sign in a cave in Laos

11 November 2007

Cambodia's Unexplorable Caves - WildAsia

http://www.wildasia.net/main.cfm?page=article&articleID=239&contactID=720
Although Pol Pot and his regime have gone, their vicious mark on Cambodia and its people have not. Landmines riddle the countryside, closing off potentially wondrous and unexplored limestone caves. LIZ PRICE retraces the country's dark history.

Cambodia's Unexplorable Caves

Although Pol Pot and his regime have gone, their vicious mark on Cambodia and its people have not. Landmines riddle the countryside, closing off potentially wondrous and unexplored limestone caves. LIZ PRICE retraces the country's dark history.

Written by Liz Price on 10 Nov 2005 with 0 comments.


There have been few caving expeditions to Cambodia, the ones that have taken place were held mostly in the mid 1990's. This is simply because in the past it has not been very safe in Cambodia due to two factors. The first was the Khmer Rouge regime and the second is the number of land mines left from the regime which still litter the countryside.
 
Many people don't know much about Cambodia, but they have probably heard of three things, Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat and Pol Pot. Phnom Penh is the capital, one of the loveliest of French- built cities in Indochina. Angkor Wat is an incredible complex of Buddhist and Hindu temples, dating back from 802 - 1432. It was granted World Heritage status in 1992. Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and was responsible for the killing of millions of Cambodians and causing misery to millions more.
 
Prior to Pol Pot's arrival, Cambodia had much conflict between the national army and communist guerillas backed by North Vietnam and China, and then the US and South Vietnamese armies invaded half way through the Vietnamese War (1964-75). From 1975 - 1978 he led an insane regime. Pol Pot implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a Maoist peasant-dominated agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in 1975 and forced the entire population to march out to the countryside and undertake slave labour. Disobedience of any sort often brought immediate execution. Educated people, leaders and also minorities were targeted.
 
During this period hundreds of thousands of people were killed by the Khmer Rouge leadership, whilst thousands more died of famine and diseases. It is not known exactly how many people died; the estimates vary between one and three million. Thousands were killed in the "killing caves".
 
The xenophobic government was toppled in December 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded and installed a new government. The Khmer Rouge were driven into the remote forests where they continued guerilla attacks. A civil war then followed for the next 20 years. During this period the British government used Malaysian jungle camps to train guerilla fighters in landmine laying techniques. Thousands of mines were planted, along roads, in rice fields, in fact almost everywhere. Thousands more Cambodians died, from the fighting and from the landmines.
 
Peace was agreed in 1991 and King Sihanouk returned, having been crowned in 1941 (he abdicated in October 2004). However, the Khmer Rouge continued killing civilians until they surrendered in 1999. Pol Pot died in April 1998.
 
For much of the 1980's Cambodia remained closed to the Western world. In 1994 the Khmer Rouge resorted to a new tactic of targeting tourists, and 6 foreigners were killed in two separate attacks. So it is only really in the last decade that Cambodia has once again been attracting foreign tourists, and it is only in the last 5 years that it has been relatively safe to travel, from the point of view of armed hold ups etc.
 
However, the threat of landmines is still there. It is still very much advised to remember the golden rule "stick to marked paths in remote areas". The most heavily mined parts of the country are the Battambang and Pailin areas - this area also happens to have limestone.
 
An estimated 4-6 million landmines were dotted around the countryside. As many as 40,000 Cambodians have lost limbs due to mines. Cambodia has one of the world's highest numbers of amputees per capita, an estimated 1 in 275 people. Although the landmines are being cleared, there are still new victims. Therefore it is still not safe to explore many of the remote limestone areas.
 
© Liz Price - article may only be republished with the author's permission.

Caves and Karst of Peninsular Malaysia - WildAsia

http://www.wildasia.net/main.cfm?page=product&productID=1335&id=2
The register by Liz Price is 98pp, with photos and surveys, and lots of info on Malaysian caves. There are sections on a brief history of Malaysia, karst geology, statistics of hills and caves, archaeology and history of cave exploration, 19th century visitors to Malaysian caves, modern usage, flora and fauna. There is an index of the hills and caves.

Life and Death in Torajaland, Sulawesi - WildAsia

http://www.wildasia.net/main.cfm?page=article&articleID=95

Life and Death in Torajaland, Sulawesi

LIZ PRICE gets an unexpected invitation to witness a Torajan funeral rite in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and finds their culture and traditions very much alive.



Written by Liz Price on 11 Apr 2003 with 0 comments. Be the first!


In Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, I was chatting to a local man when he asked me to the funeral of his mother. Taken aback by this offer, as normally funerals are private matters reserved for family and friends, I politely refused. Yet he insisted, saying funerals are happy occassions and it would be an honour that I attend. I was in Torajaland, the centre of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The Torajan population are of Malay origin and came to Sulawesi many centuries ago settling around the town of Rantepao in what is now known at Tana Toraja. Although Islam arrived in Sulawesi in the early 17th century, the people still hold onto some beliefs of their forefathers.
What I knew of the funerary rites was limited other than they can last for several years. When a person dies, the body is placed in the back room of the house and is left there until enough money can be saved to give a decent ceremony so that the deceased can go to the next world. During this time, the deceased is considered to be sleeping and family members regularly attend to offer food and drink. The soul can only go on to the afterworld when the death ritual has been enacted. When it is time for the funeral, there is a procession around the villages so the departed can bid farewell to the living. Everyone gathers at the site for the celebrations, where bamboo pavilions have been erected.
The "Buffalo" in Toraja Culture
The first thing noticeable were the slaughtered buffalo lying in the centre of the pavilions. While startling from a western viewpoint, this is an important part of the funeral ceremony. As the relatives believe that the souls of animals follow the master to the next life, this accounts for the requirement of animal sacrifices at the local requiems. A strong buffalo is needed to carry the soul of the master on the journey to the afterworld.
In Torajaland the buffalo has long been the symbol of wealth and power. The more important the dead person, the more buffalo are slaughtered. In an attempt to impress, the family will slaughter as many buffalo as possible, and quite often this can cause financial ruin. In an attempt to end the practice, the Indonesian government has imposed a tax on each beast killed. As well, one buffalo has to be given to the tax collectors, and one to the church.
Funeral Rites
On the first day, the buffalo are slaughtered in the field. This is considered to be the moment of death of the "sleeping" person. I was only too glad that the beasts had already been killed. The carcasses were laid on the ground and the heads had been placed in a line. Nine heads were displayed. This meant the family had saved up a large portion of their income. Each buffalo cost up to two million rupiah (approx. $400 CDN).
The departed are said to preside over the ceremony and therefore the coffin is situated on a high platform constructed around the house at one end of the field. This was actually right next to the hut where I was sitting. The coffin and trimmings were decorated in bright red material. The children from the family were standing near me, each one dressed in their traditional attire.
The guests began to file in, forming a procession, firstly going past the tax tables. Each group of guests carried offerings tied to a bamboo pole: live animals such as pigs, food or drink. The pigs were killed out of sight at the back of the houses. Each group of adults were led in by the children of the deceased, and the visitors were taken to another hut for tea and cigarettes. I had actually taken a box of cigarettes as my contribution. This procession went on all morning. I was given some local palm wine, and drunk it out of a long piece of bamboo before lunch. This was rice on a banana leaf, with some of the barbecued meat, washed down with more tuak.
After lunch, The remaining buffalo carcasses were beginning to smell having been lying in the hot sun. Each carcass was skinned and butchered, and meat was being auctioned off, and the people were leaving with their share of meat tied to a piece of string. These procedures continue for anything from one to seven days. For entertainment there are buffalo, cock, and kick fighting.
Burial Day
The following day would be the actual burial and the body was being put in the family crypt in a stone grave. There are three methods of burial for the Torajan people. The coffin, plus any possessions which will be needed in the afterlife are placed either in a cave grave, a stone grave or a hanging grave.
There are many caves in the surrounding limestone hills, and for most people the coffin is placed just inside the cave entrance. The wealthy often have a stone grave carved out of the rocky cliff. This costs a considerable amount as it takes a specialist many months to chisel out the tomb. In some cases the hole can be large enough to accommodate the whole family. Sometimes the entrance is sealed with a metal or wooden gate, otherwise it is left open.
A carved effigy of the deceased is made and placed on the wooden balcony built on the rock face. These statue or tau tau look down over the land, and offerings are put in their outstretched hands. The tau tau are one of the most photographed sights in Sulawesi, and pictures appear in all the guidebooks. Unfortunately, theft of the statues by souvenir and antique collectors has become a major problem.
The third burial method is to hang the coffin by ropes and suspend it from the cliff face. This is known as a hanging grave. After some years the ropes inevitably rot and the coffin falls to the ground below. Coffins of babies and children are hung from trees.
All these types of burial mean that valuable farming land is not wasted by space taken up for cemeteries. It is a very scenic area with green valleys and rice paddies dominated by limestone hills. But it is the Torajan houses which provide a spectacular setting in this serene landscape.
The wooden houses are built on high stilts, and have large curved roofs. These roofs are said to resemble ships or buffalo horns: ships to represent the means of transport by which the settlers arrived, and horns because the buffalo is an important animal linking man to his ancestors. All the houses point north, the direction from which the settlers came. Opposite the houses are smaller replicas which are used as rice barns. Both the houses and rice barns are intricately carved, and are further decorated with buffalo horns. It is good to see that these Torajan people have not lost their culture but still practice it today.
© Liz Price - article may only be republished with the author's permission.
Travelling to Sulawesi:
  • Travel advisories exist due to civil unrest, protests against UN action.
  • Visa Requirements: 60 day stay without visa
  • Currency and Costs: $1 CDN= 5000 Rupiah (rp). Exchange rates fluctuate wildy and travellers are advised to carry credit cards and US cash (when no ATMs available). Large denomination bills ($100) get better exchange rates. Most purchases require bargaining but look to your conscience before applying this too stringently. Tipping is generally not expected. Budget rooms can be found from 15 000 rp; meals from 5 000-10 000 rp.
  • When to go: Travel is possible year round. It's hot and wet during the wet season (October to April) and hot and dry during the dry season (May to September). The best time to visit Indonesia is from April to October. Monsoons can make travel difficult in remote areas and affect underwater visibility for diving/snorkeling.
  • Getting around: The interior roads on Sulawesi are in dubious shape. Mountain rpads are often clogged by mud and rockslides. When traversing the island, allow plenty of time and extra days. Air-conditioned buses to Rantepao are advisable as it is a long trip: six hours from Pare Pare; nine hours from Ujung Pandang (Capital). The Pelni ship from Maumere (Flores) to Ujung Pandang only goes once every two weeks on a Friday night. Avoid deck class; pay the extra for cabin class, you'll be glad you did. Flights from Ujung Pandang to Denpasar (Bali) cost 555,000 rupiah (note: allow extra days for flight cancellations). Merpati airlines gives 25% student discounts on flights (require copies of your ISIC card).
  • Health risks:Dengue fever, giardiasis, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, paratyphoid, rabies, typhoid. Check with your doctor/travellers' clinic for prophylaxis/immunizations.

Cave Hunting in Sumatra - wildasia

http://www.wildasia.net/main.cfm?page=article&articleID=113
Amidst the rice fields and Minangkabau villages of West Sumatra a little-known limestone range provides more adventurous spelunkers with a unique caving experience. LIZ PRICE joins an expedition to the humble town of Lintau Buo and experiences bird's nest collection up close.

Cave Hunting in Sumatra

Amidst the rice fields and Minangkabau villages of West Sumatra a little-known limestone range provides more adventurous spelunkers with a unique caving experience. LIZ PRICE joins an expedition to the humble town of Lintau Buo and experiences bird's nest collection up close.

[published on WildAsia 8 Aug 2003]

"Hello mister". "Dari mana, mahu pergi mana?" These were the greetings we got every time we walked anywhere in West Sumatra. It is customary of the Minang people to greet each other as they pass by, so we were greeted accordingly. And being foreigners meant we were even more of prey to the local people. It became a standing joke each morning and evening as we walked to breakfast and dinner, as they knew perfectly well where we were going, but they would still ask, and then laugh. Sometimes they would even answer their questions themselves. At least they are happy people.

We were a group of mat salleh and went to this non-tourist area of West Sumatra to look for caves. This spelaeological expedition was from France, and I was the only English person in the group. Despite the bad press reports Indonesia has been receiving recently, this part of Sumatra is certainly very safe and we encountered no problems at all. We were made all the more welcome as they seldom see foreigners in the small town of Lintau Buo, situated south of Batu Sangkar and Payakumbuh.

The French team has been going regularly to Sumatra throughout the 1990's. This was my first expedition there and many of the locals looked and me at said "baru sampai" as they knew I was a new face on the team. They really made us feel welcome. The Minangkabau people are Muslims whose traditional homeland is the highlands of west-central Sumatra, from where they have spread out to other parts of Sumatra. And of course they are also found in Negri Sembilan, which is the centre of the Minangkabau in Malaysia. In Sumatra they are also called Orang Padang after their provincial capital. They have a matrilineal system whereby inheritance passes through the female rather than the male line. They take their name from the unique architecture of their buildings where the roof sweeps up at each end like buffalo horns or 'minangkabau'.

We rented one such building for the duration of the expedition. It was an old wooden house with a horned roof, in fact it had three sets of horns. It was a fine old building. Nowadays throughout the village people are constructing new modern houses, but they don't destroy the old ones, they just build around them. Many of the houses have ponds at the back, fed by small streams. These are a place for washing, and soon the expedition members were a familiar site as we washed our dirty clothes after a hard days caving.

