British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by Mrs. M. C. Barkway (Domestic Science Supervisor)
Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Temengor
Temengor in 1939 was a fairly large Malay village of some 200 inhabitants, surrounded by extensive padi (rice) fields. It is situated on the very attractive Temengor River, a tributary of the upper Perak River, and about 30 miles from Grik.

There is a mixed boys and girls Malay school at Temengor, and it was in order to visit (and inspect) this school, that I was asked by the Education Department to arrange an expedition, starting over the Easter weekend when it was easier to find a few friends to accompany me. Plenty of men were anxious to do the trip, but I had a difficult job to find a married woman to come as chaperone!

The party eventually consisted of: Phyllis, whose husband was an Education Officer in Teluk Anson, Kenneth and Bill, both masters at the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, and therefore very anxious, as I was, to further our knowledge of Malay, and Tony from a commercial firm in Taiping and a neighbour of mine. The Malay Visiting Teacher from Grik, whose job covered the Upper Perak District came with us. His name was Jabit and he brought along a friend called Mat Wi (always complete with umbrella), the husband of the headmistress of the Malay Girls School and an old friend of mine. Jabit was splendid in arranging equipment for the trip and he managed to procure almost all we needed including three very good camp beds quite an assortment of Malay saucepans, cutlery and china borrowed from the Rest House at Grik, a teapot from the school and two oil lamps. We took with us an extra camp bed, one mattress, two mosquito nets, a small folding table and two or three folding stools, a frying pan and two small saucepans with handles which proved useful as dippers, and two large buckets (all metal).

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Elephant Postcard
Our transport consisted of two elephants provided by the Government, which carried all the baggage, and a third smaller elephant which we hired at the rate of $2.50 a day (about 5 / -) to carry any surplus baggage and any of the party who wanted to ride. The elephant drivers, or 'gembalas', were called Mahmud, Mat and Sam. Mat was a most cheerful character with a face always wreathed in smiles and almost invariably a cheroot between his teeth. Mahmud was also a cheerful old rogue, but suffered from a dreadful 'acking cough which frequently kept us awake at night! Sam who drove the little elephant, was my favourite with a most amusing face. He possessed no teeth and very sunken cheeks with a kind of squashed look that made his chin and forehead almost meet when he laughed, which he did often and kept us all in fits. One other Malay called Omah did nothing but follow the elephant and and carry a gun. The only other gun was carried by Jabit, but neither weapon was ever used, though it was well to take precautions as we were going through tiger country.

Last but by no means least, we were accompanied by three members of the hill/jungle tribes of Malaya known as Sakais. Their leader, Herring, by curious name, was a most intelligent chap, with a knowledge of Malay, Chinese and even some English. Their clothing consisted of a string round the waist, and they carried blowpipes with a sheaf of poisoned arrows which they demonstrated on several occasions. They also had a blanket or sack as protection against cold. As well as being highly entertaining and instructive in jungle lore, they proved a tremendous help in numerous ways, fetching water, opening and closing boxes, carrying our lunch each day and erecting our mosquito nets in a most professional way at night.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Perak Stamp
We had made a very careful programme, leaving Grik on Easter Sunday and reaching our destination on Tuesday afternoon. By leaving Temengor on Thursday morning I intended to have all Wednesday for my work at the school. We had not, however, bargained for the length of time it would take to load the elephants, or for the fact that after travelling half a day, they require half a day to rest and eat. The weather was dreadful and we motored through sheets of rain on our way to Grik which we did not reach until 3.00 pm. At first (in our ignorance) we were keen to push off that afternoon but after a tremendous discussion with Jabit and the gembalas, who painted a none too attractive picture of us plodding through dark and muddy jungle at 10 o'clock at night, we decided to have what we expected to be our last good night's sleep in the Grik Rest House. Fortunately there were no other guests staying there but the Boy (caretaker-cum-cook) had his work cut out making up beds and feeding us all.

