The national Park at Gunung Gading near the town of Lundu is mostly known for the Rafflesia flowers that grow here and bloom part of the year. If you as the travel agent about the place he will tell you there is nothing to see outside the flowering season of the Rafflesia. Personally I found this to be very untrue, in fact the flower is not nearly as interesting as the rest of the park. I was here last year when the Rafflesia’s were flowering they are impressively big and have bright interesting colours, however there is only so long you can stand and stare at one flower ;), so after a few minutes we made our way to a near by waterfall which was nice. After that we left the park. However I have heard several times in the past year about the Muntain (gunung means mountain in Malay) Gading itself. It got me interested and when a long weekend came up we made a trip out from Kuching to scale the mountain.
The summit of the mountain is at 956 meters over the sea level, it may not seem like much, but considering that you start barely a couple meters from the sea level it means you have to scale almost a kilometre up, on a path 3.8 kilometres long. Before going out we also found out there are remains of a British military base on top of the mountain and on a neighbouring hill there is a spot where the communists used to camp during the emergency. The road to the communist camp takes you past the British base down the side of the mountain back up another and you have to come back using the same road. It should take about 10 hours…if you are in good shape (as we soon found out). The ascent is not as rapid as at other mountains around Kuching (eg. Santubong) but it is still a long way to the top, the trail winds it’s way through smaller valleys and ridges around the mountain. It follows quite closely the valley of a small river which is usually within hearing range to your left side as you climb the mountain. There are seven large waterfalls within short range from the trail where you can cool off swim, take a break or even rest and turn around if you find the trip to the summit too daunting a task. Almost all of the trail is through virgin rainforest, there are hundreds of tree and plant varieties to observe on the way, there are also several stopping points which give you a chance to sit down and rest.
The first of those is “Apek’s cave”, the story is that an old Chinese man called Apek got lost on this mountain side in the past, he used this cave as a camp spot for several days while making attempts to find his way out. Each night he slept under the outcrop of rock and prayed to it to show him the way. When he finally did find his way out he attributed this to the help from the rock, afterwards he came back to the rock every day and prayed to it as well as burned incense underneath it. A pot for burning incense is still there under the rock (although i am not saying it’s the same one). Now, i know what you might be thinking, if he came back to the rock every day then he could not have been very lost in the first place, but that’s how the story goes. Today apart from the incense pot there are also a few bats living under the rock, there is an information board with the story and there is also a small stream your first chance to refresh, best take it.
As you continue up the trail you soon come to the third waterfall which also has it’s own story. Apparently three princesses were living here some time ago, they loved to bathe, and they also planted the “bamboo of love” which is guarded by animals, the legend says that if you can find this bamboo you will be loved by all and you will be able to have ten wives. We didn’t see the bamboo, maybe it’s for the best ;). If you do not want to make the trip to the top then this is the spot you should come to, it has a nice high waterfall and a big pool underneath, it is great fro swimming and relaxing, if on the other hand you are climbing the mountain, it’s best to leave the visit here for the way down.
Shortly after the waterfall the path becomes quite steep, this lasts for about 25 minutes, and when you finally walk onto a small flat higher up where the path meets a water pipe (running downhill with water for Lundu) you will be very happy to take a minute to look around. Here we also run into a small problem of having to replace a belt, luckily there are a lot of useful things in the jungle including vines ;)…
Going on the path again climbs steeply, here we found a small stream with an interesting tree growing over it. The young leaves of this tree were purple as they got older they turned a whitish pink and only later green. Continuing on the path is not very steep but never quite gentle either, there are quite a lot of interesting plants and animals you can see on the way(although the animals refuse to be photographed), here are some:
Gunung gading is not as popular with tourists as Mt. Santubong or Bako National park, at least no the upper part of gunung gading, as you get further this becomes more obvious. The trail is sometimes a bit superficial (although the paint marking on the trees makes up for this if you pay attention). and in a couple of places blocked by fallen trees, in other parts of the world you step over a fallen tree, but in the rainforest it looks like this:
The upside of the park being less popular with tourists is that it is quiet, and very clean…with the exception of the summit, but more on that later. By now you are in the top part of the climb, this part is a very very very very loooong stretch which keeps climbing up constantly. If, like us, you believed the markings at the bottom of the mountain you expect the climb to stop at 2.6 kilometres from the start (there are markings along the road), and it’s a bit disheartening to find that it keeps going to 3.8 km. At least at the top the temperature is a bit cooler, sometimes like in our case the clouds will come in as well, making for some interesting views.
On this stretch you always see about 20 meters of the trail ahead of you, and it looks like you are coming out on the summit around every corner, when you do finally get to the summit you are welcomed by this sight:
The view from the top is…missing, unfortunately the top is totally overgrown and there is no view whatsoever, we therefore set off in search of the remains of the British army base from the “confrontasi” period. Here is what we found:
Perhaps the remains of this site could be preserved in some way? Either way while it’s a miracle that anything survived this long (almost 40 years now) in this climate, there are other much less glorious remains left behind by tourists, these will be here for the next generation to see:
Now a small appeal here: take your rubbish back down you! Trust me it’s much lighter on the way down. Sadly many places (including national parks etc) here in Malaysia have this problem. Although because Gunung Gading is a bit out of the way and not many people get to the top it was far cleaner than most places.
The way down from the top of the mountain is easier of course, but you still have to be very carefull because it is also very steep in many places and the wooden staps you find here and there get very slippery.
So, to sum it up, this wa a fun trip, despite my ranting about the rubbish or how tough it was to get to the top it is a great plece to visit. So the next time you are in Kuching (or the next weekend if you live here) do cconsider going to the Gunung Gading national park and climbing the mountain or at least visiting some of the waterfalls lower down, it is well worth it.
Ps: bring plenty of water, and some energy food 😉