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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Belum Rainforest, Perak, Malaysia

Once again, the tussle between economics and environment is turning out that environment is losing the battle. Logging has now crept into the Temenggor area and loggers are happily at work, turning 170million year old rainforests to hardwood material for ever hungry consumers in Asia, Japan, The USA and Europe. Precious research areas are being torned down to make cheap furniture and toothpicks - all disposable, all dispensable. The rainforest wont be growing back anytime soon especially when the rain sets in and washes away the top soil. All we will have is a scar and what may be even worse - more palm oil plantations or acacia forest plantations. Monotone will be the landscape soon if we dont voice out our concerns.
Total coverage of the forest reserve is reported to be about 290,000 hectares. The Belum area is divided into lower and upper sections.The Upper Belum area covers 117,500hectares of inpenetrable jungle which stretches into the Thai-Malaysian border. This vast jungle patch acts as a natural barricade and is gazetted a security zone. Belum and Temenggor reserve parks have been left pretty much intact because the State of Perak has decided to preserve the area as a permanent nature reserve for research. The Upper Belum is of 90% virgin forest whereby the lower half is generally covered by secondary forest. That's a lot of good jungle cover to research on!!!
Much of our prescribed medicines were distilled from herbs and plants. Researchers from all over the world are racing against time to find cures for diseases and ailments such as
Cancers, Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, Meningitis etc. They believe the elixir is locked in the secrets of the rainforest plants. But rainforests are being cut down at such astonishing rates, we may one day destroy the Garden of Eden hidden within and destroy all hopes of cures for our diseases.
Belum, belum, beluuuummm! This is the sound made by a large grasshopper that makes it home in the jungle. Hence, the name. Although most of the adventure packages will take you through secondary forests, there are areas in Lower Belum that is pegged with huge Meranti, Cengal, Keruing and Merbau species. These are names of rainforest hardwoods that are becoming increasingly rare. The rainforest soil is surprisingly poor in nutrients.
Once an area is exposed, the remaining nutrients in the soil easily leaches away and what lies underneath is clay and sand. If you have the time, try digging into the earth. The black, rich soil covers only the top thin layer, underneath is a desert of lifeless base. It is a wonder that anything can grow at all. But it does. This unfaultable ecosystem has been thriving and weathering changes for over 150million years. Many of the large hardwoods you may see around you have survived 150 to 600years of weathering. That is already a heritage worth saving
Belum is rich beyond any comprehension. But how can it be? Many would not be able to identify with the importance of this ecosystem. Many people see the jungle as unkempt backyards that need to be tidied and cleaned up so that we can use it as another playground or work space. That is exactly what happens to many of our pockets of jungles, let's hope that life will be sustained at Belum!
