THERE'S something irresistibly appealing about waterfalls, especially one surrounded by lush jungle, writes JOHN TIONG.
Tour guides Happy Yen and Stevie Chan don't think twice about picking up rubbish - mineral water bottles, plastic bags, styrofoam containers, plastic cups, spoons - at the waterfalls of Sungai Chiling.
"We have to make sure we take out what we bring in. That's the most important part of ecotourism," says Chan, who is also the manager of a budget hotel.
He says Chiling Waterfalls can become the next big tourism star just outside Kuala Lumpur as it's easily accessible and yet is surrounded by lush rainforests that appeal to tourists.
The water of the largest falls here plunges down eight metres, part of which veers to the right and into a rock crevice.
A large boulder right in front of the fall, and another one about seven metres away, break the fall creating a natural pool for those who come here to swim. The boulders make convenient jump-off platforms.
Two university students from London, Madeleine Allen and Laura Webster, who are with us for the noon adventure, cannot resist taking a dip after the hour-long trek. They waste no time in jumping from the boulder into the pool and have a great time in the icy cool water.
Chan, who regularly brings guests here, says he is also one of the first to bring tourists to see fireflies in Kampung Kuantan and Kampung Belimbing in Kuala Selangor. Unfortunately, the number of fireflies in both villages has dwindled because no proper care has been taken to protect their habitat.
Landowners in Kampung Kuantan have cleared their land of berembang trees which fireflies need for survival and breeding. Without a proper ecosystem, the fireflies will eventually disappear, he adds.
"We don't want the same thing to happen here in Chiling. The preservation of nature is more important than the money from tourism."
Chan says Taman negara and Endau Rompin rainforests would have greater appeal if tourism activities are better controlled.
He suggests allowing only guided tours to the Chiling Waterfalls as one of the measures to be taken. The waterfall area is a sanctuary for ikan kelah which is under the supervision of Selangor State Fisheries Department.
Guided tours are not only for the preservation of the area but they're also a safety measure as Chan had told us earlier about some fatal accidents at the waterfalls because often, visitors are not aware of the nature of waterfalls and river systems.
For instance, one needs to cross five rivers to reach the waterfalls. The waters are usually only knee-deep, but after heavy rainfall, the waters may suddenly and dangerously swirl up several feet and sweep away anyone crossing the river or even camps.
Because of this, the Selangor Fisheries Department has disallowed camping or open fires at the sanctuary except in a field opposite its registration office.
Lives have also been lost when over-enthusiastic swimmers jump into the water in front of the waterfall and cannot pull themselves out because of the crevices and the powerful pressure of the water.
Surprisingly though, we fail to see any sign posted to warn visitors of the dangers of jumping in right below the fall.
We are lucky to have the cheerful Yen for our guide. He seems to know almost every plant that grows here and is able to spice up the walk with doses of humour. no wonder he's called Happy.
He tells us that wild mangosteens have yellow skin instead of the deep purple we find in the market and that mahang gajah (a softwood used to make matches) trees usually mark the boundary between a primary and secondary forest.
The presence of bamboo often means the land has been logged and pitchers and ferns grow on land that's not fertile.
He points out the hardy mempalas leaves which Selangor Royal Pewter used to polish pewter in the old days and the spiky pokok duri hantu which is said to be an efficient contraceptive.
We see fascinatingly beautiful small, pink wild orchids and trees with scarlet leaves that spread out like the flame of the forest as well as trees with huge buttress roots. Brooke Wing butterflies, with their emerald striped wings, rest on some rocks at one of the river crossings and fluttering yellow butterflies prove to be a delightful distraction.
The kelah fish swims in shoals in the crystal clear water that flows over boulders that make several stretches very challenging to swim in.
Many plants in the forest hold on to each other for survival. As Yen says, this is a lesson that no man is an island. "We all depend on each other to survive."
One liana we come across, looms in the air like a lone twisted frame as the plant it has hinged itself to has died.
Amazingly, we do not encounter leeches though some stretches of the trek, mainly on flat ground, are soggy and wet. How unlike Taman negara, where leeches appear as soon as they smell blood. But there are mosquitos and other disturbing insects, so please don't forget to bring your insect repellent.
Some parts of the trek wind through sharp ferns, so wear long trousers to avoid getting cuts. And wear proper shoes as sand can get stuck in and rub against your feet like sandpaper if you wear slippers.
Along the way, we bump into groups of visitors, mostly teenagers and those between 20 and 30 years old. We are surprised to see a couple with a child not more than eight years old in the late evening when we are about to leave the forest.
At the camping ground opposite the wooden registration office, a family is happily cooking prawns and fish on an open fire. Facilities available here include a surau and toilets that serve as changing rooms.
The Chiling Waterfalls is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday between 8am and 6pm. Entrance is RM1 while campers pay RM2 per day.
How To Get There
Head for Kuala Kubu Baru and then follow the road leading to the Gap, the gateway to Fraser's Hill. Before the Gap, you will cross a bridge over the Sungai Chiling after you pass the Selangor Dam. After the bridge, park by the road and walk 100m to a gate with the signage of the fish sanctuary. The registration office is in the open field here.
Source: NST-Travel Times