National heritage lost to ravages of time and vandals

A section of the wall defaced by graffiti. — Pictures by Marcus Pheong
A section of the wall defaced by graffiti. — Pictures by Marcus Pheong

IPOH, April 11 — In another country, a drawing dating back thousands of years ago would have become the pride of the nation, a major tourist attraction and a well-guarded heritage.

Such an artifact would have been flaunted to the extremes, ensuring it would never be lost and continue to generate as much tourist dollars as possible.

But, sadly, that is not the case for the drawings on the walls of a collapsed cave in Tambun, a five-minute drive from the centre of Ipoh town.

Believed to have been discovered by British soldiers in 1959, the drawings are said to be at least 3,000 years old although there have been claims they could even be 12,000 years old.

The drawings are believed to be the only prehistoric iron oxide ones in Malaysia.

Fully aware of its historical significance, the National Heritage Department declared it a national heritage on January 10, 2010 but in just five years, the site seems to have been all but forgotten.

Located on a small hillnext to the army's Kem Syed Putra, the cave drawings of deer, octopus, fish and tortoise among others have hardly been advertised or promoted as a tourism attraction.

No proper attempts have been made to showcase and “sell” the drawings to the world. More disappointing is that even most local tourists might not know such a place exists in Tambun, which is famous for its pomelo.

What is most worrying is that its upkeep has been neglected.

Not only are the drawings fading because of the natural elements, reckless and irresponsible human hands have started to damage the cave wall.

The vandals, believed to be youngsters, have marred the wall with graffiti. The public complained to the authorities about a year ago but no action has been taken.

“The graffiti below the wall drawings is an eyesore. 

Horses roam freely near the muddy trail leading to the cave drawings.
Horses roam freely near the muddy trail leading to the cave drawings.

“This looks bad on every quarter responsible to look after this invaluable heritage, be they the National Heritage Department, Tourism Malaysia, Tourism Perak, the Perak state tourism committee or even the Ipoh City Council.

“Each has failed to preserved the site,” said Perak Heritage Society president Mohd Taib Mahmud.

He said the issue of preserving the site had been raised many times but aside from small improvements such as putting up an information board near the cave, no “greater efforts” had been made.

Mohd Taib said the authorities should not be afraid to promote the drawings to the world, stressing that with the right approach, the state would be able to generate income to preserve the site.

Mohd Taib said no tour package of the city included a visit to the cave.

“People may think that when an important heritage area is turned into a tourist attraction it would lose its natural beauty. It actually becomes better managed and well guarded.”

He said part of the effort was to get a public access route to the cave as the current route was inaccessible to cars and passed through private land.

“If there is a proper access route, maintenance will be easy. Tourists too can reach the foot of the hill with ease.

“At present, the few who visit the cave have to use a muddy path which often makes reaching the place a messy affair.”