 400. There are identical kilns in Kampong Dew, Kuala Trong and Kampong Sungei Kerang. Each kiln has an economic lifespan of seven to ten years.

“Shaved” of their bark, billets of bakau wood wait to be transferred to the kiln.

The preferred species for charcoal is bakau minyak (Rhizophora apiculata), which grows along the riverbanks and in more tide-submerged areas. Timber is harvested in a 30-year cycle, after which the trees are clearfelled. Then intensive planting is done two years after final felling. Yields are tightly regulated to ensure a constant supply of greenwood for the charcoal industry.

While charcoal is the primary timber product – in addition to fuel, it is further processed into items like soap, cigarette filters, shoe soles and water filters – mangrove trees also have other uses, providing timber for piling poles in housing and construction, fishing poles, pulp, tannin and firewood.

From the sea, the mangrove forests resonate serenity and harmony. (Photograph: putkuning.blogspot.com)

Matang possess an enchanting beauty and are a rich cornucopia of flora and fauna. Besides the productive timber forest, mangroves contribute substantially to commercial fisheries that operate all year round. They are also a breeding ground and habitat for wildlife such as monkeys, bats, otters, wild boars and snakes, and home to 156 species of birds.

The boardwalk meanders through the forest; bakau minyak and its aerial roots. (Photographs: myloismylife.blogspot.com; Shiangyang.org)

The Matang mangroves are therefore a natural and important coastal ecology that should be better known and understood. Mangroves are tidal, so the sensitive plant, animal and fish communities are subject to fluctuating temperatures, salinity and moisture. Thus, only a few selective species make up the mangrove community. The mangroves are also important for water storage and trapping sediments and carbon, contributing to the control of the quality and quantity of water and particles discharged into the sea.

Recently, perhaps out of zeal for tourism, the historic multi-lingual signboard was “embellished”. (Photo: Zaraab.wordpress.com)

When Kuala Sepetang was known as Port Weld, it was linked to Taiping by a 13-kilometre railway, the very first in Malaya. It began service in 1885. Port Weld was the sea jetty for Taiping and the Larut district, and the link to Penang and other parts of the peninsula.

As with early houses, a deck at the fishery co-op extends over the water. In contrast, houses built on the old railway track take on a landed-style.

It takes less than one minute to cross the channel by ferry. Locals would take the ride standing, with practiced ease. The fare: 20 sen.

Passing time with friends, children shoot the breeze bobbing in a fishing boat.

Off work, and in company, men from the village relax at the shelter by the canal.

So, when you visit the kilns for some amazing photographs, take time to walk through the mangrove forests. They are an outdoor classroom for an education on the environment, ecology and a sustainable industry. You may not see many animals during the day but, with patience and in stillness, you begin to catch their movements in and out of the water. It can be humid with little air movement but you will learn a lot from the informative storyboards. But be forewarned: mosquitoes are endemic. For this reason, staying in the holiday chalets in the reserve is not recommended unless, of course, you want to experience the mangrove forests in discomfort.

You may opt for a boat ride out to the island of Kuala Sangga for a day trip or a homestay at one of the floating chalets. To see fireflies, you have to take the boat from Kampong Dew in the evening.

I won’t be forgiven if I leave out food. Apart from curry mee with generous helpings of seafood in the shops and in the market, there are halal mee udang stalls and some pork-free restaurants by the waterfront for excellent fresh seafood. I love a cold beer with an early meal overlooking the water and the mangrove forests at sunset. Sadly, you can’t help but notice the new, incongruous tall concrete building which is a hotel by the sea. Tell us what you think of it.

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. 

 

Tourism in Perak

*6 July  201– TaipingBukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar anBatu Gajah.
Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong, with photographs 12bcourtesy othMinistry oTourism 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.

Homecominfor thMinisteof 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.

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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.


Perak Heritage Society

Persatuan Warisan Perak
(Reg. No. 1254) was registered with the Registrar of Societies in August, 2003.

Office and Postal Address:
85C, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil,
30300 IPOH, Perak, Malaysia.
(opposite the Syuen Hotel)

Fax: 05-253 5507

E-mail:
perakheritage36@gmail.com
Website: https://perakheritage.wordpress.com

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