Almost every weekend, for the past six years, my family and I have savoured our retreats to green hills with pristine streams. There are few hills near Kuala Lumpur we can bring our kids to, and one of them is Apek (or Ah Pek) Hill.

Located in forests between Ampang, Cheras and Hulu Langat, “Ah Pek” is actually a Hokkien word meaning “uncle” and it aptly describes the many white-haired senior citizens who come here regularly for their exercise.

Apek Hill offers a good hike through beautiful terrain with a mix of flat and steep paths woven with tree roots. Huge trees provide shade, while streams and waterfalls are good places to cool off.

Along the way, you can enjoy the endless soundtrack of chattering monkeys, chirping birds, squawking hornbills and buzzing crickets. Lush greenery, unique mushrooms, beetles and butterflies welcome you to the jungle. This is nature at its best, just a stone’s throw from the city.

Our first hike here was in September 2010. My hubby, Adrian Yeong, searched online for information to get us there. He backpacked our youngest child, who was only one year plus then. Our three other young kids hiked up with us.

Being unfit (we had just started our new hiking hobby for a month then), the trail seemed long and unending, going up and down the hills. We took the trail from Awana Cheras all the way to Stations 1, 3 and 5 (these spots have been long established there by volunteers, such is the popularity of this place) and then hiked all the way down to the waterfall.

Being first timers, we were unsure of the way, but fortunately we met a helpful regular hiker, Tony, who led us in. Our kids were elated when they finally saw the waterfall, and all of a sudden they did not seem tired anymore! We delighted ourselves splashing about in the refreshing waters.

After a few hikes, another regular hiker told us about a shorter route via Bukit Hatamas and we started inviting our friends to join us. Most who came along were first-timers and non-hikers, and many found the hike exhausting. But they were very happy when they eventually reached the waterfall.

Apek Hill near KL is a haven for hikers. Here, the writer (highest, centre) with her friends and family, are at the magnificent tree that inspired her to poetry. — Photos: ADRIAN YEONG

The magnificent tree that inspired the writer to write poetry.

We had heard about a huge, majestic tree in Apek Hill next to a lovely stream. When we found it one day, I was so enthralled by its beauty that I wrote a poem about it. Unfortunately, the tree is no longer standing there.

Late last year, my heart felt heavy after seeing disturbing images on social media of Apek Hill being bulldozed, its greens ripped apart into a swathe of yellow soil. It was hard to believe. So my hubby and I, along with some friends, set out one morning to see for ourselves.

My heart cried tears when I saw the hill with my own eyes. A great number of beautiful trees were gone and Apek Hill laid bare before our eyes. Hiking under the hot, scorching sun at 3pm, our sweat dripped down. We used to laugh and joke throughout our previous hikes, but this time, there was only silence.

I had heard that the clearing was because Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) needed to build new electrical pylons. I decided to write an email to them, to highlight the concern and distress of many other regular hikers. We strongly feel that the few places of natural beauty around Kuala Lumpur should be preserved to be enjoyed by all.

The reply from TNB came from an officer named Md Derus Bunchit:

Dear Jessy,

The forest reserve is being cleared to allow the construction of the transmission line to the Mahkota Cheras Main Sub-Station by TNB. It is carried out by a contractor appointed by the Selangor Forestry Department.

The width of the clearing is 4 chain (80 meters) in the forest reserve. This width is to cater for the danger of trees that may collapse onto the electrical pylons.

The plans were presented to the Selangor state government in December 2011. The logging works are closely monitored by the Selangor Forestry Department.

TNB shall undertake all the control measures during the construction of the transmission line to ensure that the noise, dust and other environmental issues i.e. landslides, stagnant water, surface run off etc. will not cause any discomfort or health risk to the adjacent residential areas.

Apek Hill is such a popular hiking spot that trekkers have built recreation facilities there like this tree house.

Did the forest clearing have to be so wide? Wasn't there a better way to build electrical pylons?

Did the forest clearing have to be so wide?

How has this affected the hikers? We no longer enjoy a shady hike throughout the hill. The land clearing can also become rather muddy and slippery in heavy rain. Herman Ho, 59, whom we met along our hike, said the pylons only measure about 12m x 12m and asked why the land clearing had to be so massive. He said that the trees which were sacrificed were very good trees.

As a hiker mum, not only am I am sad about the massive clearing done on Apek Hill. I am also totally disheartened to learn that the nearby hiking havens of Saga Hill and Ketumbar Hill are showing signs of future forest chopping.

There are not many green lungs left near the city of Kuala Lumpur. Deep in my heart, I hope that steps will be taken to preserve them to prevent flash floods and landslides, and for everyone to have fresh air and healthy exercise.

The hills and forests are our heritage, let’s choose to preserve them for our future generations.


Alternatives to power cables

The building of overhead high-voltage power cables can be controversial.

While everyone acknowledges that we need such things (as well as highways, train lines, rubbish landfills etc), nobody wants these things too near their homes. This is a classic example of the NIMBY syndrome – Not In My BackYard.

Apek Hill, one of the most popular hiking spots on the doorsteps of Kuala Lumpur, has seen part of its forests damaged with the building of power cables by Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB). This stirs debate on what are the best ways to provide necessary infrastructure.

Elizabeth Wong, Selangor executive council member in charge of tourism, consumer affairs and environment, reveals how difficult it is to balance competing interests.

1) The state prefers to have these power lines in residential and commercial areas as they are the consumers of electricity.

2) The residents prefer these lines to be far away.

3) TNB prefers alignment which involves minimal land acquisition to reduce costs to the consumers.

She says the Selangor state government has taken the “middle ground” in approving the TNB construction at Apek Hill.

“This is to follow the boundary of the forest reserve in order to avoid as much as possible slicing too much of the forest areas,” she explains. “So the route now is longer but affects less of the forest reserve.”

After Apek Hill, parts of Saga Hill, another nearby popular trekking spot, looks set to be cut down for TNB power lines. About 5,000 people have signed a petition against it.

After Apek Hill, parts of Saga Hill, another nearby popular trekking spot, looks set to be cut down for TNB power lines. About 5,000 people have signed a petition against it.

Andrew Sebastian, the CEO of the Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (ECOMY) says there are alternatives to overhead power lines. For instance, he cites that there is technology for building gas-insulated underground transmission cables.

Wong says such alternatives were proposed at the planning stages, but the cost would have been much higher, and TNB may have passed this on to consumers.

Apart from Apek Hill, the hiker Jessy Phuah, says there are also signs that nearby Ketumbar Hill and Saga Hill, which are also very popular with hikers, will be the next “victims” of forest clearing for power lines.

“The committee of Saga Hill have collected about 5,000 signatures opposing any chopping of forests there,” she adds.

In conclusion, we have to ask, how much are pristine trekking areas worth and what is the government (and the public) willing to pay to protect them? – By Andrew Sia

A version of these articles appeared in the print edition of Star2 on March 12, 2016, with the headlines ‘Oasis destroyed’ and ‘There are alternatives’.