Blog: Climb West Malaysia Highest Mountain - Gunung Tahan Pahang

The four of us, decided to tackle this mountain known as Gunung Tahan in Pahang West Malaysia out of impulse some years ago. Gosh, we did not expect the exhilarating adventure that is to follow on our journey to the roof of West Malaysia.

Firstly, the 7,200 feet mountain resides in the virgin rain forest of one of the world's oldest undisturbed jungle and ecosystems that have existed here for more than 130 million years. The jungles were untouced by galziers during the ice age. This rain forest jungle mountain range is part of the Taman Negara nature reserve (there are jungle luxury resorts and hotels there) and is a protected area.

Grammatophyllum Speciosum, the world's largest orchid, carnivorous pitcher plants and some of the world's tallest trees thrive in this nature reserve. This jungle is also home to many rare and almost extinct animals such as tigers, leopards, black panthers, elephants and the Sumatran rhinoceros.

Getting to Gunung Tahan Pahang

We took a 4 hour train ride from Singapore to the town of Juruntut, a small town in central West Malaysia and from Juruntut, another 2 hours riding up Tembeling River in a long boat sometimes having to shoot some mild rapids. The river journey brings us deeper and deeper into the jungle and all forms of modern civilisation ends here.

Jungle sounds like bird's tweeting, monkeys hooting and other animals and insects sound envelopes us. Yes, we are now in a tropical jungle. On the river banks, we passed by herds of wild water buffaloes, elephants and the occasional giant monitor lizard (Iguana) basking in the sand.

Soon we arrived at the nature parks headquarter. There we book a local guide for the beginning of our climb the next morning. Although Gunung Tahan is not exactly a very tall mountain, getting to the peak is not as easy as strolling in the park because we have to tackle a few other mountains and cross several rivers before we can reach its breathtaking peak.

Encounter with Orang Asli - Malaysian Jungle people

We set out just after dawn on day one. What we did not expect was the constant up on down on numerous hills that leaves us gasping for breath. As we trudge along, we noticed two Orang Asli (Malaysian jungle aborigine dwellers) were following us.

We were a little apprehensive at first because these jungle people were carrying weapons. One had a poisonous blowpipe slung across his back and another carried an axe in his hand. Our guide sensing our apprehension and whispered something to me. Complying with his instruction, I opened up my haversack and took out some chocolates and cigarettes and gave them to the jungle natives. They took the gifts without a word and disappeared into the jungle.

We thought they were gone, but they were not. We could hear the sounds of an axe chopping away in the undergrowth. In about 10 minutes later, the two jungle men appeared again with five beautiful rattan canes. Those canes were meant to be our walking sticks. They gave it to us in exchange for he chocolates and cigarettes. We indeed do appreciate those canes as it made our trek in the difficult terrain much more comfortable. That is not to be the last we heard from our two jungle friends.

Ambushed By Orang Asli - Malaysian jungle tribesmen

That night we built a campfire by the riverbank and was cooking dinner when all of a sudden, the jungle lighted up. About thirty Orang Asli appeared from the jungle some of them carrying flaming fire torches. Our guide signal to us to give more chocolates and cigarettes to them of which we complied immediately.

All of a sudden, one of the jungle man started barking up a tree. Then he did something that had us gasp in astonishment. He plunged his fiery torch into a bee hive without flinching. After he burnt most of the bees dead, he just grab the hive and threw it down. Our guide, as if on cue just went to the hive, picked it up and break some portions off and offering us to eat it.

Even from the dim campfire flickering light, I could see burnt bees and larvaes on the portions. Well, this is an adventure trek isn't it, so what the heck, let's be adventurous on food as well. So I gingerly took a piece and bit it. Omigosh... the honey that oozed out of the crust was simply heavenly. It was the most delicious honey that I had ever tasted.

As suddenly as the natives appeared, they very quickly melted back into the dark jungle and we heard no more of them hence.

Monkey Eating Fish?

The next two days were spent tackling more mountains and crossing twenty seven rivers. Fighting off blood sucking damned leeches. In certain parts of the river where the water is deep, swimming in the wild are expensive ornamental fishes such as the arrowana.

Our guide told us that there are giant catfishes as big as humans and these fishes have eyes so huge that they will actually stare monkeys up on trees overhanging the river. The monkeys will be so terrified or dazed and fall into the river making easy prey for these fresh water giant catfish.

Encounter with a big cat - Was it a tiger?

On the last night before the summit ascent the next day, we pitched our tent on two humps called Wray's camp. Our guide, who normally sleeps by the campfire outside the tent insisted that he sleeps with us that night. We guessed that he must be cold because we are now on the upper portion of the mountain range. But on after thought, could it be because he was afraid to sleep alone in tiger country? That we will never know.

As usual, after dinner we will leave our trash leftovers alone and will only clean them up in the morning when there is sufficient light. All of us were snoring heavily from a hard day of climbing when I heard some noise like someone was rummaging our trash. I took out my jungle knife, unzipped and tent and was about to step out to investigate when I heard a loud big jungle cat snarl. Not exactly a roar which tigers and lions make but unmistakable enough to identify it as a sound that big jungle cats like tigers, leopards or panthers make.

I instinctively stepped back into the tent, crawled under my sleeping bag and zipped myself in tight. The next morning when I asked around, nobody seemed to have heard anything. However I noticed our guide was quieter than usual. Although he said that he did not know anything, I somehow sensed that there was more than what he was willing to tell. Or, was I dreaming after all? It was too real to be a dream. Till this day, I am still not sure.

Garden of Eden in Gunung Tahan?

Oh what a beautiful morning as the song goes. It was indeed. Today will be the final push to Gunung Tahan summit. We will be on the highest part of Malaysia. As we get nearer to the peak, the vegetation got thinner and thinner. Taking over from the rain forest type of vegetation are prairies and prairies of multi colored beautiful wild orchids. Yes, the wild orchids covered the landscape and we felt as if we have found the Garden Of Eden.

To add to the beautiful sight, instead of ugly stones and rocks, the entire landscape was strewn with crystal like transparent pebbles. It was as if the fields of orchids were growing from diamonds. It was indeed a breathtaking sight.

On top of that, we reached the summit on time and took in the fantastic view. So beautiful it was really like a dream.

Now that we have been up there, the journey back will begin soon. However, there was not much to blog about because we took the same route back and nothing really worth mentioning happened.