Isabella Bird, the Victorian lady, described in ‘The Golden Chersonese’ the beautiful Perak countryside when she visited Malaya in 1879. She was on an expedition and stayed with the Assistant Resident of Perak, William Edward Maxwell in Taiping. Maxwell Hill, or Bukit Larut as it is now called, was named after him.
Isabella Bird wrote about the ‘bracing air’ and ‘the cool nights’. She was fascinated by the trees and plants in the jungle. She was excited that in a day’s journey she counted one hundred and twenty-six different trees and shrubs, fifty-three trailers, seventeen epiphytes and twenty-eight ferns. She described the butterflies, colourful birds, orchids and flowers. She was enthralled by the colour schemes of the flora and fauna as well as the swirling mists and multi-coloured hues of the sky above the jungle.
Her journey through the hills of Taiping and the surrounding countryside was undertaken over 130 years ago. We are proud that Malaysia is blessed with an abundance of natural attractions. We have locations that are so wild and barren, or extensive in their spread, or simply awesome in their isolation. For those who have visited these places, all are affected in one way or another. Very few are unmoved by their beauty. The vast majority leave with greater respect for God’s power and the frailty of man.
News of a cable car project up Bukit Larut is the latest announcement for Perak. Should we treat this disclosure as a masterpiece, or a misguided act?
A constant stream of day-trippers will have dire consequences on the fragile ecosystem. We may not feel directly involved in the destruction of the natural beauty, but have we not heard or even experienced ourselves, how other hill stations have lost their charm? They have become too commercialised, polluted, congested, too big and too warm. Litter is another problem. We want progress, but ignore its downside. And we are only too aware of the state’s ‘tight restrictions’ and ‘strict requirements’, or rather their lack of regulating these.
Once Bukit Larut has been ‘modernised’, with food outlets and other amenities for our instant entertainment and gratification, the destruction will be hastened. Sadly, our children and grandchildren will never fully enjoy nor appreciate what was once a heaven on earth.
Why can’t the existing facilities be smartened up? Begonias, thunbergias, daisies and ferns all of which Isabella mentions, or other native flowers could be grown in abundance. Why not make the hill a focal point for gardeners with terraced or landscaped gardens and the sale of seeds or cultivated bulbs as a crowd puller? Preserve the beauty but provide jobs, too.
Another attraction is to serve English teas, as it should be, with scones and strawberry jam, a delightful array of cakes and delicate sandwiches, served with favourite English teas such as Earl Grey or Assam. Not mee goreng or cucur bawang or pisang goreng! Maxwell Hill was a retreat for the expatriate community and still is a haven for nature lovers. Don’t destroy the reasons which made it famous but instead work on improving these positive points.
Taiping is the wettest place in Peninsular Malaysia. The hills above it are constantly shrouded in mist and cloud. Similarly, the reasons for championing this cable car project up Bukit Larut are also unclear.
Isabella Bird marvelled at our magical countryside. Between then and now, who knows how many species of flora and fauna have been destroyed? Sadly, at the rate we are going, it is possible that much of that richness and beauty may not be around for our grandchildren to enjoy.