The rain ceased at about 4 pm and we spent a busy evening calling on all the local celebrities, starting with the elephants who were introduced to us. One had had toothache the previous week and had to have an extraction. We were told that this was done by tying the tooth by rope to a tree and making the poor beast walk backwards, but I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this. At any rate he seemed to have been cured, so perhaps it was only a small tooth! We also inspected our gear for the trip which was behind the English District Officer's house. He was not at home so we visited the Malay A.D.O. and saw some beautiful material woven by his daughter on her own loom. The A.D.O. Abdul Wahab, the Visiting Teacher, the headmaster of the local boy's school and several other men folk joined us in the Rest House for drinks of orange squash and ginger beer (our guests all being Muslim and therefore teetotal). We turned in early that night as we wanted to make an early start the next day.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Grik Post and Telegraph Office
Grik is situated at a fairly high altitude and the following Monday morning was distinctly chilly with a dense white mist which cleared later. We all went up early to the D.O's house to make sure the loading of the elephants was started in good time and then returned for breakfast. Before we had finished they turned up packed and ready to start, so we followed them up to the end of the village where at least half the inhabitants turned out to see us off! The first two miles followed a good hard track, and watching our elephants swinging along at a good pace on the level made me realise how sick one might feel riding on their backs. As it happened that was the only level or smooth part of our trek, and our last sight of civilisation was a tiny Chinese shop, where Herring demanded a few cents to buy tobacco. It was about 10 am when we left this track and turned off into the jungle. For a while we followed the elephants, taking numerous photographs, mainly of their rears. We crossed numerous small streams on rickety bridges and in each case the elephants had to make a detour into quite deep gullies and then climb the other side, often using their front knees on a particularly steep bank. The bridges, of course, were unable to support their weight, but this was very slow going and we soon realised why it would be impossible to cover more than the allotted 10 miles each day. So we decided to leave the elephants to their own pace and we tramped on ahead making very good time and taking time off to eat a picnic lunch which we carried with us. Unfortunately all the beer was on the elephants miles behind so we had no drink! A bad mistake which we did not repeat.

We all favoured different kinds of clothing from shorts to slacks and jodhpurs, although a little hot, were judged the most comfortable and were almost leech-proof if the ends were tucked into woollen socks, and they enabled one to sit or kneel at lunch time. Slacks provided too good a cover for leeches who could climb undetected to a good feeding ground. Shorts were both cool and comfortable and leeches could be quickly seen and removed, but they afforded little protection against sun or other malicious insects (mosquitos etc.) which attacked from all directions whenever we stopped.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
On Tour
During the first morning we negotiated a very unnerving kind of suspension bridge about 100 ft above a deep ravine. It was the width of one plank and two hawsers, which acted as rails, were secured to trees on either bank. It was approached by a flight of wooden steps and swayed so precariously that only three or four of us could cross at one time. Without the rails, I for one would never have attempted it!

At another place we had to remove our footwear and wade across a small river. Here Bill nobly gave me a piggy back as I was wearing jodhpurs which I could not turn up. We made a good cine photograph!

We reached Basir, our first halting place, at about 3 pm and called on the headmaster of the small and rather attractive Malay school surrounded by a bamboo fence and well kept vegetable garden. There were about 40 pupils with one master, but there were no children present as Malay schools only open from 8 am to I pm. Basir was a small village with a population of about 80, and lies close to the bank of the upper waters of the Perak River which we roughly followed for the first two days. A walk of about a mile from the school brought us to our 'halting bungalow' or 'hotel' as Jabit called it, in a tiny clearing on the bank of the river. There were three of these huts built by Berkeley of Upper Perak on the route to Temengor many years ago, and all were of the same pattern. They consisted of two separate wooden-walled rooms with a corrugated iron roof, two windows and a door, and connected to one another by a wooden or bamboo platform 10 to 12 ft wide. The whole was raised 12 to 15 ft from the ground on strong wooden piles, thus enabling the elephants to be loaded or unloaded straight from the platform. There were of course no bathrooms and no furniture except a large sand-tray and some bricks on the platform on which we did all our cooking in true Malay style. The huts were terribly hot in the afternoon but pleasantly cool in the evening and night, and really cold in the early morning. We waited, panting with thirst, until our elephants arrived and almost as soon as they were unloaded we had our saucepan boiling merrily on our fire and were assuaging our thirst with what we unanimously agreed was the best drink of the day - a cup of tea. After that, into our bathing gear and down a steep sandy bank and into the river, where we had a good scrub and a lot of fun with an old bamboo raft. Shortly afterwards the elephants joined us for a dip and how they enjoyed it after their long trek! They lay on their sides in the water while their gembala clambered over them and scrubbed them with brushes made from coconut fibre.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Perak River
We fed on tinned soup, tinned ham and baked potatoes that night, but the latter were not a success being either burnt black or raw. After that we stuck to rice for supper which was much easier to cook. We had visits from the village headman (Penghulu) and one or two of his pals. They brought us presents of eggs and coconuts and we gave them cigarettes and they stayed chatting to us for quite a time. The river is still quite wide at Basir, but full of rocks and sandbanks and sparkling clear water. Even in one night the level of the water could change considerably, affected as it was by the rainfall in the mountains. I don't think I can ever remember a more beautiful evening with the murmur of the water, the chirruping of the cicada beetles (made by rubbing their legs along their wings) and other less identifiable jungle sounds. Except for the clearing round our camp we were surrounded by dense jungle.

Our beds and mosquito nets were put up by the menfolk, aided by the Sakais, and we all turned in early. Phyllis and I occupied one room and the three men the other one, sharing the two mosquito nets. Our room also acted as a store for all surplus barang (a useful Malay term covering luggage, stores, possessions etc, etc). We also made our room the dining room, where the floor at least was fairly level to accommodate our folding table and whatever we could find to sit on. The gembalas slept on the platform outside our door, having tethered each of their charges to a long chain attached to a tree or post a short distance from the hut. The chains were the exact length to allow the elephant to crop or graze a measured amount of vegetation and no more. Strictly rationed in fact.

Our first breakfast consisted of fried eggs and bacon (the latter carried in a thermos). Our bread supply lasted for that day, but thereafter we used ryvita which was much simpler. Fresh butter, also from a thermos, was turning to oil by Monday evening and we reverted to tinned. The washing up, packing and loading was accomplished very quickly. The largest bull elephant stood with his chin resting on the platform and swept his trunk round picking up anything within reach. He got a whole coconut into his mouth and objected with snorts of rage when his gembala got it away from him after quite a struggle. He cheered up a lot when he got it back cut up into manageable pieces! All of course recorded on cine camera.

Our second day's march was very much more difficult than the first, the track was bad and more overgrown and for the most part through really dense jungle. Though there was little direct sunlight, the atmosphere was hot and humid and we were nearly driven mad by leeches. They were waiting in their thousands, poised on every leaf and blade of grass. If you stopped to remove one, four more climbed onto your foot or leg, so we tried not to stop until we came to any sort of stream where we each found a different rock and proceeded to de-leech. Some of the men with shorts or slacks fared badly and the water ran red with blood. The best way to remove a leech that has already taken hold is with a lighted match or cigarette applied to its tail. They must never be pulled off by force as that can leave a sore which can later fester. They are almost as thin as a hair and only 1/2 to 3/4 inch in length before attacking but can swell to the most disgusting size of a man's thumb after a good feed, when they eventually drop off of their own accord. The great thing was to try to catch them before they climbed over the edge of one's shoe or crawled through an eyelet hole, because once inside shoes or slacks one felt nothing until they had been feeding for some time. The Sakais, who wore nothing on their feet, never seemed to be worried by them.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Malays Travelling
We climbed to a good height on Tuesday, always in dense jungle, then skirted round some hills and eventually dropped pretty steeply to the river again. For the first part of the way the elephants followed another route, but they caught up with us when we were eating an early lunch in one of our little de-leeching streams. After that Phyllis and I decided to ride as we were fed up with the leeches and because we were looking forward to a unique experience. It certainly turned out to be the most interesting and, at times exciting, journey that I have ever made. The path was so uneven and our steed had to move so slowly and carefully that there was none of the rather unpleasant swaying motion that I had heard about. We sat side by side on a kind of basket seat facing forward with our legs hanging down on each side of the elephant's neck, while the gembala sat right on his neck with his feet tucked up behind the elephant's ears like a tiny jockey. Of course there was quite a lot of luggage piled up behind us, but we were assured that our extra weight made little or no difference, especially as the other elephants were carrying a much greater load. The cleverness and sure-footedness of those beautiful creatures is quite amazing. Sam, like all the gembalas, had his own special language for talking to the elephants who understood and obeyed every word. This language was originally brought over from India when Indian Mahouts were borrowed to teach the Malays in training the Malayan elephants to work, so none of us understood a word. Sam carried a short rotan cane, with which he would tap a tree trunk, etc. if we seemed to be passing too close and the elephant would automatically sway in the opposite direction to give the load on his hack a wider berth. We had to make frequent stops while Sam cut away roots, or lianas, or fallen bamboos so that we could pass underneath. Often we had to cross fallen tree trunks, sometimes two trunks lying athwart one another, but the elephants never slipped or made a false step. We traversed deep gullies where they would test the depth of each pothole with their trunks before risking the next step, and the mud might be over 5ft. deep. Being on the third elephant we could watch the two ahead making a path for themselves and watch their huge feet coming out of the mud with a sucking squelching sound. We noticed that they always put their back feet into the holes made by their larger front feet. At almost every step they would wash the mud off each foot with their trunks. Sometimes the path, just wide enough for one foot, wound along the side of a hill with a steep drop to the river below. One slip and we would have crashed down the hillside. Sometimes we had to cross streams or gullies where a bridge would not bear us and going down an almost perpendicular bank I was sure I would shoot over the elephant's head! We only rode for 4 or 5 miles but it took all of 3 hours, the last bit being a long slippery drop down a rocky and muddy ravine to the edge of a river which had to be crossed. The river was wide with three quite deep channels separated by shoals and sandbanks. We had to tuck up our feet to prevent getting wet, but the elephants must have loved the refreshing paddle, as they douched themselves constantly. Fortunately they were well trained and only sprayed the water underneath, but the water shot out between their back legs and we got much of it in our faces. The menfolk who had gone ahead and been ferried across on a raft were waiting for us with their cameras clicking and I am sure we made an imposing spectacle!

