Kuala Krai – the small town in Kelantan where I spent my early childhood, hit the news today as the Manik Urai state by-election gets underway. The nomination was held at the Sultan Yahya Petra secondary school with Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS locked in a straight fight. The school, where my late father was once a teacher before he took up another job in Kuala Lumpur, would also be the vote tallying centre for the polling on July 14.
In the late 60s and early 70s, I remember Kuala Krai as a small, remote town “at the end of the road”. The railway station was popular though as the train provided the access to the west coast – via Gua Musang to Kuala Lipis and right up to Gemas. The train was the preferred mode of transportation then as going to KL by road was cumbersome.
The radio was popular too during the era known as "pop yeh-yeh". The schoolboys had a band called "Khafileanos" which played alongside several top singers they invited from Kuala Lumpur for their concert at the town's only cinema.
The Bradley Steps was another prominent feature as the place to measure the water levels during monsoon floods. I'm told that the location has been renamed as 'Tangga Krai'.
There was also a kindergarten at Jalan Geale which offered lessons in English for six-year olds. Looking back, it’s a wonder that we could have English classes in such an ‘ulu’ place at that time.
After kindergarten, I went to the Sultan Yahya Petra primary school until Standard 3 before moving to Klang.
With the by-election on, Kuala Krai -- the nearest town to Manik Urai, would no doubt be the dateline for the election news in the coming days.
Bernama reported today that on an ordinary day, Manik Urai with its peaceful environment away from the hustle and bustle of city life, is nothing more than an isolated Malay settlement situated along Jalan Kuala Krai-Gua Musang.
However, all that has changed overnight as approximately 30,000 people who live and work as rubber tappers in Manik Urai, face the intimidating presence of city folks, dignitaries and politicians in their area.
The serene environment changed with the death of its state assemblyman, Ismail Yaacob of Pas, on May 22, which called for a by-election.
How did Manik Urai got its name? I Some claim that the name is connected to a story of a broken necklace which was made of beads (manik) but some older residents believed the name originated from a Malay beauty by the name of Mak Nik Urai who once lived in the village.
"Mak Nik was famous for her beauty and her long beautiful hair, hence they named the place Manik Urai and so I heard," said a resident, Abdullah Jusoh, 64, from Kampung Laloh, about 30kms from Kuala Krai.
His view was shared by Olak Jeram district chief, Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman who said that the woman's family came from Northern Thailand and were among the earliest settlers in the area.
"Although there are varying stories of how the place got its name, most of the older residents insist that it was from Mak Nik Urai who lived in Kampung Pasir, near the Keretapi Tanah Melayu track, around 1940s.
"Mak Nik Urai's family and relatives who were farmers and rubber tappers, continued to expand and they opened other settlements across the railway," he said.
Manik Urai is also famous for its Lata Rek waterfall, located in Kampung Laloh.
Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vintage point.
- Harold B. Melchart