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  • Writer's pictureAmmar, R. & Izzaty, N.

Karst Series - The Pinnacle Lake of Malim Nawar

Special Appreciation: This article was made possible by the Kinta Valley Watch.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake main photo

Accompanying music: Coloratura ~ Coldplay

Kinta Valley is a region of limestone wonders. Of course, the most recognizable ones are the giant karst towers and mogotes decorating its plains - eroded mountains of ancient marine life deposits that form Perak's signature natural landscape. Much less noticeable than these dramatic hills, however, is the vast underground limestone layer that forms the bedrock for the region. Due to soil erosion or human development, smaller features from this buried limestone layer are sometimes exposed on the surface in the form of interesting outcrops and formations sprinkled across the valley.

For this trip, we joined Kinta Valley Watch (Pemerhati Lembah Kinta) to visit such a site in Kampar; the Pinnacle Lake of Malim Nawar.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Limestone islands appear to rise from a pristine lake.

Finding the place was made possible by the passionate work of Perak's Kinta Valley Watch, who organized a site visit in accordance to their 2024 'Karst Appreciation Month' campaign. Tagging along with their team and a group of nature enthusiasts, we traveled to the Kampar district, about 40 minutes of driving southward from Ipoh.

Malim Nawar

The old town of Malim Nawar.

Malim Nawar map from Ipoh

Map of Malim Nawar from Ipoh.

As we got closer to our destination, we made our way through the main road, passing across the quiet town center of Malim Nawar and the railway tracks. After a brief stop at a group checkpoint, we proceeded to drive a bit deeper into an unassuming patch of land near Kampung Changkat Baru via an unpaved trail surrounded by tall grass and patches of trees. Judging by the fine white sand around us, it was clear that the area was once a part of the mining industries during the tin mining heydays.

Malim Nawar Pinnacle Lake location

Closer map of Malim Nawar showing numerous ex-mining ponds and historical buildings.

Malim Nawar

View from the top of the railway overpass near the town center. The railway tracks pass through below.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake batching plant

A concrete batching plant beside the entrance to the unpaved road. The plant may have been set up years before to utilize the mining sand for building materials.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake road towards

White sand on the trail, a common remnant of tin mining in Perak.

Once reaching the final checkpoint, we left our vehicles and followed the group on foot. As we circled around a storage building nearby, we were met with an hauntingly beautiful scene. Hidden behind those same trees and grass was a small valley with a glittering lake in its center. From afar, we could see the surface scattered with strangely shaped rocks - as if rising from the serene waters below.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

The pinnacle lake of Malim Nawar.

An accompanying team from KC Outdoor Recreation and Masoorat Heritage Park carried kayaks and inflatable boats into the lake, together with a couple of guides to show the way. As our boat's electric motor calmly buzzed through the weed-infested waters, we took the chance to get as close as possible to the ghostly islands ahead.

Malim Nawar Pinnacle Lake Diagram

The rough map shows the approximate location of visible pinnacles, which may change with water levels, vegetation cover, or soil erosion.

(Source: Site visit & historical Google Earth images)

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

A closer view of the limestone islands.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Pinnacles with features that appear to be small channels, hollows, and fissures.

(Background, Left) A clearing that leads to a smaller lake with the same limestone formations.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

A crowd of limestone pinnacles protruding on the far end of the main lake.

Although mysterious in appearance, the strange stone islands are in fact a part of Perak's limestone heritage; a geological feature that occur underneath the soil in the Kinta Valley in countless numbers - owing to the giant limestone bedrock that forms the base of the region. These jagged carbonate stones, called 'pinnacles', are usually found on the very top part of an underground limestone bedrock. Slowly sculpted into shape by groundwater, they are sometimes exposed when the soil around them is removed via natural means or human development.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Large blocks of weathered limestone pinnacles.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

For the author, this group of rounded pinnacles resemble a miniature version of Ipoh's beautiful karst hills.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Limestone undergo dissolution even when underground, forming various karst morphologies - such as pinnacles, caverns, sinkholes, and fissures.

For the lake that these stones 'inhabit', it appears that it may have been a man-made pond, much like the hundreds of others around Malim Nawar. The mining town itself is located at the center of a swath of land that once boomed with tin extraction and dredging in the 1920s - together with Batu Gajah, Tanjung Tualang, Kota Bharu, and Kampar. Due to this, Perak saw the wide application of dredges in these plains, maximizing the speed of ore extraction and dressing (the last remaining now being Tanjung Tualang Dredge No.5). However, for sites with irregular bedrock and geological obstructions underground, the most common type of mining approach was the hydraulic gravel pump method.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Historically, dredges cannot be used for areas with limestone formations to avoid damaging the bucket ladder.

