By Shahida Sakeri on May 23, 2018
I believe that many would agree with me when I say that heritage is crucial for us to understand what lies behind a destination that makes its people, culture and objects unique. Heritage gives the destination a particular character that sets itself apart from the other destinations under the sun. Perak, in this case, is outstandingly full of character given the great influences it has been receiving over the ages. This Northern Malaysian state prides itself in having the right mix of built heritage or monuments such as museums and religious structures, as well as the intangible heritage such as culture, customs, ceremonies and even gastronomy.
In conjunction with the Perak World of Wonders (WOW) programme organised by Tourism Perak in collaboration with Gaya Travel Magazine, a group of 20 media members and travel agents embarked on a journey to Perak to learn more about the state’s age-old legacies, and below are the highlights of their trip…
Once served as the State Mosque before the completion of Masjid Sultan Idris Shah II, Ubudiah Royal Mosque is one of the country’s most beautiful mosques located at Perak’s royal town, Kuala Kangsar. It was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a government architect who also designed the beautiful Ipoh railway station and the Kuala Lumpur rail station. The mosque was part of Sultan Idris Murshidul Adzam Shah I’s expression of gratitude to The Almighty when the royal highness recovered from an illness. The mosque features an Indo-Saracenic architecture with striking gilded golden domes that glimmer gloriously under the sun.
One day when Sultan Iskandar Shah went out for a picnic at Lata Bubu near Padang Rengas, His Highness noticed that his subjects were praying in a rundown madrasah (Islamic religious school). As he was a pious man himself, Sultan Iskandar Shah then ordered a better mosque to be built in the area, hence the creation of Ihsaniah Iskandariah Mosque, which was named after him. The building –considered unique due to its exquisite plaited kelarai (woven strip bamboo) and carvings on the building’s façade – was crafted by Chinese artisans and now becomes a popular Instagram-worthy attraction.
Also aptly known as Istana Kenangan, the palace had been the official residence of the royal family between 1931 and 1933. It was built in 1926 by the Malay carpenter Enci Sepian for Sultan Iskandar Shah. However, after Istana Iskandariah was completed, the royal family moved to the new palace and Istana Kenangan was then used to host royal occasions and palace guests. Today, the lovingly quaint palace has been turned into the Royal Museum of Perak, which opens daily except Friday, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (the museum closes at 12:45 p.m. on Thursdays).
Considered as a unique tradition in Padang Rengas, the Panjut (or oil lamp) festival, which has been around for decades, takes place in the final week of every Ramadhan (Muslims’ Holy Month). This festival involves lights that can be witnessed when villagers brighten their villages with dazzling illuminations from huge elaborate structures decorated using oil lamps. However, in the mid-80s, the festival was temporarily banned due to a claim that it made people neglect their tarawih (special prayers held nightly during Ramadhan). The festival was revived in 2014 by Padang Rengas Parliamentary Constituency Sports and Community Recreation Club in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism & Culture Malaysia and Padang Rengas Member of Parliament Service Centre, so as to promote unity and creativity at the grassroots level.
This year, the committee received more than 40 entries of oil decorations from the villages in the area based on five themes: Selamat Hari Raya (the festive day after Ramadhan is over), Historical Buildings, Negaraku (My Country), Malaysian Culture and Visit Perak Year 2017. But in order to win the competition, the participants needed to follow rules such as the structures must be able to support a minimum of 500 oil lamps, they must be constructed from natural items like bamboo and wood and measured at least 4.5 metres high and 9 metres wide. Winners walked away with the grand prize of RM3,500, while those in the second placing won RM2,000, third RM1,000, fourth RM500, and fifth RM300.
Rendang Tok (meat stewed in coconut milk and spices until dry) is popular in Perak, thus travellers should expect to see many local brands selling this traditional delicacy in the market. However, if we were to suggest an authentic recipe, then Rendang Tok Mak Nik is the real deal. Hajjah Napsiah Yeop Abdullah (Mak Nik) was a royal cook in the early years, but due to the positive feedback she received on her cooking, she started selling her rendang tok in the farmer’s market since 1959 so that the public can enjoy the delightful flavours of her cooking. Her recipe uses buffalo meat rather than beef because of the coarser texture that goes well with the spices used and the need for it to be cooked for a long time. Today, the business has expanded internationally and is managed by her children. Rendang Tok Mak Nik can now be found not only in Perak but also at KLIA and abroad like Dubai, Philippines and Mexico.