We spent that night, Tuesday, at Kuala Temengor (Kuala means mouth) where the much narrower River Temengor joins the Perak River. We were now surrounded mainly by bamboo forest, and the very small village consisted of 3 or 4 Malay houses built entirely of beautifully clean bamboo, so we did not have many visitors that evening. It was there for the first time we saw our Sakais carrying water in long hollow sections of bamboo. Partitions are removed except at one end and a 15ft section would hold nearly 2 gallons. They were carried at a slope over their shoulders and were much easier to carry or empty than buckets. Malays use bamboos for piping water from, say, a waterfall, or storage tank, to lower levels.

Our 'hotel' was similar to the first one, except that the slatted platform was extremely dangerous, half the bamboos of which it was constructed being rounded, were slippery and either missing or too widely spaced. Many of our possessions, especially soap, cutlery etc., were constantly dropping through and had to be retrieved by endless climbs down and up a very rickety single bamboo ladder. We enjoyed another delightful bathe in the clear sparkling river in company with our elephants, but there was much first aid to be carried out on the many leech bites from which the poor men were suffering. Riding on the elephants was a tremendous relief from the leeches. The only thing that worried us were the elephant flies, rather like horse flies and with a nasty bite. Phyl, wearing shorts, fared worse than I did; in fact my riding breeches were a boon throughout.

We were told that a tame elephant once ran amok at Kuala Temengor killing its gembala. One of ours had a very uncertain temper and had reputedly killed 5 people, so we kept him at a distance when possible though nothing untoward occurred. There is a slight danger of wild elephants coming to inspect the tame ones, but a shot or two from a gun usually frightens them away. We suppered on tinned rabbit that night which was a dismal failure as it tasted of sawdust and we threw it away under the hut where it failed to attract even a wild animal. We turned in at 9-30 p.m. after our nightly cuppa of delicious cold ovaltine. I prepared my clothes, soaped my socks with carbolic (an excellent leech deterrent) collected my school books and prepared my lunch as I planned to make an earlier start next morning. Owing to the day spent in Grik we were a day behind schedule and I knew I would only have the afternoon of Wednesday to inspect the school. I wanted to reach Temengor as early as possible so that Jabit could send a message to the school to recall the children and teachers in the afternoon.

We rose early on Wednesday and after a hurried breakfast of tinned salmon, Jabit and Mat Wi, one of the Sakais and a young Malay guide who had joined us at Basir and knew the route well, and I, set forth after 7 a.m., leaving the rest of the party to pack up and follow at their leisure. It was a dull grey morning so walking was pleasant and the jungle seemed quite dark and eerie though we saw and heard plenty of monkeys who are always noisiest at dawn. We saw plenty of large and beautiful butterflies, often congregating round a pool or puddle, drinking. My companions were quite worried when we came upon wild elephant spore, which we saw on and off all morning, but not a glimpse of an elephant.

Our previous day's walk had made us realise why ten miles a day is the limit for a loaded elephant. It was quite enough, too, for a man on foot through jungle, climbing and dropping incessantly. We had been extraordinarily lucky in having 2 days without rain (unusual in Malaya) for the paths could have turned very slippery and the going slower.

