My Taman Negara Experience
IT is said that â€œwhen one door closes, another opensâ€. This saying may well apply to Taman Negara, Malaysia’s premier National Park, a 4,343 sq km reserve of tropical rainforest some 130 millions years old.
To reduce the detrimental impact of too many tourist arrivals and over-development of infrastructure, a new gateway into the park was open in 1993.
This new entry point, situated in Sungai Relau, 7km from Merapoh and 33km from Gua Musang, has been aggressively promoted and recently I decided to check it out.
On Aug 10, 2000, Pahang Culture, Arts, Tourism and Women Affairs executive committee chairman Datuk Maznah Mazlan was quoted in an English daily as saying that â€œThe Government has promoted Kuala Tahan (in the south) as the foremost entry point to Taman Negara, and since it is already so well known around the world, the time has come to introduce Merapoh (nearest village to Taman Negara West).â€
On a three-day official visit to the Park, Maznah was very impressed with the set-up at Sungai Relau and pointed out its great tourist potential. She was quoted as saying: â€œMerapoh (gateway) has all the ingredients including jungle trails, caves, waterfalls, animal hideouts and wildlife. But the best part about Merapoh is that you can trek up Gunung Tahan in four days compared to seven by the Kuala Tahan trail.â€
Gunung Tahan (2,187m above sea level), is the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia and has always been a favourite challenge for mountain climbers.
From Sungai Relau, a return trip for a group of 12 persons will require the services of a nature guide who will charge RM300 for a four-day expedition. The take-off point for the climb at Kuala Juram (KJ) is linked to Sungai Relau (SR) by a 14-km metal jeep track.
Climbers will be driven in by a 4WD, at the current rate of RM15 per person. Accommodation, in rooms or hostels, is available at Sg Relau and Kuala Juram. An alternative is the campsite, with many gazebos and stone seats. The grounds are kept clean and tidy by the nine-member staff and their families who live within the compound.
No food is available in Sg Relau, so visitors will have to bring their own provisions and cooking utensils. A community kitchen/eating area, public toilets and round-the-clock electricity are adequate facilities for a frills-free holiday.
Guestrooms are spacious and air-conditioned with attached bathrooms and three single beds each. Living in the midst of nature’s wonders however, more than compensates for the lack of 5-star hotel facilities.
On arrival at Sg Relau, you will have to register at the guardhouse, go to the office to collect your room/hostel keys and then you are on your own to do as you like. You can choose to simply relax and laze around or get real physical and engage in some vigorous aquatic activities and jungle trekking.
One favourite activity is to kayak downstream from Kuala Juram to the ranger’s post at Kuala Yu. Shooting the Jeram Buta rapids is the most challenging part. Along your way, however, do stop to admire the extremely beautiful river view, aquatic plants and animals or look for animal prints at Jenut Atai and Jenut Kumbang. The mountain stream is clean and clear, chilly cold if you are brave enough to go in for a refreshing dip. The whole journey may take two or three days to complete and requires camping in the jungle.
The numerous forest trails arouse the curiosity of the adventurous. Many visitors try the 4.1km Negeram Trail behind the Sg Relau Rest House because it is the most easily accessible.
Tropical rainforests, with their multitude of flora and fauna and fascinating jungle sounds, envelop you in all their splendour, as you walk through.
Visitors are also allowed to float downstream on inflated rubber tubes at Sg Relau. The Interpretative Trail, 200m from the SR Information Centre, has 20 self-explanatory stations and is great for observing wildlife and learning about jungle trees and plants. Animals like the tiger, gaur, tapir, deer, leopard, musang (fox), elephants and sun bear have been sighted, though most of the time they are heard rather than seen because of the thick foliage. Salt licks and animal hides increase sighting chances.
But walking or driving on the 14km KJ-SR jeep track is good enough to sight many animals and countless species of birds. This is a dream destination for nature lovers and photographers.
On our trip, my friends and I encountered 88 species of birds and caught views of the musang, a python, monitor lizard, Indian civet cat and many monkeys.
We did not have to stray far from the main roads and compounds to spot hornbills, owls, hawk eagles, buzzards, trogons, monarchs, malkohas and many species of babblers, flower peckers, bulbuls and finches.
An interesting new attraction in this part of Taman Negara is the 4-year-old Kelah Conservation Project, a joint effort of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Perhilitan (Forestry) Malaysia.
The kelah is a foot-long freshwater fish whose breeding habitat and diminishing population is being threatened by river pollution. Since Sungai Juram and its tributary, Sungai Tanum, have conditions conducive to the breeding conditions of this particular species, great efforts have been taken to breed the kelah, either in captivity or to feed them in the wild.
We were privileged to witness Mustafa Karim at work. He is the Taman Negara staff member in charge of feeding the kelah at the fish sanctuary in Kuala Juram.
Armed with a pail of fish pellets, Mustafa diligently went about his task. It was fascinating to observe him ringing an ice-cream bell to summon the fish to feed. Soon the water around him bubbled with excitement as the red-finned kelah and the black kejor jostle to snap up the pellets.
Visitors are allowed to feed the fish too with the braver ones venturing into the water, armed with the pellets in their hands or in bottles which they slowly tipped to pour the pellets out.
For city folks, this is indeed a unique experience to stand in water with so many squirming fish brushing their legs and pecking at pellets from their hands.
With so many activities to choose from, Taman Negara Sungai Relau is definitely worth a visit!