To get to the caves we used the public oplets (small minibuses) or else hired a van and driver if we wanted to go off the beaten track. We were soon a familiar sight as we trekked up the road to the bus terminal laden with our bags. The locals were often commenting on how we walked everywhere, whereas they themselves would go by motorbike. The oplets were quite a tight fit for the larger sized Europeans, with knees and legs crushed by the seat in front and no room at all to stretch out. Our bags invariably went on the roof.

The limestone hills around Lintau form one large range, which provides quite a scenic backdrop to the picturesque rice paddies and rustic buildings. We often had to trek long distances to the caves, sometimes crossing rivers on route. It was interesting to see that the paddy fields are irrigated by a series of bamboo water pipes, and the river is lifted to these pipes by means of paddle wheels made of bamboo and rottan.

Many of the caves are fine, river caves, with huge passages and beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. And the caves are long, one was 7km in length, another was 5km, another 4km. Many are home to the sarang burung, the collection of which is big business. Unlike the birds' nests in East Malaysia which are high quality white or black nests, the Sumatran ones seemed mossier. But nevertheless is a big industry looking after and collecting the nests. Therefor in order to enter many of the caves we had to get permission, either from the police or else from the Koperasi which manages the caves. Quite often we would be accompanied by guides who wanted to ensure that we wouldn't steal the nests. There wasn't much chance of that, when we saw the flimsy bamboo poles and the rickety wooden ladders the collectors climb in order to reach the nests. It was terrifying. These locals are fearless, they often cave barefoot and climbing these poles is like a Sunday stroll to them. In one cave we came across four wooden ladders which were each about 8-10m high. We climbed these with little problem, although everyone was rather scared. We then entered a huge chamber, and in front of us a ladder disappeared down into a black nothingness. It turned out to be 70m deep! It was a wooden ladder held in place by two ropes on either side, and when one of our members pulled on one rope, it broke. Most of us chickened out at that point, although three of our team went down using their specialised caving ropes. The two nest collectors meanwhile climbed down the rotting wooden ladder - I guess it's a common feat for them.

Most of the birds nests are situated high up in the roof of the caves, and we often heard but seldom saw the swiftlets as they flew back, navigating in the total darkness by emitting a series of high pitched clicks. They have only one main predator in the cave apart from man. And surprisingly enough, this is not the cave snake which is often found in caves, here in West Sumatra I only saw one cave racer during the whole expedition. This predator is the huge egg-eating cricket, (a cavernicole Rhaphidophora). It a large and robust and the adults predate swiftlet eggs and young chicks. It climbs the walls in order to reach the nests. However this cricket has one predator that I know of, as I saw one hapless one being eaten by a large huntsmen spider. Needless to say this was also rather big - arachnophobes beware!

I only had one unexpected close encounter with the fauna, and that was when I was standing thigh deep in water holding the end of a surveying tape. I felt something brush my bare leg and assumed it was the end of my belt, but when I looked down, there was a snake curling around my leg. I surprised myself at how fast I could move through deep water to get away. Normally I don't mind snakes in caves, as the cave racer is harmless, but this snake wasn't a racer, and I didn't stay to find out what it actually was!

During our three weeks in the field we were able to explore and survey several fine caves, but once again ran out of time before we could finish everything. Locals often told us of caves they knew about, and which may connect to other caves, some we got a chance to look at, but others will have to wait for a future trip - we shall return!


© Liz Price

Bantimurung - Butterflies & Blue Pools - wildasia

http://www.wildasia.net/main.cfm?page=article&articleID=237
Bantimurung in Sulawesi, Indonesia, has caves, cascades and butterflies

Bantimurung , Sulawesi










Bantimurung - Butterflies and Blue Pools

In Indonesian language, Bantimurung means "getting rid of sadness." Befitting its name, this slice of paradise in Sulawesi boasts intriguing caves, cascading falls and exotic butterflies. Cave specialist LIZ PRICE revels on her little discovery.

[published on Wildasia 11 Sept 2005]

[Stolen and published on Indonesia and World Tourism News February 26th, 2007
http://www.indonesia-tourism.com/news/2007/02/26/bantimurung-butterflies-and-blue-pools/]


The pool was such a milky turquoise colour that it didn't seem real. It reminded me of the blue school uniforms worn in Malaysia, although was slightly paler in colour, as if mixed with milk. The water flowed out of the pool like a blue ribbon, through a wooded gorge and then plunged 15m down the Bantimurung falls. Once it reached the bottom of the waterfall it had lost its blue colour. Unfortunately it was dry season so there wasn't much water, and the rocks supporting the waterfall were hardly covered. The bottom of the fall was a sea of people; it was a Sunday and this area is very popular with Indonesian day- trippers.

About 45 km north of Ujung Pandang the Bantimurung waterfalls are set amid lushly vegetated limestone cliffs. Bantimurung is crowded with Indonesians on weekends and holidays, and at other times it's a wonderful retreat from the congestion of Ujung Pandang. Ujung Pandang (Makassar) is the capital of Sulawesi, the octopus-shaped island of Indonesia. To get to Bantimurung from the city, we took a bus for Maros. We were a group of cavers from England, and the youngest of our party, a fair- skinned lad, attracted the attention of several local girls on the bus. They all giggled and urged each other to talk to our friend, much to his embarrassment. We found all the Sulawesi people to be very friendly. They are a mix of Makassarese and Bugis Muslims, and Christian Minahasans.

Before the bus reached Maros, it stopped, and we were told to get off. We were a bit puzzled and were wondering what was happening, then someone shouted at a microlet driver. We were bundled onto this, and without saying anything, we were taken to Bantimurung Waterfall Park. I suppose it was obvious to the locals where we wanted to go. The road passed under a giant concrete monkey, which was waving with one hand and scratching its head with the other. Maybe it couldn't decide whether to welcome us or not. Apparently this 6m tall statue is of a lutung, which is a black, long-tailed leaf monkey indigenous to Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

The road actually ended at the park, so we paid the driver, and then entered the park, paying a small admission fee. That was when we realised we had made a mistake by coming at a weekend, as there were people everywhere. We headed straight for Gua Mimpi, or Dreaming Cave. Bantimurung lies at the southern end of a limestone outcrop which houses a series of caves and rock shelters. There are many caves, but Gua Mimpi is one of the best, and is equipped as a tourist cave.

We followed the signboards, crossed the river and walked around a section of the hillside and then up a series of concrete steps which led to the main entrance of the cave. The cave consists of one long passage, maybe 500m long, and is full of stalactites and stalagmites. Some are white in colour, others varying shades of cream, yellow and brown. In addition some look like large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There is a wooden plank walk all the way through the cave, so presumably a river covers the floor in the wet season.

