No ordinary cave
An adventure in Gua Batu Maloi is unlike any other, writes Zalina Mohd Som
An adventure in Gua Batu Maloi is unlike any other, writes Zalina Mohd Som
SOMETHING bites my right ankle but my mind is set on the three-dish lunch spread on one of the long tables in the humble dining hall.
Rendang chicken, beancurd skin and glass noodles in coconut milk and fried salted fish with hot white rice is not a combination I eat usually but on this particular day, it turns out to be the best lunch we could have asked for.
The home-cooked meal is served at the base camp of Gunung Tampin Forest Reserve where the trees and a shallow stream induce a relaxing mood.
However, this setting is the exact opposite of what we had just experienced not too long ago. And that tame-looking stream is nothing like the one we emerged from just half an hour ago.
That was merciless and unforgiving, with raging cold water from the moment we stepped into the river bed until we stepped out again.
CAVE THAT’S NOT A CAVE
But this is not a story about the river. This is a story about a cave, one that has a river gushing through cavern.
Gua Batu Maloi in Johol district, Negri Sembilan, will never be accorded “cave” status for two reasons.
“First, it’s a granite cave and second, since it’s not a limestone cave, there are no stalactites and stalagmites,” explains our guide, Rusman.
But since a cave is generally a natural underground void that a man can enter, Rusman insists that Gua Batu Maloi is, in actual fact, a cave.
The cave — probably the only “cave” in the state since there are no limestone outcrops south of Batu Caves in Selangor — is actually a cavity made by piles of huge granite boulders in the river bed.
Some parts of this heap of large rocks are still covered underground which does not allow the sun to shine through. But where there are crevices, shafts of sun rays make a beautiful spectacle in the dark, cold cave.
CAVING BATU MALOI
Exploring Gua Batu Maloi is unlike exploring other caves in the country, something I wasn’t aware of. Having experienced the full adventure cave of Gua Tempurung in Perak, adventure caves near Wang Kelian in Perlis and some show caves in Mulu National Park, Sarawak, I took on Gua Batu Maloi with my head held high.
The cave is literally unknown. Not much is written on the Internet about this cave and only a handful of websites have short entries which are not really helpful to those looking for more information about the cave.
I had my amphibian outdoor sandals, a head lamp and a small water-resistant knapsack to carry a bottle of water and a small dry bag to keep my car key and a compact camera.
“Are you sure you want to put those things in that dry bag? And those sandals and the knapsack?” asked Rashid from Persatuan Mendaki Kuala Lumpur.
“This is good stuff. I’ve used them many times and they are able to withstand the water,” I answered without looking at his face. He smiled and mumbled: “We’ll see later.”
Like any other adventure, ours started with a short briefing that was, oh, so monotonous. Rusman explained the history and background of the cave. Apparently, there are 24 checkpoints along the 1km cave, marked by adventurous villagers who thought that the cave had tourism value.
The strategy was for us to walk in a single pile with Rusman heading the pack and explaining to the person behind him, who then would do the same to the one behind and so on until the end of the line.
This he said, would avoid congestion at the cave especially at parts that were too small for more than one person.
“Please, don’t hold anything in your hands, not even a water bottle. You need your hands to push and pull yourself around and the strong current might just wash it away from you,” he explained.
I started to panic — my claustrophobia and aquaphobia began to seep in. “Rusman, I’ll walk right behind you,” I quickly announced.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
The trail from the base camp didn’t take too long before we stepped into the water. While some of us tried to avoid getting wet, Rusman and Rashid comfortably walked in and waded through the shallow water.
Following Rusman closely, I, too, went into the water. It was cold but nothing like what Rusman described during the briefing.
After several stream crossings in less than five minutes, the walk stopped at a little pond that has two big boulders making up more than half of its perimeter.
Rusman lowered his body till the water came up to his chest and on all fours, he headed for the small gap between the rocks.
“You mean we start here? Now?” I asked, innocently. He answered me with a serious instruction: “Look at how I do this and you do the same.”
I don’t remember how I managed to let myself between the rocks but there I was, surrounded by huge rocks, with my feet in the water.
We could still see the blue sky, feel the wind blowing against our wet bodies and hear the leaves brush against each other. We were still out in the open.
But the further we went in, the less open it became. Slowly, the trail led us into the cavity that only had shafts of sun rays to give us some light while the water started to show its fury.
As we struggled with the darkness and the strong current, we were forced to use every bit of energy to pull, push and squeeze ourselves through the gaps.
Where the space was too small to use our limbs, knees and elbows were put to good use. Imagine the soft skin of our knees and elbows being pressed against the rough surface of the granite! Yes, ouch!
There was a gap that required us to stand on our knees and press our cheek against a rock as we inched sideways through the gap. I screamed the moment I put my head in that position! I screamed again when Rusman said we had to dive and swim against the current to the other side.
He told me it was just a short swim but after he tried it, he decided to take us on a different route. “The current is too strong,” he explained.
There was climbing too. When we had to climb against the water falls, we did so with the help of ropes. But one particular rope climb was so tough that only a handful of us managed to do it.
It was not that tall a climb — just a step up on the rock — but the water was too strong for us to use our hands to pull us up.
Since it took so long for one person to go through it, Rusman decided that the rest would go through a much easier route.
Don’t ask me which checkpoint was the toughest. I had lost track of the checkpoints and the only things I could remember were the darkness, the angry sounds, the gushing water and those small, narrow gaps.
SEEING THE LIGHT
When I finally saw the sun again and felt the wind blowing against my wet body after two hours in the dark, wet caves, I realised how tough and risky Gua Batu Maloi was.
If it rains heavily, the water level inside the cave can rise rapidly.
“That’s why no one is allowed to go in without an experienced guide. There’s always a contingency route,” said Rusman.
My sandals had a string tied around it to hold the sole together but I almost lost one of the straps on my knapsack. Luckily, I brought an extra, more reliable dry bag for my camera and car key.
The two hours spent in the raging waters underneath huge rocks only took us to checkpoint 12! Drenched, tired and hungry but still high on excitement, we made our way back to the base camp.
It has taken us 20 minutes walking through an Orang Asli orchard and abandoned settlement. Even as we sit and enjoy lunch, our hearts are still beating fast, maybe two paces faster and we still can’t stop talking about the cave.
And I’m happy to even let the little leech suck my blood to its heart’s content.
HOW TO GET THERE
Though located in Gunung Tampin Forest Reserve, Gua Batu Maloi is only accessible from Kampung Tanggai in Johol district, about 40 minutes’ drive from Tampin. The Negri Sembilan-Malacca border town is only a 15-minute drive from Simpang Ampat Toll Plaza on the North-South Highway.
From the busy little town, take Jalan Tampin-Gemas before taking the turn that leads to Kuala Pilah. In about 20 minutes, you’ll reach Pekan Air Mawang. Just before the beginning of the sleepy town, take the turn to Kampung Tanggai. It will be another 10 minutes’ drive on the trunk road (be careful of the cow dungs scattered on the road!) before you reach the forest reserve entrance to the cave.
WHERE TO STAY
If you wish to take a longer caving exploration, it is best to stay overnight at Gua Batu Maloi base camp. It has basic facilities such as toilets, bathrooms, hall and dining area. There are camp sites too. While you can bring and cook your own food, there’s also catering service offered by Kampung Tanggai village committee. Committee member Johari Abu also offers packages that combine caving activities, guide, camping and meals. Call Johari at 017-6902 764.