Ipoh in the northern state of Perak, Malaysia, is known for its abundance of beautiful limestone hills, which form a ring of green around the city. Housed in some of these are breathtaking ‘cave’ temples, built by the Chinese who first came to the place to work as rubber tappers and tin miners. Some of the popular ones are Sam Poh Tong, Kek Lok Toong (blog post here) and Kwan Yin Tong (blog post here), which tourists and devotees flock to especially during special occasions like Chinese New Year or Wesak Day.
There’s one temple that doesn’t get as much publicity. Maybe it’s the location, hidden within the hillside and surrounded by pomelo farms and lakes, but for those willing to go the extra mile to look for it, the Enlightened Heart Tibetan Buddhist Temple offers a tranquil place for meditation and solitude.
From the main road, we spotted signboards pointing the way but once in, we were greeted by a narrow dirt road just wide enough for one car. On both sides were village homes, pomelo and nangka farms. But don’t worry – after a few minutes, the temple seems to loom out of nowhere – a vast yellow complex with a striking pagoda and tall Buddha statue nestled against the hill.
It was extremely quiet during our visit. The only other people around were a white tourist family and some of the temple caretakers. She greeted us warmly and asked if we wanted to write down some wishes for the new year. She also gave us a brief explanation about the temple, which was founded in 1976 by Ge Li Rinpoche (formerly known as Yong Sifu), who gave up his home life to pursue the practice of Nyinma Tibetan Buddhism.
While Mi and Pi fussed over some candles, I took in the interesting sights and architecture. Being a Tibetan Buddhist temple, it looked markedly different from regular Chinese temples; especially the colour scheme which seemed to emphasise on five primary colours. These were repeated everywhere around the complex and are said to represent different elements – yellow (earth), green (water), red (fire), white (air/cloud) and blue (sky/space).
Didn’t manage to ask the temple caretaker, but looking up stuff while writing these, I find out that these are Tibetan Prayer Flags, printed over with images of the Buddhas + holy sutras. A practice from the Himalayas, it was believed to have stemmed from a Nepali shamanistic religion called Bon. The flags were originally used by the local population to bless their surroundings, but as Tibetan Buddhism grew, they spread to other regions. An Indian monk called Atisha then introduced the Indian practice of printing on cloth prayer flags to Tibet and Nepal; hence the version we see today.
There was a small section dedicated to the Hindu Elephant-headed god, Ganesha, right next to the entrance. His chariot, pulled by horses, was decorated with flower garlands. It wasn’t a surprising sight, as Nepal and India are neighbours, but it was still a testament to the tolerance between cultures. Buddhism and Hinduism share many similar values and beliefs, after all. What I liked best? Just like with Chinese deities, the temple caretakers had laid out some Mandarin oranges for him. Now that’s inclusivity! 🙂 If only everyone got along so well…
Tibetan deity statues also look different from the typical Chinese temples, especially in their costumes which carry a distinctive Indian/Nepali touch.
An open-air hall, which I think the temple uses for large functions. There were a few temple dogs lounging around lazily.
A walkway lined with prayer wheels. There was a notice written in Chinese which I didn’t know how to read, but had RM328 on it. I’m assuming that’s the donation needed to have a prayer wheel put up under your name (you help the temple out and get ‘merits’).
According to belief (or in this case, ‘belief’ is what I get from the Internet – enlighten me if I’m wrong), spinning the prayer wheels are to accumulate wisdom and good karma while purifying bad karma. They’re also used as a ‘visual aid’ for praying, whereby the person spins the wheels clockwise while focusing the mind and repeating the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra. The closest comparison I can think of is how people use rosary beads while chanting prayers.
There was a chamber surrounded by a small moat, while the walls were lined with depictions of deities. I wished there was a guide to explain to me the significance of each structure; unfortunately there was no one in sight. We literally had the whole place to ourselves.
Some of the deities had fierce expressions.
Moving on to another section of the temple. In between the different shrines were ponds and walkways lined with plants and flowers.
More prayer flags.
A wooden shrine housing a thousand hand deity.
Kuanyin (goddess of Mercy) surrounded by Chinese Buddhist deities.
At the base of the pagoda, known as the Enlightened Heart Medicine Buddha Bhaishaya Guru Pagoda. It rises up over nine storeys and measures 72m in height.
Bhaisajyaguru is known as the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahayana Buddhism, and also goes by the name of King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light (hence the deep blue colouring). He is described as a doctor who cures dukkha (suffering) using the medicine of his teachings.
No lifts. You wanna pray, you gotta be sincere, right? Even the great monk Tang Xuan took twenty years to complete his step-by-step pilgrimage to India.
Each floor had numerous balconies, with statues of deities in between.
After huffing and panting up to the top floors, we were greeted by the sight of a giant 11m Shakyamani Buddha statue, facing out to the hills. Lit up some joss sticks to offer as prayers, and then rested from the climb.
Breathtaking view from the top floors. You can see the surrounding farms, lakes and of course, the beautiful hills surrounding Ipoh.
Admission to the temple is free, but donations are welcome.
Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM
Directions: coming from Jalan Tambun, turn right when you see the Tambun Police Station into Jalan Tambun Baru. You will see the Government Clinic and School as you pass by. There should be signboards at the third turning. Else, use Waze or Google Maps (search for Tibetan Buddhist Temple).