We came out at the smaller backdoor and being curious, decided to look round. We ended up scrambling over a lot of bamboo, and then found a small track which led to another cave. This cave wasn't very extensive, so we turned round and battled with the bamboo, before re-entering Gua Mimpi. We walked back through the cave to the main entrance. As we emerged, several Indonesians asked to have their photo taken with us. I suppose they don't get too many European visitors to this area. To the left of this entrance is another cave, Gua Istana Toakala. There was no plank walk in this cave, but we went in, and again it had some great stalagmite formations. The cave ended in a stal blockage. Presumably these two caves were once part of the same system.

We went back down to the river and followed the right bank up to the waterfall. Several times we were stopped and had to have our photo taken with the locals. Steep steps lead up the side of the tufa waterfall and onto the gorge with the blue river. It reminded me of the Bei Shui river which flows through the Jiuzhaigou Nature Park in Sichuan province in southern China. It must be the tufa which gives the milky blue colour.

The pool looked inviting but no one was in the water. All the water was resurging from a cave. We were curious so went in to have a look and found a dry passage above the water. However the cave was very short and we soon popped out on the other side. There was another beautiful blue pool, with the water seeming to come out of yet another cave.

We made our way back downstream, and followed some steps which led up to another cave. Here some enterprising men had lanterns for hire so we went in to the cave, but it was quite short and nowhere near as nice as the two caves we had explored earlier.

The Bantimurung Nature Reserve covers 1000 ha. There are many other caves in these cliffs but apart from the scenery the area is also famous for its beautiful butterflies. The naturalist Alfred Wallace collected specimens here in the mid 1800's. Among the butterflies that he caught was the Papilo Androcles, one of the rarest and biggest, with a tail like a swallow. Today entomologists still come here to look at the butterflies and other insects. It is certainly a beautiful area, with white falls and bright butterflies. Nowadays Bantimurung is a protected area, but there are still kids besieging visitors with beautifully coloured butterflies as souvenirs. The best time to see living butterflies is when the sun appears after a rain shower. They form a riot of colour as they fly from one shrub to another.

According to a tourist leaflet, Bantimurung means a place for getting rid of sadness (membanting kemurungan). It would be difficult to be sad in such a beautiful place.

Access to the park:
Take the bus to Maros from Sentral station in Ujung Pandang (1 hr). From Maros take a minibus to Bantimurung (0.5 hr.).

© Liz Price - article may only be republished with the author's permission.

Some 19th century visitors to Malaysian caves - Acta Carsologica

Published on Acta Carsologica.

Malaysian caves have been known to man since prehistoric times, when they were used as shelters, campsites or places of refuge. The oldest remains found in Peninsular Malaysia are a human skeleton dated at 11.000 years old. But it wasnot until the 19th century that records appear of caves being visited, generally by European visitors for recreation, curiosity or research. Research generally began in the 1880's, mainly by British colonial officers stationed in Malaya. The caves at Batu Caves were "discovered' and made known to Europeans in 1878. This article lists some of the visitors and describes some of the early research.

Cave fauna in Malaysia & Thailand / Acta Carsologica

Published on Acta Carsologica

Cave fauna in Malaysia & Thailand


Tropical caves of southeast Asia are often home to a wide range of cave fauna, ranging from microscopic invertebrates through to snakes and bats at the top of the food chain.. This food chain is dependant on the bats. Larger mammals, such as porcupine, goats and elephants may visit caves for shelter or food. Animals such as bats are useful to man, whilst the nests of cave swiftlets are harvested and fetch high prices on the market. Studies on cave fauna began at the end of the 19th century in Malaysia and Thailand.

10 November 2007

Taman Negara's rich cave ecosystem | The Brunei Times

http://www.bt.com.bn/en/life/2007/11/04/taman_negaras_rich_cave_ecosystem
Tropical cave fauna in Malaysian caves

Taman Negara's rich cave ecosystem



Getting bats: Animals found in Malaysian caves range from tiny microscopic organisms invisible to the naked eye right through to elephants, but the cave racer snake is at the top of the food chain, feeding exclusively on bats and swiftlets. Picture: Liz Price
Sunday, November 4, 2007
MY MOST terrifying night was the one I spent alone in a cave in Taman Negara. I was kept awake by fears of wild animals, my imagination running riot. Several times during that long night, I saw porcupines walking past, but to my surprise they took no notice and carried on their nocturnal wanderings as if I wasn't there. Fireflies occasionally flew past, their eerie green glow startling me at first.

My main fear, however, was of tigers and elephants. Would I provide a handy meal for a tiger? Or would I be trampled underfoot by an elephant? Elephants at Taman Negara regularly visit caves, although it is not really known why. Maybe they visit to lick salts, like their relatives in the Kitum Caves, Kenya. Although I saw neither tiger nor elephant, I was greeted by a steaming pile of elephant dung only a few metres away when I left the cave in the morning.



Animals found in Malaysian caves range from tiny microscopic organisms invisible to the naked eye right through to elephants. However not all these creatures are troglobites or cave dwellers. Some are troglophiles (animals found in caves but which can also live outside); others are trogloxenes (cave dwellers which go outside to feed). Cave visitors include man and elephants.

Studies on the cave fauna in Malaysia began in 1898 when Ridley examined the Batu Caves in West Malaysia. Various other scientists followed his footsteps, sending their collections worldwide for identification. In Batu Caves alone, more than 144 species of invertebrates were found. Over in Borneo, Lord Medway has done most of the work on cave fauna, mainly in Sarawak, specialising on the bats and swiftlets.

The cave food chain is quite complex, but everything ultimately depends on the bat for survival. This is because the bats are the only creatures that leave the cave to go out and feed. There are two types of bat, the insect eaters and the fruit bats. Each night they would go out to feed on insects, fruits or pollen, and it is their guano or excreta deposited in the cave that supports the whole food chain, from the smallest bug through to the cave-dwelling snake.

The guano of the fruit bats is very nutritious compared to that of the insect bats. This can easily be seen just by looking at the life contained in the guano: the rich fruit bat's guano found near the cave entrance is absolutely heaving with life, much more so than the guano from the insect-eating bats. So the fruit bats in particular support the invertebrates.

Many people have a fear of bats, probably because of legends and Hollywood vampire films. But bats are very useful to man, especially for fruit lovers, as they help to pollinate durian and petai, which flower at night. Without the bats there would be less durians.

They also help to control the insect population. An estimated 1-2 million (maybe more) bats live in Deer Cave in Mulu. Every night they fly out to feed, each one eating at least 10g of insects during a night of hunting, so this is at least 10 tonnes of insects consumed in a single night. Can you imagine 10 tonnes of mosquitoes? This results in a few of tonnes of guano falling onto the floor each day.

