THE Hulu Langat district is a treasure trove of history, but much of it is already lost due to negligence and ignorance.
Few are aware that one of Selangor’s oldest cave mines is hidden in Bukit Arang.
It was complete with a tunnel stretching all the way to the top, two tin ore treatment stations, tipper wagon as well as furnaces and oil barrels when history enthusiast Lee Kim Sin found the ruins 10 years ago.
He was in search of tin mining tycoon Chin Ah Chan’s grave but instead came across the ruins, which were then blanketed by undergrowth, after about an hour’s trek into Bukit Arang.
When his efforts to inform the Selangor Museum on his find was futile, he visited the site again, five years ago, only to find that all metal items had been stolen.
All that was left of the furnaces measuring 2.5m in height and 1m in diameter were their brick bases.
And when Lee took a group there again last month as part of a heritage trail he created, the brick bases situated by a stream were almost completely gone as a result of water erosion.
The losses prompted Lee to prepare a paper urging the Selangor government to gazette Bukit Arang as a heritage site, after his calls to the Kajang Municipal Council three months ago went unattended.
“I think there is more to discover than this valuable site in the area and around Hulu Langat, that urgently need attention from experts and the authorities,” he said.
Lee, a retired teacher, founded the Kajang Heritage Centre 17 years ago to preserve and exhibit artefacts collected from around the area.
His researches brought about several discoveries which he showed to interested individuals in two heritage trails – one is of Kajang town that he conducts monthly, while the other is on Bukit Arang that was introduced last month.
“According to records, the cave mine was commercialised by Sultan Abdul Samad in mid 1860s, before Yap Ah Loy took over the administration of Kuala Lumpur’s tin mining.
“Even prior to that, the Malay community were mining tin using the dulang method there,” he said.
He noted that Bukit Arang was named such not because the hill had a coal mine, but rather it was the place where locals produced charcoal.
The sultan then brought in the enterprising Chin Ah Chan, who was operating a mine in Kanching, Rawang.
Along with the latter were 400 workers of the Kah Yin Hakka dialect group, who then built the Batu 14 Hulu Langat township which was 14 miles from the centre of Kuala Lumpur.
According to A History of Selangor, 1742-1957 by J.M. Gullick and Swettenham by H.S. Barlow, British Resident-General Sir Frank Swettenham visited the town and its jetty located by the now realigned Sungai Langat in 1875.
The township, which is another stop in the trail, is teeming with unique characteristics of the dialect group who differ from other Chinese residing in other parts of Hulu Langat who are of the Fui Chiu Hakka dialect group.
“This is one of the rare places in the country where you can find houses featuring the Hakka Earthen Wall – a wall made of earth, sand and bamboo and is a whopping 1m-thick.
“There are six such houses here, including the house of business tycoon Chong Yoon Hee,” he said.
He added that Batu 14 was also the base of an active group that supported mainland China during the Japanese Occupation, and because of that, many in the township were killed.
Years later, the British wanted to move the entire village to Ampang during the Malayan Emergency but changed their mind following residents’ protests.
Relics of a hospital used by the Japanese during World War II are also among the historical gems found in Hulu Langat.
“The Japanese troops made good use of the hot springs here.
“We can still find a stone inscribed with the name of the platoon and remains of a fort at the site in Dusun Tua, which is now within the compound of Institute Kemahiran Belia Negara,” he said.
The British colonial officers liked the hot springs too that they built their rest houses there since the early part of the 20th century, he added.
In the nearby Sungai Tekali, a Si Ya Chinese Temple has been around for more than a century but the artefacts within are not being given enough attention.
“While the temple committee is quite active with festive celebrations, we need experts to take care of the precious artefacts there or we risk losing them,” Lee said.
Apart from highlighting these antiquity jewels, Lee and volunteers have been conducting oral history research since 2000, the outcome of which is exhibited at the heritage centre.
Given his dedication, it was surprising to find out that Lee was not born in Kajang but moved there 30 years ago to teach.
“Having come from the small town of Merbok in Kedah, it is just natural for us to be actively involved in community matters, it is part of our lives,” he said.
Besides the heritage trails, Lee also conducts a course for tour guides to promote Hulu Langat’s appeals in heritage and eco-tourism, and is about to complete the Sungai Chua Story House project with the help of parents and children.
The Kajang Heritage Centre is located at 39, 1st Floor, Jalan Mendaling, Kajang.
It is partly supported by the Federation of Chinese Association Hulu Langat and needs RM50,000 for maintenance per annum.
Fundraisers are organised every now and then. For details, call 012-260 1115 (Lee).