The path on Wednesday was wider and not so overgrown, hence there were fewer leeches and we made better time. As we were in a hurry we set a steady pace only stopping 2 or 3 minutes at a time at a few streams for a drink, a refreshing wash or a de-leech. Our route followed the Temengor River without crossing it, sometimes dropping to the water's edge, sometimes high above it with just a glimpse of sparkling water through dense green foliage. The sound of running water all day was very pleasant. Once we traversed a wide area of ground cleared for the grazing of buffalo. Here the grass came up to our shoulders, was very wet and the path difficult to find. A water hole (salt lick) was pointed out and here we saw fresh tiger spore, but never a sight of a tiger, alas! In one or two places there were fallen trees across the track and the roots had torn away rocks creating a minor landslide, which were quite difficult to climb over. I heard later that our elephants had to cross and recross the river on several occasions to avoid these or similar hazards, which took a long time.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Padi Fields
I had just begun to feel that I could not go another step when to my surprise we reached Temengor at 12 noon having done a good 10 miles in just under 5 hours. Our now familiar hut was a very welcome sight. The Penghulu of the District was away, but the Ketua (Headman of the Kampong) was there to greet us, and he sent a message to the school a couple of miles further on, to tell the children to return after their lunch. I had brought a change with me, and for the first time that week I donned a dress, as trousers were certainly not the garb of a woman teacher, especially among Mohammedans. Poor Mat Wi was completely worn out and disappeared for a well earned rest, but Jabit and I squatted in the shade under the hut in a spot we hoped might remain free of ants (a great hazard of picnicking in Malaya) and ate our lunch, mine consisting chiefly of tomato juice and an orange. Slightly refreshed, Jabit and I then set off for an unbearably hot walk to the school across 2 miles of unshaded padi (rice) fields on a narrow, very muddy path. We passed several very attractive clean looking bamboo houses on stilts, some having gaily-woven red, black and white walls, and each surrounded by its own little cluster of banana and other fruit trees. We later managed to procure some delicious pomeloes which are rather like very large grapefruit and usually sweeter and very juicy.

Children appeared from the houses and kampong (village) and followed us in a long line across the padi fields. When we came near to the school they dived into the trees and reached the school before us and were already in their desks. I was very tired and hot and glad to sink into a chair and accept a fan, but not until the children had risen as one with the habitual greeting of 'Tabek Missi', 'Tabek Enche' - Mister to a Malay. After that you could have heard a pin drop, as they sat wide-eyed in their shorts and white shirts (the boys) or brightly coloured sarongs and bajus (the girls). The school was tiny with approximately 80 pupils, run by a man and his wife who had only been there a few months. I think they had not yet really got used to living so far from civilisation, and I found from the visitors' book that no European had visited the school since 1930. The Visiting Teacher from Grik (at present Che Jabit) goes up once a year, and the Malay A.D.O. pays an occasional visit, but to most of the children I was the first 'orang puteh' (white 'person') they had seen. After a hygiene inspection and looking at some of the work, we sent the children home, and concentrated on stocktaking and inspection of furniture, buildings, school garden, compound and toilet facilities, most of which I left to Jabit and the head master. Soon after 2 p.m. the rain came down and I wondered how the rest of our party were faring and around 4-30 two very bedraggled spectacles appeared limping up the school path, Kenneth and Bill, hardly able to put one foot in front of another. They did look a sight, drenched to the skin and mud to the knees, some of which they were able to remove with the water from the school well. Having left the rest of the party at the 'hotel' they had made a dash of the last bit in order to see the school and they waited patiently until we had finished our work. The H.M. whose house adjoined and almost touched the school, produced some very welcome tea, of which we could have drunk gallons. Although very sweet, as they always make it with condensed milk, it is extraordinarily refreshing and quite revived us. I spent a long time giving the woman teacher a needlework lesson and making a list of materials she would require. Sewing is an important part of the girls'curriculum, while the boys do mainly basket weaving, carpentry, etc., and all do gardening. We finished our work at about 5.45 (Kenneth and Bill having spent a very profitable couple of hours repairing the school clock with a pocket knife and machine oil!) and after taking a few snaps and inviting the headmaster and his wife to pay us a visit at our 'hotel', we started our trek back to the river. The path was even more muddy and slippery by this time, but I just managed without sitting down. We found Phyllis and Tony busily preparing tea, while the Sakais were erecting beds and nets. Meanwhile beside the bank four stalwart Malays who had come up from Grik some days ahead of us, were putting the finishing touches to our craft for the return journey the next day... a magnificent raft on which we hoped to reach Grik in one day (travelling downstream).

