A landscape of lush wilderness and extraordinary natural beauty, Taman Negara is Malaysia's largest national park. Zulkifly Ab Latif goes on an unforgettable inner jungle tour "WE are barely 3km inside," answers Tam, a freelance nature guide for Taman Negara Kuala Tahan when I ask him how much further to our destination. He looks at me with a faint smile as I chug down what's left of the 1.5-litre mineral water in my hand. Obviously Tam is quite accustomed to the tropical humidity of Taman Negara's jungles while the rest of us are not. The four of us are on a 2D1N Inner Jungle Tour, organised by Wild Travellers Sdn Bhd, a traveI operator based in Kuala Tahan.
I chuckle and shake my head thinking about the 6km we still have to cover. The tall rainforest canopy towers above us while the air buzzes with all manner of insect sounds. Our destination is Gua Kepayang Besar, a grand cavernous limestone cave that can only be reached by a boat ride up Sungai Tembeling to Kuala Keniam and followed by an 8km hike. Located deep in the country's oldest national park, the cave is named after the Kepayang tree that produces a fruit that is deadly when raw but is used for food when cured properly. According to Tam, the chamber of the cave is almost the size of a football field and can host almost 300 visitors. Carved and sculptured by the elements and the passage of time, this limestone cave is perhaps one of the more adventurous and challenging spots to visit within the national park. It makes sense then that the package to visit the cave is marketed by Taman Negara operators as the Inner Jungle Tour. Reaching the cave of Kepayang Besar after the long hike, Tam tells us to unload all the supplies and items handed to us at Kuala Tahan near the beginning of the journey. Emptying my pack and spreading them out on the groundsheet laid on the cave floor, I see food items, mineral water, eating utensils, candles, sleeping mats and sleeping bags. Utilising what daylight is left, Tam proceeds to prepare for tonight's dinner with help from the group. Lit by the warm glow of candlelight and headlamps, dinner is a humble but delicious spread of steamed rice, chicken soup and fried eggs, all of which taste more satisfying knowing that we helped carry them through the jungle.
THE RETURN TREK
We begin our second day with a self-prepared breakfast while the morning sun shines slanting columns of light into the cave. In stark contrast to the dim and dreary scenery welcoming yesterday's evening arrival, the cave of Kepayang Besar takes on an almost magical feel when illuminated by the morning light. I notice the many hues of colour on the limestone walls and rock formations as I explore the cavern. Needing to face another 8km for the return journey but this time to Kuala Terenggan, we begin our return trek after taking some photos. Twenty minutes into the trek, Tam suddenly stops and tells us to leave our backpacks on the side of the trail and follow him. He leads us through a smaller trail towards the entrance of another limestone cave which is a bit smaller.
Named Gua Kepayang Kechil, the cave is the smaller sister cave of Kepayang Besar and it is home to a large colony of bats, insects, cave racer snakes and even giant toads. Pressing on, we stop near the riverbank of Terenggan river around noon for a light lunch of instant noodles and a refreshing dip. Tam says our pace is good, seeing that we arrived at a rest point at the riverbank as scheduled.
Indeed, the Inner Jungle Tour is actually a well orchestrated adventure, not merely trudging mindlessly through thick impenetrable rainforest to sleep in a dingy cave. Although the total distance of the inner jungle hiking tour is 18km and may sound gruelling, the trail is actually moderate in difficulty and has well defined points of interests to take in the sights as well as to rest.
THE BATEK PEOPLE
Having kept to the schedule of the tour, we have ample time to visit and explore the Batek Tribe settlement which is the last point of interest before returning back to Kuala Tahan by boat from Kuala Terenggan. The Batek, an indigenous tribe of hunters and gatherers, still lead a semi-nomadic life within the area of Taman Negara, Kuala Tahan.
Their settlements can be found near and along the Tembeling river. It is here at one of their small settlements that I get to learn a bit more about the Batek and their way of life.
The settlements of the Batek are quite simple, consisting of humble huts made from bamboo with roofs of woven nipah leaves. With only around 1,000 in number, the Batek people are somewhat reserved and shy. Tam invites us to come closer as one of the Batek men begins demonstrating unique Batek lifeskills such as shooting blowpipes and making fire with rattan vines and dry wood. From the Batek settlement, it takes about 30 minutes to finally arrive at Kuala Terenggan, marking the end to our two-day jungle adventure in Taman Negara. Exhausted but elated, I am not prepared for the wet surprise on the return boat ride to Kuala Tahan when the boatman shoots through the gushing rapids, splashing everyone on the boat and making for a memorable end to the adventure.
THE PREMIER NATIONAL PARK
LOCATED within the district of Jerantut in Pahang, Kuala Tahan is perhaps the most accessible and popular entrance to Taman Negara out of all its entry points in the three states of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu that it occupies. The national park entrance is located 68km from the town of Jerantut and 239km from Kuala Lumpur. Along with the inner jungle tour, a variety of other attractions and unique experiences framed against a tropical rainforest backdrop await visitors at Taman Negara in Kuala Tahan. From visitors seeking peace and solitude to those who crave adventures, Taman Negara will not disappoint. Despite the current pandemic and restrictions under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), whitewater rapid shooting, birdwatching, guided trekking trips to isolated parts of the national park, fishing, scenic boat trips and experiencing up close the magical rainforest canopy via a walkway suspended high above the rainforest floor can still be experienced here. Taman Negara is managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and all visitors are required to obtain an entrance permit for a small fee. The permit can be obtained at the park centre. While the permit fees are often incorporated in package costs, visitors will still need to obtain licences for fishing and cameras at the park centre. Under RMCO standard operating procedures, only 10 people are allowed to visit the Gua Kepayang Besar daily.
- WHERE TO STAY- Though the choices of lodging are many at Kuala Tahan, why not stay at Wild Travellers' Wild Lodge Taman Negara in Kuala Tahan before starting the inner jungle tour the next morning?
- WHERE TO EAT- The many floating restaurants at Kuala Tahan
- WHAT TO DO-Done with Inner Jungle tour, try Kuala Tahan's signature activities like taking a boat ride to the Kelah Sanctuary and Lata Berkoh and hiking up Bukit Terasek for a panoramic view of the Tembeling River.
• A backpack with a minimum capacity of 30 litres is compulsory since everyone will be handed out items and supplies to carry.
• One should be physically healthy and fit for two days of hiking.
• Bring suitable outdoor activity clothes, hiking shoes, sandals and personal medications.
• Bring a headlamp or flashlight for the overnight stay inside the cave.
• A dry bag to protect your belongings and electrical equipment from getting wet while on boat rides is a good investment.
• Bring snacks for extra energy while on the trail.
• Bring leech socks to protect your feet.
• Bring extra drinking water to help with the tropical jungle heat.
• Some visitors may feel pressed for time with the 2D1N schedule. An extra day at Kuala Tahan is advisable.
Besides the Inner Jungle Tour and Gua Kepayang Besar caving activity, Wild Travellers Sdn Bhd also organises other tours in Taman Negara.
WILD TRAVELLERS SDN BHD
Taman Negara Kuala Tahan 27000 Jerantut , Pahang
FAX 09-260 8252