Among all the temples in Ipoh, Kek Lok Tong justifiably enjoys a rarified position. The temple’s impressive setting–a cave within the confines of limestone outcrops behind Gunung Rapat–imbues it with a kind of jagged grace that attracts visitors looking for serenity and mindful calm amidst the clamour of Perak’s capital city. They will find a cave temple sitting on a 12-acre site redolent with verdant hues and will note the site’s duality: as a place of worship from 1920 to 1970 and since 1970, and an iron mining site in the intervening period.
The welcome is auspicious. A statue of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist bodhisattva, stands beside a turtle-filled pond, and immediately the tone is set: this is a place of compassion. The curved stairs into the cave mimic a carp’s tale flanked by a vanguard of lions that rest sentinel-like on plinths between which lies an arrangement of purple lilacs in the shape of the Buddhist symbol of peace. A statue of Confucius rendered in stone sits and waits as visitors enter the chamber beneath ancient stalactite formations, creating an open atmosphere of space allowing room to breathe and exhale.
A trio of metal sages–a Bodhisattva atop an elephant and another on an imperial lion and a Buddha reclining on a lotus bed–command the main cavern alongside a jovial Buddha looking out from the main chamber to the gardens bisecting wooded cliff faces to convey the impression of a forgotten valley.
A series of 18 statues immediately draw attention: these figures are the Lohans who followed Buddha and achieved enlightenment. Now they rest amidst the landscaped gardens and textured reflexology footpath entwining two ponds, one replete with koi carp and a rendering of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy and the other lying dormant under a blanket of lily pads, emanating infinite stillness from its depths.