Treasures may not always be there glistening for all to see. The real treasures are always hidden and it takes a while to find. After our boat ride round the lake and the trek to the salt lick, we ended up at another Orang Jahai village, where we were introduced to the head of the village. He was happy to see our guide for he had lots of treasures for him. We were a little puzzled as to what he was to do next. The headman dragged out a bulging gunnysack from under the bamboo hut and turned the sack inside out.
‘Your loot’, he said. The guide was delighted. Tied up in neat bundles, were all sorts of vegetation harvested from the area. These plants looked pretty ordinary to us. Some lianas, several types of roots, leaves, bulbs…looked like someone had just cleared his garden of weeds. These, we were told, each contained powers of healing. The plants were medicinal herbs that have been collected and used by the orang asli for generations. All types of ailments could be ‘fixed’. Even love potions can be arranged…with a dash of ‘cenuai’ to complete the potion. Not to mention the tongkat ali and the rafflesia buds. 
The Rafflesia is a strange plant…. the fact that when it is in bloom, it stinks to high heaven, gives enough weight. Unlike other plants, there are no leaves to process carbon dioxide and sunshine into sugar and oxygen.
There are no roots to soak up water and minerals from the earth to manufacture into proteins. What is found are long strands of tissue-like filaments that penetrate the vines of the host plant. Host plant? Well, yes…. Rafflesia is a parasite which means that it doesn’t need to make its own nutrients. It just sucks the nutrient out of its host which is, another plant. The large fleshy flower is what we usually notice. This is the flower’s sexual organ, sometimes found sitting on an overhead vine or usually languishing in the damp forest floor below. The reddish brown colour of the petals, sprinkled with white freckles exudes a most unpleasant stench, similar to rotting flesh or carrion. Some believe that the stench attracts flies and other insects which help disperse its seeds. Others believe that large animals could be agents for this seed dispersal. In order for the seed to germinate, it was found that the vine of the host plant must be damaged in some way so that the filaments of the seed may infiltrate successfully. The damage to the host vines could be made by trampling hoofs of large animals. The seeds adhere to the passing animals’ hoofs and are transported to other places where they can find host plants to attach to. This cannot be disproved or proved. However, it is found that the flowers most often occur in big game areas and less in other areas.
There is even more to tell of its ‘discovery’ and its claim to fame as the largest flower on earth. In the year 1818, Sir Stamford Raffles was posted as Governor to Bencoolen in Sumatra which was then, the administrative centre for the British East India Company for Western Sumatra. Raffles’ interest in natural sciences was insatiable. A respected and popular member of the Royal Society in London, Raffles arranged and persuaded a fellow society member - Dr.Joseph Arnold to accompany him on an expedition into the interiors of Sumatra. It was on one of these expeditions that they stumbled on a discovery which was to puzzle botanists for a long time. Unfortunately, Dr Arnold died too soon of jungle fever, before presenting the report to the society. The new found flower was given the scientific name, 'Rafflesia arnoldii',in honour of the two gentlemen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kellie's Castle, Perak, Malaysia

