The International Steam Pages
Kinta Heritage Trail 2016
It takes a lot to drag us off the island of Penang, in this case it had been the narrow gauge railway of United Plantation's Jendarata Estate in Lower Perak. Given that it is 'miles from anywhere' that meant hiring a car and obviously that would allow some exploring en route. Our departure south was delayed by rain and we meandered gently down to Lumut and Sitiawan before ending up in Teluk Intan in the late afternoon. It was the first time I had driven in Malaysia since 1979 and I needed time to adjust to local driving habits.
I'm a Luddite when it comes to using smartphones to get from A to B. On days like this, I consult Google Maps before departure, make a few notes and head off. Invariably we take the odd wrong turning but along the way we have to stop and ask which means we meet local people and as often as not get to interesting places which were not on the original itinerary. Of course, it all takes a bit longer but it's much more fun and today was such a trip.
We set out north from Teluk Intan on A 109 and while my notes said to look for Route A15, when we saw Route A16 straight ahead at the first major junction I assumed I had suffered a mistranscription. The good news was that there was absolutely no traffic, the bad news was that as we wibble-wobbled north we ended up on one road which had an unheralded closure owing to a bridge repair. Never mind, apart from that it wasn't really that much of a diversion.
Our first destination was the Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge Number 5 which was decommissioned in 1982 and ended up being donated to the Perak State Government. These days it's officially a museum, but in fact it's more than a bit of a shambles at the moment. There's a car park which would probably accommodate 500 vehicles but which was completely empty, so we could draw up under the solitary tree in the corner. The gentleman in the ticket booth was not surprisingly fast asleep but he quickly summoned someone from the adjacent incomplete visitor centre. While entry was a good value MYR 2 each (the tickets being numbered 1212 and 1213), he explained that we couldn't go on board at the moment because unfortunately 'the dredge was sinking'. He left us to do the circumnavigation and vanished back into his cool air-conditioned haven.
All of which is more than a bit of a shame as it's an absolutely magnificent beast even in its much reduced circumstances, you may be able to pick out the distinct list, it was far too early in the day for me to have been on the Tiger..
The pictures show the 'vessel' as we walked around it in a clockwise direction starting at the north end. The buckets are used to dredge the ore from the depths of the 'pond', once it was able to move in a much greater area of water but now it is 'trapped' as a bund has been built to allow visitors a view of all four sides. Inside, the denser tin ore is allowed to settle and separate from the lighter material suspended in water. The tailings are then disgorged back into the pond. The large central chute, I believe, comes from the initial 'pass', the tin ore is then 'improved' by repeated settlings the waste from which emerge on the smaller chutes. Built in the UK in 1938, the dredge was powered by diesel engines or electricity if it was available. We were quoted a March 2017 date for completion of repairs, this being Malaysia, some slippage is likely.
As it would have been surrounded by water, the ore would have been bagged and sent ashore in a small boat - see my Malayan Industrial Railways feature for some pictures of a tin dredge and associated railway at work.
The concept of industrial heritage is alien to Malaysia, I do hope this project can recover from its shaky start. These dredges largely supplanted the gravel pump system, there is a museum devoted to this side of tin mining system in nearby Gopeng, but that will have to await another visit to the area.
From here, it was just a short journey to Batu Gajah, where we wanted to visit God's Little Acre, the Christian cemetery where the 'inhabitants' include many victims of the Malayan Emergency. I knew it was on the north side of what is a quite small town and expected it to be signposted, but it was not. Yuehong got some instructions in Chinese which were actually much more accurate than I suspected, but a trip through what would have been the European area on the hill brought us only to the Kinta Golf Club where I felt sure we could get instructions. The Malaysians present knew of the place because every year in July a group would attend for a ceremony after which they would adjourn to the Golf Club for lunch. A couple of telephone calls established that it was 'behind the jail', which we had seen earlier as we passed the hospital.
(For the record, take the Lumut road from the centre of Batu Gajah, very soon bear right up the hill and when you get to the hospital - specifically the old building below - turn left just after it and the cemetery is at the end of the road. If you get to the Golf Club on the right, you have gone too far! Turn around and take the first left.)
Despite the military graves, this seems not to be associated with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who maintain the cemetery in Taiping.
"Here lie the first three planters Allison, Christian and Walker, whose murder by terrorists in Sungai Siput on Saturday 16th June 1948 precipitated the Declaration of Emergency in Malaya."
A selection of grave stones follow, not shown are any of the young soldiers (often 19 or 20 years old) who with their non-existent experience of armed combat, let alone the jungle made them initially as soft a target as the planters, miners and police.
However, the one we especially wanted to see was this one, the legendary Dr. David Tweedie, who had a cameo appearance in the Whickers World TV programme on Penang, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIVPVAL29hY.
(There are a number of books around concerning life in Malaya in the colonial period. I think one of the best if by Boris Hembury, Malayan Spymaster which covers before, during and after World War 2. It is usually readily available secondhand from Abe Books at a sensible price.)
I would hope to return to Batu Gajah and have a wander round the colonial remains, next time in the morning as by now it was midday and very warm. I had deliberately not told Yuehong what she was to see today but I know her tastes are catholic and she wasn't disappointed. Next up was Kellie's Castle on the road between Batu Gajah and Gopeng, there was no chance of missing this one as it was signposted as a major tourist attraction. It turned out it was not only full of local and Asian tourists but also being used for a fashion shoot. The grandiose, incomplete, 'castle' almost a folly, was designed for the Scottish adventurer William Kellie Smith and his wife, whose original (yellow) house stands as a ruin behind. It is a fusion of styles of which the Indian and European stand out most. Maintenance costs in Malaysia's climate will be high so it will need the revenue from the large number of visitors it attracts. For us, once will have been enough.
It was now 14.00 and we were a long way from home. We took the signposted back road to Ipoh via Lahat. I suppose it should be a compliment to say that I found Ipoh essentially unchanged since the 1970s, but there again I always considered it rather unattractive compared to Penang. I was surprised how easily I found my way to the station, nearby the Ipoh Club and padang were noticeable survivors. Of course, the old platform buildings, signal boxes etc have been ripped out and replaced with mainland Chinese style concrete crap. I well recall the station restaurant which used to boast an extremely 'camp' waiter and where, once, having discovered that the driver of our train up from KL had been the legendary S.V. Rajah who was actually KTM's #1 steam man, one pre-dinner beer turned into one after another...
So now it was 15.00 and time was pressing, the camera went away. The once familiar route 1 to Butterworth is about twice as wide as it used to be and carries about 10 times the traffic I remember despite the pay for alternative which roughly parallels it, but we made fair progress diverting only once to confirm that Kuala Kangsar would still be worth a visit next time we venture forth . The Friday rush hour traffic near Butterworth was predictably abominable. I had broken my vow never to use one of the bridges because Yuehong wanted to see the second crossing - the approach to which from Bayan Lepas is simply awful - but at least I wasn't going to pay to use one and we found the ferry terminal despite its entrance boasting just one tiny sign. The queue wasn't that long but the Penang Port Commission has long since ceased to have any interest in providing a public service and, having just failed to find a space on one ferry, we had to wait nearly 40 minutes for the next, there being only two working.
It was 20.30 before we sat down to dinner and the first Tiger of the day, but at least this time we didn't have to walk up the hill to get home. We were well satisfied with our trip and while mainland Malaysia offers very little compared to Penang, I think we shall have another heritage trip before we return to the UK.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson