Are we there yet?” I ask in Malay between gasping breaths, while looking for a flat surface to take a breather. The Orang Asli guide in front turns around, flashes a bemused grin and shakes his head.
The elderly man, whom we call Pak Cik Syam, is insanely fit and filled with sinewy muscles. He leaps through exposed roots on the ground like an Olympian. The sight of a twenty-something city boy struggling to hike a hill might have been laughable to him.
The media are on an expedition organised by Tourism Kelantan to hunt for the elusive Rafflesia at Kampung Ladoi in the Kuala Betis Orang Asli settlement of Gua Musang, Kelantan. A glimpse of the bloom isn’t a guaranteed deal, though.
“If luck is on our side, we might be able to see the flower. It blooms for three days only before it starts to decompose,” our guide explains.
Screw luck. Two hours of an extremely bumpy ride on a 4WD up a dirt road and then this strenuous climb…I better see that darn flower, I thought.
“The Rafflesia is like a pregnant lady,” Pak Cik Syam offers this bit of trivia as we make our way down the mountain. The flowering process according to him, takes about nine months – much like human pregnancy.
A dozen mosquito bites and several curses muttered silently under my breath later, we finally chance upon a Rafflesia that’s in full bloom. The sight of the flower – especially when you factor in the hellish hike – is glorious. And as luck would have it, there are many seedlings within the vicinity.
While going up had been a challenge, the descent is the unnerving part of the expedition. There are no branches or tree trunks to hold on to. At times, I’m crawling on the ground to steady myself.
But then again, you don’t have to be extremely fit to go on this expedition. Our entourage comprises a miscellaneous bunch: photographers lugging heavy equipment, a group from Tourism Malaysia (some whom were possibly Awie fanboys as they were humming his songs often) who squeal with delight when we pass a stream, and an asthmatic female travel writer, among others.
Despite the arduous adventure, everyone makes it back safe and sound.
Home in the hills
Naturally, all I want to do after the hike is to take a cold shower and a long nap. Which is why the pristine Kampung Redip in Pos Hau is such a welcome sight.
The Orang Asli settlement – which doubles up as a kampung homestay site – sits about 20 minutes drive from Kampung Ladoi.
Lush rolling green hills envelop the vicinity and a crystal clear stream runs through the village. It’s a haven after the long journey.
“You will be sleeping by the bank of a river tonight,” the village president Razali Ayeh says when he passes the keys to my chalet. Constructed out of bamboo shoots and dry leaves, the look of the property from the outside can be intimidating to those who are accustomed to city comforts.
Step inside though, and the interior is actually very cosy despite its basic furnishings. Two simple mattresses are placed side by side on the door with two power sockets above them. My initial fears of bathing at a communal shower dissipates when I spot the spacious bathroom. I’m really looking forward to bedtime with the sound of the flowing river lulling me to sleep.
That is, until a Facebook friend commented that my abode for the night looks like something out of the Thai horror movie Nang Nak.
There are 12 chalets at Kampung Redip and they range between RM50 and RM70, depending on the size of the unit.
“The chalets are built and operated by the families here and the neighbouring settlements. That’s why no two units look the same. It’s also why the interiors are all different,” Razali explains. Guests have the option of setting up tents at the designated camp site.
Located about 56km away from the town of Gua Musang, access to the village has improved in recent years. The dirt road has been evened out and several bridges are built across the many creeks found en route to the settlement.
Tourism Kelantan officer Muhammad Faiz Ismail says the infrastructure upgrades are done to improve the flow of visitors to the village. And if it’s up to villager Pak Ahmad, the more visitors the merrier.
“We like to invite people here and make more friends,” the elderly man tells me as the rest of my travelling companions take a dip at the nearby Leurew Waterfall.
“If possible, we would like to see orang putih at our kampung too so that we can converse with them in English and share with them our culture,” Pak Ahmad adds of his hope to welcome Caucasian visitors.
An insight into the culture of the Temiar tribe is definitely something that tops my itinerary at Kampung Redip. From cooking demonstrations to the traditional sewang performance, there’s much to learn here. Sewang incorporates solo singing, musical instruments and all-round merry-making.
Truly, it’s the warm hospitality of the villagers that make my stay at Kampung Redip a special one.
The fact that both Kampung Redip and Kampung Ladoi are located on high ground doesn’t mean that the villages weren’t affected by the devastating floods in 2014. Accounts of the unfortunate incident still seep into conversations whenever you speak to the Kelantanese here.
“The flood was like pesta,” our 4WD driver relates of the festival-like atmosphere back then on our way down to the Gua Musang town.
“Speedboats and ambulances were dispatched from other states and there was a surge of personnels trying to evacuate people,” he adds, as we past hilly land that’s been cleared for plantations.
Access to the villages was cut off and helicopters were used to distribute essentials. Remnants of the disaster are still visible today. Destroyed wooden homes and bridges mar the landscape, as we drive past the old Gua Musang KTMB train station to the Ethnobotany Park. Fortunately for the forestry research and recreational centre, the venue was relatively unscathed.
Today, the place – which is managed by the Southern Kelantan Development Board (Kesedar) – houses a herbal park and host activities such as abseiling, flying fox and rock climbing.
Meanwhile, the Swee Nyet Kong temple – which the locals call Tokong Mek – in Pulai (about 15km from Gua Musang) is still recovering from the floods. A suspension bridge that links the main temple to the cave temple opposite it was destroyed back then. Visitors will have to take a longer route today.
It’s still an absolutely beautiful venue, though. A calming water feature lends a sense of Zen to the main altar which contains a sacred 600-year-old painting of a deity.
Although, it’s the nearby cave temple that takes my breath away. It takes 165 flight of steps to reach the top. But the view from above of the surrounding lake and green foliage – much like the Rafflesia – is so worth the climb.
This media trip was sponsored by Tourism Malaysia to highlight Visit Kelantan Year 2016. Bookings and ground arrangements at Kampung Redip can be made by contacting Razali Ayeh at 011-4024 9499.