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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mount Matang Revisited

Text by A Hom 
Mouse deer photo by William Beavitt

 Last Saturday my friend remarked, “I dread going up on the cart trail at Matang to the Hindu temple again, it sounds as if it’s changing horribly.”

We  have enjoyed going up there a few times each year since the 1980’s- you can walk up and look into the canopy of trees in the valley below  and catch sight of flying lemurs and hear barbets and pigeons – You see big dipterocarps, you can take side trails to splash through waterfalls and walk along the mountain ridge across the  catchment area to the reservoir which supplies about a tenth of the water supply to the households of Kuching city. This area needs to be conserved as pristine forest so that the water supply continues to flow sustainably, and we in Kuching can enjoy the flow fresh clear water through our taps.  The forested slopes of Matang need to be maintained to retain the vital biodiversity of its ecology.

MNS mounted an expedition a few years back to investigate the extent of the   historic sites; the stone terraces connected with the foundations of buildings associated with the coffee plantation established at the end of the nineteenth century by Rajah Charles Brooke . . . A lot of the discussion focused on which was the site of the Rajah‘s bungalow, plantation manager’s house and Odardo Beccari’s Vallombrosa house.  There was a lot of questioning as to the origins and consumption of the remains of hundreds of Dutch jenever bottles, which were found in a cache close to the site.  

A couple of months ago we heard from some friends that people were driving four wheel drive vehicles along the old cart track that nature lovers, hikers and mountain bikers have been using to get up to the top  to the site of the old Hindu temple, the place of worship for the original plantation workers brought over from India. From here you can see Kuching and in the distance, Santubong and the whole of the Sarawak River estuary including the mangroves.

So we were now hearing that the ancient cart track was becoming a site for four wheel vehicle driving, that major construction was taking place at the Hindu temple and worse still,  there were reports of illegal logging in the Borneo Post on 25 October.  We had to go and see what was happening for ourselves.

We weren’t sure what to expect … would our feet and legs be knee deep in mud, like on a logging road?  Would we see devastation and lots of trees already cut down?

When we parked our cars, we talked to a friend who lives close by.  He told us that since the newspaper report had come out, there had been official trips made by forestry authorities to check out the logging – He was relieved not to hear the drilling  chainsaws in the distance any more...  and hoped this would not resume .

We got to the base of the path instead of a zinc shed there was an unfinished intricate shrine ornamented of unpainted concrete with statues and gods and goddesses and sacred animals-the most prominent was a rider on horseback facing the mountain.

We started on the cart track and to our relief we saw a barrier across the path preventing any vehicles from moving up.   The path is much the same except wider with more spots vulnerable to erosion.

We heard the racket tailed drongo beckoning ahead of us – there was the same sacred place under a rock with joss sticks and packets of milk as offerings –but we trekked up more easily as bridges had become consolidated with the road. The track was strewn with early seeds from the hill oaks and dipterocarps, the promise of more trees.   From the track we enjoyed the canopy of the mixed diptrocarp forests and along the path we enjoyed the shade of the tree ferns and kapur and white selunsor trees.

 At the top was a second shrine made of cast concrete and wood and intricate statues of animals and gods and goddesses .This is at the intersection between the path to the Hindu temple and the way on up to what we call Beccari’s house. It was much clearer than before –people had been using it.  We were surprised by a mouse deer darting across the path. The site of the terraces of the house foundation was littered with tiny rambutan sized durians that had come down with the rain.

We then went back to the main path and went across to the Hindu temple. The road was wider and some trees had been sacrificed to give access to vehicles to the building site of the new temple. On our way up we met two groups of people from Kuching who like ourselves had come up to enjoy the forest and the view.

The building site of the temple is still in rather a transitional state. The grand ceremonial arch is still under construction as is the hall, but the main  temple is complete and is very impressive, made of natural wood with wooden roof tiles and wooden carvings of sacred animals and  gods and goddesses . The main holy shrine is still in a temporary zinc shelter awaiting ceremonial installation when the whole site is ready.

On the way down we went off to investigate the illegal logging off the track, to take photos and report to the relevant authorities. Major timber species had been felled in three places.

Let us  hope that this  logging off the track is halted speedily and efficiently and so that the forest around this  historic site  can be regenerated and the  water catchment of the mountain can be conserved in its pristine state not only for sustainable water supply but for the enjoyment of nature lovers.

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