Selangor Dam

When driving from Kuala Kubu Bharu towards Bukit Fraser you cannot help but notice the Selangor Dam and reservoir.

Selangor Dam

The dam is 800m long, 110m high and 400m wide at its base, making it one of the largest in Malaysia. The reservoir it created has a capacity of 235 million cubic metres of water.

Selangor Reservoir

It was completed about 10 years ago to supply water to the rapidly growing population of the Klang Valley. The land where the lake now lies used to be home to 84 families of orang asli. These people were relocated to Kampung Gerachi and Kampung Pertak where new homes were constructed for them. They probably did not have much say in the matter but securing reliable water supplies for thirsty Kuala Lumpur presumably takes priority.

Kg. Pertak

Parts of the original KKB to Bukit Fraser road also had to be realigned and shifted to higher elevations before the valley was flooded.

There is a visitor centre at the dam called SPLASH Info Centre (SPLASH being the short name of the concessionaire operating the dam). It was closed when I went but is supposed to be open to the public between 9am-1pm and 2pm-4pm from Tuesday to Sunday.

SPLASH Info Centre

Apart from the visitor centre there is not much you can do here except admire the view. Swimming, boating and fishing are not allowed although I saw people fishing off one of the bridges (next to the No Fishing signs).

No Fishing Sign

Taman Negara

Sungai Tahan, Taman Negara

Taman Negara is Malaysia’s premier national park covering a vast area of a million acres spanning three states. Established in the 1930s, Taman Negara is the oldest and the largest protected area in the peninsular and acts as a gene bank for biodiversity resources
in Malaysia, many of which are threatened by relentless development.

The park’s pristine condition makes it a popular eco-tourism destination but most visitors do not stray far from the main entry point of Kuala Tahan, leaving the bulk of the park undisturbed by humans, apart from the small community of Orang Asli who have always lived there.

My younger son and I spent a couple of days at Taman Negara last week and we covered the usual tourist activities such as the 530 metre long canopy walk, a boat trip to Lata Berkoh and a short hike up Bukit Teresek.

Canopy Walkway at Taman Negara

Boat to Lata Berkoh

View from Bukit Teresek

We wisely decided not to attempt the tortuous 7 day hike to, and climb up, Gunung Tahan, peninsular Malaysia’s tallest peak (2,190m).

While there is no denying the unspoilt beauty of the scenery of Taman Negara, many tourists must go away disappointed at the lack of wildlife that can be spotted. Unlike an African safari where animals congregate at water holes or roam the plains in vast herds, Malaysia’s wild critters are a shy bunch and rely on concealment for survival, and there are plenty of places to hide.  In our short stay we saw a family of wild boars, a deer and some monitor lizards but there was no sign of tapirs or wild elephants. As for glimpsing virtually extinct rarities such as the Sumatran Rhinoceros or tigers, you have more hope of winning the lottery.

Even birds are not abundant. We see more in our garden than in the rainforest. The bugs are impressive though – exotic, huge and everywhere.

On our way back from Taman Negara it was disturbing to see considerable logging activity going on just a few kilometres away from the national park’s boundaries.

Logging in Pahang

Here a line of trucks is queuing up to be loaded with logs which will be turned into laminated flooring or garden furniture for a UK hardware shop, or shipped to Japan for use as disposable chopsticks or to China as plywood for the construction industry. Is it sustainable logging? Of course not.

Logging trucks

As forest clearance creeps closer to the edge of Taman Negara, whatever animals live there will shift to the centre of the park making them even rarer to spot for the tourist.

Here is a link to the satellite map of the area where the logging is taking place. I don’t know when Google recorded that image but presumably more logging has taken place since. It’s not very pretty.,102.65213&spn=0.052124,0.077162

Carey Island – Mah Meri Wood Carvings

Carey Island (Pulau Carey) is probably not what most people have in mind when they imagine a tropical island. There are no swaying coconut palms,  azure waters or golden beaches here. Well that is not quite true, there is a grubby, muddy beach and there are millions of palm trees on this huge island but they are all regimented rows of oil palms. Covering 32,000 acres on the coast of Selangor, Malaysia about 60 km west of Kuala Lumpur, this flat-as-a-pancake island is almost exclusively given over to oil palm plantations, palm oil refineries and bio-diesel production.

Plantation on Carey Island

From a tourism point of view the island’s main attraction is the Mah Meri community whose craftsmen are famous for their highly prized wooden carvings. The Mah Meri are one of 18 Orang Asli tribes living in Malaysia ( Orang Asli meaning the original people of Malaysia). Numbering around 1400, this tribe is concentrated around Kampung Sungei Bumbun on Carey Island. Speaking a language with Mon-Khmer roots, the Mah Meri (meaning forest people) live in modest wooden houses and try to hang on to their traditional culture through practices like carving wooden spirits, traditional dances and music.

Craftsman, Gali Adam polishing one of his artworks.

Mr. Gali Adam, one of the 25 or so craftsmen doing this work, showed us a book illustrating the 100 different spirits that he carves. These spirits play an important part in their way of life. Some for example were used by medicine men to draw sickness out of the infirm. The sculptures were thrown away after the medicine ceremony as they were believed to contain the sickness. This practice has added to their rarity.

Pregnant Mah Meri women are not permitted to enter the workshop area in case their unborn child acquires the characteristics of the sculptures.

No health and safety inspectors here.

The carvings are made from nyireh batu, a red, rare mangrove hardwood from the mahogany family. When I asked Mr. Gali Adam what would happen when his stock of logs at the back of the shop is finished, he pointed to a small sapling growing nearby. It will take 15 years to mature. Sime Darby, the company which operates the oil palm plantations on the island, is replanting some nyireh batu seedlings as part of the palm oil industry’s efforts to improve its sustainability record. Environmentalists, particularly from the West, frequently criticize the palm oil industry for its impact on rainforests, climate and everything else but it should be remembered that it was the eponymous Valentine Carey, a successful British coffee and rubber planter, who first started clearing the forests from Carey Island just over 100 years ago.

Gali Adam with spirit Katak Kala

This carving, on the left, is called the Spirit Katak Kala and is said to represent a powerful frog holding an evil scorpion. I cannot quite see it myself but the natural sheen of the wood stands out well. After some bargaining he gave it to me for RM550. The Thrifty Traveller does not normally fork out that kind of money on an impulse purchase but the way I look at it is:

  • The purchase is helping to preserve traditional culture.
  • I am buying directly from the craftsman rather than through a middle man.
  • I am unlikely to lose money if I ever sell it. Large versions of these carvings sometimes fetch thousands in auction.

I think it looks rather nice!

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