Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Of cats, apes, crocs and sting-rays

With its dense tropical rainforest, the eastern Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, is every animal lover's paradise

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, December 06, 2011 at 12:40:39 PM

Cat Monument in Kuching

The capital of Sarawak is Kuching. According to one local legend, James Brooke (the first White Rajah of Sarawak) pointed towards the settlement across the Sarawak River and enquired about its name. The person he asked thought Brooke was pointing towards a passing cat, which in Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language) is called Kuching. Another theory suggests the town may have originally been known as Cochin, a word for port commonly used across India and Indochina. The most popular theory is that the town is named after a tidal stream called Kuching River, which originated from Cat's Eye Hill (Bukit Mata Kuching) where there was an abundance of a local fruit called Green Longan, vernacularly known as Cat's Eye (Mata Kuching). Little wonder that the furry animals are ubiquitous here -- on the streets, inside stores and even in the lobbies of five-star resorts! Kuching is also the only place in the world where you will find a cat museum.

Monkey business
It's time for breakfast at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is home to the ‘old men of the forest’, the orangutans. Situated 24 km from Kuching is the Semenggoh Nature Reserve which was established in 1975 to rehabilitate orangutans that were injured, orphaned or rescued from captivity. The 1613-acre dipterocarp forest is currently home to 26 semi-wild orangutans of various ages. You may enjoy observing their antics during the feeding times (9 am and 3 pm) as long as you keep a distance of 20 feet between them and yourself and not attempt to tease, feed or touch them. The other attractions include an arboretum, an orchard and a botanical garden. Borneo is also home to the rare proboscis monkey, long-tailed macaques and leaf monkeys, which may be sighted at the spectacular Bako National Park, which is about 1.5 hours away from Kuching (that includes a 45-minute drive and a 45-minute ferry-ride).

Baby crocs at Jong's Crocodile Farm
Get croc-king!
Along the Kuching-Serian highway about 29 km from Kuching, is Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo. With over 2,000 crocodiles (both saltwater and freshwater varieties) that have been bred in captivity, Jong’s is the first and largest captive breeding crocodile farm in Malaysia. The gaping reptiles, their powerful, lashing tails and cold, menacing eyes make for great photographs. The crocodiles are fed whole defeathered chickens daily at 11 am and 3 pm and those are the best times to catch them in action. A Jong’s farm-hand ties the chickens to a rope above a crocodile pond. The giant reptiles ‘stalk’ the ‘chickens’ and jump several feet above water to clamp their ‘prey’ between their powerful jaws. The farm also has a museum which houses the skull of Bujang Senang, the notorious man-eating crocodile that went on a rampage in the Sri Aman area in 1993. There is also a souvenir shop which sells crocodile soft toys and leather products. 

Damai Beach
Watch who you swim with
Sarawak’s most popular and scenic beach, Damai is located on the Santubong peninsula and is a 45-minute drive from Kuching. You can engage in water sports such as jet-skiing and windsurfing or relax on the white sandy beach and enjoy sighting a variety of birds such as sandpipers, egrets, terns, collared kingfisher, the white-bellied Sea Eagle and Brahminy Kites. Be careful while swimming especially because this region of the South China Sea is known for some of the deadliest jellyfish and sting-rays. The Damai Beach Resort also offers a two-hour trek through the rainforest to the Mount Santubong.
Mount Santubong

An Iban musician playing the Sape in Kuching
According to a legend, the mountain is associated with two beautiful princesses, Santubong and Sejinjang. Santubong was an expert weaver while Sejinjang was an excellent rice thresher. One day, they quarrelled and exchanged blows. Sejinjang swung her thresher which hit Santubong's cheek. Santubong threw her weaver at Sejinjang, hitting her head. The King of Heaven put an end to the quarrel by cursing them and turning them into mountains. Santubong turned into Mount Santubong while Sejinjang became Mount Sejinjang. It is said that Mount Santubong resembles a woman lying on her back.

Getting there
Kuching is well-connected by air to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. To travel from Kuching to various reserves and sanctuaries, you have to rely a lot on taxis and hotel shuttles, which are expensive. Bargain hard with taxi drivers.Buses are cheap but do not often stick to time-tables.

(All pics by Rachit Mankad)

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