Batu Gajah (GPS: 4.47066, 101.04228) is a town in the Kinta district, a short distance south of Ipoh. Batu Gajah is a town in Perak, Malaysia. It today has a population of about 35,000 (2011 estimate). The town of Batu Gajah straddles the Kinta River, a few kilometers to the south of its confluence with Sungai Pinji. As with many towns in Perak, Batu Gajah had its heydays in the late 19th century, when it was a major tin producing town. Since then, with the tin deposits depleted, the town has become a quiet place for pensioners.
The area was densely forested until the mid 19th century, when tin prospectors began arriving up the Kinta River from Teluk Intan. By the 1880's, the tin mines in Papan was yielding large quantities of ore, and Batu Gajah was selected as the site for a river port on the Kinta River.
Jalan Sungai (River Road) was one of the first roads built in Batu Gajah. From there, the town (now Old Town, or Pekan Lama) was laid out. The early inhabitants of Batu Gajah were mostly Malays as well as Mandailings from Sumatra. They were later joined by Chinese and Indians.
The name Batu Gajah means "elephant rock". There are a few stories as to how the place got its name. The first refers to two large rocks that look like elephants located on the Kinta River. However, there are no such rocks to be seen in the river today. Another theory is that elephants are often seen rubbing their bodies against the boulders along the Kinta River.
New Batu Gajah Mosque (18 June 2011)
Another story related to Batu Gajah tells of a "orang halus" (local elf) named Sang Gedembai who could turn the things it sees into stone. According to the legend, two elephants crossing the Kinta River stumbled upon Sang Gedembai and were turned into boulders.
Yet another storey related to Batu Gajah was documented by Kinta District Officer H.A. Luckam in 1949. The story was told to him by the acting penghulu of Sungei Terap, in which district Batu Gajah was then located. In the story, a group of Buddhist pilgrims were on their way from Teluk Intan when they arrived in the Batu Gajah area. They carved two stones to resemble elephants, in order to set them up as a landmark as well as a place of worship.
Batu Gajah Clock Tower (18 June 2011)
Batu Gajah was originally a cluster of villages within the county (mukim) of Sungai Terap. There was a village here by the name of Kampong Sungei Terap, which was founded by Toh Panjang Bongkok. He was later conferred the title of Sri Amar DiRaja by the 19th Sultan of Perak, Sultan Abdul Malik Mansur Shah. The first British Resident in Perak, JWW Birch, visited Batu Gajah on 30 April, 1875.
Batu Gajah became an important town in the Kinta Valley when it was selected as the port town for the shipment of tin mined in Papan. The oldest buildings are those off Jalan Sungai (River Street), which had businesses owned by Malays and Mandailing people, until the tin mining activities brought substantial numbers of Chinese and Indians. The original part of town, located near the Kinta River, is today called Pekan Lama, or Old Town.
St Joseph's Church, Batu Gajah (18 June 2011)
The British established their administrative on a tableland which is today the Changkat neighbourhood of Batu Gajah. There, they built the Kinta District Administrative Office (1884), the Batu Gajah Hospital (1890's) and the Batu Gajah Prison (1888), where Sybil Kathigasu was incarcerated during the Second World War.
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