Screams from a newborn baby echoed through the corridors of a small farmhouse, one spring day in the year 1870. A healthy baby boy was born into the Easter Kellas estate to the Smith family and was christened William Smith. The golden years of the Victorian Era was at its peak. The British empire was secured spanning from the New World to India and into South East Asia.
William Smith grew up in a little farm close to Dallas on the Moray Firth in Scotland. As the Victoria era blossomed for a new class of elite, spearheaded by innovative technology and inventions - the working class were pushed harder into poverty and frustrations. Perhaps it was the drive to escape from the droll of intense poverty that sent William Smith to far off lands looking for opportunities.
Young William Smith who later called himself William Kellie Smith, (Kellie being his mother's maiden name) left his homefarm in Dallas in search of the rich life he dreamt. It is not known when Smith arrived in Malaya nor do we know why he chose to explore opportunites in Malaya. However, the young, amicable man of 6ft 3ins in height was accepted into the community with ease
In a small working communty of planters, miners and entrepreuners, Smith found business opportunities readily available. Having bounced around on a few successful and unsuccessful ventures, he finally had a great windfall working with a rubber planter named Alma Baker. Alma Baker had obtained a few government contracts to make roads in South Perak. William Smith snapped up his invitation to work together and made a huge profit from these projects. With the money, he purchased 900acres of land just south of Ipoh and cleared the jungle for his rubber plantation and homely estate. He named this estate, Kinta Kellas - Kellas in memory of his family farm back in Scotland and Kinta being the area of the large basin in where the estate is situated
With his empire falling into place as planned, William Kellie Smith formed a London-based company. He was then appointed manager of the estate and was paid a handsome salary by the London Board. Rubber being in demand in the early years, he made a fortune. Running in parallel with the demands of raw materials to fuel the new industrial boom, he further amassed more wealth as larger dividends were paid out to him by his London based company.
In 1909/1910 he built a Moorish styled manor for himself, his wife Agnes Smith and their first child, Helen Agnes. The manor sat on a little knoll just by the bend of Sungai Kinta or the Kinta River, commanding a clear, unobstructed view of the Kinta Valley. Its grounds were groomed into pockets of lush gardens, open spaces, lawns and a lake - added to complete the estate ambience. In Britain during the Victorian era, many young, rich, enterprising men took to buying old manor houses, castles and estates to accentuate their stature in the social circles and for a long period, such activities were well accepted. 
Perhaps it was this influence, perhaps it was the birth of his son that niggled him into building a larger more stately home. Construction of the new manor began somewhere after the birth of his son Anthony in 1915. Not much of the first home is left today, apart from the covered walkway, an open courtyard and part of a crumbling wall. The 'new' section of the stately home was to be an extension to the existing home, hence there isn't a kitchen nor a servants' quarters to be found. Many estate homes in the early years were designed so that the servants' quarters, utility rooms and kitchens were housed in an annexe and connected only by a covered walkpath to ensure no disturbances.
This new wing was to take 10years to build. Smith had employed an Indian taskforce to work on the construction. However, in the early 1920's, an epidemic of 'Spanish Flu' broke out and many of his estate workers including those working on the construction died after a short period of illness. The heads of his workforce requested that they build a temple for the deity Mariamman to ask forgiveness and protection for the people living on the estate. Smith agreed and had all his people feverishly working on the temple which was completed in a short time. The temple was built some 1500m from Smith's home. Today, the local community still pays homage to their gods at the temple. A little statuette of Kellie Smith stands alongside the deities on the roof of the temple probably watching over his little estate and the descendants of those that have worked and looked after him in the years when he was Sahib of the Kinta Estate
After the completion of the temple, everything returned to its normal state of affairs and work was diverted back to the construction of the manor house. In 1926, together with his daughter, William Kellie Smith made a trip home to Britain.The reasons for his trip is unclear but it is believed that they were to return to England for a short reunion with his wife and son. It is believed that Anthony was sent home to continue his education and Agnes had accompanied him. Back in Europe,William Kellie Smith was believed to have made a detour trip to Lisbon, Portugal to collect a lift (elevator) which he had ordered for the manor. Unfortunately, Smith never made it back to Malaya. In December 1926, Smith succumbed to a bout of pneumonia and passed away in Lisbon. He was buried at the British Cemetery.Agnes sold her interest in the Kellas Estate and Smith's distrought family never returned to Malaya.
Anthony Kellie Smith was killed in World War II and Helen never returned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lata Kinjang, Perak, Malaysia

