Kuala Kangsar - Perak Malaysia
Comfortably cradled in a crook of Perak River, Kuala Kangsar is a well preserved old Royal Town where its serenity and its well-maintained old palaces are worth a mention.
This place must have had a strange effect on Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Mudzaffar Shah of Perak who ruled from 1877 to 1887. Unlike many rulers who protected their royal places and strongholds by selecting their vantage points carefully where they could detect enemy approach from afar, the Sultan had his first royal palace built beside the riverbank. He then named it 'Istana Sri Sayong'.
Istana Iskandariah, the royal palace where reigning head of state, Sultan Nazrin Shah resides
Apart from being exposed to the impending threat of invasion, the other problem was the force of monsoon seasons, which led to numerous flooding as water gushed down from the jungles above through the many tributaries. The name Kuala Kangsar is believed to be derived from 'Kuala Karong-Sa', which means '99 small tributaries flowing into the Perak River'.
One flooding was so severe, it almost swept the palace away. Finally, after the Big Flood or Air Bah in 1926, it was decided to move the place further up onto the knoll where stands the current Royal Palace named Istana Iskandariah with its Art-Deco architecture, a rare but significant piece of architectural milestone in Malaysia.
Kuala Kangsar today has spread across the gentle undulating lands along the bank to accommodate the growing community but its core and historical part of town still sits quietly on the high grounds by the bend of the river. A familiar structure of a royal town, the royal palace is usually the centre of the town where subjects would later build their homes around, close to the palace. Presumably, many of the subjects that served the courts and the Sultan would have had to be nearby in any event for emergencies etc.
Tekad Benang Emas
Old Malay mansions left derelict, Bukit Chandon
There is still a small community living just outside palace grounds. A few old Malay mansions built in the early days are remnants of the pride and joy of the early sultanate, lay scattered around the area.
A retired school teacher, Puan Azizah lives in Bukit Chandon, a village just some walking distance from Istana Iskandariah. She tells of her childhood years when every girl entering puberty was taught the art of 'Tekat' or Embroidery. This handiwork was passed from mothers to daughters and each girl was given her first and most important assignment to display her handiwork - she was to create beautiful embroidery pieces to be worn or paraded for her own wedding ceremony as she reached the age of marital consent at 16. As tradition goes, gold thread is embroidered on velvet pieces - both of which had to be imported, even in the old days and very costly to make, hence the need for the young girl to be finicky in embroidering their pieces.
Puan Azizah proudly displays her own pieces in which she wore for her wedding day. She gleams as she talks about her first pair of lovely embroidered slippers that she had managed to salvage one day from being washed away in a flash flood. In her 70's, Puan Azizah continues to champion for this dying art and has succeeded in producing a handful of fine students although she says that it is becoming increasingly difficult to create interest in such intricate art. Although, with the current amenities, tekat is now more often machined than hand embroidered. Puan Azizah still hand embroiders many of her pieces and with that, clients have to place orders some 4-5months in advance. In the wall- to-wall glass cabinets that adorn her workroom, Puan Azizah displays her tekat pieces - embroidered onto cushion covers, wall decorations, betelnut boxes, pillowcases, hand cushions, beddings etc. Her inspiration, she quips, comes from her surroundings. She feels much peace and serenity in the environs around her home, especially by the river where she often sits in the evenings. From being as one with her surroundings she is able to create wonderful designs of local plants and flowers. Designs of Orchids and Padi stalks are popular with her clients. Many of her ready clients place orders months ahead and almost all of her sold pieces are used in wedding ceremonies. Puan Azizah has passed on her expertise to her daughter as her own mother has done and she hopes that her students will continue the traditions of tekat. After all, this embroidery is unique to Perak and represents the state as a strong Malay art and tradition.
For those interested to learn more about this craft, https://www.facebook.com/azydarenterprise/
Sultan Azlan Shah Museum
Further down the road from the Royal Palace(Istana Iskandariah) is an older Palace called Istana Hulu built in 1903. Inspired by Victorian architecture, this palace until some 5years or so ago, housed the 'Raja Perempuan Mazwin School' (Mazwin School for Ladies) . A most apt building for a school - A sprawling, somewhat sobering building. One can just picture a solemn school matron, dressed in black, being right at home here - with her disciplining girls in the courtyard for most trivial matters like running in corridors, or being caught whispering in their mother tongue, or for reading romance novels in school. But then the Girls' school moved out and left the palace abandoned until recently. The almost completed restoration work will soon transform the palace into a state muzium called the 'Sultan Azlan Shah Museum'. In it you will be able to find some of Puan Azizah's tekat embroidery displayed proudly.
The Oldest Rubber Trees
Just outside the gates of the museum is a lonely tree. Not a big 'WOW' but a significant tree that changed the course of Malaysia's economy in the early 1900's. This is a rubber tree and one of two of the oldest rubber trees in Peninsula that have survived the years. Sir Hugh Low, the British Resident of Perak of that time, encouraged the growth of rubber trees as the car industry expanded rapidly in the west. Soon jungles were converted into plantations, and many areas that were once virgin forests were open for commercial use. Hugh Low planted a number of rubber trees in his garden in Kuala Kangsar. Another old rubber tree from those experimental days stands by the district office in town at the intersection of Jalan Raja Chulan and Jalan Tun Abdul Razak. However, the trees don't look too well, perhaps having been hemmed in by the expansion of roads and tarring of the ground around it.
