Spelunking or caving is not a sport for the fainthearted, and especially not for the claustrophobic – you might have to crawl through tight enclosed spaces, climb up steep cliffs, be lowered into the darkness, or even swim through underwater caverns.
So it was with great trepidation that I set off on my first caving adventure a few years ago at the caves of Gua Tempurung and Gua Kandu, both near the town of Gopeng, Perak.
You get different experiences visiting the caves as one is dry and the other is wet. They’re in the vicinity of each other and it is a good idea to visit them both.
At two hours to midnight, clad in thick stonewash jeans matched with Indiana-Jones style bush jackets, we set off with hardy shatter-cum-waterproof torches on the adventure of our lives.
It was pitch black in the cave. Grasping the thick rope tightly with gloved hands, I placed my feet on the cave wall. It was about 7m of dusty rock to the next limestone chamber. The brown earth smeared my shirt and jeans with the imprints of my efforts.
Angled at almost 90 degrees, I was thankful for the good traction of my hiking shoes. As I hesitated, in the distance, I could hear my friend’s encouraging cries: “Don’t look down, just keep going. You can do it!”
This was my first taste of Gua Kandu and the sport of spelunking. The colossal cave is known for its myriad chambers interconnected at different levels. We feasted our eyes on the multitude of limestone formations in unusual shapes and sizes, with names such as staghorns, corals, straws and curtains.
We turned off our torches and stood still in the darkness to listen to the only sound audible – our heartbeats. I held out my hand in front of me only to find it swallowed away by the darkness around me.
“It’s time to put on your face masks,” our native guide said as we approached the next chamber.
The dryness of Kandu’s interior made it extremely dusty. Not wanting to choke on the dust stirred by our movements, we quickly slipped on the makeshift paper masks handed out to us earlier. The lack of moisture in the limestone labyrinth made it nearly impossible for any flora or fauna to survive.
Suddenly, an eerie mournful wail sent chills down our spines. A midnight breeze blew through hollows in the cave wall, giving off low howling sounds, akin to some mysterious mythological creature from the past.
“Shhh … watch carefully and you will see elephants …” our native guide said secretively. As we observed curiously, we saw them … a trio of elephants, timeless limestone masterpieces carved by Nature’s skilful hands.
Deep in the heart of Gua Kandu, we were intrigued by shiny particles glistening captivatingly as the light of our torches fell on them. The diamond-like crystal formations embedded in the rock gave rise to its name as the diamond cavern.
Our journey culminated on the other side of the limestone hill where the cavern opened out into the dense Perak jungle. The moon and stars beamed through the branches of the trees as we sat down on the mossy slope to rest our aching bodies. It was nearly two in the morning. We had spent four hours in the cavern.
We trekked back and set up camp at the large entrance of the cavern where we had started our journey. Mere groundsheets (with some cardboard to cushion our backs) were our hardy beds for the night.
It was about four in the morning when we turned in, lulled to sleep by the choruses from Nature’s orchestra of singing cicadas, croaking frogs and human snores.