Bird watching, a passion among nature lovers, took centre stage on the morning of Sunday, September 8 at Taiping Lake Gardens. Nature enthusiasts teamed up with Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Perak Branch members to spot an array of delightful resident and migrant birds in their natural habitat at the popular park.
The participants, both children and adults, came armed with binoculars, cameras and telescopes, mounted on tripods, to catch sight of our “feathered friends” found in this highly frequented tourist landmark in Perak.
Birds like the Brown Shrike, Long-tailed Parakeet, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Black-thigh Falconet, Purple Heron, Spotted Dove, White-throat Kingfisher, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pink-necked Pigeon, Banded Woodpecker, Asian Glossy Starling, Night Heron, Brahminy Kite and Common Myna, among others, were seen congregating on trees and flying above and beside the lake’s greeneries. They also heard the calls of the Blue-eared Barbet but it was not easy to spot the bird.
Among the more than 20 participants was Lee Chu Teng, principal of SMK Methodist, Sungai Siput. Lee enjoys nature and had brought his family of three along. “It’s all in the family when it comes to interest in nature. It’s also a novel event for people to get together to watch birds and talk about nature, conservation and environmental protection” said Lee.
Another was Dr Tie Hieng Kai of Columbia Hospital, Taiping. Tie came with his wife and two young daughters. “My family can appreciate nature with this event while getting to exercise at the same time. It’s definitely better than spending time on tablets and computers,” he enthused.
According to event organiser, Lee Kim Chye of MNS Perak Branch, over 90 types of resident and migrant birds can be found in Taiping. “We gave participants a counting sheet listing at least 41 of them which could be seen at the Lake Gardens,” said Lee to Ipoh Echo.
It is unfortunate that 13 years into the new millennium, cleanliness is still an issue that continues to haunt us and thus is a cause for concern. It is not enough to just keep our homes or the streets clean, but we have to make a conscious decision to also save and protect the environment as a whole, before further damage is done. In fact, it is the collective effort of everyone to ensure that we do not destroy Mother Nature. I am disappointed that quite a number of our tourist attractions have already been marred due to littering caused by careless visitors. Littering is an act that not only disrupts civil society, but if plastic bags were washed into the sea, turtles could mistake these bags as jellyfish, their main source of food. Trash is a hazard, whether on land or sea. Coral reefs, which have taken thousands of years to form, are threatened, or even destroyed altogether by pollution or human activity. Many people do not realise that a seemingly harmless touch could kill the corals. Worse is when a boat anchors on the reef ecosystem instead of using a mooring buoy. On the home front, a simple reduction in, or better still, elimination on the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers, would promote a healthier ocean environment. This is what we can change, so why not start from now? As Royal Belum State Park is featured in this volume of the Perak Tourism Newsletter, let this serve as a good reminder to all tourists and tour operators, to be responsible in preserving natural treasures in Perak for the benefit of our future generations. A well-kept, clean and beautiful Park is what they want to inherit from us. While research on the rich flora and fauna is highly encouraged, we have to follow the guidelines, as stipulated by the authorities, when we visit the forest. Let us just take photographs and leave only our footprints behind.
The Enchanting Beauty of Royal Belum
Royal Belum State Park in northern Perak, estimated at 130 million years old, is much older than that of the Amazon and the Congo. Gazetted as a State Park on May 3, 2007, it covers an area measuring 117,500 hectares encompassing over 90 per cent of the Belum Forest Reserve. It is now known as “Royal Belum” after being bestowed the royal title by HRH Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah in July, 2003.
It is said that the name “Belum” originated from the noise emitted from stick grasshoppers (belalang ranting) that sounds like “Belummm, Belummm…”
So, what is there to do or see in Royal Belum?
According to Dato’ Hj Abdul Karim bin Osman, General Manager of Perak State Park Corporation, the agency that oversees the Park, visitors MUST check out the Rafflesia, the largest flower on Earth. While this flower is found in tropical rainforests throughout Southeast Asia, the Rafflesia is an iconic symbol for Royal Belum.
A “normal” Rafflesia flower has five petals but recently, a flower with ten petals, measuring 40 cm in diameter was discovered at Sungai Gadong. It was definitely the first of its kind in the world.
