Photos from India

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

National Parks of Borneo

I spent the past two days visiting what I have found to be two of the most amazing places in Borneo. The first stop on my journey South through Sarawalk was a place called Lambir Hills National Park. A short bus from the nearby town of Miri dropped me off at the entrance to the park where I spent the day hiking before retiring to one of the chalets I rented there. After looking at the map and feeling pretty confident about my hiking abilities I headed out for what appeared to be a relatively easy walk through the woods to visit the many waterfalls that the park is known for. I will tell you what, was I ever wrong! What I thought was going to be a leisurely walk through the rain forest turned into a series of climbs and descents over the many hills that give the park it's name. With not much food and nowhere near enough water, I found it to be one of the toughest days of hiking that I have ever experienced. With the sun heating up the jungle and moisture from the forest floor filling up the air, it didn't take long before I was feeling exhausted.

Apart from the exhausting hiking, the 15 kilometers that I walked were absolutely stunning. Massive trees with roots spreading across the ground were everywhere you looked. Often times I could hear rustling high up in the trees that I knew to be monkeys but was never able to spot one. As for the waterfalls, each one proved to be more spectacular than the last. Clear water pouring over the edge of the jungle into a pool of deep green water below. With no one around, I was able to sit at the base of each of the falls and enjoy the sound of the water flowing while dunking my head in the water to help cool off.

The next morning after leaving Lambir Hills, I flagged down a bus on the side of the road and made my way down the highway to another wonderful spot called Niah national park. Niah is not only known for having an incredible cave system but it is also an important archaeological site where they discovered some of the oldest human remains dating back to 40,000 years ago. The morning I arrived, I think I actually didn't expect to be as impressed as I was by the time I left. I even went so far as to tell someone that I am kind of indifferent on seeing caves as they all seem to have such similar characteristics.

After a short hike along a boardwalk through the jungle, I arrived at the first and biggest cave. There were no lights inside other than the headlamp I was wearing and the occasional light from the men who were climbing high up on the walls of the caves to scrape off birds nest which are in turn sold to the Chinese as some sort of delicacy. Entering the massive opening and walking into the darkness, I could have never imagined the size of the chamber that lurked beyond. With a couple of holes in the roof and another large opening in the distance, I realized I was in a cavern that was over 300 feet high and even bigger all around. It wasn't completely open space, there were lots of different formations all around blocking you from the different parts but the cavity itself was enormous! I followed the path down along some rickety wooden staircases where I found my self in a small passage way that seemed to go on forever. I couldn't see further than my headlamp could shine and the only sounds were from the bats hanging nearby on the ceiling above. After walking alone through the complete darkness for about twenty minutes, the path gradually began to show itself in the light that was entering the back of the cave.

After leaving the main cave and exploring a few others, I made my way back to the park's headquarters for a much needed meal. The people at the park told me that it was a good experience to go back to the entrance of the main cave at sunset to watch all of the birds return to the cave and all of the bats fly out. With darkness fast approaching I headed back to the cave and arrived just in time to witness the show. While most of the bats were fairly small, the sounds of their wings echoing in the cave as they flew over my head were what made it so spectacular. Amongst the sounds of the bats wings flapping like some sort of prehistoric bird were the squeaks of the swifts that were returning to their nests inside. With only one other person nearby, it was an wonderful sight to witness at the end of another wonderful day in Borneo.

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