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Travel and Tourism

In Selangor’s embrace

JOYFUL HARVEST - Joy Angelica Subido, Joy Angelica Subido, Karla Alindahao - The Philippine Star

The aching limbs, the endless rivulets of perspiration and the uncomfortable sensation of soaked fabric plastered on sweaty skin were quickly forgotten as we surveyed the sea of leafy green below us. We paused in the middle of the canopy walk and watched two hawks gracefully gliding at eye level. Then, the ropes holding the boards we stood on started to sway slightly. While we would have preferred to remain suspended above terra firma a bit longer, the increased movement and crescendo of voices behind signaled that we had to move on and be on our way. Taking a deep breath of clean mountain air made fragrant by surrounding vegetation, we ambled forward with renewed vigor. The vantage from the treetops was worth the difficult upward trek, effectively re-energizing us for the equally challenging downward hike.

A walk through Forest Research Institute Malaysia’s (FRIM) reserve in the state of Selangor is an altogether different experience from one’s usual expectations. Most travellers will associate Malaysia with exciting shopping excursions in Kuala Lumpur, and the sleek glass and steel magnificence of the Petronas Towers that gleam like diamonds jutting out from the ground into the night sky. Maybe they will picture the azure seas of Langkawi, or summon up a recollection of the smell of petrol and rubber on hot tarmac in the race tracks of Sepang. But taking the challenge of Tourism Selangor state to “break away” and imbibe new experiences during this latest visit, we were able to visit lesser known attractions, interact with locals, and absorb authentic kampung (village) culture away from the city centers.

The visit started out ordinarily enough. Flying in from Manila on Air Asia Zest, we drove to Shah Alam, the capital city of Selangor. Just 25 kilometers away from Kuala Lumpur, the city is home to the Sultan Salahuddin Aziz Shah Mosque, more popularly known as the “Blue Mosque.” As the largest in Southeast Asia, the structure stands out because of its blue dome which is surrounded by impressive spires. A subsequent visit to the Sultan Alam Shah Museum showed us a glimpse of the history of Selangor state and traditions of its people, and an evening spent in I-City Leisure Park allowed us to marvel at how far Selangor has moved forward since olden times. More than its wax museum, horror house, snow walk and other leisure attractions, I-City stuns the visitor with illumination and color through its man-made forests and flower gardens that make use of over one million multihued LED lights.

Still, the man-made splendor of Selangor fails to impress in comparison to the richness of the state’s natural flora and fauna. At the forest reserve, the ranger pointed out towering camphor trees, and the tongkat ali evergreen tree and kacip Fatimah shrub that are believed to enhance sexual performance in men and women respectively. He showed us the Aquilaria or agarwood tree whose resin is highly prized because it is the source of essential oils used in making incense and perfumes. “The resin of this tree is called gaharu, jinko or oud and the scent is similar to combining ambergris, jasmine, and a bit of mushroom and wood notes,” explained our guide. “The most expensive wood comes from this tree and so you can understand why the agarwood is called the money tree.” But because it is almost depleted in the forests and there are poachers, the tree is a protected species. Indeed, destructive human incursion into the wild areas is a worldwide phenomenon that seemingly cannot be avoided.

This is why we appreciated our visit to Bukit Melawati even more. In that place where monkeys and humans seemed to have reached a truce, monkeys roam free and the locals are unperturbed by their presence. We are told that the summit of Bukit Melawati (Melawati Hill) was once a heavily fortified fort and stronghold of the Selangor Sultanate from which they sought to repel their Dutch colonizers. And within the protective walls are a lighthouse, royal graves, and several cannons pointed at the mouth of the Selangor River. To remind visitors of the area’s bloodthirsty history of war, there is a big flat stone that was used as a chopping block for beheading traitors and offenders of the law, and a well where poisonous latex from local vegetation was poured before a criminal was submerged and drowned. Currently, the most appealing attraction of Bukit Melawati are the numerous and friendly monkeys who approach visitors for treats of bananas, string beans, or bits of raw squash and sweet potatoes. On our way down from the hill however, we were aghast to see a tourist handing out foil-covered candy to a couple of monkeys. We were even more disturbed that the primates knew that the packets had to be peeled before the contents are popped into the mouth. Sadly, they seem to have previous extensive experience with human “treats” before.

The highlight of this Selangor tour, however, would have to be the visit to the Kampung Kuantan Firefly Park. Arriving shortly after dusk, we saw that two busloads of Japanese tourists were already there to view the unique show of what the Malaysians call kelip kelip. But perhaps, the Japanese enthusiasm for firefly viewing should not be surprising. More than any other people in the world, the Japanese people value fireflies (hotaru) because the insects figure prominently in their folklore. More than just a symbol for passionate love, the insects are believed to be the spirits of dead warriors who fought valiantly in wars. And fittingly, they were quiet — almost reverential — in their appreciation of the bioluminescence displays as the boatmen dipped their oars in the Selangor River and headed closer to the glowing berembang mangrove trees.

The peaceful and soothing nature of the experience was short-lived as more boisterous tourists arrived. Ignoring the signs in the small wharf warning against catching the fireflies and disregarding the admonition to stay quiet, they talked at the top of their voices and attempted to reach out for the fireflies. I was tempted to tell them about the Malaysian vampire called penggalan (similar to the Filipino aswang.) The belief is that as the penggalan flies through the air, the stomach and entrails dangling below the torso twinkling and flickering like fireflies. Sadly, there is still a lot to teach people about responsible ecotourism.

AIR ASIA ZEST BLUE MOSQUE BUKIT MELAWATI FOREST RESEARCH INSTITUTE MALAYSIA I-CITY LEISURE PARK KAMPUNG KUANTAN FIREFLY PARK KUALA LUMPUR SELANGOR SELANGOR RIVER
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