Another attraction for visitors is the Sungai Rouk Waterfall, which is not any ordinary waterfall. This is where various species of local freshwater fish are bred specifically to promote aqua-tourism. Popular species are Kelah, Tengas and Temonggeh.
While on the subject of waterfalls, Royal Belum has quite a few to offer. The most unique is the Sungai Kooi Waterfall, with a height of 50 metres. The water does not cascade but showers down!
Those who prefer to check out the wild animals in Royal Belum are recommended to visit the salt lick. There are 12 areas where wild animals would come by to obtain their salt nutrients. The famous licks are Sira Papan, Sira Damar Siput and Sira Rambau, to name a few.
On the other hand, those who prefer a simpler life are invited to experience the Sungai Kejar or Sungai Tiang Tourism camps. These camps are located some 30 minutes by boat from Pulau Banding. Facilities provided, besides the camping sites, are community sheds, bathrooms, toilets, kitchens and barbeque equipment.
Those who opt for Sungai Kejar Tourism Camp should also visit the Kejar Hilir Village, a village of the Orang Asli Jahai. This isolated tribe originated from the Austroasia group, similar to Orang Asli Temiar found in central Peninsular Malaysia.
A trip to Royal Belum is not complete without watching the birds, especially the hornbills. Ten species of the bird are found here. In fact, bird-watching is a popular activity, although it takes a lot of luck to spot specific species of the birds.
Royal Belum is indeed an experience of a lifetime. Explore all that it has to offer personally. Be blown away by the thousands of species of flora and fauna that make the forest their habitat. Today’s guide is a good starting point.
Incidentally, a permit is required to enter the State Park. This can be easily handled by tour operators registered with the Perak State Park Corporation. For more information, contact them at 05-791 4543 or 05-791 7858 during office hours.
Our tedious 200-km ride from Ipoh was amply rewarded on our arrival at the Banding Lake Jetty. Situated on the western extreme of Temenggor Lake, the jetty is both the entry and exit point for guests of Belum Eco Resort which is located on one of the many islands dotting the lake.
With a surface area of 15,200 hectares, Temenggor Lake is the largest man-made lake in Perak. The manifestation of this lake is the result of the damming of Temenggor River in the mid-1970s for the construction of the Temenggor Dam.
The panoramic Banding Lake, which greets motorists traversing the East-West Highway, is only 217 hectares in size. The body of water provides an overview of the natural charms of the Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve. Believed to be over 130 million years old, the rainforest is one of the oldest in the world – older than both the Amazon and the Congo.
Steven, a management staff of the Belum Eco Resort, was on hand to receive us. The trip to the resort requires a 20-minute ride in a boat specially built for the purpose of transporting guests. The layout of the boat provides guests with a 360-degree view of the surroundings, the placid water, the submerged trees and the denizens of the lake who surface either to breathe or to make their presence felt.
Belum-Temenggor is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna including 14 of the world’s most threatened mammals which include the Malaysian tiger, Asiatic elephant, Malaysian sun bear and tapir, all of which are high on the endangered list. The depth of the lake is over 200 feet at the deepest point. The lake floor was once valleys and gullies of the Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve. Inundating this region was part of a strategic cum tactical plan mooted to deny passage for Communist terrorists plying the mountainous routes in and out of Perak.
We were briefed on the activities arranged for us for our 3D/2N sojourn at the Belum Eco Resort. The resort, incidentally, is located on one tiny island at the heart of Temenggor Lake. Guests have the option of staying in a houseboat or in one of its 12 chalets built along the fringe of the island. The chalets blend in with the environment, true to its concept of being eco-friendly. The tour package comes with organized activities to keep guests occupied throughout their stay at the resort.
Pulau Talikail is the first on the tour itinerary. The island is in fact a sunken mountain whose lofty summit was once the tallest in the Belum-Temenggor forest. Today only some 600 feet remain above water. Atop the hillock is an 80-metre watch tower where one can survey the lake and its surroundings uninterrupted. Reaching the top requires a 45-minute walk along a well-defined track built for the purpose. The trek to the watch tower was a breeze as the sight of the flora and fauna literally took our breath away. This reinforces the statement that there are merits in maintaining the ecosystem for posterity. Our future generations must feast their eyes on this beauty of Nature.
