KUALA LIPIS: The idyllic village of Merapoh may not be known to the “rest of the world” had it not been for the developments in Gua Musang, Kelantan.
The developments in Gua Musang have acted as a cataylst to Merapoh, which is the main alternative route to Kota Baru.
A former communist settlement, Merapoh apart from becoming a transit point for travellers from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Baru and to Cameron Highlands or vice-versa, is now a popular destination for visitors, both local and foreign as the place has hundreds of caves in the limestone hills surrounding the village.
Its caves and the second gateway to the Taman Negara Park, shares the areas in both Jerantut and Lipis districts, its kelah santuary, its flora and fauna are the attractions for Merapoh to stand on its own as a favourite tourist destination.
To promote the caves and Merapoh town, Keretapi Tanah Melayu now ferry visitors from Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru and Singapore via the “jungle train” service.
The caves here are over a million years old and at least 85 precious limestone hills and dozens of rare species of flora and fauna are found here.
Visiting Merapoh by the train through the jungle rail line is a valuable experience for tourists particularly “back-packers”.
A travel agent Tuah Travel and Tours which has its office at the railway station in Kuala Lipis, is the most recommended guide to travel to the Merapoh town before exploring the 85 out of the 415 caves.
The caves provide a good sanctuary for reptiles and other animals.
The company’s general manager Mohd Hassan Tuah said he was offering the packages from Kuala Lumpur to Merapoh by train or by road and this also included a 5km treking to the Sungai Kelam waterfall, feeding the kelah fish in Kelah santuary in Kuala Juram, staying overnight in the guest house and moving on four- wheel drives to the three most visited caves of Gua Air Mata Dayang, Gua Padang Kawad and Gua Lima for the rock climbing activities.
Hassan said before 1980s, the only means of transport for the villagers to visit Kuala Lipis which was also once the capital of Pahang was by train.
According to the chief of the Nature Guides Association Merapoh Syukri Jali, there are at least five waterfalls in the Gua Padang Kawad and some villagers who have explored the caves, narrated that there were a lot of communist members and Japanese soldiers’ left over items found including the pre World War 2 typewriter. However, it disappeared and nobody knows where it is now.
“Why the place was named Gua Padang Kawad was because the area outside the cave was formerly a field where the Japanese army did their daily marching exercises.
”Inside the cave, we could walk in a stream of some 800m flowing water. However, because of the sharp stalagtites and stalagmites on the roof of the cave, we have to walk while bending our body or even crawl or swim in the stream eventhough its depth is just at knee deep.
Syukri said Gua Lima had some painting works on its roof believed to be drawn by the pre-historic people.
“This cave too is suitable for rock climbing and bouldering activities for its steepness,” Syukri said.
Meanwhile, Tourism Ministry’s Pahang Office general manager Idros Yahya said the guides who have been often tracking to the Gua Padang Kawad said they found a kind of rafflesia species known as rizanthes infanticida - which is also a parasit to other plants.
Idros said there were many more caves in Merapoh which are yet to be explored.
“Thefore, for an ordinary visitor, we advised them to stay in Merapoh for four days, and each day will be filled up with caving.
“Apart from that, they have to be fit and healthy because all activities needed the recommended level of physical fitness,” he said.
Idros said other caves which have been explored were Gua Gajah Gosok (Elephant Rubbing Cave), Gua Jambatan Batu (Stone Bridge Cave), and Gua Jinjang Pelamin (Wedding Throne Cave).
Tourism Malaysia’s Pahang Office director Mohd Faharuddin Hatmin said further promotion needed to be done for the Merapoh caving activities.
“We also hope that the locals will play aggresive roles to receive the visitors by providing proper accommodations which include chalets or guest houses.
“The most important aspect that they have to emphasise is hospitality and open heart,” he said.