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The cradle of life

india Updated: Feb 24, 2009 18:59 IST

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An unforgettable experience awaits one at Taman Negara, an unspoilt and undisturbed national park just three-and-a-half hours drive from Kuala Lumpur, the glitzy capital of Malayasia.

The entry point to Kuala Tahan, the national park headquarters, is either by scenic boat ride via the Sungai Tembeling river or a drive up the rural road to Kuala Tahan village.

The adventure begins
Floating restaurants dotted the riverbank from where I caught a boat to cross the river for the princely sum of 1 ringget (Rs 14) to reach the resort. The Mutiara resort has been carefully integrated into the forest; I found a natural wildlife habitat amid the trappings of luxury and loved my delightful Malay-styled chalet.

Early the following morning, after a hearty breakfast of the wholesome rice dish nasi lemak, we headed into the rainforest to explore the canopy walk and some trails.

Jungle trek
Dating back over 130 million years, this is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. We were advised to be on the lookout for leeches as they are unavoidable, especially during rainy season. More illustrious residents of Taman Negara are tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, tapirs and a variety of wild cats. It is a natural treasure trove of over 300 species of birds, 200 species of mammals and an estimated 10,000 species of plants.

The insect sounds at times can seem like some kind of loud electrical signal. Once in a while, I could hear something rustling in the treetops above or the distant undergrowth. The tree roots were huge and fascinating, tangled across the forest floor underfoot.

En route, I also saw an elephant ear leaf, peacock plants (the colour changes from blue to green and back to blue), a white cotton insect and, of course, leeches aplenty.

Canopy walk
Part of the trek included a visit to the canopy walk, a suspended rope bridge approx 45m off the ground where I could observe forest life from an alternative angle. The canopy has 10 bridges with a span of 1.5-2km. The bridges are connected from tree to tree!

Where are they?
I did not sight any animals myself but met a young woman who had seen an infant elephant calf. The best animal sighting is at night by camping out in rustic tree houses, called hides, built above natural salt licks. I did not set aside time to do this — I was a bit nervous — but it sounded like a cool experience. As they say, “Leave nothing but footprints; take nothing but memories.”