The Ubudiah Mosque
In the old part of Kuala Kangsar however, the roads are narrow and pleasant and great for a stroll as it winds round the grassy knoll. One of the more dominant architecture during the colonial era in the area is the Ubudiah Mosque. Sultan Idris, (1887 - 1916) the ruler then and a close friend of the British resident, Sir Hugh Low, laid the foundation of the mosque in 1913. Unfortunately, the mosque's completion was delayed due to World War 1 and an incident that involved a couple of royal elephants who ran amok in the grounds, ruining the especially imported Italian marbled floor. Sultan Idris' successor, Sultan Abdul Jalil officiated this Moorish-styled mosque for it was only completed a year after his death. Beside the mosque is the royal mausoleum, the resting place of Perak rulers since the mid-18th century.
Just a short walk from the mosque is another palace, one that truly represents traditional Malay architecture. Also known as Istana Lembah or Istana Tepas, this palace is home to the Royal Museum of Perak for the moment and is open to public everyday from 9.30am - 5.00pm. Fridays closed from 12.15pm - 2.45pm for prayers.
It was planned and built in 1926 after the great floods of 1926. Shaped like a sword, the entire palace was built without a blueprint and not a single nail was used. The walls are made of woven sliced bamboo, and patterned in diamond motifs called the 'kelarai'. The roof is in the shape of the 5 ridges of a traditional Malay house and the ridge of a row of bananas - known as 'perabung 5 and perabung pisang sesikat'. The palace was completed in 1931 and set up as a temporary residence for Sultan Iskandar Shah (1918 - 1938, the 30th Sultan of Perak) while the original royal palace or istana negara was being torn down for the new Istana Iskandariah.
Another institution of significance, which has put Kuala Kangsar on the map, is the renowned 'Malay College'. Opened in 1905, Malay College was the training grounds for hundreds of boys from royal and aristocratic families. Sultan Idris who ruled from 1887 to 1916 took a keen interest in education and he was instrumental in the development of the college that provided boys with British public school education, preparing them with a career path in the Malay Admistrative Service. Not unlike schools like Eton and Harrow in England, these schools create strong bonding amongst the boys also known as the 'old boys' network' which continues way past graduation. For this, the college also acquired another name among the Malays - Bab ud-Darajat or the 'Gateway to high ranking'!
The Malay College remains a centre of academic excellence
The Pavilion Square Tower
Just across the road from the playing fields of the Malay College, sits the Pavilion Square Tower. Built in 1930, this small pavilion of 3 tiers was designed for the Royal families and dignitaries to watch polo matches nearby in comfort. However, the structure has not been maintained therefore it is not safe for public use.
The 'new' kuala kangsar town
Kuala Kangsar town itself is sort of sectioned into two areas: the new part and the old part. The newer part of town stands like a typical town dominated by Chinese businesses of the past. The shophouses line the main road on either side and now many of the old businesses have been taken over by convenience stores, supermarkets, mobile phone dealers and mamak restaurants. One place that the locals frequent for their meals is the Yut Luy restaurant. More on food in Kuala Kangsar.
The older part of town still retains some quaint businesses like the old barber shops, the rattan weaver and some sundry shops. Closer to the riverbank, there are a number of handicraft shops selling mengkuang woven products, some bamboo products, other knick-knacks and the famous Kuala Kangsar labu.
The barber shop in Old Town, still maintains it's old-fashioned way of cutting, shaping, shaving and steaming white towel on-the-face routine
Sayong, the little village across the bank is now most famous for its 'labu - air' earthernware containers that was developed in the area because it was found that the clay by the banks was most suitable for pottery work. The clay is worked on the potter's wheel until the desired shape of a gourd is complete and then is left to dry. Then the designs are either carved or stamped onto the surface of the jar and later fired in a kiln. The jar is removed and left to cool in a mound of padi husk. It is this padi husk that gives the jar its colour black. Some believe that water left in the gourd has healing powers and others use these jars as they feel that they keep the water cooler. These days, potters here prefer the use of powdered clay as it is a lot less hassle than to trudge in knee deep along the banks to collect clay.
For a small fare, one can take a boat across the river to Sayong from Kuala Kangsar.food in the city
Yut Luy restaurant - pau
The most sought after Kuala Kangsar Pau is sold here. The variants are daging or meat, chicken, kaya or coconut jam and red bean paus and costs RM1/RM1.20 each and are only available from 2.30pm to 6.00pm or when they've sold off their day's worth.
51 Jalan Besar, 30010 Kuala Kangsar, Perak
Beef Ball Noodle
This beef ball stall has been in the family for 3 generations and is still as popular as ever. The noodles are prepared in thick gravy and topped with minced pork. The beef balls are served separately in a bowl of soup. The noodles go well with fish sauce.
Persatuan Kiung Chow , Jalan Kota Lama. Opens everyday 6.30am till 1pm. Closed on Mondays.
Kelvin's Assam Laksa
This family run stall is also popular with locals. Everyday, only 100bowls are served so that means you may have to make early lunch here. The laksa stock is made from ikan parang which the owner, Kelvin buys fresh everyday, which he claims provide a sweeter taste to the soup. The stall has been around since 1976 and have a steady group of customers. Apart from assam laksa, side dishes like fried beancurd sheets(foo pei) and fried wantan balls are also served. The ingredients of fried wantan balls are minced chicken, watercress and carrots and a tiny bit of chopped coriander leaves for added flavour.
Opens at 12.00nn until the last of the 100bowls are served.