Deer Cave is particularly rich in invertebrate life. Bats can be very fussy about which cave to roost in, and if conditions are not quite right they won't stay. A cave without bats means no other animals will be found. The guano is home and food to countless creatures: flies, maggots, beetles, bugs, millipedes, springtails, cockroaches, worms, mites, moths. They make the guano look as if it has a life of its own as it heaves and flows like thick liquid and, if disturbed, the creatures frantically try to bury themselves.

These animals are in turn fed upon by the cave crickets, centipedes, whip scorpions, true scorpions and spiders. And in their turn, all these provide food for small mammals, frogs and toads.

Animal carcasses, especially those of bats, are scavenged almost immediately, and soon nothing remains except the bare skeleton.

The water dwellers such as the debris feeders, larvae and flat worms are eaten by snails, fish, and crabs. Catfish can be seen in some cave rivers and there are various species of white crab, especially in Mulu and Bidi. The bats and the cave swiftlets have parasites such as mite, chiggers, ticks, fleas and flies. Particularly noticeable in Deer Cave are the Hairy Earwigs, which live on the Naked Bats, feeding on oils produced by the bats to protect their skin.

At the top of this whole food chain is the cave racer. The cave racer is the only snake that is adapted to spend its whole life in a cave, feeding exclusively on bats and swiftlets. The racer can climb walls to reach its prey, where it will rest with its head hanging out waiting for its dinner to fly past. It then constricts its prey before swallowing it. Another expert climber is the egg-eating cricket, which will climb to reach swiftlet eggs and chicks left unguarded in nests.

Other types of snakes are occasionally found in caves, especially pythons, but these have come in by accident, and cannot survive there, so we usually try to take them out. Animals using caves as a shelter include moths, fireflies and sandflies. Potter wasps and hornets built nests at cave entrances. Larger animals include rodents, porcupine, pigs, deer, leopard, serow and elephants. Sometimes domestic house cats turn feral and move into a cave.

Many people think of cave fauna as being blind and white in colour, like the Proteus salamander in Slovenia, but this is not the case. The only white troglobite is the cave crab, which is eyeless, and found in Mulu. But the Bidi cave crabs still have eyes and pigments. The blind crabs along with the millipedes and whip scorpions are apparently the only troglobites without eyes. All the others have reduced eyes and pigments.

People have mistaken the white cockroach to be a new species, whereas in fact it is only the normal cockroach which is moulting and has shed its skin. After a short while the white colour will darken to the normal brown. Near urban areas, the house cockroach is making its home in caves and seems to be taking over from the smaller, indigenous cave roach, possibly upsetting the natural balance.

Insect troglobites often have very long feelers to navigate and hunt their prey, and also elongated legs. The feelers and legs can be several times longer than the body, especially the long legged centipedes, the cricket and the whip scorpion. The only two poisonous invertebrates are the centipedes and the scorpion, both of which can also be found in the forest.

Unfortunately, man is also upsetting the balance of the cave ecosystem. Bat guano is collected from many caves for use as fertiliser. This practice has been going on for well over 100 years, and many archaeological remains have been lost through indiscriminate collection. Cockroaches are also taken from caves for bait by fishermen.

The nests of the cave swiftlets have been harvested by man for centuries to make bird's nest soup. The edible nests fetch a high price on the market: one kg of white nest costs more than US$1,700 ($2,500). In the past, the nests were collected all year round, resulting in a depletion of swiftlet numbers. Now, in many caves in Borneo, the harvest is restricted to two or three times a year to give the bird population a chance to recover. During the removal of the nests, baby birds sometimes fall to the floor and they die.

Luckily, many humans are squeamish and repelled by the sight and smell of guano, the bats and cockroaches, and therefore the casual visitor tends to avoid these caves, thereby leaving the fauna undisturbed.

But for people with a genuine interest, caves provide a fascinating place to see a whole range of fauna going about their everyday life.The Brunei Times

Terengganu's Kenyir Lake - Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)


Terengganu's Kenyir Lake beckons for a spelunking adventure
Liz Price

KUALA LUMPUR

Saturday, June 2, 2007


MOST people go to Tasik Kenyir for fishing, but I went there for an adventure of a different kind caving. Tasik Kenyir in ulu Terengganu is the largest man-made lake not only in Malaysia, but also in Southeast Asia.

When the area was flooded between 1978 and 1985 to feed the hydroelectric dam, most of the hilltops and highlands remained above water level, creating about 340 man-made islands. There are more than 14 waterfalls, numerous rapids and rivers. And caves.

Located about 60km from state capital Kuala Terengganu, it covers an area of 369 sq km or 260,000ha, making it Malaysia's largest rock-filled hydroelectric dam. Sharing its border with Kelantan in the west and Pahang in the south, this immense lake also serves as a third gateway to the National Park. The hilly regions of Tasik Kenyir contain areas of untouched tropical rainforest estimated to be millions of years old.

There are two caves accessible to visitors at Kenyir Gua Bewah and Gua Taat. Getting to the caves is fun. They are located at the southern end of the lake, and lie within the National Park. From Pengkalan Gawi (Gawi jetty), the main gateway to Tasik Kenyir, you have a choice of speedboat or slower houseboat.

We went out by speedboat, which took 70 minutes. It was actually quite chilly speeding over the lake, especially as the sun was hiding behind clouds. We returned using the more leisurely houseboat which takes about three hours.

Before the creation of the lake, there were several caves accessible, some of archaeological importance. However, when the area was flooded, most of the caves were lost underwater. Prior to their disappearance, archaeologists had discovered Neolithic artifacts such as kitchen utensils, stone adzes and pottery sherds.

Even a Neolithic burial was found, with broken pottery laid at the foot of the deceased. The Neolithic or New Stone Age era occurred roughly 10,000 years ago. The cave was probably adjacent to two well-known routes used by the aborigines in prehistoric times through Terengganu to Sungai Tembling.

Now there are two remaining limestone hills containing caves that can only be reached by boat. Gua Bewah is the biggest of the known caves. From the floating jetty a steep flight of steps leads up to the entrance situated 40m above lake level.

The cave is basically one huge chamber, with a strong stench of guano marking the presence of bats. As we went in, it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, and we realised just how huge the chamber is. The roof was high above our heads, and although we could hear the bats, we couldn't see them.

Bats play an important role in the ecosystem, because where there are bats, there will also be other cave fauna. The bats support the whole food chain their droppings feed the smaller fauna such as insects and invertebrates which in turn are food for larger creatures such as small mammals, frogs and toads and even the cave snake.

To the left of the main entrance are various pits in the floor which were dug by the museum department. Unfortunately no mention is made of what archaeological relics were found.

Old sacks of guano bear testimony to the fact that people once entered to the cave to harvest guano for use as a fertiliser. Today the sacks make a convenient staircase up the guano-covered floor. There is solar lighting and boardwalks through the cave.

