Travelling for kilometres without a skyscraper in sight is a welcome change for urbanites visiting the sleepy state of Perak.
Should you ever pass through the quiet town of Jeram in the Batu Gajah district, you should make a detour to a secluded tourist attraction few know about – the Shoushanyan Guanyin Temple hidden in the depths of a thick jungle.
Getting to the temple is something of an adventure itself as you have to travel along a stretch of dirt road snaking through an oil palm plantation.
At the end of the road is a clearing where you can leave your vehicle to explore the Shoushanyan Guanyin Temple ahead on foot.
This is quite a unique temple, being built into and inside a limestone cave, a common geographic feature in Perak’s Kinta Valley.
Its name, which if directly translated, means “Longevity Rock Mountain”, is shared with a famous temple in Taiwan’s Taoyuan City.
Like its Taiwanese counterpart, the temple is dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, whose statue greets visitors driving in from the road.
A brick arch marks the entrance to the temple although much of it is swallowed up by the thick trunks of towering rainforest trees that were left to their own devices for decades.
While not particularly big or grand like other temples in Malaysia, the Shoushanyan Guan Yin Temple does have a certain air of mystery around it.
With so few people around and little information available, it is natural that many questions abound about the place.
However, according to local historian Gary Lit, the temple has been around for more than 135 years, making it about as old as nearby Ipoh itself, or even older.
“This temple in its initial form was thus evidence that this part of the Kinta Valley was already being settled by presumably Taoist Chinese immigrants,” he told FMT during a recent visit there.
He also added that the temple is surrounded by many forgotten entrances to subterranean tunnels, which were used during the Communist insurgency.
Perhaps a future archaeologist could begin a search for the tunnels around this temple to uncover long lost secrets.
Within the temple’s main hall are some interesting sights like the bell and drum, which visitors are welcomed to ring and beat, to announce their presence to the deities who reside there.
Like the temple, the bell has an interesting backstory, being cast sometime during the reign of the Guangxu Emperor which lasted from 1871 to 1908.
The historical bell was the target of a recent theft attempt by scrap metal thieves, which was foiled by its sheer weight. A copy of the police report is pasted on the wall of the temple, and extra chains now keep the bell secured in its place.
Also, within the main hall are the idols of several Chinese deities, including the patron goddess Guan Yin herself.
Aside from the temple, the cave itself is something to marvel at, with stalactites and stalagmites having formed for over millennia at this point.
As to be expected, caves like these are rarely uninhabited so keep an eye out for the dozens of bats hanging above you.
Outside the cave is a rather fascinating display of piety from the local residents living in the temple’s vicinity. Dozens of idols belonging to different deities sit atop a table, left there by worshippers over the years.
This is their final resting place as devotees find the idea of disposing their old idols rather sacrilegious. Going by the number of idols left there, one cannot help but wonder just how long this practice has been going on for.
In any case, the Shoushanyan Guanyin Temple is certainly worth a brief visit for adventure seekers.
However, you can expect to leave the grounds with many questions still left unanswered, as the temple doesn’t give up its mysterious past so easily.