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Saturday, December 28, 2013

ulu ulu

Into the heart of Borneo

The word Borneo makes one think of  the colour green ,a world of lush tropical forests meandering streams and the sun peeping through tall trees in falling rain .
This turns out to be true as we realised on  travelling into its heart to the Temburong national park in Brunei .
The national park itself  a part of the Borneo conservation efforts is only a small portion  of the 575 sq km of forests hills and waterways
 Unscathed by mankind there were exotic and rare varieties of plant and small animal life
The dwarf squirrel ,the black butterfly also named as the White rajah after the ruler of erstwhile Sarawalk the Englishman James Brooke ( read the white Rajahs of Borneo ).
The Brunei government   preserves the  rich  flora and fauna the country is blessed with .
adventure and ecotourism are  encouraged but with great care not to disturb nature in any form .
Even the capital city is richly endowed with greenery trekking hills are available within the city limits itself which is rare anywhere .
To reach the Ulu resort in temburong national park one had to go by motor  boat bus  to Bangar in Temburong and from there by bus to .Batang

one has to go in a longboat canoe fitted with an engine then to reach the resort .
The day trip arranged by sunshine tours was around 150 Brunei Dollars per head of which entry charges to national park was around 80 dollars
 We were picked up from the Empire hotel the exotic five star hotel befitting its name by the beach very near our house at 7 am sharp by the tour people and dropped off at Bandar seri Begawan jetty
We got into the steam boat which was more of a small bus with rows of seats ,the steam boat left Bandar and the Kampong Ayer ( Kampong means village and Ayer is water )
 The water village was  called the Venice of the east by traveller Antonio Pigafetta when he visited Brunei in the 16th century
Its  is a small city of houses built on stilts on the Brunei river in Bandar Seri Begawan the capital ,one could reach it by motor boat taxis called Perahu Tambang .
 There are wooden houses some made of concrete and some are fitted with all luxuries like AC ,internet connection etc .
The motor boat bus sped along the blue waters quite fast ,the city receded fast ,we went through mangrove banks thickly green uninhabited with the occasional bird fluttering out ,there were crocodiles too there it seems but usually they kept away when  boats plied in daytime .if one was very lucky one could spot a rare proboscis monkey too !
 the plump driver continued his work unaffected by my presence on  his side as I had migrated from my seat  to get a front view of the action and take some photos ,the driver was used to tourists doing just that , slowly I even found a small perch to place my haunches on and focus more better in the speeding boat and suddenly was amused to find a small crowd around me imitating what I started .
 we reached Bangar in about 45 minutes and eased into a jetty stop with all facilities ,we got into a local bus which drove along narrow streets to reach another jetty on the other side of the island ,on the way we saw some longhouses .
 Incidentally the long houses are seen in  countries like Malaysia ,Brunei ,Indonesia etc .
 I had read about them in the travel book by BBC correspondent Palin called Full Circle .
Longhouses are exactly what it it means ,it contains a long array of rooms or apartments with a central common area where all residents could gather ,even though the families lived in separate apartments there was a communal feel to the house ,such living began  in the days when people needed to live together for safety from enemies or wild animals ,today longhouses are   dwindling with  people living more in individual houses some  longhouses still existed in the interiors .
on reaching the steep jetty we quickly adorned our life jackets and got into the canoes which were motor powered ,
5 passengers excluding the driver in each canoe was permitted .
we could sit on a small seat and lean back ,the boat skimmed on the green waters speeding along placid and at times turbulent waters ,whenever we reached rough waters driver would off the engine to prevent us being sloshed ,we did get wet a bit and was careful with our cameras but the ride itself was exhilarating ,both sides the embankments were mountainous full of thick forests wild flowers b and rare plants  tall thick trees .
  A real garden of Eden .
Brunei's first national park, the Ulu Temburong National Park, is located south of the Temburong district, covering 550 square kilometres of the Temburong forest. The national park has a scientific research centre facility, the Kuala Belalong Rainforest Field Studies Centre, which is only accessible by boat.The Temburong District is rich in unspoiled natural heritage, including the Ulu Temburong National Park (formerly the Batu Apoi Forest Reserve).
 The  resort  was perched on a steep bank and we had to gingerly step out of the rocking boat and climb wooden steps to  a hall with souvenuirs and a small restaurant there were also around 19 cottages to stay overnight but we were there only for the day .
 there were no TV ,internet connection or mobile phone range there and one was cut off from all these modern day distractions to be in the lap of nature .
We then started our trek to the hill nearby .
the park was famous for its canopy which was a 50 foot steel bridge built on tall towers with steps this was on top of a hill which one had to climb first.
 the canopy was built for scientists who needed to study the flora and fauna above the tall treeline on top of the hills ,today it has become a tourist attraction .
the climb was also hardy some over wooden steps then over rocks gnarled giant roots some mud and slush ,
 I was gasping and sitting  on every rest stops  and finally after an hour of climb reached the canopy
looking at it from below and its steep curving ladder  I decided to call it a day and refused to join my family who were brave enough to plod on those vertical limits .
 So I only have a second hand version of their joy in reaching the top its cool winds and wonderful sights of unremitting green hills the tree tops and the azure skies .
We then clobbered back down and on  the boat to a small waterfall ,we had to walk a bit this time  barefoot over sharp stones which was a torture
 I stood for long in the cool shallow waters with tiny fish nibbling our soles
we  returned  to the resort for a lunch which I could gulp down well because of some handy  yoghurt conjured by the attentive chef on my request !
 later after a dozy rest on easing chairs facing the flowing river we got back into the canoes and then got back to and later to Bangar and Bandar
It was a trip into the virgin Borneo forests ,a treat for our senses and a balm to our soles

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