The back section of the cave is the most interesting, containing an abundance of cave fauna such as crickets, cockroaches and spiders. There are not many stalagmites or stalactites, so although the cave is not pretty in that sense, it is really impressive due to the huge size of the chamber.

Gua Taat is in the hill opposite Bewah and has two entrances. The main entrance is reached by a wooden ladder. The entrance is quite small and low compared to Bewah. Again there are a few pits dug in the floor, and we saw otter pawprints in and around the pits, presumably the animals catch fish trapped during monsoon time when the lake flows into the caves.

A straight tunnel with a flat roof leads to the back, where there is a small stream. The passage then swings round to the left, and there are some nice formations, such as a "Lion King"-shaped stalagmite and an impressive array of "sharks teeth" formations.

Gua Taat was first dug in 1959. Flaked tools from the Hoabinhian period (14,000 to 10,000 years ago) were found, as well as pottery and food remains such as molluscs.

There is a second cave further round, Gua Taat 2, which is basically just a long rock shelter. It is easy to see why Stone Age man used these caves as temporary refuges, as shelter and protection from wild animals and the elements, and providing a good view down onto the lower grounds below.

As Taat and Bewah may hold more secrets of the past, further excavations are now being planned by the Terengganu Tengah Development authority with the cooperation of the State Museum.

After our caving trip we decided to have a swim in the lake as it looked so inviting. A few brave souls jumped in, but the prospect of getting bitten by a toman was daunting. There are large numbers of these fish in the lake.

The next day we took a boat ride up to Lasir waterfall. A short trek led up to a scenic pool which is suitable for swimming, although the water was icy cold.

Surrounded by a lush tropical jungle, the Kenyir Lake is a popular and ideal retreat for nature lovers, anglers, photographers and also cavers.

Activities include fishing, swimming, canoeing, boating and jungle trekking. Accommodation such as houseboats, floating chalets and lakeside resorts are also available to visitors. The Brunei Times


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Source URL:
http://www.bt.com.bn/en/en/classification/life/travel/2007/06/02/terengganus_kenyir_lake_beckons_for_a_spelunking_adventure

A drive through Perak - The Brunei Times

A drive through Perak



Saturday, May 19, 2007
THE city of Ipoh is situated in the Kinta Valley of Perak. Perak means the "silver state", possibly named as it was an important tin mining area. The Kinta Valley is a very scenic place, extending about 20km both south and north of Ipoh, and more than 40 steep, limestone hills rise precipitously from the valley floor to over 600 metres.

Many of these hills are still covered in dense vegetation, and are riddled with caves, some of which are accessible to the public, as show caves or cave temples.

It's easy to see many interesting sites on a day's drive around the area. Starting in the city of Ipoh, head south on the old trunk road to Kuala Lumpur. Just a few kilometres outside the city, you will come to the Sam Poh Tong complex of caves on your left. Stop here and admire the cave temples built against the vertical rock faces. Do visit at least one of the temples, there are more than five all in a row the most famous being Sam Poh Tong. Go through the cave and you'll see a pond packed full of tortoises and terrapins. You can usually buy green vegetables to feed them.

After, stroll over to the row of pomelo stalls alongside the road. Pomelos are the large green fruits, some are almost football-sized. They are similar to a grapefruit, but not as sour.

Continue along the main road south, heading for Gopeng. On the way, just after the junction to the highway after Simpang Pulai, you go through Kampung Kepayang. This is an abandoned village which straddles the main road. If you look carefully you should notice there is one or possibly two shops which are still open. The rest have been long abandoned. Note also the old wooden houses dotted along the roadside. They are beautiful buildings, on stilts and with lovely carvings and wooden shutters. Immediately after, on the left, is the Kong Fook Ngam cave temple which was established in 1884.

Go through Gopeng, which is 20km south of Ipoh. Once you have driven past the town, follow the signs to Gua Tempurung, the turning is on your left. Gua Tempurung is one of the most famous caves in the Peninsula, it is open to the public for guided tours, and has walkways and electric lighting. It is a stunning cave, with huge chambers and fantastic stalactites and stalagmites. A river runs through the cave. There are a variety of tours you can do, ranging in length. Be prepared to climb all the stairs inside the cave it is well worth it.

The stretch of road near Gua Tempurung is often lined with fruit stalls, depending on the season. If you are lucky, and if you are a durian lover, like me, you can buy an abundance of these heavenly fruit really cheaply. But be prepared to stink out the car! If you are not a durian aficionado, maybe you can buy mangosteen, longans, langsat or rose apples, depending on what is available.

From Gua Tempurung, go a couple of kilometres south to the Kuala Dipang crossroads, and turn right to Tanjung Tualang. This is the place for seafood lunch. Sample the prawns, they are great. Once you have satisfied your stomach, head north towards Batu Gajah. Near Chendrong, eight kilometres from Tanjung Tualang, look for a big metal monster on your right. This is a tin dredge. It is one of only two or three left in Malaysia. It is well worth stopping here and walking around and soaking up the atmosphere. The old mining pools are a haven for bird life, and sometimes there are lotuses in bloom. The dredge is a relic from the heydays of tin mining, and is a fascinating sight. Hopefully it will be preserved as it is an important historical artifact.

Continue through the kampungs to Batu Gajah and take the road east towards Ipoh and look for the signs to Kellie's Castle. Kellie's Castle is a folly, an unfinished mansion, commissioned by an English rubber planter in 1915. The castle was never finished and is shrouded in mystery. It has since been renovated and the grounds open to the public.

From here head on to the old Ipoh-KL trunk road, which you already drove down earlier. This will take you back to Ipoh. In Ipoh, be sure to go to the railway station and see the Ipoh tree in the garden in front of the station. The poisonous latex of the Ipoh tree is used by the Orang Asli (aborigines) for their blowpipes.

Ipoh, of course, is the eating capital of Perak, so after a great day's sightseeing, what better than to check out the food on offer? Try the renowned Chinese cuisine, and don't forget the Ipoh white coffee. Enjoy! The Brunei Times

Caves & temples Phatthalung | Brunei Times

http://www.bt.com.bn/en/classification/life/travel/2007/04/14/caves_temples_and_charms_of_thai_south
Cave temples in Phatthalung in south Thailand

Caves, temples and charms of Thai south



Saturday, April 14, 2007
PHATTHALUNG, an ancient city in southern Thailand, lies nestled among mountains with an inland sea on one side. Just north of Hatyai, the main town in the south's major rice growing area has prospered but still maintains a quiet atmosphere and easy charm.



Phatthalung is famous for the original nang thalung or shadow play (wayang kulit), an art form still practised to this day.

The area is also renown for its cave temples. One is Wat Khuhasawan, at the edge of town, with the main chamber housing a reclining Buddha and numerous smaller seated ones.