Phyllis had travelled on our elephant all day (I quite envied her) and the three men had taken it in turns, Tony mounting after lunch while Kenneth and Bill had hurried ahead to join me at the school. Phyl and Tony had got very wet when the rain started and the elephants had considerable difficulty making any progress at all on the slippery ground. We had been lucky indeed to have had no rain on Monday and Tuesday's march.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Malay Village
When planning the week's meals, I had bargained on getting a curry and rice at Temengor, but when I found that the school was so far from our hut, and we had kept them working so late, I felt I could not possibly ask the poor teachers to cook one. So, after rather a short and not very pleasant bathe as it was getting dark and our guests had not turned up, we decided to have a quick meal of soup and finished up all the odds and ends left over, reserving just enough for a picnic lunch next day. We then made tea and sat down to await our friends. At about 9 o'clock, when we were having our bedtime Ovaltine as we had given them up - lo and behold they arrived, armed with, of all things, an enormous curry. No wonder they were late, they had killed, plucked, and cooked at least one chicken, plus curry and rice and then carried it all that distance across pitch black padi fields. It smelt too delicious for words, but we had fed so well that none of us could have touched it. We could not possibly offend them so we transferred it to our own plates and put it in one of the bedrooms, promising to eat it later. I do no know whether they expected to sit down and share it with us (Malay women do not usually sit down and eat with a European man) or merely watch us eat it, but we made more tea which they did share, and sat and talked for at least an hour. We thought they would never go and it was difficult to keep awake, as we had all had a long and tiring day. We generally sat in the dark at night as we found that our rather powerful lamps attracted myriads of moths and other flying creatures which hurled themselves against the shades like bombs. On the second night we nearly had a nasty accident when someone hit a lamp with their head, bringing it crashing down. Fortunately the only damage done was a broken mantle.

When our guests eventually departed Bill jokingly said, 'Who would like a cuppa?' Someone said, 'I would', whereupon we all agreed and we set to and made what must have been our fourth or fifth cup of tea that evening. It was really wonderful the trouble that our kind menfolk went to at all times, lighting the fire, fetching more water, balancing the old round-bottomed saucepan (we had no kettle) on the bricks and then blowing the fire continuously. After drinking our tea, it was suggested that we might need boiled water for drinking next day, so the fire was once more rekindled and we all got smoke in our eyes trying to get it boiled more quickly. We then discovered that it was full of foreign bodies, grass, wood, insects, etc., so with great difficulty we strained it through a clean handkerchief, only to find the next morning that an inch of sediment had settled at the bottom, so after another strain we made it into hot tea which we carried in our flasks. This effectively disguised the colour, all members of our party had survived! Some of us did sample the delicious curry that night but we gave the bulk of it to our Sakais next day.

Our Homeward Journey

Thursday, 13th, saw us out of bed at 6 a.m. Bill as usual being the first to get the fire going for breakfast, which we had as quickly as possible. We then packed, which was difficult as most of our barang had to go back to Grik on the elephants, a three day journey, and our problem was what to take on the raft and what to leave. My giant kitbag, which had seen many years' service in East Africa, came in very useful for stuffing in things like mosquito nets and even the frying pan and saucepans! On the raft we took one small mattress and our cushions/pillows to sit on, and quite a large amount of personal luggage.

Our Sakai friends, to whom we paid a sad farewell, were extremely sceptical about our raft: we had to get 12 people on it, an unheard-of number, and they were quite sure we would all be wrecked. However, they assured us that they would be travelling near the river and would be ready to rescue us should we need them. I must admit that it did not seem possible to get so many people, plus luggage, onto that raft and we very nearly did come to a sticky (or watery) end on the first rapid.

Jungle Trip from Grik to Temengor
in Upper Perak District, Malaya
Raft
The raft was 18 to 20 ft. in length and about 5 ft. wide and made entirely of lengths of bamboo about as thick as a man's arm, expertly lashed together with rotan thonging... not a nail anywhere. A platform about I ft. high, 6 to 7 ft. long and the full width of the raft was raised in the centre. Over this, supported by bamboo poles, was a nice attap (palm leaf) roof, which afforded excellent shelter all day against either sun or rain. Our baggage was lashed firmly on the centre of this platform, leaving enough room for us to sit at either end facing fore or aft. Besides the five of us there was a crew of four (who had built the raft), Jabit, Mat-Wi and our guide from Basir.