On returning we joined the rest for tea at the terrace of the resort. It consisted of the usual snacks that are normally laid for afternoon tea. We had a good helping of fried meehoon and curry puffs and washed them down with piping hot black tea. It was most exhilarating considering the time of the day. The next item on the itinerary was water sports. The choice was limited: swimming and kayaking. We decided to laze on the deck chairs and watch the day go by.
The following day’s activities were more exciting. I looked forward to island-hopping which was emphasised by our tour guide. The highlights included a visit to Kampong Chuweh, an Orang Asli settlement within the Temenggor Complex, a trek to the Sungei Enam waterfalls and finally a visit to Pulau Besar where Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, grows in abundance.
Kampong Chuweh is a quintessential Orang Asli village, one of the few in the area. The inhabitants, quite used to tourists ogling at them, are never shy and will respond when spoken to. The Asli children, like all children, will cringe when approached but in Kampong Chuweh they remain coy when teased and will open up without much coaxing. We took some snapshots of them and of an enterprising octogenarian, Anjang Pisang, who was apt at hand-crafting rings, bangles and tobacco pouches from rattan. We bought some of the knick knacks that he offered for sale.
The Sungei Enam waterfalls are slightly off the beaten track. It is located about two kilometres from the lakeside. Thirty minutes of footslogging is forgotten as the beautiful landscape compensates for the tiresome journey. The cool mountain water cascading over the rocks is a sight to behold. We took a dip in the deeper end of the pond where few dare to tread.
Pulau Besar, as the name suggests, is big in comparison to the rest. It is home to a small variety of the Rafflesia indigenous to the region. We were lucky as we needed to only walk a short distance up the slope to reach our first blooming Rafflesia. This parasitic flowering plant grows profusely on Pulau Besar as there is little or no threat to its existence.
Our 3D/2N stay came to an abrupt end when we suddenly realised that it was time to leave. The one impression that will remain etched in my mind is the sensitivity of the ecosystem in the area. The flora and fauna in the Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve need to be preserved at all cost. Lose them, and we stand to lose our identity as well.
Last February Dato’ Hamidah commented that Perak had a lot to offer to the eco-adventure tourist. She made the comment after officiating the launch of Bukit Kinding’s Eco Adventure Park (BKEAP) Double Zip-Line Flying Fox product which is the longest in the country measuring 486 metres in length.
Multiple Adventure Sports All in One Location
BKEAP located at Tanjung Rambutan is a 1,400-acre resort that sits at the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range. Since last November when it introduced a string of adventure activities ranging from free kayaking to zorbing, paintball, mountain biking and later the Flying Fox, the resort has experienced a growth of new customers using their facilities mainly for team building and adventure activities.
Interestingly, although BKEAP is new to eco-adventure activities, it has been having impressive bookings from colleges, universities and corporations for its adventure activities since it started its adventure park. According to Mr Pavin Damodran, BKEAP Manager, the Resort does its own marketing and currently can handle180 guests per time. However, it is currently constructing new chalets and dormitories to accommodate over 600 guests at any one time.
Besides adding accommodations, it recently added an orienteering course and will be adding an abseiling area soon. The fact that bookings for June are already full is testimony to the popularity of adventure activities.
Eco and Adventure Tourism versus Eco-Adventure Tourism
The definition of Eco-Tourism refers to tourists wishing to experience and appreciate the natural and cultural heritage within an environment and foster a greater appreciation of its natural habitat.
Adventure tourism on the other hand attracts tourists seeking excitement though activities that require significant personal effort and some degree of risk such as white-water rafting, rock climbing or even mountain biking.
When one combines these two definitions, Eco-Adventure Tourism, one immediately realises that Perak has all these products.
Our eco-tourism products such as Gua Tempurung and Royal Belum are world-class gems, pristine and precious and offer a wealth of knowledge. Similarly interesting are our Orang Asli villages and Ipoh’s Heritage Trails. For adventure there are white-water rafting, caving and mountain biking, to name a few. Package all of these activities together and the result is a fun and adventurous eco-adventure holiday.
