IF you love outdoor activities like jungle trekking and camping as well as the tranquillity and cool mountain air, then the Gunung Jerai rainforest in northern Kedah is the perfect place.
Peaking majestically at 1,200m above sea level, Gunung Jerai is the highest point in the northern region of the peninsula.
It used to be a landmark for seafaring merchants of yesteryear. Then, it was known as the Kedah Peak, playing an important role as a navigating point for sailors from as far as the Middle East and Europe.
The mountain offers a spectacular view of Kedah’s paddy fields up to Perlis, the Langkawi islands and Penang.
The mountain is also steeped in folklore and legends, as its foothill area in the Bujang Valley was once the dwelling place of Kedah’s legendary Raja Bersiung.
From the foot of Gunung Jerai, a 13km road winds its way up to the hill resort, which is very Moorish in design.
Visitors can walk around in thin clothing in the daytime but the night air can chill to the bone. The howling wind can be mistaken for ghostly screeching in the darkness.
Located about 200m from the resort is the famous Alur Naga Waterfall, a magnificent sight. The hike down a path of steep boulders is a good experience to enjoy the serenity and beauty of the falls.
The water is clear and the 30m high waterfall is simply breathtaking. The pool beneath it is waist deep and safe for swimming. The name was derived from a legend in which a dragon was believed to have lived in the cave behind the falls and occasionally come out to bathe in the pool.
Near the falls is the Batu Kapal, a huge boulder resembling a ship. Legend has it that the ship became a stone after it was cursed by the ‘gedembai’ (an evil spirit that can turn things to stone).
On top of the rock, one can see long diagonal lines intersecting one another exactly like the wooden planks of a ship.
If you take a stone and knock on some parts of the ‘ship’, you can actually hear a hollow sound beneath. That is supposed to be the trap door leading to the lower deck.
According to legend, a long time ago, the sea level was higher and Gunung Jerai was not a mountain but only an island called Pulau Serai.
Batu Kapal, which was actually a junk, was shipwrecked when it was caught in the coral reefs. A human head and three toes could have belonged to one of the sailors and together with a dolphin, were all changed into stone for eternity.
Other facilities on Gunung Jerai include camping sites available for rent at RM5 per camp per day. However, campers must bring their own tents.
For those interested to know about the natural vegetation on Gunung Jerai, check out the Mu-zium Perhutanan (Forestry Mu-seum) which displays many species of wood from the Gunung Jerai forest.
A visit to the Forestry Mu-seum, which is located halfway up the hill, will provide a wealth of information on various species of wood collected from the Malaysian highlands.
Visitors interested in ex-ploring the hiking trails can engage experienced guides at the resort for a small fee. Local ‘residents’ of the mountain include dusky leaf monkeys which are common and can be seen moving in troops along the road leading up to the resort.
The main vegetation is the dipterocarp forest, which consists of hardwood such as keruing, cengal and meranti. As you go up, the landscape changes dramatically from lowland to montane conifer forest. Typical species of the conifers include Agathis dammara and Podocarpus imbricatus.
Several rare orchids are found on Gunung Jerai including the Bulbophyllum longiflorum, Paku Pusi, Pinang Orchid, Gramma- topium (Tiger Orchid), Coelo-goyne, Bromieliad, Slipper Orchid and Aria. Pitcher plants of the Nepenthes species are also quite common.
The Forestry Museum housed in a beautiful traditional Malay dwelling is a short distance from the resort. Here visitors can get useful information on Malaysian forests and learn among other things, the commercial and medicinal uses of different indigenous plants.
Next to the museum is the Sungai Teroi Forest Recreation Park, which has a wide variety of local plants and herbs. Walk- ing trails are well kept and picnic sites serve the needs of the travel weary visitor. For those who are curious, the trees along the path are labelled for easy identification.