Malaysian revisits Teluk Intan, the town where he started his career

The writer with his friends checking out the Elephant Memorial. — Photos: PATHMANABAN

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Teluk Intan in Perak has a special place in my heart. It was here that I started my career in the civil service as a Labour Officer in early 1981. It was a small and relatively quiet town back then.

It was formerly known as Teluk Anson, named after General Archibald Anson who was once the District Officer of Hilir Perak. In 1982, the name changed to Teluk Intan because in the past, the place was called “Teluk Mak Intan” after a female Mandailing trader.

Local folks have a fable that revolves around a woman bathing in a stream who lost her diamond (or intan) hairpin.

Teluk Intan was also where Perak rulers held court from 1528, until Kuala Kangsar became the royal town in 1877.

I have many fond reflections each time I think about my five-and-a-half years in Teluk Intan. In the good old days, I used to walk all around the town each day for more than an hour as part of my exercise regime.

   Menara Condong or Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan.  — Rosley9111/Wikimedia CommonsMenara Condong or Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan. — Rosley9111/Wikimedia Commons

I also used to frequently meet friends in town and would have either my evening tea or an early dinner with them before returning home.

Not too long ago, I went back to Teluk Intan with some friends, after being away for many years. Much has changed in my old stomping grounds. The Teluk Intan I knew then, is beyond recognition today. Only a few retail outlets and eateries are still familiar to me. Most of my friends no longer reside here, while some have passed on.

By the 1980s, Teluk Intan was the third largest town in Perak. It was a point of convergence as an administrative and business centre for nearby townships like Tapah, Bidor, Bagan Datuk and Hutan Melintang. Teluk Intan’s economy was adversely affected after the Perak river contracted due to upstream erosion and silt deposits.

This misfortune inevitably took a toll on the port and the town’s economy spiralled downwards, affecting the exports of tin, rubber and petroleum. Teluk Intan also lost its status as a petroleum distribution centre for Shell Malaysia when oil tankers and cargo ships were unable to sail down and berth at its port.

Compounding to the town’s woes was the closure of the 30km branch line from Tapah Road to Teluk Intan in 1989 due to the sharp decline in traffic.

   The chee cheong fun in this town is not served with any sauce.The chee cheong fun in this town is not served with any sauce.

Nevertheless, the outskirts of the town continued to be important for its numerous oil palm and coconut estates owned by renowned companies like United Plantations.

Faced with dwindling employment opportunities, many locals searched for employment prospects in larger cities like Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, and Klang and Shah Alam in Selangor.

Now, it is hoped that the West Coast Expressway will revive the town’s past glory.

Teluk Intan still has the opportunity to regain its economic clout and tourism is one sector which can be developed. Teluk Intan has its own unique charm, though back in the 1980s, there were hardly any tourists there.

Teluk Intan’s current tourist attractions include the Leaning Tower or Menara Condong, Pulau Bangau, Elephant Memorial and Sungai Bidor Railway Bridge.

Now known as Menara Condong, this is an iconic landmark in town. Measuring 25.5m tall, it looks like an eight-storey building from the outside, though it is actually only three storeys.

Built in1885 by a Chinese contractor named Leong Choon Chong, the tower was in the past used as a storage place for portable water supply for residents.

Locals funded the entire cost of building the brick-and-wood tower, including the clock at the top, which was made by an named Englishman, J.W. Benson.

A road in the city centre of Teluk Intan is named Jalan Ah Chong, dedicated to Leong.

Not far from town is Pulau Bangau, though you would need to take a boat to get there. It is estimated that there are at least 20,000 migratory birds from 10 species on this islet, including herons and egrets. It is just mystifying to watch them fly at a low altitude over the river, and then resting in the trees.

   You can’t leave Teluk Intan without trying its mouth-watering mee rebus.You can’t leave Teluk Intan without trying its mouth-watering mee rebus.

The Elephant Memorial tells of the first train derailment ever recorded in the country. In an official report, it is said that on Sept 17,1894, a bull elephant went charging against a train to protect its herd.

But local folks think that the elephant was seeking revenge over the death of its calf, killed much earlier by the same train carriage.

The skull of the elephant is on display in Taiping Museum, while its skeleton is dislayed at the KTMB (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad) museum in Johor Baru.

Meanwhile, the Sungai Bidor Railway Bridge crosses the Bidor river, a tributary which converges on the larger Perak river. In the past, Teluk Intan was the main port for exporting tin, mined mainly from the Kinta Valley near Ipoh. This bridge was part of a connecting rail network from Teluk Intan to Tapah Road.

Another historical attraction is Batu Tenggek, which is located in the middle of the town. Legend has it that the rock was placed there by a British soldier and was originally the size of a pebble. Over the years it started to grow, adding to its mysterious charm. This rock is now known as a memorial commemorating fallen soldiers in World War I and II.

When in Teluk Intan, try the locals’ favourite dishes like chee cheong fun and mee rebus. The chee cheong fan is famous in the peninsular and contains vegetables and dried shrimp, and is eaten with only preserved green chillies; no sauces needed here.

Mee rebus is also popular here, and I can say that the Teluk Intan version is truly unique and worth trying.

For Malaysians looking for an ideal retreat sojourn, Teluk Intan is the place to go. It is a hidden gem and makes for the perfect place to holiday during a time when social distancing is the norm, as there are hardly any large crowds here.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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