For all of these activities visitors need not travel to the four corners of the country but just come to Ipoh to begin their adventure because Perak has got it all.
Gopeng – A One-Stop Destination
Nomad Adventure, an adventure training company was the first adventure operator in Gopeng starting in 2003.
Its founder ChanYuen Li, an adventure enthusiast, captained the first Asian team to complete the 1998 multi day expedition Eco-Challenge competition held in Morocco, Chan is also the individual who discovered and developed commercial white-water rafting trips at Sungai Kampar.
Nomad, located within close proximity of Gua Tempurung offers a full spectrum of adventure activities which allow visitors to be at one with nature amongst the surrounding natural habitat.
Its site consists of two locations – Earth Camp and Mountain School. Visitors can stay at its eco-friendly Earth Camp-site which provides accommodations in green-house dormitories or tree houses to get the feel of communal living in a rainforest environment.
Its water activities along the Kampar River include the exciting white-water rafting which traverses 22 rapids of grades 2-3 all the while surrounded by the rainforests along upper Sungai Kampar. Subsequently this is followed by a relaxing and scenic kayaking float trip down the lower Sg Kampar drifting through river villages until Kuala Dipang.
Nomad’s Mountain School at the limestone outcrop of Gua Kandu offers rock climbing, a unique high ropes course along a limestone and jungle environment, and free hanging abseil.
Visitors are also taken for caving at Gua Tempurung and encouraged to participate in the Academy Kampung community cultural activity to have a complete eco-adventure experience all within Gopeng itself.
It must be noted that Nomad being the market leader in this eco tourist market, has achieved some significant benchmark initiatives such as treating its grey water and achieving ISO9001/2008 certification, making them the only resort operator with ISO certification.
Eco-Tourism Spin-Offs: Eco-Resorts and Involvement of Local Communities
With the growth of eco-tourism, eco-tourist resorts and adventure operators have sprouted. A year after Nomad started, Adeline Koh, the owner of Adeline Rest House opened a 5-acre resort at Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng. Two resort operators have since followed suit, the My Gopeng Resort and Gopeng Rainforest Resort just 2 years ago.
Gopeng Rainforest Resort is situated between the Ulu Geruntum and Ulu Kampar rivers in the Kinta Forest. Gopeng Rainforest Resort provides for accommodations, food, recreation and activities in the midst of an environment surrounded by pristine rainforests and orchards. The stylish local traditional Malay houses and chalets in Gopeng Rainforest Resort are built to blend in with the environment. Facilities here include a multi-purpose hall, fruit orchard, car parks, electricity, piped water, clean toilets, bathroom, BBQ sets, kitchen, natural stream, etc.
One can opt for various activities here like white-water rafting, Rafflesia flower (world’s largest flower) trail, caving adventures and jungle trekking. One can also get to enjoy the various fresh local Malaysian fruits like durians, rambutans, pulasan and others during the fruiting seasons. Owner David Foon also takes his visitors on tours to Ipoh’s Heritage Trail and Kinta Nature Park bird sanctuary at Batu Gajah all of which only enhance the richness of the eco-tourism activity.
Although Gopeng has the full plethora of eco-adventure activities, there are other unique eco-tourism products available around Perak.
Ecofieldtrips, a Singapore-based company that conducts field trips for students from primary to tertiary level from around the world has listed Perak as one its field trip destinations.
Ecofieldtrips Director Bridget Hedderman acknowledged that “Perak has a lot of outdoor learning opportunities to offer her students” adding that her Perak itinerary, besides including the activities at Gopeng, also takes in the Kinta Nature Park bird sanctuary at Batu Gajah, Matang Mangrove Swamp at Kuala Gula and “also the Orang Asli village at Ulu Kinta and Kellies Castle for its social heritage”. It must be noted that the mentioned locations are within 90 minutes of each other.
Hedderman employs nature guides and graduates to run her programmes and regards Perak as a one-stop centre for eco and adventure tourism adding that “Perak has a lot to offer though I doubt that it has been marketed to the public yet.”
