SERI AMAN: Mention Batang Lupar, one will recall how it made headlines after a giant man eating crocodile named ‘Bujang Senang’ terrorrised villagers living along the river in the 1990s.
Hence, it’s not surprising that my editor told me to “Come back home safely” when she informed me that I would be heading to one of the remote parts of Sarawak for a four day-three night excursion programme “Kembara Batang Lupar 2017”.
Being a millennial, I joked with my friends that even if I survive the crocodiles in Batang Lupar, I may not survive Sarawak’s interiors without Internet connection to the outside world!
Thankfully, things were not as bad as I thought. The trip was actually not solely about the river but it is about the Batang Lupar Parliamentary constituency. The constituency, as big as the state of Negeri Sembilan in Peninsula, has 15 districts and holds vast eco-tourism and economic potential.
The night before the programme started the participants were briefed on trip over land and rivers. We made 18 stops to see the constituency’s rich cultural and natural heritage, and its economic and infrastructure development.
The fact that we were told there were 70 crocodiles per kilometre stretch of the river compared with seven in the Amazon in South America sent chills down my spine.
My initial fear soon abated the next day as the boat started moving. Looking at children swimming in the river and fetching water, and people looking for prawns in the crocodile infested river, I felt relieved.
I thought to myself that these carnivorous reptiles would not bother us as long as we do not bother them.
That’s not all. The panorama of the verdant tropical rainforest, rich in flora and fauna, along the river was breathtaking and helped to divert my preoccupation with the crocodiles.
For me, the trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to experience the traditional Iban culture where more than 10 families live in the longhouse of Kampung Belimbing Besi.
Guests were treated with warm hospitality and entertained with Ngajt traditional dance and local martial art Kuntau.
Though the Iban families in the longhouse have different religious affiliations, it was never a problem for them to live under the same roof. Offering ‘tuak’ (rice wine) for the guest is only preceded with the permission of the guest, as a sign of respect to ones’ faith.
It is also a great place for star gazers due to the vast horizon and the enchanting stars under the night sky.
MALUDAM NATIONAL PARK
Then we proceeded to the Maludam National Park, that encompasses the largest single patch of peat swamp forest remaining in Sarawak.
Surrounded by three main rivers, Batang Lupar, Batang Saribas and Batang Padeh, the second largest park in the state covering 43,147 hectares has the one and only viable population of the red banded langur (Presbytis chrysomelas cruciger) remaining in the world today.
Not only that, it also has one of the only five viable populations of proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) in Sarawak.
Moreover, adventure lovers could cruise along the Batang Lupar river cutting across the park. However, park warden Laing Lesly Ului cautioned those going near the water or cruising that they should not to put their hands into the water due to the crocodiles. Also, they should not pluck anything from the protected forest.
At a small factory in Kampung Sampat, Sebuyau processes jellyfish that is now exported to Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. The unique delicacy is the pride of the locals, especially to the family of Lee Na Moh, 34, who is in the jellyfish processing trade.
Lee is from the fourth generation to continue with the family business that began in the early 1970’s.
“The season for jellyfish is between March to July where we can get more than 3,000 jellyfish per day, but during the low season to get 50 is also very tough,” he said.
Some 12 single mothers work at the factory to sustain their families.
Meanwhile, at Kampong Tambak, located in the district of Pusa, Abang Manaf Mahmud operates a small traditional Nipah palm sugar processing business. The extract from the Nipah palm is then steamed using double boiling method for more than six hours before it turns into sugar known among the locals as Gula Apong.
BATANG LUPAR CATCHES UP WITH DEVELOPMENT
Despite the development and modernisation catching up with the locals, the intangible cultural and natural heritage remains at the heart of the people of Batang Lupar.
Along with the upcoming multi-billion Ringgit Pan-Borneo Highway which is also known as the Trans Borneo Highway, a RM1 billion bridge spanning across Batang Lupar will be built to improve connectivity in the state and up to Sabah.
The 2,083-kilometre highway is expected to boost economic and infrastructure development in the constituency.