Pahang: Judge not lest ye be judged?

I left Fraiser's Hill wreathed in a thick layer of wet mist.

Ignore the spinal tap impersonator blocking the mist-obscured view fairly pulsing with highland cool 

The upland forest continued to titillate as I weaved down the hairpins.

Sensuous orchids demanded attention even as I fairly flew round the one way bends

After a long but all too fleeting downhill through progressively lusher rainforest, I began my march across the forested state of Pahang. I left highway 8 following a brief flirtation with the hustle of Raub and found quiet out on the secondary roads. Small Kampongs, lazy rivers and the shouts of territorial macaques the only distractions from the winding wooded road.

Muddy flows dotted with soft bundles of Kapok tree cotton buds.

The day ran itself out. I had eschewed a tempting but deadend waterfall and chose instead to tackle some rugged rolling hills to rejoin highway 8. Tiring topography took its toll and I found myself casting around for a campsite with dusk still a way off. A palm plantation, a disused quarry, nothing grabbed me. By 5pm I was hot, tired and hungry. Passing through a kampong I decided to inquire at the village mosque. The Imam didn't appear to love the idea, but one of his flock enthusiastically offered to let me camp next to his house.

Hosni was a friendly guy who had honed his English at the Genting Highlands. A gambling come pleasure park on a hill station just outside of KL. There he had worked as a logistics controller for high rolling visitors. We chatted back and forth as we walked further from the Kampong. Funny, and engaging, I liked him.

As we picked our way through a dirt track into the woods Hosni confided that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. 

The house was an isolated affair. 

As I fiddled with my bike outside we tried to guess each other's age. I was out by a factor of two. He was 45. I had expected typical Malay family bustle but Hosni lived alone. On entering the dark enterior a single bare bulb flickered into unlife. In the gloom piles of empty ciggarete cartons crept the walls. The back 2/3rds of the house where his deceased mother lived had been allowed to fall into disrepair - floorboards cracked and groaned ominously. Music was suggested and the house began to echo to throbbing death metal.

A little unnerved by the Texas chainsaw meets Psycho aesthetic I stepped outside to think over my options. 

I've learnt to trust my nose when it comes to camping spots. If it smells wrong, leave. This may have looked and sounded off but the fragrance was right. Mental health issues, loud music, alternative lifestyle choices and poverty. The passing of years have not yet led me to to daily mail style conservatism which might fear and condemn such things. 

Still I will admit to being slightly reassured at the invitation to go with for a cup of tea in town. If visibility provides it's own security then my cup runneth over. I wonder if he was too having opened his home to an unwashed, hulking, bearded stranger?

The cafe was full of village elders and scampering children. Crowding round they offered route suggestion and enquired after my plans with Hosni revelling in interpreting the tricky bits. The toddlers sensibly held back staring perplexidly at the odd white apparition.

A quick return to the house then it was off to the nightly kampong footy match.
A cagey hard fought 1-0

Cowardly declining the offer to play I laughed and joked on the sidelines with teenage onlookers and loudly cheered Hosni's every touch.

Match concluded the teams wandered over to admire the bike, share some footy based chat and invite me to dinner.
If English is the lingua Franca then football is the topic du monde. 

A laughter filled evening played out against the glamorous backdrop of Burnley vs West Brom. 

We strolled home and I slipped into my tent to listen to the night time frog chorus. My nose had been right. Smelling through the disconcerting second impression and into the wealth of friendly warmth.

Hosni came and woke me at six so that we might go for a Roti Chennai breakfast.  A big smile and a brief hug later I was back on my way.

The riding was good in the morning cool.
Roadside arachnids left gossamer patchworks of moonlight cowpats.

I decided to cut north through the hills to meet the river Lipis.

A bitter sight greeted me as a logging operation tore into primary forest.

It's was a difficult act to witness. Would these hills soon become yet more acres of monoculture palm oil desert? The irony of scribbling these thoughts on a paper notebook rebounded on me. The hypocrisy of me, a European, bemoaning Malaysian's cutting down their forests when my continent stands all but entirely denuded. I may lament our own deforestation but I've benefitted from the economic growth enabled. Perhaps I was  exhibiting simple orientalism. A desire for an exotic land to remain pristine and wild as counterpoint to the easy luxury of a tamed and industrialised Europa. 

Where else I reflected would the wood come from for the traditional kampong stilt houses that I so admired?

The contradictions ran deep.