Multiple Sports and Fun
A teacher with an international school once told Nomad’s Chan that her Earth Camp was the most interesting adventure location ever as it had “multiple adventure sports” all in one destination. The teacher explained that the previous year’s adventure camp was at the Himalayas for white-water rafting and that was all they did. However, at Gopeng the students had more variety, learnt more and had more fun too.
The eco-adventure sites in Perak are easily accessible to residents from KL, Selangor and Penang and it is common to have day-trip groups especially during the weekends. The infrastructure too is good with air, rail, bus and train services being available. Similarly too with hospital services being nearby.
In early April last month Nomad received 160 visitors who came for a day trip of adventure. That is nothing significant except for the fact that all the visitors came from the Middle East.
Nomad’s Chan didn’t raise an eyebrow until she received another confirmation from another but smaller Middle-East group for a mountain-to-sea challenge.
For the uninitiated a mountain-to-sea challenge is a 6D5N stay which takes the visitor to Cameron Highlands for the start of a 2-day trek down to Gopeng, then white-water rafting, mountain biking and caving at Gua Tempurung before taking a 70-km cycle ride to end at Teluk Batik, Lumut.
So far the only record of a trek from Cameron Highlands to Lumut was achieved by F. Spencer Chapman of Force 136 in 1945, who had to rendezvous with his getaway submarine at Pangkor Laut after which he wrote the book ‘The Jungle is Neutral’.
Undoubtedly, offering activity-packed eco-adventure outings can be the start of more customers coming from non-traditional markets. Could it be that the eco-adventure tourist has gotten wind of what Perak has to offer in the way of a quality adventure? Time will tell.
Mother Nature is kind to Perak and has blessed her with many natural phenomena which some have taken for granted. One such occurrence is fireflies that are found in abundance in mangrove swamps along the coast of the state.
Kampong Dew, located to the west of Kamunting along the old trunk road, is essentially a fishing village which is also noted for its once thriving charcoal industry. Charcoal kilns are still found in the area but not as many as it was in the 1960s. Most of the charcoal produced here are for export, especially to Japan, where demand for this low-tech energy source prevails.
One other product closely associated with Kg Dew is freshwater lobsters. They thrive in the tepid waters of Sungei Sepetang, a major waterway running past the village. The crustaceans have long been an important source of income for the villagers.
The other product which has yet to evolve into a viable money spinner is eco-tourism. And the thing that will spearhead this economic activity is an insect that lives in the mangrove swamps.
Firefly or Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles and are commonly called fireflies for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence in their abdomens to attract mates or prey.
There are 2,000 species of firefly found in temperate and tropical environments. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where food is in abundance.
The Kg Dew fireflies are found on a species of mangrove tree called pokok berembang or Sonneratia Caseoraris, which is indigenous to the mangrove swamps of the tropics.
Getting to these firefly colonies is half the fun, as the traveller has to overcome a number of obstacles; the most exhilarating being the wobbling boat ride from Kampong Dew jetty. It takes about 15 minutes, in failing light and under the guidance of a seasoned boatman, to access the spot. The other half of the fun is on reaching the firefly colonies and seeing the insects glowing in the dark on the berembang trees. The flashing glow is the reason why the insects are known as kelip-kelip in the Malay language.
Tropical fireflies routinely synchronise their flashes when in large groups. The cause of this behaviour is linked to the insects’ diet, social interaction and altitude. Fireflies can live up to 30 days without food. The male fly dies after mating while the female dies after laying its eggs.
Realising the tourism potential these insects have to offer, some very enterprising individuals in the village formed the Kelab Chaya Alam Perak. Its objective is to promote the Kampong Dew fireflies to tourists as part of an eco-tourism package. However, facilities are still lacking and drawing tourists to the area may be problematic, considering the many shortcomings.
Dato’ Hamidah Osman, the executive councillor for tourism, dropped by the village recently to see the extent of the problem. She acknowledged that the club requires assistance and pledged RM50, 000 to upgrade facilities such as a covered walkway to the jetty, a waiting area, signage and a sturdier jetty.
