Visit Danum Valley in Malaysia and see nature’s diversity at its best
For the first time, I packed ‘downpour pants’ and ‘deluge wear’ in anticipation of heavy seasonal rain as I head for a tryst with the man of the forest — the orangutan — and its habitat-mates in Borneo’s Danum Valley, a tropical rainforest in the Malaysian state of Sabah, in northern Borneo.
This forest is a hallowed ground, a rare, precious, protected, unpeopled 438km square kilometre haven, with a single lodge for visitors, the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. It does not have a vast network of roads, for roads open up the jungle to illegal loggers and poachers. So most of the viewing is done on foot, on a network of narrow trails around the lodge, and a series of sky bridges and aerial walkways that enable eye-level viewing of arboreal creatures that glide, fly and trapeze through the forest canopy.
While there was a touch of that soggy rain I had prepared for, a different and very special kind of rain elevated my experience to a spiritual plane — time and again, I was deluged by the sights and sounds of innumerable plants and creatures I had never seen or heard of. Wildlife poured forth from everywhere!
We had not yet left the lodge for a trek, when a sounder of bearded pigs came in full view, rooting around the buttress of a giant tree. Captivating butterflies flickered above gaudy flowers and a rather scary-looking giant monitor lizard hung around nonchalantly, flicking its tongue in and out.
Deep in the trail, we detected movement in the tree tops — a large, female orangutan hoisted herself gingerly, reaching for twisted lianas and branches to move towards a fruiting tree. A tiny head peered at us from under her arm — her baby, clinging to long strands of amber fur.
A red leaf macaque — its doleful expression belying his joyous mien — leapt artfully to join its mates in the thicket. Pygmy elephants slurped the river nearby, warily eyeing the crocodiles, and sambar and mouse deer skulked somewhere in the shadows, their footprints linking us to their ghostly presence. An Argos pheasant bearing an enormous tail squawked angrily at being startled by us.
We could hear Bornean gibbons calling repeatedly, and a rhinoceros hornbill dropped its smelly calling card on my shoulder. Farah, my guide, prevented me from stepping on a trail of red ants, and flicked a tiger leach off my hat.
On a night safari, her searchlight caught the eyes of a slow loris, flying squirrels, Malay civets and leopard cats. We watched a pair of snakes at a tug-of-war with a harlequin frog. At every turn and on each level of the forest — from the undergrowth to the canopy — creatures played hide-and-seek, their ever-present melodies a reminder of just how precious these forests are, and so well worth preserving.
Best time to visit-- May- August
How to get there- Fly to Kuala Lampur, then fly to Kotakinabalu, then fly to Lahad Datu. Borneo Nature Tours will drive you to Danum Valley.
Stay at- Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Affordable digs- Apply ahead of time to stay at the Danum Valley Field Centre