There are steps leading down into the bowels of the cave and up to the top of the mountain, where there is an excellent view over the town, the surrounding plains and the nearby Punctured Chest Mountain.

Across the inland sea, Thaleh Noi, is the jutting out bit of Lam Pam, well known for its fresh seafood. But on this Saturday morning, the stalls were deserted and we could not avail ourselves of the renown roast squid.

Finding the ferry no longer in service, probably due to the prosperity of the residents who now own cars and just drive between the mainland and peninsula, my friend and I had a pleasant walk along the river to Wat Wang, Phatthalung's oldest temple that dates back some 100 years. It holds a historical spot in the province as the temple, built in the reign of King Rama III, was once the place where government officials performed allegiance pledges in the early Rattanakosin period.

Inside the convocation hall are murals of dusted paint in the time of King Rama IV about the biography of Buddha and about angels. The main plaster Buddha image is from the same period while a total of 108 images line the balcony around the building.

That bit of history behind us, we then went back into town for more spelunking.

Phatthalung town lies between two picturesque limestone hills, which in English are called Punctured Chest Mountain and Broken Head Mountain.

Punctured Chest Mountain has a cave tunnel which passes all the way through its upper peak, and a not-to-be-missed photo opportunity. The best view was from the middle of someone's allotment and the owner was more than happy for us to plough through the vegetable and banana plants to get our snaps.

We then trekked down the road following the signs to Tham Malai, or Malai cave.

Despite the blazing heat, this was a very scenic walk, as the road ran alongside the canal and railway line, and on the other side brilliant green paddy fields stretched to the foot of the hill.

White egrets contrasted with the bright green of the paddy, the darker green of the forested slopes and the blue sky.

When we reached Tham Malai, we found a lot of construction work in progress, with a new road being built up the hill and flights of steps being laid in the main cave.

I managed to explore four caves in this small hill, which is actually a small outcrop at the end of the main range. Some of the caves are archaeological sites, where votive tablets from the eighth to 15th centuries have been found.

Having exhausted ourselves walking and climbing so many steps in the hot sun, we ambled back into town and spent the rest of the day enjoying the local foods in the market.

First item on the menu was a fresh fruit juice which cost less than a ringgit. Then I sampled the khao yam, which is dry rice mixed with coconut, peanuts, lime leaves and shrimps. Delicious. This was later followed by snacks from different stalls.

One, which I can highly recommend, is a coconut omelette. Although this sounds odd, the slightly salty tang of the fresh coconut really compliments the egg.

Good views, nice people and great food. We went home sated with the delights of southern Thailand's charms. The Brunei Times

Tracing back Malaysia's stone-age man in Lenggong | Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)


Tracing back Malaysia's stone-age man in Lenggong


How it was done: Replicas show how the Perak Man was buried some 11,000 years ago at the Lenggong Valley in Perak, Malaysia. Picture: Liz Price

Liz Price
KUALA LUMPUR


Saturday, March 17, 2007


PERAK Man, Peninsular Malaysia's oldest inhabitant, is well travelled despite his great age of 11,000 years. A few years ago he went to Japan for an exhibition, and in 2001 and again in 2006 he visited Kuala Lumpur where he starred in his own exhibition called Perak Man.

Now he is having a well deserved rest and is back in his native Perak, where he is residing in the new Lenggong Museum.

He is, after all, one of the most important inhabitants to have lived in Malaysia, because his bones survived to tell the tale.

Perak Man, found in 1991, is the only complete human skeleton found in Malaysia. The cave which was his final resting place is called Gua Gunung Runtuh and is situated in Bukit Kepala Gajah in the Lenggong Valley in Ulu Perak. The skeleton, found by Prof Zuraini Majid and her team from Universiti Sains Malaysia, has been dated about 11,000 years, which makes him a Stone Age man, from the Palaeolithic period.

It is believed Perak Man was an important member of his tribe judging by the way he was buried, in a foetal position, and accompanied by stone tools. He was about 157cm tall and probably aged between 40-50 when he died. He had an atrophied left hand and one finger was deformed. The skeleton, remnants of tools and food such as shells and animal bones were found in the cave as well.

The first time I went up to the Lenggong area, I visited Gua Gunung Runtuh. Although there was nothing to see except for the pits dug in the floor by the archaeological researchers, it was easy to get the imagination going, and to reflect on how Perak Man and his fellow humans had used that cave as a shelter.

The Lenggong valley is one of Peninsular Malaysia's most important areas for archaeology, as excavations have revealed many traces of Malaysia's prehistory. The town of Lenggong is situated some 100km north of Ipoh on the Kuala Kangsar to Grik road.

It is the site of the oldest known place of human activity in the Peninsula. Today it is still a rural area, with small villages surrounded by green vegetation and limestone hills.

Lenggong can be likened to an open-air museum, and is home to legends, skeletons, cave drawings and precious finds such as jewellery, pottery, weapons and stone tools.

Gua Gunung Runtuh was probably used as a temporary camp when the people were out hunting, being well situated high up. In the same hill other caves have yielded archaeological remains such as stone tools and food remnants, but no more skeletons. The caves were probably used as temporary shelters as seasonal or hunting camps, whereas Gua Gunung Runtuh was lived in for longer periods.

Kota Tampan is the site of a prehistoric stone tool workshop, and has been dated at about 74,000 years old. This makes it older than the archaeological remains which have been found at Niah Cave in Sarawak, where one human skull has been dated at about 40,000 years old.

But all these findings are still very young compared to those from Africa, where the predecessors of the human species originated about three to five million years ago.

When I first visited Kota Tampan archaeological site, it consisted of little more than a single shelter and a lone notice board, in the middle of oil palm plantations. Now there is the stylish Lenggong Archaeological Museum, also known as the Kota Tampan Archaeological Museum.

The building site was chosen as it displays the reconstruction of the Kota Tampan excavation site and it is ideal to locate a museum in such an old palaeothic-era archaeological area. The museum exhibits artifacts excavated from the Kota Tampan area.

They are housed in a large bright building and are divided into three categories: Kota Tampan Excavation Site Gallery, Lenggong Pre-Historic Gallery and the Human Civilisation Gallery.

The Lenggong Valley has several sites of archaeological importance, such as Bukit Jawa at Kampung Geluk, and Kg Temelong where stone tools dating back 100,000 years were found. The nearby Bukit Bunuh finds are more recent at 50,000 years.

But the most fascinating and unique artifact is the 11,000year-old Perak Man skeleton (I am not sure if it is the genuine thing or a replica I hope it is a replica and the real skeleton is safely under lock and key).



Various other caves in the vicinity were dug by the researchers who found artifacts from the Bronze Neolithic Age at Gua Harimau, and stone tools from the Upper Palaeolithic age at Gua Telok Kelawar and Ngaum caves.