Cheaper and simpler compared to dredging, the method is especially useful to strip the tin-bearing alluvial soil trapped in between the numerous subsurface limestone formations, such as pinnacles and other obstructive rockheads. Using water monitors and pumps, tin-bearing soil is mixed with water and pumped up onto a palong. The tin ore is then trapped and recovered, while tailings sand and slime waste is removed at the end of the process. Once operations ceases and there being no pumps to drain out the site, rain and and groundwater simply turn an open mining pit into a pond.

On this site in Malim Nawar, its limestone formations seem to be much closer to the surface, thus leaving the remaining pinnacles partially submerged.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Lush plants surrounding the lake.

Author's diagram of what an abandoned mining pit with exposed pinnacles might look like underground. The actual geological condition of the site has to be confirmed through a proper seismic/geophysical assessment.

(Source: Adapted and modified based on underground pinnacles diagram from Encyclopedia of Engineering Geology. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series (Bobrowsky, P.T. & Marker, B., 2018) - Springer)

Based on mining records, this section of land was at one time under the concession of the company Kampong Lanjut Tin Dredging Ltd (KLTD). While the company did have dredges under its operations, the surrounding area was worked mainly by tributor gravel pump mines, which was mostly owned by smaller Chinese entities. At least six tributary mines were in operation here for KLTD in the 1950s; Ka Van No.1, Ka Van No.2, Ban Teik Lee, Fook Lee, Sin Marn Lee, Sin Beng Joo, and Tong Hing.

Mining operations in 1952 superimposed with the current water bodies and road network in Malim Nawar. The estimated location of TT5 at the time is also shown.

(Source: Site visit and adapted from F.T., Ingham, & E.F., Bradford,1960)

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Underground karst formations (such as pinnacles) act as natural traps for tin-rich alluvial soil.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

The lake is located near a residential area just across the trees in the background.

During the same period, other companies were also working their own dredges and mines in sections nearby, such as Kuala Kampar Tin Fields Ltd, Southern Kinta Consolidated, and many other smaller gravel pump sites. Additionally, the section on the west side of this area was the land worked by Southern Malayan Tin Dredging, which was at the time worked by the now-famous Dredge No.5.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

The lake is possibly an ex-mining pit filled with water after being abandoned.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

A thick mat of waterweed (Egeria Densa).

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Limestone with underwater foliage.

Several historical records mentioned that the mines nearby featured limestone pinnacles reaching through, or very near to the surface - particularly Ka Van No.1 (nearest to this area) and Sin Marn Lee. Other mining companies, such as Southern Kinta Consolidated Ltd, also mentioned of finding pinnacles in the land area in the vicinity. Ka Van No.1, which was recorded to have the most prominent pinnacles in Malim Nawar, ceased operations sometime in 1952.

Nevertheless, the author could not confirm whether the lakes visited in this post were the site of the mines stated in the records above, nor the exact function of the main and smaller lakes (mining pits or tailings retention ponds). It's also quite possible that the ponds served different functions at several points in time throughout the decades.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

The pinnacles here come in various sizes, shapes, and textures; rounded or jagged pillars, rough boulders, smooth blocks, pointed peaks, etc.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Exposed limestone is constantly undergoing erosion, particularly the ones surrounded by water.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Stones with a small bridge made up of soil.

For the town of Malim Nawar, its role during the mining boom was a defining moment in its history. The intensity of the activities in the larger tin field area led the British Colonial Administration to build the Chenderoh Hydro-Electric Power Station, the largest hydroelectric dam in Malaya at the time. In conjunction to this development, the town was selected as the base to construct a supplementary thermal power plant, which started operations in 1928. Together, these two plants supplied electricity to the grid, powering many mining operations and towns across the Kinta Valley.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

An interesting island located nearest to the entrance to the lake - the author believes that this particular limestone has the potential to become the site's distinctive icon.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake

Upon closer look, the stone resting on top may have been a 'floater' (an underground pinnacle broken off from the main limestone structure), a result of natural rockfall, or placed by machinery during the mining years.

Decades after the rush for tin died out, some of the abandoned mining ponds have transformed into hubs for freshwater fishing, birdwatching, and recreation, while others remain largely untouched. Besides these water bodies, one could still find several remnants of Malim Nawar's history still intact; the old power station (now integrated into Tenaga Nasional Berhad's training facilities), the Post Office building near the town center, and the Japanese carbide factory chimney in Kampung Tanjong Bakong.

Malim Nawar pinnacle lake farm

An abandoned vegetable farm beside the lake, probably set up around two years ago.

