TAMPIN has the distinction of being one of the most unique towns in the country as it straddles the boundaries of two states; Negri Sembilan and Malacca.
For locals on both sides of the border, crossing state lines for school, work, to shop or to board the train (the Tampin train station is situated in Malacca), is part of daily life.
Although a section of Tampin town spills into Malacca, most of Tampin is situated within the borders of Negri Sembilan, and falls under the purview of the Tampin district council.
The side of town that is across the Negri border; Pulau Sebang is administered by Malacca, namely the Alor Gajah Municipal Council.
Located about 60km south-east of Seremban, the capital of Negri Sembilan, Tampin is accessible via the Jalan Seremban-Tampin trunk road from Seremban, as well as the southern route of the North-South Expressway (NSE) via the Simpang Ampat exit.
Tampin’s proximity to Malacca city, however, has been a double-edged sword since the opening of the NSE.
While cutting travel time for motorists heading south to Singapore or those heading north to Kuala Lumpur from Johor Baru, the route bypasses small towns such as Tampin that were once pit stops for travellers.
The word ‘tampin’ apparently refers to a container woven from pandanus fronds that was used as a pouch for foodstuff. Whether or not the town derives its name from this handy pouch is anyone’s guess, but one thing that isn’t debatable is the town’s history.
Before the Naning War (1831-32) between the British East India Company and Malay chiefdom of Naning (in present-day Malacca), the districts that today make up Negri Sembilan were petty states governed by local chieftains.
Following a civil war in 1834, Tampin was established by local chieftain Syed Shaaban, who proclaimed himself the first ruler of Tampin with the title Tunku Besar Tampin. His appointment was supported by the British who had enlisted Syed Shaaban’s help (in the form of intelligence) to win the Naning War.
In 1889, Tampin and the neighbouring district of Rembau, as well as seven other luak (chiefdoms), formed a new confederation – Negri Sembilan.
Unlike other luak in Negri Sembilan that are ruled by an undang (chieftain), Tampin is ruled by the Tunku Besar, a hereditary title passed down from one generation to the next. Constitutionally, the Tunku Besar Tampin is recognised as the ruler of the district.
Today, the Balai Rasmi Tunku Besar Tampin is the official residence of the ruler, who is a descendant of Syed Shaaban.
The town itself evolved around the Tampin railway station, founded in 1905, and an important stop on the west coast rail route.
It was via the rail link that commodities such as timber and iron ore were transported to larger cities before the onset of World War Two (WWII) .
The historic Tampin/Pulau Sebang railway station building has been replaced by a brand new station constructed to accommodate the Seremban-Gemas Electrification and Double-Tracking Project.
As a result of infrastructure improvements, Tampin is now a stop on the KTM Komuter to and from Kuala Lumpur, as well as the ETS (electric train services) from Gemas to Butterworth, Penang.
Tampin has always been a green city. Framed by Gunung Datuk and Gunung Tampin at the southern end of the Titiwangsa Range, the charming town is a green retreat away from the bustle of nearby Seremban and Malacca city.
Gunung Tampin, one of the nation’s oldest forest reserves, is a lush hill and popular hiking destination close to the heart of town.
While Tampin town has lost some of its former lustre, locals hope that the new train service would help restore Tampin to its former glory.
In the heart of town are colourful shophouses and a sprinkling of quaint kopitiams (coffee shops) famed for their locally-brewed black coffees – the perfect accompaniment to a platter of half-boiled eggs and steamed bread.
Chong Sit Wen, 75, a native of Tampin, expressed hope that travellers would once again disembark at Tampin to enjoy a taste of old-town Malaysia.
“Before the NSE, the town used to buzz with activity. Back then we were swamped with customers.
“Today, it’s mainly just the locals who visit. I hope that the train service will help renew interest in the town,” he said.
Along Tampin’s Jalan Besar or main street, are several places of worship, including Gurdwara Sahib Tampin, a majestic monument replete with life-sized stone sculptures of Sikh warriors on horses at its entrance.
The present gurdwara, a Tampin landmark, was established in the 1960s by the town’s Sikh community who first arrived in the 1920s.
Another faded but iconic landmark of the town is the Tampin Resthouse, a government-built resthouse located on the fringe of town.
These modest lodgings with its Minangkabau-style sloping roof, once hosted visiting government officials and was the place to stay before the mushrooming of larger guesthouses in town. Close to the resthouse is the Tampin Recreational Park, home to jogging tracks, a playground and a lake.
Nearby is the Tunku Besar School (TBS), a school well-known for its academic prowess and sporting achievements. The school has produced a number of top civil servants, diplomats, educators and sporting personalities. In its glory days, the school was known as a hockey powerhouse.
Once known as the Government English School, the TBS primary school was first established in 1924 with just one classroom and 40 pupils!
Studies were interrupted during WWII and the school was used as a military hospital by Japanese forces.
Considered the premier alma mater in Tampin, enrolment increased after WWII. In the 1950s, the Tampin Resthouse was temporarily used as classrooms to accommodate the swell in pupils.
In 1953, a secondary school was established and two years later, both buildings were renamed in honour of Tampin’s ruler, the Tunku Besar.
Not too far from Tampin town, is a war memorial of particular note. The Sungai Kelamah monument in nearby Gemas was erected in remembrance of an Allied war effort to stem the Japanese invasion southwards to Singapore.
The Gemencheh River (of which Sungai Kelamah is a tributary) Bridge was blown up by Australian troops in January 1942, resulting in heavy losses for the Japanese.
Though the initial ambush proved successful for the Australian troops, they were eventually forced to retreat due to a lack of artillery support.
For the adventurous, driving to Tampin via the trunk road from Seremban affords scenic view of kampungs, as well as towns such as Rembau, Chembong, Pedas, Bongek, Chengkau and Kota.
Roadside stalls along the route also provide motorists the chance to sample local produce such as lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo), cincaluk (fermented shrimp condiment) and dodol (sticky durian toffee) en route.
For those of us lost in our fast-paced lives, a visit to a small town like Tampin forces us to take stock and enjoy life at a far gentler pace.
Though the town does not boasts high-rise buildings or supersized malls; its charm lies in its simplicity, a reminder of days gone by.