Lata Kinjang Waterfall

The spectacular waterfall is clearly visible from the main highway when you are heading north from Kuala Lumpur. Nonetheless, the access to the waterfall takes you through town and village road some 20-30 minutes from the highway exit. 

At the base of waterfalls, there are parking areas and food stalls, though I could do without the latter because of the garbage they bring from the wrapped food and canned drinks. For the initiated, you may begin your climb on the properly marked trail to view the majestic waterfalls much closer.

There is a series of falls ranging from a few meters to tens of meters higher. I climbed up to somewhere in between where there is a suspension bridge where you can view the a portion falls at its full glory. There are various spots that offer small and natural pools for a quick bath.

After having soaking fun in the waterfall, it is time to move on to Klah Hot Spring that will take approximately 1 and a half hour drive. Upon arrival at the hot spring lunch will be served. You will taste the traditional curry cooked by the locals here and then you will have your own free time to go for swim in a pond, get free foot massage by walking through a short track of small stones arranged specifically to give you massages or for the Jacuzzi.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pangkor Island, Perak, Malaysia

Pulau Pangkor is an island off the coast of Perak in north-west peninsular Malaysia, reached by ferry from Lumut. It has a land area of only 8 square kilometers, and a population of approximately 25,000 people. It is heavily promoted as a low-key tourist destination by the Malaysian government, but fishing and fish products remain major industries.
Historically, Pangkor was a refuge for local fishermen, merchants and pirates. In the 17th century, the Dutch built a fort in an effort to control the Perak tin trade. In 1874, it was the location of a historic treaty between the British government and a contender for the Perak throne (The Pangkor Treaty), which began the British colonial domination of the Malay Peninsula.
Pangkor is famous for its fine beaches and a mix of low budget to 5 star accommodations. Teluk Nipah and Coral Bay on the north west of the island is extremely popular with travellers from Europe. The quality of sand in the Pasir Bogak Beach is far superior to that elsewhere on the island. The sand is golden brown, quite similar to most leading prime beaches. There are a few resorts in Teluk Nipah or Nipah Bay.
Well-known for its sandy beaches and clear waters, visitors can bask under the sun and swim. There’re also plenty of water-sports facilities available for you to jet-ski or take a speed boat round the island. The popular beaches include Nipah Bay, Pantai Pasir Bogak, Teluk Ketapang, Pantai Puteri Dewi and Emerald Bay. Snorkelling is another activity you can do here.
Nipah Bay is the most popular beach with plenty of huts, chalets, resorts and restaurants. However, the beach is still able to maintain its natural beauty. Unlike the other beaches, it has corals, sea cucumbers and even hornbills flying around during the evenings.
Visitors can also take a look at the traditional fishing villages and have a small meal at the many stalls along the streets. Walking through the villages will enable you to glimpse the culture of a Malay fishing village at its best. You must also try the local salted and dried delicacies of fish and shrimps from the sea such as ‘Satay Fish’.
During the day, you can also visit the Fu Lin Kong, a Chinese temple with its own mini Great Wall of China. At Teluk Gudang, the remains of a Dutch Fort built in 1670 can be seen. Only the stone foundations and carvings left on a large rock by the soldiers remain, called ‘Batu Bersurat’. Other interesting places to visit include the fish farms where, for a fee, the fishermen will show you around. You can also ask them to catch a fish for a local restaurant to prepare for you.
The main attractions in Pangkor Island are the beaches. Other attractions include:

  • Pangkor Town
  • Fishing Villages
  • Fu Lin Kong Temple
  • Kali Amman Temple
  • Batu Bersurat and Tiger Rock
  • Dutch Fort (Kota Belanda)
  • The Tombs
  • Tortoise Hill

Pasir Salak. Perak, malaysia

Pasir Salak is a historical place in Perak, Malaysia, where an important event in Malaysian history took place, the uprising fight against the colonial presence, when J.W.W. Birch the first British resident in Perak, was murdered by the local statesman Dato Maharaja Lela and Sepuntum. Today, Pasir Salak is also the name of the parliamentary constituency where the place is located.
The complex was build in 1987 in honor to the people who helped to shape Malaysia as it is now. It is a reminder for the present and future generations of the sacrifice made by chiefs and warriors of Perak in defending their dignity, customs and religion. The complex consists of different buildings in traditional Malay style.

The Museum
The museum is very well designed with sceneries depicting the historical significance of the area. There are two levels, the upper level with a good review of Malaysian history. The lower level have a beautiful collection of the history of the "kris", a weapon typical for Malaysia, Singapore, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand. Around the museum, there are traditional Malay houses rebuild which gives you an idea how people used to live. Although some of the buildings need maintenance, some others are in excellent state. For anyone interested in the turbulent history Pasir Salak is an essential visit.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sunway Lagoon, Selangor, Malaysia

       One of the interesting place in Selangor is Sunway Lagoon. It's Malaysia's Premier Theme Park and has become the most visited tourist destination in the country.   Sunway Lagoon is strategically located in the township of Bandar Sunway in Petaling Jaya. Spanning 80 acres, the Lagoon draws fun seekers from all over with its reputation as a fascinating land of fun and excitement. Sunway Lagoon is separated into 3 major themed lands, each boasting their own exciting attractions. Find entertainment, adventure and excitement all in place. A place where you will bring back more than just memories.  Sunway Lagoon, being part of Malaysia's first fully-integrated themed resort - Sunway Lagoon Resort, offers visitors the conveniece of a 5-star hotel, a grand shopping mall right next door and other ultra-modern facilities.