Now under the spotlight of nature lovers across the country, the lake definitely deserves more in-depth studies on its specific history, ecology, and geological profile. With such a unique presentation, the site combines both elements of natural heritage and the industrial mining history of Perak - perfectly in line with the government's ambitions to fully develop the state's heritage sector and geotourism.

In the bigger picture, this relatively unknown lake would be a valuable addition to increasing the public's general appreciation of limestone formations - and contributing to the greater push for karst heritage preservation in the Kinta Valley.


Gunung Gajah

Gunung Gajah in the distance, exiting Malim Nawar.

Author's Recommendation:

The site should be protected in its most pristine condition, free from surrounding waste water drainage and irresponsible vandalism. This is to avoid unnecessary erosion / damage to the existing limestone formations.

Author's Caution:

The site contains valuable natural geological formations surrounded by potentially deep waters. Any site visits should be done with the utmost care and safety in mind

Author's Note:

All descriptions are based on site observation and general assumptions. Morphological studies and detailed testing are required to determine the geological characteristics and mineral profile of these karst formations (such as the presence of dolomite, fossils, age, etc.).

Special Thanks:

  • Mr. Ching Boon Tat (Kinta Valley Watch) - for organizing and managing the tour

  • En. Mohd Zairis (Acu) (KC Outdoor Recreation / Matsurat Heritage Park) - for guiding the tour and providing initial site survey details

  • Dr. Ros Fatihah Muhammad (Senior Lecturer, Department of Geology, UM / President, Malaysian Cave and Karst Conservancy) - for assisting with general geological information on karst formations, reference studies done on Malim Nawar's pinnacle sites, and limited reviewing of site photos

  • Jabatan Mineral dan Galian (JMG) Library, Putrajaya - for assisting with information search

  • En. Abdur-Razzaq Lubis - for assisting with information source on Malim Nawar's history


*Kuala Kampar Tin Fields Ltd

Kuala Kampar Tin Fields Ltd acquired the dredging companies Malim Nawar South Ltd, Kuala Kampar Tin Ltd, Tanjong Tualang Tin Dredging Ltd and Malim Nawar Tin Ltd at different points in time before 1952.

References / Further Reading:

Malim Nawar history: Kinta Valley: Pioneering Malaysia's Modern Development (Khoo Salma Nasution & Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, 2005) - Perak Academy

Mining industry data for Malim Nawar in 1952: Geological Records District Memoir 9: The geology and mineral resources of the Kinta Valley, Perak (Ingham, F. T. & Bradford, E. F., 1960) - Ipoh : Geological Survey Headquarters

Pinnacle sites study in Malim Nawar: Topography of Buried Karst in Kinta Valley, Perak, West Malaysia (Ros Fatihah Muhammad & Nur Iskandar Taib, 2022) - International Congress of Speleology

Ex-mining ponds in Malim Nawar: Mapping of Ex-Mining Land Land-use of Malim Nawar-Ipoh Area Using SPOT-5 Satellite Images (Ramli Mohd Osman, Noor Bakri Endut & Hamid Ariffin, 2011) - SIMPOMIN 2011

Kinta Valley geology and minerals: The Kinta Valley Tinfield (Senathi Rajah, 1979) - Geological Society Malaysia

Karst characteristics in the Kinta Valley: The Extreme Karstification of the Kinta Valley, West Malaysia (Ros Fatihah Muhammad, 2018) - NCKRI Symposium 7

Subsurface karst: An Overview of Subsurface Karst Features Associated with Geological Studies in Malaysia (Zeinab Bakhshipouri, Husaini Omar, Zenoddin B. M. Yousof & Vahed Ghiasi, 2009) - EJGE

Relief features of exposed subsurface karst: Shui Jing Po Shilin, Rock and Relief of Stone Forests on Cone Hills, Yunnan, China (Martin Knez, Hong Liu & Tadej Slabe, 2017) - EuroKarst 2016 - Neuchâtel, Springer International Publishing

Gravel pump tin mining method: Gravel Pump Tin Mining in Malaysia (Yap Keam Min, 2006) - JURUTERA

Ex-mining ponds as industrial heritage in the Kinta Valley: The Importance and Significance of Heritage Conservation of the ex-tin Mining Landscape in Perak, Malaysia, the Abode of Grace (Suriati Ahmad & David Jones, 2013) - ACAS

Malim Nawar thermal power station: The Perak River Hydro-Electric Power Scheme, Malaya (1/1935) - The Crown Colonist

Freshwater fishing in Malim Nawar: Nelayan darat Malim Nawar (Hasnoor Hussain, 13/8/2018) - The Malaysian Insight


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