5 December 2015

Gua Tambun - Rock Paintings in Ipoh Malaysia

When we first arrived here in Ipoh we had been told that there were cave paintings created by the ancestors of the Orang Asli in the caves and rock faces around the town.  We had asked some local friends where we could go to see the paintings but none of them knew  or were particularly interested in this little bit of history discovered as recently as the 1950s

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Ipoh has ancient rock paintings - lots of them!
A little bit of burrowing on Mr Google supplied the answer which was that they were located, next to the motorway directly behind the petrol station we drive past every day.  The next time we drove past we decided, completely on spec, to park and try and see what we could see.  Luckily Mr EE and the children were appropriately dressed.  I was not, however as I happened to be wearing a tea dress and high heels (though luckily I did have the camera with me).

To find it walk through the polo field
Sure enough at the petrol station we found a sign directing us to the cave – via the polo field next door.  This all started to feel very surreal but we ploughed on across the grass, picking up a friendly dog who shadowed us the whole way – never getting too close but always keeping us in sight.  As a result we saw very little wildlife as we walked across the field and to the base of the cliff.  We startled a monitor and could hear monkeys but that was about it.

Climb the steep stairs
At the base of the cliff there was a small pavilion to take a rest but we walked on climbing the steep concrete steps.  We did not count but I would estimate that there are about 150 all told. 
At the top of the cliff we came to an abri rather reminiscent of Les Eyzies in the Dordogne but where the rubble at the base had built up quite considerably.  The first paintings we came to were very obviously modern graffiti which was disappointing in the extreme.  We could see places where the rock appeared to have been scraped – whether to remove the paintings to a museum or as a show piece for some vandal’s home we do not know. 

Do not be disheartened by the graffiti
As we walked along the cliff face we finally saw what all the fuss was about – a multitude of different figures  drawn on the rock in a red pigment.  They included  a tortoise, a dugong, what looked like a caelocanth, what we think were Orang Utans and various deer and cows.  Like the rock paintings we saw in Alta (Norway) some of the paintings showed pregnant animals.  The paintings themselves, while old, are not ancient, dating to about 3,000 years ago.  It is said that they are similar in style to the paintings seen in PNG and Australia.  All in all there are about 600 but we did not see anywhere near this many.

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Find the real thing
Our canine friend had climbed to the top with us and at one stage called out.  Funnily enough when we got to the base of the hill another dog was waiting for us and the two tailed us together.  The children had great fun making up stories of the canine defenders of this interesting site – working to protect it from vandalism!  They would, we were told, have attacked us had we tried to write on the walls.  I love the mind and imagination of children.

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
And try to work out what they mean - a cauldron, a birthday cake...?
We were very pleased to have been able to see the paintings even if I was not quite suitably attired.  What surprised us most of all is that more is not made of the site.  There is no information on the paintings (save for a small piece of text) and there is no presence on site.  Just about anywhere else this would be a major attraction.  There also appears to be very little attempt made at preservation although this seems about to change with some dynamic local students and interest bodies coming together to form a local action project to protect and promote the rock art.

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Some kind of cattle - a gaur perhaps?
Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
What can you see?
Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Selfie of its day?
It was a pleasure to be able to go and see these wonderful paintings and, in many ways, the experience was all the more special because we were the only people there without even a guide.  It would, however, be a shame if erosion and the weather were to cause all this to be lost forever and it is also a crying shame that they are not better known and all the very best of luck to the new action group.  

The climb is moderately challenging in the heat but if I can do it
dressed like this than anyone can!

Our canine escort
Click on the picture below for more posts about Ipoh and Malaysia

Ersatz Expat


Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the #Showyourworld link up co hosted by the excellent Tiny Expats and Girl Gone London.


6 comments:

  1. Interesting article. Am about to visit Ipoh with my 3 boys. There is another article written abt this in 2012 but from the photos showed a lot of bushes along the stairways. In yours which is very recent, the trail going up has been cleared and looks clean. Thank you for this update!

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Ipoh is a fascinating place with lots to see and do - I hope you enjoy your trip. WE had no problem with the stairs, the vegetation was clear and the children were fine.

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  2. I'd love to find these rock paintings someday! We live a few hours from Ipoh and haven't made it over there often, yet.

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    1. They are a great stop off to break the journey between KL and Penang because they are right by the motorway. The petrol station has a fruit stall as well!

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  3. Thanks for this post. I had to use your post as reference to find the rock paintings despite having grown up in Ipoh.

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    1. I am so pleased it was helpful. There are so many interesting things to see in Ipoh.

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