Hamidah implored on the villagers to maintain the integrity of the area. “Destroying the insects’ natural habitats will drive them away,” she told members of the club. “The berembang trees are essential for the insects’ survival,’ she stressed.
Norshamshida Abdul Rahman, Director of Tourism Malaysia Perak, who was in the entourage, echoed Hamidah’s sentiments emphasising on the need for conservation. She assured the club that her office would initiate actions to promote Kg Dew in the run-up to Visit Perak Year 2012.
Besides fireflies, visitors can also fish for lobsters, see how charcoal is made and trek the jungles of Gunong Semanggol nearby. These are some of the activities that can be packaged for nature-loving tourists, local and foreign.
Readers keen on knowing more about Kampong Dew can call Khairul Salleh Ahmad on his mobile 012-5145023. They can also access his blog: http://fireflyzone.blogspot.com for details.
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.
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.
The hour-long ride from Ipoh to Tasek Raban was most exhilarating, as the journey took us past rustic kampong houses on stilts and on the ground interspersed with dense virgin forests that stretch up into the cloud-covered highlands. It was a sight to behold as the Kuala Kangsar-Grik Highway offers motorists a vista of rural Malaysia, especially of Perak, at its very best. Since the highway runs parallel to the Bintang Range, the going can be a little stressful for the lonely traveller. But we were in an air-conditioned tour bus, the ride was smooth and exciting, albeit a little tiring.
The coach soon came to a stop and upon disembarking we were pleasantly greeted by the sight of a neat and spacious hut by the side of Tasek Raban. This is the Pangkalan Raban-Durian Pipit Jetty, the start point of our foray into the unknown. A motorised boat measuring about 30 feet, the size of a medium sampan, was tied to a pole stuck in the mud. This boat would take us to our destination – Kampong Batu Ring-Beng – where our hosts awaited us.
The mere thought of us cramped in this puny boat scared the daylights out of me, a devout landlubber. The others were no better. They too had their reservations and were undecided whether to clamber on board or to give the whole thing a miss. But the beckoning of the boatman and his repeated assurances soothed our frayed nerves. Soon all ten of us were snugly seated in his sampan.
Pak Ramli, a native of Tasek Raban, has been ferrying people to and from Kampong Batu Ring-Beng since he was strong enough to row a boat. He knew the lake very well. His deft hands soon took control of the motorised sampan powered by an 8-hp outboard engine, as he manoeuvred his way in the calm waters. Small and rickety it might have been, but it worked wonders for its size.
The 15-minute ride provided us with a rare opportunity to admire the beauty of the environs. The lake, according to Pak Ramli, is a source of income for the village folks. Salt and pickled fish from Tasek Raban are found all over the country. In fact, Lenggong is noted for ikan pekasam a delicacy which is eagerly sought by visitors to the region.
A welcoming party consisting of a kompang troupe was on hand to receive us as we berthed by the jetty at Kampong Batu Ring-Beng. The beating of the kompang and the accompanying song did much to lift our sagging spirits. The Kampong Batu Ring-Beng homestay programme was initiated in 2007 and our visit that day was intended at promoting it to in-bound tourists, both local and foreign. Through word of mouth, Kampong Batu Ring-Beng has acquired some prominence among visitors abroad.
The legend of Kampong Batu Ring-Beng was recounted to us by the director of the homestay project, Muhamad Alias Mat Arshad. This is his version (in his own words).
“A wedding ceremony to solemnise the marriage between a cat and a dog was interrupted by a sudden rainstorm causing the guests to panic. A giant figure mysteriously appeared on the scene. It threw a large slab of rock on the villagers killing all except for a small girl.”
The rock, according to Alias, was the summit of Gunung Batu Ring in Kelantan, thus the name.
There are some 30 participants involved in the homestay programme.
“Our objective is to showcase the uniqueness of Tasek Raban to visitors, especially its ecology and cuisines. Freshwater fish being a staple here will be the focus of our meals, particularly ikan pekasam and a wide variety of ulam available locally”, said Alias.
