Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Top and Bottom of Gunung Jerai

Another week, another mountain.

We’ve been to the Gunung Jerai area before - on the southern end of this small and isolated group of hills and mountains is Lembah Bujang which we visited a few months ago. On the southern and eastern sides is also where I cycled through in 2007 and struggled with the 3 major hills on that route.

This time around, Mei and I decided to tackle Gunung Jerai itself which required us coming in from the north. The road up Gunung Jerai is actually off Highway 1 at Kampung Titi Teras in Gurun. The entrance is clearly marked with a large signboard that proclaims ‘Gunung Jerai’ in clear capital letters.

Within this area is a mosque, a food court, a small gallery or museum and public toilets. To go up Jerai, drive in past the mosque and the car park, then just after the food court on the left is a little road that heads up hill. There should be a signboard for The Regency Jerai Hill Resort. It’s a narrow road that takes you around the back of the food court and upwards, surrounded by lush greenery which changes ever so slightly as you ascend.

A Mountain that was once an Island

Jerai is over 1200m above sea level and is an oddly isolated body of rock near the coast. In fact, it was once an island. What is known is that it was a landmark used by seafaring people from the 5th to the 14th centuries, guiding them to the mouth of the Sungai Merbok and then on to Lembah Bujang.  Much of it is now a protected forest reserve. Enjoy a slow drive up the windy road and be prepared to sound your horn at some of the narrower and tighter corners - an experience that reminds me of the Landies roaring up Maxwell’s Hill.

It was a very quiet day when we went, with no traffic at all so I must admit to tackling some of those corners with a little verve (though Mei may say ‘swerve’ instead…). All quite fun and as we went higher and higher, we could see the foliage subtly change with more ferns and sparser growth on either side of the road.

Some distance up the road, a sign, hanging on a concrete archway made to look like it was made of tree trunks, proclaimed the entry to the Sungai Teroi Campsite. A short distance on from that was the first major structure we’d encountered - the Sungai Teroi Forestry Museum, an attractive wooden structure sitting on a slope at a junction.

We parked at the little carpark by the road and approached the building. A set of concrete steps led up to the entrance, on its right a series of cascading rock pools. Tall, slender trees and low ferns and shrubs framed this building quite nicely.

One of the staff waved us in past another staff who was speaking a little authoritatively to a bunch of young kids in uniforms. We wandered around inside - a larger building than it seemed from the road. The exhibits range from leaves and pictures of plants to large dioramas and framed preserved insects. Some of these were huge and would definitely have made my skin crawl had I encountered one in the wild…

We look at a Stick then I stick something in my mouth

We spent maybe half an hour inside and as we stepped back outside, the same guy who’d invited us in beckoned us over to show us a couple of things, the first of which was a piece of wood which he said had some very good properties. Unfortunately I failed to take notes and although I have the pictures of him using a lighter to light up the oils within the wood, and I remember they then released a very nice fragrance, I cannot remember the other properties of the wood.

I can, however, distinctly remember the properties of the second thing - a little yellow flower whose petals he crushed and gave me to chew. A sharp taste then a complete numbing of my tongue and the insides of my mouth followed. ‘If you have a toothache, chewing this flower will deal with the pain completely’, he said and I was in no doubt of that claim!

There was a slight bitterness to the flavour but it was otherwise not unpleasant and I swallowed the flower - just as he said ‘You can spit it all out when the mouth is numb enough’
He laughed and said it’s OK to swallow it as well.

This flower, when chewed, makes your mouth, tongue and gums go numb.

The big group of uniformed young boys were still being talked to in a stern voice as we were discussing the wood and the flower. Just as we finished, they too were dismissed only to be equipped with brooms and brushes. It turns out these kids had all been caught in the nearby park playing truant from school. Rather than give them the usual school punishment, they were brought here to do work around the museum grounds and I watched as they broke into groups and began raking up dead leaves, scrubbing the rocks in the cascading rock pools, and sweeping up rubbish. The stern-voiced chap came over and explained this to me and I told him I thought this was a superb idea.

He also told me the museum will shortly be closed for repairs and renovations though no date had been set.

Resort on High

Leaving the museum, we drove on up the mountain and eventually got to the resort. Rather than a large single building, the resort comprises a number of single-storey structures, dotted around this very high plateau and set within well-tended and beautifully landscaped grounds. On one side is a magnificent view of the padi fields, other plantations and a few kampungs over 980 metres below us. Up here, despite the bright sunshine, the air was pretty cool and comfortable.

Some of the chalets are built on the side of the mountain and must have brilliant views. The resort also seems to have enough facilities to satisfy both the holidaying guest and one attending a seminar or retreat - there are a couple of meeting halls/rooms and a cafe within the resort as well.

Pulau Bunting in the distance

A Humungous Portion

Just outside of the resort is a little food court operated by a couple and their son. The food court was quiet and empty of patrons when we turned up but the wife told us they were open and took our orders. She then went to get her husband who was busy building up some new plant stands in a section of the garden. Looking around, we realised he seems to be quite a handy man and a creative one at that, repurposing various things as signboards and so on.

