Charms of Ipoh

29Dec05

As published in VirtualMalaysia.Com [Editor’s Pick]

Walking in Ipoh town is like being caught in a time warp. Ipoh, the capital of Perak is a quaint town, which fuses modernisation into heritage buildings, preserving as much of the olden day architecture as possible. Ipoh town itself is really sectioned into two parts. Upon Kinta River, between Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Sultan Iskandar, is the older Ipoh. This area is home to old Chinese and Colonial styled buildings. The newer quarter of Ipoh sees stretches of shop houses which encompass the much livelier business hub. Unlike the modern skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur, the Ipoh commercial district is widely photographed for a different reason: its charming heritage value.

The Ipoh Railway Station is a mix of Moorish and Victorian architecture. Completed in 1917, the station was designed by Government Architect, A. B. Hubback, who was also the architect for the intricate Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, completed in 1911. The station has three platforms, offices for railway staff, a restaurant, a bar and a hotel. Affectionately called the ‘Taj Mahal’ by the locals, the railway station extends into a immaculately manicured garden, featuring an Ipoh tree.

A. B. Hubback also designed the Ipoh Town Hall, located right opposite the railway station. Featuring strong classical elements and has been a venue for many important and historic events. In the late 1930s, Indian poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore addressed a meeting of Perak’s English and vernacular schools here. In 1945, the inaugural congress for the Malay Nationalist Party was held here, and for some years from 1948, the hall served as the district police headquarters.

One of the most outstanding exhibitions of the new and old fusion in Ipoh is of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, located at Belfield Street. The corner building, built in reflection of neo-Renaissance Victorian architecture, dates back to 1931. This particular building design was also popular with many British banks.

Another corner building worth visiting, is the F.M.S. Bar and Restaurant located at Brewster Road. F.M.S. is an acronym for Federated Malay States, and the bar was the classic European miners’ and planters’ bar. The bar was founded in 1906 and its present premise dates back to 1923 and is reputed to be the oldest restaurant in Malaysia. The restaurant serves Hainanese food and still operates as a bar.

Although Ipoh is widely regarded for its Chinese majority community, there are also a terrific mix of religious infrastructures of other faiths colouring Perak’s collection of heritage buildings.

The Indian Muslim Mosque opposite Padang Ipoh (Ipoh Field) was founded in 1908 by Tamil Muslim Shaik Adam. The mosque was built in reflection of Moghul architecture by Indian workmen. Shaik Adam himself was an important pioneer of Ipoh town, establishing the Kinta Ice Works in 1906 and the Kinta Aerated Water Factory not just in Ipoh, but also in Taiping and Kampar.

Reverend J. P. Parry opened the Anglican Church of Saint John the Divine in 1912. To protect the church during the Japanese Occupancy of the Malayan states, the church was temporarily transformed into a noodle factory for several months. In 1947, a Parachial Church Council with European, Tamil and Chinese representation was established.

Perak is most well known for its range of cave temples, each with its own themes and thesis. Kek Lok Tong, located five kilometres from Ipoh town was opened in the 1970s, and is considered to be one of the most recent cave temples opened. The temple is set in a huge cave of limestone outcrops behind Gunung Rapat. What makes this cave temple stand prominently apart from other temples of its kind is its eclectic collection of bronze statues and the carefully manicured garden which it opens up onto.

Arguably the most beautiful of the cave temples in Ipoh is Perak Tong, six kilometres North of the town centre. The temple was built by a Buddhist priest from China in 1926 and has since became a vital place for meditation among Buddhist monks. Set in the caves of Gunung Tasek, the temple has 40 statues of Lord Buddha with a 12.8m-high centrepiece. The walls of the cave and its caverns are lined with paintings depicting Buddhist histories and legends. The cave also features a 385 step climb onto a ledge which views the Ipoh countryside.

Words: Majidah Hashim

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