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.