Adventure in the Taman Negara Jungle
Come with me, as we journey along the Tembeling River, into the Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Article by M. Maxine George, Pictures by M. Maxine George and Margaret Deefholts
In sharp contrast to Kuala Lumpur, our next destination was one of the oldest rainforests in the world. We traveled by long boat up the brown, murky-looking, Tembeling River into the Taman Negara National Park. The boat carried an operator, a spotter who kept a close eye out for rocks and other hazards, and about a dozen passengers. Far from the bustling city, we traveled for hours with only the sounds of the boat and the water breaking the silence. Occasionally the cry of a bird or animal might be heard. The banks of the wide river were lush with vegetation; trees covered in succulents, and vines draping over the shores. It was a warm sunny day, so we were fortunate to have the protection of a narrow tin roof over our heads. Occasionally we would see a small shack built up on a cliff, or a boat beached nearby.
After several hours traveling up river, the boat motor suddenly whirred, and abruptly died just as we were traveling around a bend. As the boat lost power, it was rapidly swept towards shore, crashing under an overhanging tree. We all ducked, but then reached out and took hold of the branches, effectively stopping the drift before we hit the bank. Our young spotter quickly jumped into the water to check out the cause of the problem. I thought to myself, “If the problem is mechanical we could be stuck here for hours until someone realizes that we haven’t shown up at our destination.” Luck was on our side, as when the lad came back up, he held up the long thick piece of root that was twisted around the propeller. The boat trip was soon underway again. Before long, we rounded another bend and spotted our destination. There were boat docks on both shores. We tied up at the one on the left. On the opposite shore there was a small group of buildings with colourful tin roofs. We were told that the area on the left was part of the national park, however the area on the right was outside the park, therefore commercial enterprises could exist there. As I climbed onto the dock I was thankful that I had reduced my luggage to one smaller carry-on bag, because a long flight of stairs led us up to the Taman Negara Resort. Arriving hot and perspiring, we were greeted with a lei of fragrant, frangipani flowers, and a marvellously refreshing green drink, made with fresh kiwi fruit. Without wasting any time, we were each assigned to peak-roofed chalets.
Following a porter down a path through the landscaped tropical gardens, we came to Number 9, my temporary home. A little monkey, wandering aimlessly amongst the shrubbery by the front porch, was undisturbed by my presence. The main room was equipped with an air conditioner, that the young man immediately turned on. My new accommodation was soon quite comfortable. The large room was attractively lined with woven bamboo, comfortably furnished with twin beds, several easy chairs, and a desk. After a short rest I joined the others in the lounge. While sipping a cool drink, we were presented with a video describing this ancient rain forest, and the glory of what we were about to see here. Later that evening we gathered in the open air dining room, and were served a very tasty buffet dinner.
The following morning, after breakfast, we began our trek into the dense tropical forest. Prior to leaving we had to spray our boots with something to ward off leaches. I was careful to wear a cotton outfit that had long pants, and a high necked top with long sleeves, in case we encountered mosquitoes looking for victims in the jungle. It was a challenging hike, but fascinating, as our guide took the time to point out some of the many various varieties of vegetation that grow so densely in this climate. He told us that over a hundred different forms of plant life can be found in each acre of jungle; many of them used by the local inhabitants for a multitude of purposes, including traditional medicinal remedies. At present, Malaysians are conducting research to determine the authenticity of these remedies and to see if there may be more undiscovered medicinal uses for these plants.
Walking was slow going, we had to take each step carefully, as the ground was covered in a tangled web of surface roots. We climbed over huge roots; walked around narrow embankments, and often stopped to hear about something interesting, or to inspect a small plant or flower. Each stop gave me the opportunity to catch my breath, and for our group to consolidate again. We had been told that it was important for us to keep track of each other, as a person could get lost quite easily here in the jungle.
Upon reaching the most distant terminus of our trek, we came to “The Canopy Walk”, where a rope canopy has been erected over the jungle. The series of rope bridges have been strung from the jungle’s tallest and oldest trees. I climbed to the first platform with eager anticipation. However, on viewing the rope structure arching across the jungle roof, with only narrow planks for footpaths and ropes and netting for support, I began to have misgivings (I have developed an aversion to heights in recent years.) Not one to give up easily, I set out with some apprehension. Fortunately, I did not realize there were successively eight rope bridges all together, and each one was higher than the last. We were restricted to four people in each group, with at least one of those four on a platform. We set off at specific intervals. Stopping on each bridge was practically impossible as it would swing quite erratically once a second and then third person had began to cross. Each person seemed to be marching to a different drummer! The view was spectacular, however it was only as we reached the next platform that we would take the time to really take it all in. In spite of my misgivings, the canopy walk was a fantastic experience, and one I am happy to have done.
A second adventure in the Taman Negara National Park awaited us on the next day. We were taken in groups of three, by smaller sized long boats, up another narrower river, shooting a series of rapids to reach the remote heart of the jungle. The jungle is so dense here that long vines hang out over the river and form a curtain along the bank, hiding most of what lies beyond from view. Here we again trekked through the jungle, this time to reach a remote waterfall, where we were told it was safe to swim. We all came prepared with bathing suits worn under our clothes. Within the first minutes, our clothes were piled on the rocks and we were frolicking in the cooling water. One can hardly imagine the serenity of a place so far from civilization. The occasional screech of a monkey or a bird was all that revealed the phantom inhabitants of the jungle. The waterfall was actually a place where a narrow opening in the rocks allowed water to rush over it with considerable force. We took turns standing in front of the pummeling water, letting it provide us with a natural back massage. It was a delightful afternoon. As our boat floated back down the river, on the way back to the park, we had the good fortune to see some of the aboriginal people, the Orang Asli, waving to us from a cliff overlooking the river. These people live in this jungle, and are known to be friendly. The only other signs of life we saw along the river, were a small herd of water buffalo, wallowing in a shallow eddy.
Swimming in the River and Waterfall, Taman Negara
Our visit to this ancient rain forest was over all too soon. The next morning after breakfast, we again boarded the long boat and traveled downstream along the Tembeling River to the jetty. Our short visit to the jungle is now but a memory, but what a fantastic memory!
Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
Canopy Walk photo courtesy of Margaret Deefholts
Last Updated on November 26, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster
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