Our crew navigated our frail-looking craft with remarkable skill through some very nasty and difficult reaches of the river. Two stood in front using two long bamboo paddles with a short square bamboo blade at the end and fixed in position on pronged sticks so that they could swing from side to side. There was a man with a similar paddle at the back and another man with a long pole with which to fend us off rocks etc. The floor of the platform was made of split bamboo lashed so close together as to make it a really flat surface, smooth and quite comfortable to sit on even without cushions.

We were ready to set sail at 7.30 am. We paid off the Sakais, tipped the gembalas (who were later paid by the government) and left our luggage to their tender mercy. We also said a sad farewell to our lovely elephants and to the huge crowd of Malays, adults and children, from the village to whom we must have presented quite a sight. It was a typically beautiful Malayan morning, so our cameras were busy as we pulled away from the bank. Before doing so we had been carefully instructed how to throw ourselves from one side of the raft to another if we started to roll at a rapid, to prevent capsizing. How we floated at all (sometimes in as little as 4" of water) was a source of wonder to us all but bamboos are amazingly light, and, being hollow, very buoyant.

Barely five minutes after we had started we came to our first rapid, Jeram Dare, (jeram meaning rapid) and here we experienced quite a terrifying rocking, while waves of water splashed over us and our crew hurled themselves so violently from side to side, that one of them fell off and caused endless amusement to himself and the other. The raft soon steadied itself and from then on we never rocked so violently although we passed many worse rapids. I suppose we had not found our 'sea legs' or got properly balanced on the first rapid. It was quite exciting and some of the things got very wet. Fortunately we had hung our cameras up out of danger. A little later we came to a fallen tree across the river, leaving us so little room to get past that we scraped on the stones and the crew all got off to push us over the shallows.

All morning we drifted or glided slowly down the Temengor River, the swish of the paddles and the call of the monkeys or jungle birds and the occasional cry of a Sakai being the only sound to break the wonderful stillness, as well as the music of the water over the stones. The lights on the water, contrasting with the deep shadows near the banks were indescribably beautiful. Our oarsmen knew every bend, rock and pool and they were very skilful navigators. Part of the time they merely squatted on the raft while we drifted with the current, but when nearing a rapid they were galvanised into action. There would be a sort of scuffle and then a furious paddling, possible against the current, to guide us to some part of the stream where we could shoot more easily through the rocks. The excitement of all on board was tense at these times, cameras would be hung up in their rubber bags as we hung on with both hands. Later, however we got much more confident and found this was unnecessary and I even got some good photos of shooting rapids. About noon we passed some Sakais, not our friends, round a camp fire on a little beach, who greeted us cheerfully. A little later we came across an old discarded raft made from a dozen or so bamboos lashed together. One of our Malays fetched it and poled it down after us and when we stopped for our lunch on a nice sandbank, they cut it up and lashed it underneath our craft to strengthen it. This showed us that even they had no great faith in our raft, but with the great weight on board, I guess it might have snapped underneath had we hit a submerged rock at speed.

At about 1 pm we shot out from the Temengor River into the much wider Perak River at Kuala Temengor and we soon came to a solid 2 miles of rapids which were most exciting as the water was deeper, swifter, and the rocks gigantic. We missed the shade we had enjoyed on the narrower river of the overhanging trees, and the sparkling water with the grey rocks was rather glaring though very beautiful and colourful. We all got our legs and feet sunburnt hanging them out over the side.

I wore slacks instead of jodhpurs that day, but during the afternoon we all got into bathing costumes, and in between the rapids where the water was clear and deep, we had some lovely swims, diving off the raft and then being towed behind it.

At one place we saw some wild otters (membrang) and occasionally large fish and of course many birds, especially the dazzling plumage of the kingfisher and scores of brightly coloured butterflies. We were told the name of each rapid, Jeram Berhala Puteh (white idol), J. Sawasan (fishtrap) J. Anak Mati (dead child), J. Bereksa (a legendary Pegasus), to mention only a few. Jeram Berusa was considered the most dangerous, and long before we reached it we had been regaled with stories of the many people killed on it! I must say we were lucky in our companions on our trip as all were typical examples of the nicest type of Malay, so jolly, amusing, and at all times considerate and helpful.