After the briefing we left for the houses to which we were assigned. My host was Pak Abu, another native of this lake country. His house was a simple wooden structure typical of Malay abodes in the area. In spite of its simplicity the interior was spacious while the beds were warm and inviting. Facilities for bathing and washing were spartan but in good taste. The food Pak Abu’s wife prepared was tasteful and the helpings generous. I was in no mood to complain.
Soon after dusk we were bundled into a boat for a ride around the lake, the size of Perlis. A night out in the open offers a different kind of ambience and experience to the first-time visitor. Although it was barely visible in the pitch darkness, the sounds of fish jumping and splashing in the murky water were enough to excite the meekest from among our group. “That’s a tangkalan, a denizen of the deep” said the coxswain. He could almost pick out the type of fish by the sound it made, so we guessed.
Homestay in Kampong Batu Ring-Beng is definitely different from those on offer in other parts of the country. Unlike the rest, the Tasek Raban homestay provides visitors an opportunity to enjoy Nature in a pristine setting surrounding a placid lake with rolling hills and lush jungles in the background. A night stay at Kampong Batu Ring-Beng, inclusive of meals, costs only RM60. For the many “extras” thrown in, it is definitely a bargain.
To reach Tasek Raban, exit Plus Expressway at the Kuala Kangsar junction. Take the Kuala Kangsar-Grik Highway after the tollgate. Keep on the highway and you will cross another iconic structure, the majestic Raja Nazrin Bridge, which spans the Perak River. On nearing Tasek Raban turn right towards the Pangkalan Raban jetty. Follow the signposts. The cost of a boat ride is RM10 return.
A RM50 package covers the boat ride and accommodation. This discount is available for those wanting to stretch their ringgit.
Reservations can be made with Tourism Malaysia (Perak) 05-2552 772and05-255 1012 or call Muhamad Alias 016-565 4303.
The Roots, a resort dedicated to eco-tourism on the banks of the Kinta River in Tanjung Rambutan, had their first intake of visitors from the German European School in Singapore recently. Comprised 71 students and four teachers, the group was a five-day field trips throughout Perak.
The resort’s study programme focuses on raising awareness of environmental conservation and sustainability issues, particularly to young people who have the power to shape the future of our planet.
The students, whose average age is 13 years, were taken on action-packed field trips from Gua Tempurung at Gopeng and its surrounding adventure camps to Matang Mangrove Forest at Taiping where they had a chance to re-plant mangrove seedlings, thus replenishing an important habitat for many endangered bird species found nearby.
Conservation of indigenous cultures is also part of the programme and as such their trip included a visit to the Orang Asli village at Kampong Tonggan, Ulu Kinta where students integrated with the children of Orang Asli families. The ice-breaker activity was singing the song ”heads, shoulders, knees and toes” repeatedly but in various dialects starting from English to Bahasa Malaysia.
Back at The Roots, the students learnt to play sepak takraw, made a poster inspired by the Orang Asli visit, and even had some target practice using traditional Orang Asli blow-pipes.
For a sense of adventure the students visited Kellie’s Castle where they participated in a quest designed by Ecofieldtrips that took them through its dungeons and secret passageways to discover the tale of The William Kellie Smith family.
Ipoh history was a major focus throughout the week especially the tin industry culminating in a fun tin panning session.
Throughout the week the students were led by a team of eight experienced biologists to learn about the diverse history, biology, people and attractions that Perak and Ipoh have to offer.
According to the co-owner of the resort, Bridget Hedderman, the programme for this first batch took over eight months to prepare together with her team of biologists. Bridget herself is an experienced biologist and conservationist with a Masters in Education and is pro-active in marine conservation and education.
For the remainder of the year Roots already has bookings from another 10 schools from countries like France, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong as well as KL and Penang.
One of the visiting teachers said that the Roots programme was one of the best programmes available for eco-tourism and educating young minds. With this in place, Perak now has a tour programme, albeit a study programme, which enables participants to appreciate the diverse natural attractions available in the state, as well as to learn about its history.
The new Perak fieldtrip has certainly taken off to a brilliant start and if the response of the first batch of students is anything to go by, it has taken firm root for The Roots to receive more students in the future!
