A Courtesy Call inside the King’s Chamber Gunung Mulu National Park – Malaysia Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerreroat 3008 × 2000 in A Courtesy Call inside the King’s Chamber.
There might be no other “mega” caves system in the world that can compare to the grandness and scale of Gunung Mulu National Park. The karst landscape of Gunung Mulu was inscribed in 2000 as Malaysia’s second UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Among many natural sites already in the prestigious list, Gunung Mulu easily stands out as it is one of the few that is inscribed on all four natural criteria set by the World Heritage Committee. These are: 1. it being an outstanding specimen for the study of geological processes, 2. it being a exemplary representative of ongoing ecological and biological processes, 3. it exhibiting a superlative phenomena of natural beauty, and 4. it housing a natural habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity. Gunung Mulu National Park is very inaccessible, and going there really needs some effort. I arrived in Mulu through a plane from Sabah, passing through Miri in Sarawak. This proved to be the most convenient — and expensive! 🙁 –way to reach the site, compared to the 12-hour boat ride through the Mesilau River, or the 3-day trek along the Borneo Headhunting Trail in the mountains. I managed to explore various walking trails within the park, visit the indigenous Penan nomadic settlements (Penan people have the exclussive hunting rights in the park in recognition to their tradition), experience the longest tree-based canopy walkway in the world, enjoy the Paku waterfalls all to myself (trekking “alone” some 2km through the forest!), and climb the Tree Top Tower hoping to see some wild animals in action. However, the real highlight of my trip is, of course, its show caves. The first set of caves I visited is that of the Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. These caves are in Mount Api, and to get there requires riding a longboat passing through theMelinau Gorge Canyon, stopping by the Penan village, and finally trekking along the mountainside. Wind Cave is a personal favorite. Its grand King’s Chamber, gifted with some of the best stalactites, stalagmites and pilar formations there are to find, will probably hold a special place in my heart indefinitely. The story behind its name is interesting – winds channeled to the cave, through its numerous shafts (eroded holes in the earth’s surface), can get really strong; hence, it is also named as the Cave of Winds. As it was my first time to see cave shafts (I’ve seen 4 here!), and seeing one that drops close to 80 metres below the ground is a stunning experience! From where I had been, the ground that we know is way above me. So, yes, I went that deep from the earth’s surface 🙂 The Clearwater Cave, on the other hand, boasts the record of being the largest cave network ever surveyed. Also, as much as I love Palawan’s Puerto Princesa Subterranean River NP, the real record of the longest underground river system actually belongs to the Clearwater Cave as well with over 170km in total length. The biggest cave chamber – the Sarawak Chamber – is also said to be connected to the Clearwater. This massive cave network also displays a unique habitat for a rare one-leaf plant, which only thrives in its opening. At the end of the cave visit, I never missed the opportunity to take a dip in the Clearwater River. It was probably one of the craziest things I’ve done (to think that I was the only one who braved to test its waters!) as the river was ridiculously cold! I regret nothing, though. Charge it to experience. The next set of caves I visited is that of the famed Deer Cave and cute Lang’s Cave, both of which are in the southern limestone karst hills of the park. To reach this part, some 3 kms. of trekking from the headquarter is needed. Lang’s Cave is really small. One can even touch its ceilings, and get a close look at some ‘ongoing geological processes’ like dripstone activities, living stromatolites, and limestone (dis)colorations. Despite its size, this one is the most extavagantly furnished in terms of cave ornaments. The nearby Deer Cave has the reputation of having the biggest cave opening in the world at 170m x 120m (although this is now contested by one of the caves in Phong Na- Ke Bang NP in Viet Nam). It’s not superbly decorated as the others, but the inside is a home of atotally alien ecosystem that is practically deprived of sunlight and regular air movement. The cave houses around 3.5 million wrinkle-lipped bats, a lot of creepy crawlies, several cave snakes, some freshwater shrimps and fish (this was a big surprise!), and more than a metre-deep sea of guano! Guano, by the way, would be bat dropings. One of the highlights of the Deer Cave would be the Flight of the Black Dragon in the afternoon. In consonance to natural rhythms of the jungle, the bats would fly out at dusk to feed on insects, forming a long black ribbon that appears to be dancing in the sky. During the three days I was in the park, I never got to see the bats leaving the Deer Cave despite patiently waiting for 3 hours every afternoon and always getting heavily soaked in the rain along the way. It was only then that I realized that it rains all the time in a rain forest – there is no joke or half-lies about it! I have to agree with Frederick Dawson, a WHS Hunter from the Netherlands, whose earlier review largely commends the management of the park. Cave visits are only handled by certified heritage site guides, entry permits can be hard to obtain, all activities in the park should be recorded, information posters are everywhere, trails are signposted properly, and the site is well and strictly kept and administered (if you snap a leaf off a plant, expect some fine. So, better behave). These measures are all cognizant to the sensitiveness and vulnerability of this fragile natural wonder. After having visited four UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites (Kinabalu Park, Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai National Park, and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, being the other three) and several other natural parks in Asia, I have to admit that Gunung Mulu is one of the most well-managed natural sites I have seen. I still have a reason to go back: the Pinnacles!
By Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero firstname.lastname@example.org