And yet, and yet... How much more hypocritical to shrug or shrink from the logging inspite of ones real concerns at the loss. We are all compromised to greater or lesser degrees. The luxuries of modernity deny all save the saints and hermits a pristine podium from which to question it's assumptions.

Watch out for Water Buffalo.

I had hoped that reaching the river would result in a flat floodplain but the geology did not oblige. The river cuts into the soft earth blazing a narrow trail leaving the adjacent road to wind up and down dragon back hills offering only fleeting glimpses of the Lipis.

The heat reached a mid day crescendo signalling the arrival of the hot season. Fortunately Malaysia is dotted by pagoda style bus stops providing welcome respite in which to cool down. I scuttled from shade to shade until Trembeling town drew into view. 
Having arrived I wrestled the bike down the steep steps to the bank and delicately maneuvered the bike into a long tail for a trip upriver into the heart of Malaysia's biggest national park.

Wild pigs (tiny blob left of centre at the top) and water buffalo wandered the sandy banks.

Kingfishers and swallows cavorted in the skies.
Motoring upriver the extent of the recent damage visited upon the region became apparent. The biggest flood for three decades had swept down ripping up the denouded banks a month earlier. Scoured banks littered with uprooted trees corralled a changed river. The boat men's temporary plastic bottle boueys testimony to the new submerged reality of shifted sandbanks .

Two hours, and and a few motor malfunctions later, I arrived at a Kuala Tahan. A small tourist town on the opposite bank from the national park. I made my way to the campsite and found, well nothing.

The road ended abruptly at the river looking out over a mostly submerged sandbar. Local enquiries revealed that this was all that remained of the camp. Washed away entirely.

Changing plans I headed for Chalet Durian. A pretty collection of huts on the outskirts of town in a wooded glade next to a little tributary. 

Durian Chalets had been hit hard by the floods too with huts half way up the hillside still covered in mud. This grimy high water line conveyed the sheer enormity. Water had reached at least ten metres above the current river level.

I stowed my bike and set off into the park with mozzy net and a few supplies swinging from a pannier pressed into service as a make shift back pack.

After hopping into a long tail for the short trip across the river I was swallowed by the 160million year old forest.
Trees sported intriguing hollows and growths 

Skinks slipped through the leaf litter, bamboo rushed upwards and the distinctive fins of the ancient diptocarps spread wide.
Taman Negara sports a canopy walkway purporting to be the longest in the world. True or not the change of perspective, including roped ladders rising and falling at incautious angles, was pleasingly dizzying.
A lizard I've yet to identify shows off his superb camouflage 

descending the trek continued with tantalusing glimpses of flying squirrels, weasel like creatures and all manner of birds flitting about the canopy.

Back on terra ferma vines twisted in rhythmic gymnastic sweeps.

Prickly plants defended themselves implacably 

Burly monitors patrolled the path side as my walk continued. Eventually after many hours I reached my destination. A salt lick with a nearby hide where one might spend the night watching the comings and goings of the nocturnal fauna.

Eyes glinted in the moonlight as animals tip toed to the clearing. Sambar Deer, Macaques and Siamungs, the alien irises of a what may have been a Slow Loris slinking through the branches. The unlikely possibility of a tiger or leopard charged the night with electricity.

The night obscured the forms but magnified the sounds. Cacophonous trumpetings, humps, barks and roars. Creaking doors and shrill ululating whistles. Dawn brought a new chorus and a visit from a wary tapir signalling time for me to start the walk back.

Rounding a bend I entered a tangled grove dominated by a resplendent ivory trunked diptocarp.

Beholding it's majesty amongst the soothing tumult of the rainforest a quote from John Muir swirled.

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.

The logging, the plantation sprawl the increased frequency and scale of flooding. Safe in the park this Rex Dipthocarp thrived but how many like it have succumbed prematurely at mans hand. Vanishing into history books like the the fabled tangles of European pre-industry. No longer able to nit the earth together, to stem the worst of floods flashing or shelter a weary walker from the suns glare.

I returned to the ravaged banks of Kuala Tahan and crossed the now passive river.
A night spent eating on a floating restaurant and sleeping in the fan cooled luxury of my hut at Chalet Durian drew my easterly march in Malaysia to conclusion. A return west to the mountains beckoned.

Overview: Day 1 96km
                 Day 2 50km

* routes are made using googlemaps autocomplete. Accuracy may be less than perfect

1 comment:

  1. Chalet Durian eh? Burgess described eating the aforementioned fruit as eating strawberry blancmange in the lavatory! Juliet x