Saturday October 9, 2004

GUNUNG LEDANG (MOUNT OPHIR) REVISITED

Pictures by LEONG SIOK HUI & Courtesy of GUNUNG LEDANG RESORT SDN BHD

Amid the hype surrounding the movie Puteri Gunung Ledang, Gunung Ledang in Johor has unexpectedly been thrust into the limelight. LEONG SIOK HUI revisits her childhood playground. 

Growing up in the small town of Segamat, Johor, about 35 minutes?drive from Gunung Ledang, I recall childhood memories of the family squishing into a couple of cars and trundling off to “Air Panas?for a weekend outing.  

Straddling the Malacca and Johor border, the 1,276m-Gunung Ledang (aka Mt Ophir) with its cascading falls and pristine natural pools, is popular with day-trippers, and its strenuous summit trail provides a great training ground for hikers and army troops.  

Two main entry points, the Asahan trail in Malacca and Sagil in Johor, lead hikers to the peak. But the Sagil entry route, with its bountiful waterfalls flowing from more than 610m high, sees a mob on weekends and public holidays. A barely two-hour drive from the Causeway also makes this recreation area a favourite with Singaporeans. 

Folks living near the mountain in Sagil, Jementah, Tangkak and Segamat refer to the area as “Air Panas?because there were hot springs at the foot of the mountain years ago before soil erosion occured.  

As kids, we splashed in the bracing cool water. Although we learned of the mountain’s legends at school, Gunung Ledang to us was simply a fun, outdoor playground. But there were many unwritten “rules?and superstitions we had toadhere to.  

Bringing pork to the mountain and bragging are taboo. Some locals believe the “princess?lives on the mountain and protects it from evil hearts or impure thoughts. Others believe in the mountain’s healing properties, thus bomoh, or medicine men, descend on the area for spiritual rituals. 

Despite countless stories of mishaps ?kids tumbling down waterfalls and hikers toppling into ravines or getting stranded in the thick forest ? themountain never lost its appeal.  

Two years ago, my childhood buddy and I scrambled up the peak for the first time. I had just returned to Malaysia after seven years?of being away.  

CT and I wanted to chill out at the waterfalls. At the Sagil entry point, we had to pay an entry fee of RM2 per car and RM1 for each visitor. In 1996, private corporation Gunung Ledang Resort Sdn Bhd took over the management of the nature reserve from the Johor State government. Spacious parking lots, resort chalets, seminar and banquet rooms, and a restaurant and swimming pool are strategically located at the trailhead to the waterfalls.  

Clad in sport sandals and carrying a packed lunch, we weren’t exactly ready for a summit challenge. But our curiosity was piqued after we looked at the trail map. As we trudged up the stone-cobbled steps to the popular Puteri waterfalls, we passed cascading falls on our left. It was a pleasant surprise to see rubbish bins dotting the route once which was once notorious for its trash problem. It’s good to know the resort is doing something to fix the problem.  

The mountain trail begins at 274m. We clambered up sheer slopes using tree roots as handholds, taking note of plastic strings wrapped around tree trunks as trail markers. Along the way, there were a few confusing markers and we took a couple of detours to get back on the right track.  

The trail goes through narrow cave passages and has endless ascents and descents on rolling terrain. We clung on to the ropes that were provided as we tread on sheer rock faces. Some of the trails suffered from the wear and tear of many tramping feet. Along the way, we spotted at least 30 hikers at different checkpoints. Each time we passed a campsite, my stomach churned from the sight of mounting thrash left behind by thoughtless trekkers. Hikers once said you won’t get lost in Ledang if you just follow the rubbish trail.  

Five hours of footslogging finally took us to the summit. The flat plateau seemed a bit crammed with more than 20 hikers milling about to savour the scenic vista of the mountain range. But the biggest turn-off was another pile of rubbish stacked up at the peak. It was an anti climax to a tough hike. We gobbled up our sandwiches and hastily descended the mountain.  

Puteri Gunung Ledang aftermath 

Disillusioned by that last climb, I didn’t expect much when I popped by Sagil last weekend. But at the ranger’s office, Ledang Resort?sports and recreational manager, Za’aba Mohon said that beginning May this year, guides are compulsory at every trek.  

The guide’s job is to ensure hikers?safety and to prevent them from dumping rubbish or chopping down trees for firewood. A guide is required for every 10 trekkers (RM100 per guide for a two-day, one-night trip), explained Za’aba who was in charge of the Puteri Gunung Ledang camera crew and actors?safety during filming.  

Most of the filming, especially scenes in the mossy forest, was actually filmed in Cameron Highland’s Gunung Berinchang. 

“Due to the film, we received overwhelming response from the public. Enquiries and room reservations kept coming in and visitor flow has increased by 30%,? said Tey Chee Yan, resort managing director.  

What about trash? “Things have improved tremendously since the enforcement of compulsory guides,?said Tey, 51. “But it’s an ongoing effort and we need to educate the public on civic consciousness.? 

On a normal weekend, the park receives between 2,000 and 5,000 visitors a day. After the Labour Day weekend this year, resort staff took two weeks to clear the trash left behind by visitors, Tey added.  

“My staff had to lug all the trash down from 274m up (Puteri Waterfalls),? said Tey, a Tangkak local who has considered Ledang his hideout since he was 13.  

But the resort works closely with the National Park to deal with the trash problem and implement safety regulations. Resort guides patrol and monitor visitor activities. Higher up, the National Park rangers take over the enforcement of National Park regulations.  

The Department of Drainage and Irrigation had also installed a storm-warningsystem to inform visitors of impending storms. The device relays data on rainfall, measures volume of water flowing down the falls and sends a signal to the resort. A siren will warn visitors to evacuate the waterfall area.  

“We hope to avoid the 1999 tragedy where six people were killed after being swept away by a sudden gush of water from the mountain after a rainstorm,?said Tey.  

“I hope the National Park rangers will exert their authority. Their presence will help preserve whatever’s left of the mountain and prevent further degradation,?said Tey who is amazed that after 38 years, the Gunung Ledang of his childhood still remains lovely.?

For enquiries, contact: 

Gunung Ledang Resort Sdn Bhd
Bt 28, Jalan Segamat
Sagil, Tangkak, Johor
(06) 977 2888, fax: (06) 977 3555
Website: www.ledang.com
E-mail: ledang@tm.net.my 

Gunung Ledang Johor National Park
Website: www.johorpark.com (Still under construction)
E-mail: jnpc@johorpark.com
Park manager: Francis Cheong,
E-mail: francis@johorpark.com,
012-721 3300