Monday, August 19, 2013


THE QUESTION IS ASKED.  There is no problem to dwell into the past as records are available but to wish things as they were would be an impossibility . You too may have lived in the years past and your vivid memories could easily be awaken to remember the distinct. 

Today as we approach the 56th year of celebrating Merdeka and seeing the 'Jalur Gemilang' ( the national Flag) wavering in the breeze as they stand on poles and staffs of buildings and vehicles, we would recognize that we have gone past that time line, possibly  adding a score more or less. Surely things are still vivid in our mind. One thing for sure a ride on the ferry crossing the Penang Channel recently brought back quint memories of shipping at the Alor Setar harbour.  

Wow! Is there a harbour at Alor Setar town? Could a ship traveled upstream from Kuala Kedah and anchored in town? No one who has not seen the old river would ever vouch that it is possible. Sungai Kedah as it is now would not even allow a fishing trawler to go upstream from its estuary. Kuala Kedah would be its last stop. Alas such a situation has taken place in many of our towns in the country.

I remember seeing ships as big as in the picture below or the size of the ferry that ply the Butterwoth - Penang channel anchoring in the town in the early 1950's. Alor Setar just like many other towns in Malaysia is a riverine town and communication or trading to other parts of the country in days before Merdeka (1957) depended on shipping as the main avenue. Large cargo would not be transported by road or railway as both were inadequate for the purpose. Therefore it was always a thrilling moment when as a youngster I would see ships mooring at the town harbour after coming upstream from the estuary at Kuala Kedah six or seven kilometers away. 

Daily the ferry boat from Langkawi would also come in to anchor at the jetty in town. The blasts from the ship's horn added to the excitement as people crowd the riverside to see a larger than live transportation came in slowly to moor itself by the wooden jetty at Tanjung Chali.

It is a picture framed in my mind that is impossible to forget and the sight of the ship in the Penang harbour seen on 14 August 2013 while on the ferry moving across the channel conjured the reality of things. Thus this write up or looking back into the past. 

Unfortunately even the jetty in the town has been demolished. No one who had never seen the jetty and especially the ship at anchor there would ever believe the reality of things. Looking at the current site and river condition, we would likewise agree with them.

Cries for 'river beautification' or 'the restoration of our riverine beautification' would not bring back its past grandeur and usage. We have truly destroyed our natural beauty and its importance through neglect and destruction. The Alor Setar river in the past would be bluish as sea water flowed in upstream. Now it is muddy and brownish and don't expect youngsters to jump in and having a swim there.

This is a recollection I would like to share with friends who may have seen the same situation transpired in their towns when shipping was the main source of transportation or when custom and marine department offices were located in your town rather than at the estuary of the river now. Thankfully the old marine and custom building is intact though not serving its old function excepting defining its true identity. 

Several photos as displayed below may help to define the truth and the calamity that has fallen on other riverine towns in the country and every where. We would like to define this as development. Hard to agree!     

A cargo ship the like of which was once seen in Alor Setar town ages ago which anchored to load timber, rice and other natural products for shipment to Penang and Port Klang as well as unloading supplies for the town. Barges the likes we often see at Penang were towed in to the harbour. Now it is even unlikely to find such barges at Penang. How fortunate to find a picture in my collection.   

The Penang Ferry built so that it could ply into shallow waters too.

These barges were a plenty in Penang in the 1950's but gradually disappeared as containers and port facilities improved with time. Then they too made their way to Alor Setar harbour before. The river no doubt was deep enough.

A scene even upstream from Alor Setar specifically at Anak Bukit where boat racing could even take place as the river was wide and the water deep and flowing.

A picture taken in 1962 on a boat leaving Brunei Town for Labuan. Yes large ships too could anchor at the harbour in town. Now they stop at Muara Port away from the city. The harbour in town has become out of bound for ocean going ships. The next two pictures show that it was possible before.

In 1962 the Brunei River with its jetty in town would see even navy and cargo ships anchored in its waters. I was fortunate to have captured these scenes on camera reminding me what was already a gone thing in Alor Setar. Never did I realize this scene would repeat here in Brunei because when I visited the city in 2011 no ocean boats plying the Borneo - Singapore and Malaysia could lower their anchors in the Brunei River anymore.

Alor Setar town.  Believe it or not, ocean going ships used to anchor here with a jetty built by the side of the brick  walls. The white washed building with two flags wavering in the breeze was the former custom and marine office. The shops along Jalan Pekan Cina by the river was the busiest part of the town. Now gone with the wind and so too the once busy part of Alor Setar known as Pekan Cina and Pekan Melayu.

Today we hear talk of upgrading and bringing back live to the water. Million of Ringgit would be needed to bring back its austere lives. Rather why not save those rivers not yet polluted and still breathing, halting all the mistakes we had created that have turned the 'old' rivers to what they are now.

Yes as we see Malaysia coming to age in its 56th year, let's give a thought to the past gleaming back at its peace and beauty that fortunately touched us in all its majesty once.

Are we missing something?


Al-Manar said...

You show places I was except Alor Star. Indeed we can dwell on our memeories, but even memories fade too. That 1962 Brunei picyture must be the time you served over there after Kirkby. Three years later I was in Jesselton where I met Alias Shamduddin and late Mustapha.

Bring out more of those old photos for us to share.

Phil Van said...

How deep is the Kedah river today ?. I wonder if it is still possible to navigate upstream to Alor Setar and anchor there with a 1,6m draft.