We were served our fried noodles and fried rice and were overwhelmed! These dishes are often fairly spartan affairs but what landed at our tables were humungous servings almost flowing over with toppings and ingredients - fried prawns, egg, fried tofu and more. Tasted pretty good too though both of us, fresh from gorging on chips and snacks in the car, had to leave some on our plates…

Further up from the food court is the Telaga Tok Sheikh. We drove in and here are a couple of picnic spots which I would avoid - garbage everywhere and signs of dereliction and disrepair. The Telaga itself seemed OK though we didn’t stop. Beyond it are a number of abandoned agriculture setups. We turned around and headed further up the mountain to Padang Tok Sheikh.

Abandoned though on our return trip we spotted some activity in the grounds.

Abandoned project near Telaga Tok Sheikh

A field of stone

Not a field in the usual sense of the word, this area is instead a large rock face that is the oldest rock face in the peninsular - dating back 550 million years! This area was actually once the sea bed and continuous sedimentation caused it to be buried deep then compressed into rock. Some 220 million years ago, the entire sea bed was forced upwards into its current position some 1150 metres above sea level.

It is quite a wide area with fascinating patterns in the rock.


The telecoms towers are just a few hundred metres up the road but it’s narrow and you’ll have to reverse down again so it’s best to walk up form here if you wish to have a look.

But you don’t really have to as there’s a fantastic lookout point just to the right of the Padang. Go through to the right from the small minaret and you’ll come to a spot where you get a fantastic view of the surrounding environs. Much the same view as from the resort, but form an even higher elevation. A strange visual distortion caused by the shape of the coastline may cause you to feel the land beneath actually curves upwards in a surreal and mildly disconcerting manner. On the day we were there, there was a bit of haze in the sky so the shots are not too sharp. We could make out most details though and even spotted some birds of prey gliding high above the land.

This is a fantastic spot to have a picnic, I reckon, but we’d not packed any food and besides, were still stuffed from our lunch a little before. So we headed back down to the campsite instead.

A Campsite, the edge of a waterfall and a fatty river

This campsite was opened in 1988 and though there are signs of wear here and there, it seemed to be in generally OK condition. Not too much garbage about - something becoming all too rare nowadays, unfortunately. The paths were in pretty decent condition and though we walked past an abandoned orchid garden, the structure that contained it seemed to be used now as a storage place and wasn’t falling to bits unlike the structures at Telaga Tok Sheikh earlier.

Beyond this the area opened up and a few concrete structures were dotted about. On our right was a large concrete-walled pool in which a few guys were splashing about. The water looked decidedly murky though. Ahead of us, a river ran from the left and across to the right where it spilled over rocks then over a cliff edge. A set of concrete balustrades was built across the lip to prevent any mishap.

A couple of concrete bridges spanned this river though one was in a state of disrepair. The other was fine and we crossed then walked up the sodden bank to where a few benches and tables were placed.

The water in the river had the same dark red-brown colour of the pool and the surface was streaked with a filmy and foamy substance. I have seen this before and know it is not pollution but instead the lipid excretions of dead plants. Essentially these are the fats and oils from plants and they do give a yucky appearance but are not generally harmful.

The water in the pool was indeed from the river and flowed in endlessly and overflowed back into the river to spill over the edge of the waterfall, so the water, though looking dire, is actually fresh mountain water.

Someone had brought along a hammock and had strung it up in one of the concrete shelters - something I must do one day. Indeed I have a hammock in the car. It rolls up into a very bundle that fits in the hand and can easily be brought along in my backpack. I’ll do this one day…

Being a weekday, the place was deserted except for 4 or 5 guys and some workers cutting grass. I suspect it gets busier on weekends but there’s quite a lot of space so might still be comfortable.

Leaving Jerai, we descended back into the heat below. We’d spied an island connected to the mainland with a long and straight road bridge and wanted to find out more about this Pulau Bunting.

Unfortunately, we could not travel along the bridge as it was blocked off and in fact a couple of police cars were stationed there just then. The island didn’t look inhabited and might instead be a project in progress, or an abandoned one. We’ll find out one day.

We drove around Yan for awhile, watching tractor-ploughs working in the padi fields and checking out the small kampungs in the area we’d been looking at from 1200 metres up a little earlier. I think we’ll come back again when the padi is tall and the fields glisten gold in the sun. That’ll be something to see.

Sg Teroi Forestry Museum is at 5°48'20"N 100°26'6"E
Kem Rekreasi Gunung Jerai is at 5°48'22"N 100°25'57"E
Geotapak Padang Tok Sheikh is at 5°47'14"N 100°26'9"E

No comments:

Forever Falls - a day trip to Selama in Perak

Fishing in Oil Palm Estates It seems this part of Perak is all about waterfalls. We’d seen signboards for so many in our recent travel...