By Rosli Mansor
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 772 and 05-255 1012 or call Muhamad Alias 016-565 4303.