Quest for Rafflesia

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Rafflesia kerrii - 41in in diameter

Perak, the land of grace, is truly blessed with mesmerizing nature trails. Anyone can be spoilt for choice when it comes to the splendour of nature. Certain towns like Simpang Pulai, which lies 10 km away from Ipoh, has its own laid back charms too. Famed for crystal clear streams and hot springs flowing along the periphery of this rustic town, Simpang Pulai is also the gateway to Cameron Highlands and Lojing Highlands.

Lojing Highlands, Kelantan, is situated just across the border of Perak. Tucked away in the evergreen hills, Lojing Highlands is a paradise to nature lovers. The Rafflesia kerrii, which is the second largest flower after Rafflesia arnoldii can be found thriving here.

A ‘parasitic affair’ with the ‘Queen of the Forest’, as Rafflesia is known, was organised by David Foon and his wife, Janice. Such a great opportunity is hard to come by and I, being a fanatic for Rafflesia, was the first to sign in. Armed with enthusiasm, 10 of us headed for Simpang Pulai on a lovely Sunday morning. The journey to Lojing Highlands took 1½ hours and it was simply delightful. The road we took winds through evergreen forested hills coupled with breathtaking views.

40cm bud

On reaching Lojing Highlands, two Orang Asli guides from the Temiar tribe were waiting for us. We were taken up a logging trail and into the fringes of the enchanting rainforest.

Away from the concrete jungle, life was at its own pace. The air was fresh and invigorating. Mist was still shrouding part of the forest and dew drops were glistening like diamonds in the early morning sun. Colourful fungus, wild orchids and ferns were abundant. The droning of insects provided the perfect backdrop to birds giving voice to song, wild and free. Medicinal plants like Jarum Emas, Kacip Fatimah and the famous aphrodisiac, the Tongkat Ali were seen. The forest was certainly alive!

The terrain of the forest was undulating. We had to cross bamboo bridges and clamber over logs which were colourfully decorated with fungus. In spite of trekking deep into the virgin forest, our spirits were never down as this ‘Garden of Eden’ was rich with flora and fauna. Soon we arrived at an area which was forested by bamboos. Edible bamboo worms were shown to us by our guides but none of us had the courage to gobble them down. We were told that they are juicy and tasted like peanuts. Bamboo rats, which are supposed to taste better than chicken, are known to forage this place when dusk envelopes the forest. Thankfully they are nocturnal creatures; otherwise they will be caught for the cooking pot!

With the cool mountain wind gently blowing, the susurration of bamboo leaves and wild flowers, we felt transported into the Mesozoic era. If only Kitaro was playing his music, it would have synchronized beautifully with the bamboo forest.

Braving dense foliage, we soldiered on in the hope of catching a glimpse of the world’s biggest flower. Soon, the gushing sound of water was heard. There were streams and waterfalls nearby. The spray of water from the falls burst into a rainbow spectrum, creating a celestial ambiance which was simply magical. Where was the leprechaun with his hidden pot of gold?

Once again, we followed upstream and into the primary forest. This time we were told to look out for Tetrastigma vines. These vines are woody forest liana and they support the growth of the parasitic Rafflesia. Combing the forest floor with utmost care, we soon came across a few small balls resembling little brown cabbages protruding from the forest liana. They were Rafflesia buds!  Ah! There ‘she’ was, the beautiful lady in red! The Queen of the Forest …the ravishing Rafflesia kerrii, all 40 inches of it in full bloom was just ahead of us.

We found our pot of gold! It was like Mother Nature’s resurrection and this reddish-orangey flower with warty patches on its perigone was a rare beauty to behold. Looks like our little party in the stunning wilderness of Malaysian rainforest paid off, for one has to be there, amidst the great beauty of the Rafflesia to truly appreciate nature’s gift to mankind.

Yoon Lai Wan