Treasure in the cavern

By SYLVIA LOOI, Photos by LEW YONG KAN, The Star, November 18, 2007

Ipoh, Perak (Malaysia) -- The cave temples of Ipoh, Perak, are also centres of Chinese culture and heritage and hold many artistic attractions.

<< Piece of art: A sample of the more than 200 paintings and calligraphic masterpieces by famous artists, at the Perak Cave Temple at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Ipoh.

THOSE who have been to Ipoh can testify that there is more to the city than mouth-watering food, such as the beautiful limestone hills.

Most of the caves in these hills have been made into places of worship, mostly by Buddhist and Taoist followers.

One such place is the Perak Cave Temple at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman (formerly Jalan Kuala Kangsar).

Upon entry into the main chamber, a 15m-tall Sakyamuni Buddha statue greets visitors while the inner chamber houses the Maitreya Buddha or Laughing Buddha statue.

Besides the statues, there are also more than 200 paintings and calligraphic masterpieces by famous artists from Malaysia and Europe, and countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, and the United States.

Temple chairman Chong Yit Chat says it is the paintings and calligraphic pieces that make the cave unique.

“It is a place of worship, a centre of Chinese culture and heritage and a place to relax,” he says, adding that the temple is a place to visit especially for those keen on Chinese art and culture.

As for the compound of the temple, there is an oriental aura with its swaying willows, lotus pond, a pavilion and the Goddess of Mercy statue.

You can also check out the panoramic view of Ipoh city and its surrounding areas from the temple just by climbing a flight of stairs that spirals to the peak of the hill.

Besides the Perak Cave, another cave worthy of a visit is the Kek Lok Tong (Cave of Great Happiness) located at Rapat Setia, where most of its natural features had been retained.

While the main deity here is Buddha, the various deities are placed in prominent places in the cave, which blend in with its surrounding.

The cave has been likened to a dragon carp with its mouth wide open (the entrance) facing the northern sky and the tail of the carp is symbolised by two flights of steps that meet just before the rear entrance of the cave. 

The back of the cave leads to a huge garden, complete with ponds, pavilions, walkways and even a reflexology path. 

Cave caretaker K.C. Tan, 72, says the garden is an ideal place for exercise due to its abundance of fresh air.

It is interesting to note that the garden has won numerous landscaping awards, both at the state and national levels.

If you are coming from down South via the trunk road, you will see a huge limestone outcrop, which houses the cave temples of Sam Poh Tong, Nam Thean Tong and Ling Sen Tong.

The attractions to look out for in the Sam Poh Tong or Cave of the Three Treasures are the tortoise pond, which is home to tortoises of various sizes, and the Pavilion of the Goddess of Mercy, which stands out with its red tiles and motifs in contrast to the surrounding limestone.

In front of the Sam Poh Tong, there is a beautifully landscaped garden, with a pond full of carp and goldfish. 

The garden, complete with miniature statues, temples, hills and waterfalls, won the temple the best landscaped non-Muslim house of worship award in 1993.

Next to Sam Poh Tong is the Nam Thean Tong or the Cave of the Southern Heaven.

The large prayer hall, where the main altar is located, is just behind the entrance. Here, one will find the temple’s principal deity, Tai Shang Lao Jun. 

The temple also has a garden in front, which includes a pond with tortoises. 

There is also a reflexology path, which is popular with evening walkers.

Next to Nam Thean Tong is the interestingly landscaped Ling Sen Tong (Cave of the Goddess of Providence). The main draw here is the temple’s main deity, the Goddess of Mercy.

The forecourt of Ling Sen Tong is attractively adorned with various statues and images of Buddha and deities as well as dragons and other mythical figures, which make it a perfect place to take pictures. 

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