Dec 10, 2007

Malaysian Jungle Safari

** Martin Gascoigne from the UK has made several journeys to Malaysia and surrounding countries over the last few years. He continues to return to Malaysia because its mixture of cultures and environments never fails to provide for a fantastic, inspiring holiday. He prides himself on focussing on some of the lesser known travel possibilities available in Malaysia. His main hobby is eating and an involvement with, “…all things culinary.” **

For anyone with an unashamed love affair with all things Land Rover, the opportunity to travel into the jungle of Malaysia with such a vehicle represents a dream come true. The rise of four wheel drive vehicles has now become a worldwide phenomenon. But pitting what is perhaps the original precursor of these vehicles against the natural elements and terrains they were designed to challenge remains the proviso of diminishing parts of the globe.

From a rainy morning Sri Hartamas meet, we began our journey northwards towards Ipoh. Comfortably seated in the back of a vehicle loaded with food, spares and camping equipment represents a fairly innocuous beginning to an off-road adventure. With no air-con, the front windows removed and low-level conversation all but impossible as the oversized knobbly tyres hummed on the tarmac, this was truly motoring. But not as we know it!

A lunch break at Sungkai presented a dramatic change of scenery as we left Route 1 and headed into the foothills. This is former tin-mining country, now usurped by the planting of palm oil plantations. Neat, tidy Malay timber houses lined the road as we moved towards the jungle proper.

In my time in Malaysia, I frequently wondered at the changes that had impacted this awe-inspiring country in very few generations. The journey that we had already made in several hours would have taken the same in days only several decades ago. As we climbed steadily into the changing verdant environment, it was easy to think of this as its own Conradian journey. Perhaps it is exactly this that Malayan Safaris has tried to capture in their organised tours to, ‘the heart of the tropical rainforest’.

As a group of primarily outdoor enthusiasts, they combine a simple philosophy of leaving only footprints; underwritten by a strong sense of competence and married to a belief that it is only by educating people to the beauty of this environment that its future can be guaranteed. The role of competence in this environment is never to be underestimated. I am not sure that you can describe the jungle as a playground. It should be viewed as a challenging assault course rewarding respects paid and harshly rounding on those who abuse. Wallace, Shah and native Spanish speaker Habi - who also had a fine grasp of the Malaysian language – along with driver Abna, may be exactly the sort of people you would want to be surrounded with for such a venture.

Climbing higher into the foothills, the vista of palm trees was slowly replaced with lush jungle growth. Orang Asli settlements dot the landscape, their ordered communities blending in with the jungle backcloth. Orang Asli settlements dot the landscape; their ordered communities blending in with the jungle backcloth.The rush of children forward to meet visitors, amidst frenetic chickens and dogs, indicates that even the lives of these people are altering as they move away from the more nomadic experience to existences that reflect the encroachment of the world outside.

Shortly after leaving one of the settlements, we faced our first challenge of the day. A river crossing under the first sunlit sky presented no issue for the Series 3 Land Rover as it skittled across the uneven river bottom.

Our support vehicle faired less well. It may have been newer and more modern, but its air-intake decided that a gulp of the surprisingly clear but turbulent water was in order. It promptly ‘died’ mid stream. Rapidly, the team mobilised into recovery mode. An indefatigable Wallace who only moments earlier, had been riding high and dry on the roof of the Rover plunged into the icy waters, attached a tow line and in no time at all the Pajero was back on land. Water expelled from the engine block and under a now sweltering sun we were soon mobile.

This was a lesson that I was to learn time and time again during my short period in this environment: take nothing for granted. The most benign, manageable scenario can alter. Caution and competence are the watchwords that Shah, the teams Director of Field Operations, would instil within me during my time here. Words underwritten by deed and design.

It was truly awesome to see the Rover at work. Under the careful management of our driver Abna, slopes where conquered and as the rain returned with a vengeance, the tracks became ravined streams of their own as the mist lowered, affording brief glimpses across ‘Lost World’ type valleys.

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by such views. These may be parts of Malaysia that few travellers get to visit and appreciate. I found it difficult during my short, two day visit to not take on board notions of our own place within both this wonderland and the world in general. This environment re-affirms that we are players within a world, but that we are here on sufferance and it is our manners - both towards each other but above all towards the environment - that set the tone of how we can expect to continue to exist.

All too soon, we had reached our camping spot for the evening. With the same river that had presented us with difficulties earlier in the day nestling by our side, the team quickly established camp. Tarpaulins where stretched between the vehicles and before long, cooking smells permeated the banks as Shah proceeded to whip up a storm on the gas burner.

The sun had long deserted us but there seemed to be something quite fitting about witnessing the jungle shrouded in mist. I took the opportunity to have a quick foray further along the track and as day moved towards night and the volume of the largely unseen inhabitants of the forest was turned up to an almost deafening level, it was hard to not imagine something slightly foreboding about this environment. With heightened senses, I quickly noticed how the lingering smell of ‘something animal’ immediately made the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.

The food of rice, chicken curry and a tasty selection of vegetables had rarely tasted as good as the rain continued to pour, but before long it was time to withdraw to the dryness of the tents as lightning starkly illuminated towering trees. The resonant crash of boughs somewhere in the distance reminded us all that we were not alone out here tonight in this surprisingly mosquito-free environment.

A bright dawn quickly gave way to rain and as we breakfasted and broke camp, I was to be quickly reminded of Within moments a straightforward bridge crossing became a major challenge. An unseen hole had the front-wheel disappearing into space over a swirling stream meters below.Shah’s wise words that this is an unpredictable environment. Within moments a straightforward bridge crossing became a major challenge. An unseen hole had the front-wheel disappearing into space over a swirling stream meters below. As our co-driver nursed a sore head from the impact, the team once again moved into swift, precise action.

Before anyone had perhaps realised the full-danger of the situation, the Land Rover once again had all four wheels on the ground and we were ready to move on. A knowledgeable shake of the head from Shah and I again realised that to be safe here, with sometime precocious two tonnes of metal in attendance, requires always vigilance. Always.

With fresh rain falling, we began the process of reversing our steps out of the jungle. Abna battled valiantly to keep the vehicle going where he wanted it to go; even from the backseat this was something of an off-road master class as he juggled a combination of high revs, engine braking Abna battled valiantly to keep the vehicle going where he wanted it to go; even from the backseat this was something of an off-road master class...and swift caresses of the steering wheel on rapidly deteriorating surfaces. As we reached sound roads, the winch was again called into play as a fallen tree blocked the way, but far too quickly we arrived back on tarmac where even the older-style Malay houses seemed to have a post-natural angularity about their construction!

Back on Route 1 heading to town, I realised what an impact this part of my Malaysia adventure would have on my memories. Here was a glimpse of an older, maybe sometimes forgotten aspect of the country that may well escape some visitors. But I would totally recommend doing your utmost to try and experience some part of the forests. They might not be as immediately gratifying as the beaches, or accessible as the shopping delights of Kuala Lumpur. But as the Twin Towers again came into view across the crest of the Klang valley, I realised that human-made objects such as these can only possibly represent the icing on the cake of what is truly Malaysia.

Source : Tourism Malaysia

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