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The name Batu Gajah, which literally means "stone elephant" in the Malay language, is presumably derived from two large boulders that resembled elephants found along the Kinta River. Folklore claims that huge elephant figures were made of stones to scare away the elephants that destroyed the villagers' sugar cane crops.
Famous for its tin mining long before the Independence Day of Malaya, Batu Gajah had been an ideal place for Chinese immigrants to stay and work during those years. This contributes to a significant percentage of Chinese in the population of Batu Gajah today. The Indian Settlement village at Changkat has a large population of Indians and Punjabis who built one of the oldest Sikh temples in Perak.
Batu Gajah had an established pre-war British English school, which was renamed Sultan Yussuf School (SYS) after the war. The Sultan of Perak DYMM Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzudin Shah is an alumnus of this school. Formerly known as the Government English School (GES), it was founded by Mr. Malai Perumal Pillay in 1907. The school was built from the rubble of an old jail. Over the years, it has produced many successful students.
Batu Gajah lies on the bank of Sungai Kinta, a little downstream from the major confluence of Sungai Raya. It started out as one of the many villages of mukim Sungai Terap, developed under its titular chief, the Sri Amar DiRaja, since the early 19th century.
The attractions here include two golf courses, Kinta Golf Club and Clearwater Sanctuary Golf Course, and nearby pre-independence castle built by a Scottish rubber plantation owner, Sir William Kellie Smith: Kellie's Castle.
There are many hawker stalls and restaurants serving food such as noodles, laksa, and Indian-Muslim mee goreng and mee rebus. Youths spend time at cybercafés and around the local supermarket. In recent years, Western style food franchises such as 7-Eleven, KFC, Marry Brown, OldTown White Coffe and Pizza Hut opened branches in the town. A supermarket named TF has opened and is in business.
In recent years, Batu Gajah has seen a lot of improvement. Recently,[when?] a new large post office was built and the scenery around Batu Gajah has been greatly improved. Majlis Daerah Batu Gajah (MDBG), the district council, has greatly enhanced the scenery of this town by planting trees, repainting and keeping this town clean.
In September 2012, Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co. Ltd., one of the major electric locomotive manufacturers in China, agreed to build a rolling-stock factory in Batu Gajah.
In 2007, Batu Gajah received a new operational railway station. Near Kampung Pisang at the southern end of town, it replaced the old station at Jalan Pusing which is being turned into a museum.
In addition, the Malaysian railroad operator, Keretapi Tanah Melayu, is constructing a new central workshop in the vicinity of Batu Gajah to replace its facility in Sentul. Located near the new railway station, the centre will house repair workshops, training facilities and staff quarters. The center was scheduled for completion in August 2009 at a projected cost of RM 430 million.
A new four-lane highway connects to the Ipoh-Lumut Highway at Seputeh and ties to the North-South Expressway at Gopeng. The highway passes near the new railway station through Bemban at the West side of town.
- SK Sultan Yussuf
- SK St Bernadette's Convent
- SK Toh Indera Wangsa Ahmad
- SK Pusing
- SK Tanjung Tualang
- SK Seri Jaya
- SK Bakap
- SJK(T)Ladang Kinta Valley
- SJK(C)Yuk Kwan
- SJK(C)Thung Hon
- SMK Sultan Yussuf
- SMK St Bernadette's Convent
- SMK Toh Indera Wangsa Ahmad
- SMK Yuk Kwan
- SMK Dato' Bendahara CM Yusuf
- SMK Pusing
- SMK Tronoh
- Amy Mastura, a famous pop artist and actress, was born in Batu Gajah.
- Datuk Rahim Razali, a renowned artist/director, is from Batu Gajah.
- Yuna, a tudung-clad musician, who has been popular after her single hit song was born in Batu Gajah. Her grandparent live in Kampung Sungai Terap, Batu Gajah.
- David Tibet, a British poet, singer (Current 93), outsider artist, and painter was born in Batu Gajah.
- Dato' Dr Afifi al-Akiti, the first Malay to hold a chair at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford was born in Batu Gajah.
Some heritage buildings and landmarks in Batu Gajah that are famous throughout Perak:
- Kellie's Castle (an old unfinished castle built by a Scottish rubber tycoon)
- Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple of Kinta Kellas Estate
- An old tin mining dredge (resembling a large 'boat')
- Sultan Yussuf School or SMK Sultan Yussuf, the oldest school in Batu Gajah, established in 1907
- Batu Gajah Prison, the second oldest in Malaysia after the Taiping Prison.
- Batu Gajah old courthouse established in 1892
- St. Joseph Catholic Church
- Kinta Golf Course
- Batu Gajah Hospital
- God's Little Acre: A cemetery for the British pioneers, military servicemen, policemen, tin miners, planters and civilians named after the memorial cross erected by the Perak Planter's Association and others to commemorate their lives in fighting the Communist Insurgency 1949-1960.
- (Malay) Batu Gajah District Office
- "CSR to open Malaysian rolling stock plant - Railway Gazette". Railway Gazette International. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
- Keretapi Tanah Melayu Infrastructure Development in Batu Gajah
- SMK Sultan Yussuf. "Laman Utama Portal SMK Sultan Yussuf".
- SMK St. Bernadette’s Convent. "SMK St. Bernadette’s Convent".
- Malaysia, Batu Gajah. "God's Little Acre". Ministry of Defence, UK. Retrieved 21 February 2013.