Eyesore in OA Village
Next came the Orang Asli Village which is an absolute disgrace and not worth the journey. We are sure that at one time this was an untouched sanctuary where the people lived as they have for centuries. But today the village is spoilt by an ugly, government built, water treatment and distribution plant, right in the centre of the village consisting of bare steel girders with tanks on top. It could not be uglier if it tried. Now of course, providing clean water for the people is a noble and necessary thing to do, but when it is done with no thought for nature or the village environment then it becomes an eyesore. We implore the government to be more thoughtful of the environment in their future projects on the islands. Rafflesia and Leeches
The trek up to see the Rafflesia was wet, a little steep and suffered from a galaxy of friendly leeches who attached themselves to the ankles with gay abandon. The children screamed and cried, but nonetheless made it to the top to see their first Rafflesia, although not yet properly open. One smart trekker had brought the salt and the leeches were soon vanquished although the bleeding continued. Next time we shall wear Leech socks!
Pulau Talikali was quite different. The walk was steep in places and there were plenty of signs of elephants, wild boar and others. Fortunately we did not meet face to face with any of them, but there was no doubt they were around and probably heard us coming. The view was breathless; as we were by the time we got to the viewpoint on the top. At this point you may be wondering why we did not actually visit the protected Royal Belum Forest and State Park, said to be the final frontier of our disappearing virgin rainforests. The answer is two fold. First we did not know what we were to find in the area and took this short trip as an introduction to future trips and secondly we had not allowed ourselves the three weeks that are often required to arrange a government permit to visit the park. But rest assured, we shall be back for a longer trip soon that will take in more of both Temenggor and the State Park, for there is so much to experience.
Litter and Useless Jetty
Turning to more general aspects of our trip, we were very disappointed in a number of things. First, our joy at arriving at Pulau Banding Jetty soon turned to dismay when we saw that, despite the huge red sign that prohibited littering, there were polystyrene food packets, plastic bottles and paper covering the entire jetty area with Roti Canai curry sauce all over the seats. Nothing short of disgraceful and if we understand correctly the stall holder who sells these offending items is responsible to the government for the cleanliness then he is just not doing his job. From all accounts punitive government action is long overdue in this area.
Secondly the solidly constructed boat jetty cannot be used as its designer did not taken into account the rise and fall of the water and apparently being designed for low water is completely submerged. We therefore boarded our boat over the muddy, litter-strewn bank. A standard floating jetty, in use all over the world is what the government should have spent our money on! Why didn’t they? Surely Perak must have someone with knowledge of such basic requirements. One wonders how the contractor qualified for the job. Future Ecology Threatened
Then as we made our way around the lake over the next three days we were surprised to see how many islands are occupied by government departments, we believe as private recreational facilities. Add to these the small tour operators who provide campsites and floating chalets with doubtful control of effluent, litter and use of the lake and again, we worry for the future of the ecology of the area. Unless properly controlled, more people invariably means more pollution, degradation and destruction of nature’s gifts, all in the name of profit. Malaysia really needs to take a leaf out of Australia’s or New Zealand’s book as to how to control reservoir and forest activities without stifling tourism.
But if the above is not bad enough the worst is yet to come. Logging! Yes this desecration of our ever diminishing rainforest continues unabated and as we understand it, perfectly legally, the evidence being in the barges on the lake and lorries that abound on the road, carting away the giant trees that Mother Nature took so many decades to grow. Of course there are promises that this will all stop soon, but there have been many earlier, empty, promises which have allowed the destruction to continue, changing the whole face of Malaysia by displacing people, destroying the ecosystems, driving animals into extinction and turning green lands into almost barren deserts. Take Action Now
So what can we, who proudly call ourselves Perakians, do to stop all these problems? The answer is simple. First support the MNS and WWF as strength is in numbers and secondly, employ democracy. Let your government representatives know your feelings. We shall not be accused of sedition or being anti-government as long as we do this sensibly and within the law. Can you imagine the effect on your local Exco representative if he was to receive 50,000 individual letters from unhappy constituents? Surely he would act on your behalf or face the rest of his life regretting his inaction. Our failure to take action now will only result in more destruction.