When we reached Basir, where we had spent the first night, we stopped for a short while and said goodbye to our Malay guide who had joined us there. We had a paddle and examined some beautiful woven mats that some Malays were carrying.

As we got nearer to Grik, we left the rapids behind and the river widened and flowed more slowly. The paddles were needed to accelerate our progress or we would have been on the river all night. It was so gloriously peaceful that we were lulled to sleep and my efforts to learn more Malay from the ever helpful Jabit were not very successful! We reached Grik about 6.30, sooner than we expected, and not realising that the river was some 2 miles from the town, we had no transport to meet us. Kenneth nobly mounted a borrowed bicycle and went off and fetched his car and told Tony's and my syce to bring our cars to the river. On arrival at the Rest House we had some more tea and I called on the ADO to thank him for his help, etc. We paid our raft crew (their wages came to $9.00 and that magnificent raft cost $6.00), left directions with poor Jabit to send on our things when they arrived, bade him and Mat Wi farewell, and departed in our various cars about 8.30 pm. I was indeed thankful that I had my syce for that 90 mile drive home, half of it being along tortuous jungle road, as I could never have kept my eyes open. One excitement was that we saw a black panther bound across the road in the light of the lamps. It was 11.30 before we reached Taiping. Phyllis went with Ken and Bill to Kuala Kangsar for the night and returned to Teluk Anson next day.

As the government kindly paid for the two elephants and the raft, the whole trip was extraordinarily cheap, working out at about $15 (less than 2 pounds) per head, including a night at the rest house, food, tips, and everything!! It was worth every cent, and everyone agreed that it was the best trip we had ever had.

Unfortunately both Tony and Kenneth had trouble with their leech bites which went septic, but both soon recovered. Otherwise we suffered no ill effects and I had 250 ft. of cine film to keep as a wonderful record.

Postscript Ipoh 1951

Although we made three copies of my cine film, all, including the original, were sadly lost in the Japanese war, including all my photographic records of my pre-war years in Malaya, some 3,500 ft. of cine much in colour, and many hundreds of stills. Of the party who accompanied me on the jungle trip:

Kenneth and Bill were P.O.W's and worked on the infamous Siamese railway, but I am glad to relate that both survived that terrible ordeal. They both returned to Malaya and got married and had families.

Phyllis sadly lost her husband in a P.O.W. camp in Sumatra, where conditions were a great deal worse than the camps in Singapore.

Tony left Malaya in 1941 and was in Australia on leave when the Japanese war broke out. He married an Australian girl and had a son.

I was very lucky to marry a Naval Officer (ex Rubber Planter) in Singapore in January 1942, three weeks before the fall of Malaya and escaped with him on a Naval vessel just two days before Singapore fell - another story! He returned to Malaya in 1945 and I joined him with our two year old son in 1946. After a three-year tour on the lovely east coast, we returned to Perak and I had my old job back in the Malay schools and met many old friends.

Much had changed however, the communist emergency precluding any wonderful elephant trips into the jungle and many of the outlying schools had to be visited by means of an armoured car (very hot) or with an armed escort. The old feeling of safety and accord with the people had changed to some extent, though not indeed in the villages, but the country was still the beautiful one I came out to in 1936, and long may it remain so.

Regarding our famous jungle trip, it must be remembered that there was no such thing as plastic in 1939, so we had no light and handy plastic mugs, plates and other utensils, and no plastic bags or sheets in which to pack or protect our things from the wet. Suitcases and even the stoutest kitbag were no proof against a tropical downpour, and much of our kit would have been ruined had we had such a storm, or had our raft capsized. We only had small rubber bags for things like cameras. Any kind of ice/freezer container other than thermos flasks, were unknown, so we had to depend on tinned food which could not be kept once opened. We always used dried milk in our homes and still do, though fresh milk was now obtainable from hill station farms, at a price. On our jungle trip we were lucky in obtaining eggs, coconuts, and fresh fruit along the way, and could have procured fish or chicken but had no means of preparing or cooking them. The staple diet of the Malays in the villages was rice flavoured with vegetables and a little chicken or goat meat and the occasional fish caught in the rivers, and they use a lot of dried fish. The Sakais would kill squirrels, birds, flying foxes or fruit bats, and sometimes monkeys, for food with their blowpipes, though I did not enjoy watching them do this, proficient though they were.

British Colony Map
1962 Map of Northern Malaya
Colony Profile
Malaya Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journals 57 - 59:
April 1989 - April 1990


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