Wednesday, February 13, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition part 4...Sungai Tembeling - Kuala Tahan

Our journey on the 2 boats, on the 13th April 1969, along the Sungai Tembeling...heading upstream towards Kuala Tahan 60 km away, gave us our 1st introduction to the world's oldest tropical rainforest. At 130 million years old, this 4,343 sq km of virgin jungle fondly called Taman Negara is a virtual haven for hundreds of species of wildlife,exotic fish, birds and plants. This diversity of rich wildlife in their natural habitats has remained undisturbed even in 1969. The river we were travelling on... the Sungai Tembeling, is one of 2 principal tributaries of the Pahang River [ largest in M'sia ]. The other is the Sungai Jelai. Both these rivers join up at Kuala Tembeling and form the Pahang River which continues another 300 km to the sea.

As we cruised along the 1st 30 odd km of our river expedition, we could still see signs of civilisation along both banks. Mostly Malay kampongs [ villages] set well back from the river's edge, on high ground. There were water buffaloes along the banks. Halfway past our route and near Kuala Atok...we reached the boundary of Taman Negara. From here on, the right side of the river was secondary growth and cultivation...while the left is all National Park.

We remained quiet and observant to take in all the sights and sounds of wildlife to our left. Although wildlife is not abundant along the river, we still saw some of the inhabitants of this area as shown in the drawings. The Long-tailed macaque with its high pitched calls " kroo....kroo, the water monitor lizard resting on logs or the bank, the small clawed otter and many varieties of exotic birds especially kingfishers.

After that 3-4 hour boat journey, we caught our 1st glimpse of Kuala Tahan jetty, We disembarked, collected all our gear, bade the boatmen farewell and headed for the National Park office. We divided ourselves quickly for various duties. The main one was to register ourselves for the ascent, meet up with our appointed mountain guide and to check all our supplies were ok and properly packed.
As this was the 1st ever successful Tahan Expedition from Singapore....there were no previous local expedition reports we could refer to for any tips or guidance...for example.., amount of food to carry, fuel, water etc.... . We had to estimate and calculate our supplies. And in this, we preferred to over -estimate a little, giving ourselves more leeway and flexibility for a 10 day climb. Thus our supplies and provisions should last that long in the jungle trip. But that would also mean that we were all heavily loaded down, averagely 40 -50 pounds each. That was really heavy by our present day average. We had no porters. Only 1 guide who calls himself" Ahmad". He was an Orang Asli from the Batek tribe. We conversed in malay. Orang Asli means original People...the 1st human occupants of the peninsula. The Batek are a gentle people, short in stature, dark-skinned with tight , curly hair.

Our guide Ahmad, leaning by a tree. Me surveying the scene 2 hours into our trek. The rest of the party having a short rest.
Notice the haversack we all used. The standard, green army type of canvas... very uncomfortable, heavy and small compared to today's super-lightweight backpack that comes with proper back rest and frames.

Ahmad our guide was a gentle soul. Looking at him one would not be very impressed. But I say never judge a book by its cover! The Park office must have chosen one of the best,...if not the very Best.[ More about him in later posts.]
Shy Ahmad asked for an advance of the guide fees so that he could buy some basic canned food, rice and other stuff. He had practically no money, nothing. We gave him some stuff too to help him out. When all that was settled we went to set up camp for the night. The nocturnal animals of the park came a-visiting during the night. They openly wander about and around the park HQ. Tapirs, musang, wild pigs and other animals helped make our 1st night at Taman Negara Hqrs an unforgettable night....before we descended into much needed we reminded ourselves,

"the day after tomorrow THE REAL TEST AND ADVENTURE begins ".

[ Story will continue in part 5. There will be many more parts of the full story in coming posts.
I have decided to make it a major article principally because of the following reasons:-
1. I have yet to come across any complete expedition report of this 1st Tahan trip.
2. After nearly 4 decades, it is time this story is told fully for posterity's sake and to further
inspire others.
3. And after such a long time ( next April will be the 40th Anniversary of the 1st Tahan ascent ), I am uncertain what memories, notes, records, photos and artifacts still remain with
other fellow members of our expedition. But for me....fortunately, I still have most of the memorabila of that trip including my 1969 personal Diary...which contains important facts and data. Among the artifacts I still have today are the " Batu Tahan "...those quartz-diamond like stones only found at the very top of G Tahan. Another is a thumbstick which I made for myself from Tahan Tembusu...which is still in good condition. And the TTC badge on my hat.
Thus, I felt that at least one of us should make an attempt to tell the story.
It requires a lot of time, research and depending on memory alone is insufficient.
But it will be worth the effort. ]


yg said...

hi dick,

you are fantastic! you can remember so much of what took place nearly 40 years ago.
i was at the tanjong pagar station to see you all, particularly balbir singh - he was then my colleague in balestier hill sec - off.

uncle dick said...

Hey Y Ghee!
Simply Great to know you were also there on Sat, 12th April 1969 at the Railway Stn. I believe Mr Lim Kim Woon [ NJC's 1st Principal] and Seah Lye Huat[ NJC's 1st PE head] amongst others, were there too, to see us off. I met Balbir at Changi Airport, last year. He was on the way to Indonesia while I was on the way to Myanmmar. We are still in touch.
About remembering the's hard to explain the complexity of the subject. For example..I see a name from the distant past say a Pri one classmate more than 50 years ago, no photo...nothing remains. But, when I close my eyes and concentrate I can recall his face again. I believe all these images of our life experiences are stored
somewhere deep in our wondrous brain. It is always there. Not deleted matter how many years have elapsed.
But bringing it out again...that is the main problem most of us face. Right?
Sounds familiar huh? Just like our computer and the hard disk etc.
Anyway..thanks for dropping in.
I have been enjoying your blogs too! Keep it up!