Other items on display are the history of human evolution and civilisation, dating from the Homo-Habilis to the modern Homo-Sapiens.

In 2004, a USM archaeology team working on an open site in Bukit Bunuh, about a kilometre away from the museum found unusual things, which included chert stones, normally associated with volcanoes. So at some time in the past there must have been a volcanic eruption in this area. This is interesting news and the researchers are looking into it. The RM3 million museum opened its doors to the public earlier this year.

The only unfortunate factor about the location of the museum is that it is "off the beaten track" and won't attract many casual passing visitors. Most visitors would need to know about it and make an effort to go.

The museum doesn't seem to receive too many visitors but it is definitely well worthy of a visit, as it depicts an important element of Malaysia's past, in fact the oldest part of Malaysia's ancient history. The Brunei Times

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Source URL:
http://www.bt.com.bn/en/en/classification/life/travel/2007/03/17/tracing_back_malaysias_stone_age_man_in_lenggong

Peninsular Malaysia's Oldest Prehistoric Site


My article from WildAsia 2002 was taken without permission and published on this (Hungarian?) site .


The Lenggong area in Ulu Perak is Malaysia's oldest prehistoric site. The 11,000 year old human skeleton, Perak Man, was found here.

Life and Death in Torajaland - Travellers Voice Magazine

http://www.travellersvoice.com/articles/article.html?id=35
Exploring the caves and cliff burial sites in Torajaland, Sulawesi, Indonesia. I also attended a funeral celebration.

Torajaland, Sulawesi







Travellers Voice Magazine -- Life and Death in Torajaland
Liz Price takes a fascinating look at funeral rites in Sulawesi





LIFE AND DEATH IN TORAJALAND article and photos by Liz Price

In Tana Toraja, I was chatting to a local man when he asked me to the funeral of his mother. Taken aback by this offer, as normally funerals are private matters reserved for family and friends, I politely refused. Yet he insisted, saying funerals are happy occassions and it would be an honour that I attend.



I was in Torajaland, the centre of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The Torajan population are of Malay origin and came to Sulawesi many centuries ago settling around the town of Rantepao in what is now known at Tana Toraja. Although Islam arrived in Sulawesi in the early 17th century, the people still hold onto some beliefs of their forefathers.



What I knew of the funerary rites was limited other than they can last for several years. When a person dies, the body is placed in the back room of the house and is left there until enough money can be saved to give a decent ceremony so that the deceased can go to the next world. During this time, the deceased is considered to be sleeping and family members regularly attend to offer food and drink.



The soul can only go on to the afterworld when the death ritual has been enacted. When it is time for the funeral, there is a procession around the villages so the departed can bid farewell to the living. Everyone gathers at the site for the celebrations, where bamboo pavilions have been erected.



The first thing noticeable were the slaughtered buffalo lying in the centre of the pavilions. While startling from a western viewpoint, this is an important part of the funeral ceremony. As the relatives believe that the souls of animals follow the master to the next life, this accounts for the requirement of animal sacrifices at the local requiems. A strong buffalo is needed to carry the soul of the master on the journey to the afterworld.



In Torajaland the buffalo has long been the symbol of wealth and power. The more important the dead person, the more buffalo are slaughtered. In an attempt to impress, the family will slaughter as many buffalo as possible, and quite often this can cause financial ruin. In an attempt to end the practice, the Indonesian government has imposed a tax on each beast killed. As well, one buffalo has to be given to the tax collectors, and one to the church.



On the first day, the buffalo are slaughtered in the field. This is considered to be the moment of death of the "sleeping" person. I was only too glad that the beasts had already been killed. The carcasses were laid on the ground and the heads had been placed in a line. Nine heads were displayed. This meant the family had saved up a large portion of their income. Each buffalo cost up to two million rupiah (approx. $400 CDN).




The departed are said to preside over the ceremony and therefore the coffin is situated on a high platform constructed around the house at one end of the field. This was actually right next to the hut where I was sitting. The coffin and trimmings were decorated in bright red material. The children from the family were standing near me, each one dressed in their traditional attire.



The guests began to file in, forming a procession, firstly going past the tax tables. Each group of guests carried offerings tied to a bamboo pole: live animals such as pigs, food or drink. The pigs were killed out of sight at the back of the houses. Each group of adults were led in by the children of the deceased, and the visitors were taken to another hut for tea and cigarettes. I had actually taken a box of cigarettes as my contribution. This procession went on all morning. I was given some local palm wine, and drunk it out of a long piece of bamboo before lunch. This was rice on a banana leaf, with some of the barbecued meat, washed down with more tuak.



After lunch, The remaining buffalo carcasses were beginning to smell having been lying in the hot sun. Each carcass was skinned and butchered, and meat was being auctioned off, and the people were leaving with their share of meat tied to a piece of string. These procedures continue for anything from one to seven days. For entertainment there are buffalo, cock, and kick fighting.



The following day would be the actual burial and the body was being put in the family crypt in a stone grave. There are three methods of burial for the Torajan people. The coffin, plus any possessions which will be needed in the afterlife are placed either in a cave grave, a stone grave or a hanging grave.



There are many caves in the surrounding limestone hills, and for most people the coffin is placed just inside the cave entrance. The wealthy often have a stone grave carved out of the rocky cliff. This costs a considerable amount as it takes a specialist many months to chisel out the tomb. In some cases the hole can be large enough to accommodate the whole family. Sometimes the entrance is sealed with a metal or wooden gate, otherwise it is left open.



A carved effigy of the deceased is made and placed on the wooden balcony built on the rock face. These statue or tau tau look down over the land, and offerings are put in their outstretched hands. The tau tau are one of the most photographed sights in Sulawesi, and pictures appear in all the guidebooks. Unfortunately, theft of the statues by souvenir and antique collectors has become a major problem.



The third burial method is to hang the coffin by ropes and suspend it from the cliff face. This is known as a hanging grave. After some years the ropes inevitably rot and the coffin falls to the ground below. Coffins of babies and children are hung from trees.



All these types of burial mean that valuable farming land is not wasted by space taken up for cemeteries. It is a very scenic area with green valleys and rice paddies dominated by limestone hills. But it is the Torajan houses which provide a spectacular setting in this serene landscape.



The wooden houses are built on high stilts, and have large curved roofs. These roofs are said to resemble ships or buffalo horns: ships to represent the means of transport by which the settlers arrived, and horns because the buffalo is an important animal linking man to his ancestors. All the houses point north, the direction from which the settlers came. Opposite the houses are smaller replicas which are used as rice barns. Both the houses and rice barns are intricately carved, and are further decorated with buffalo horns. It is good to see that these Torajan people have not lost their culture but still practice it today.



Visa Requirements: 60 day stay without visa



Currency and Costs: $1 CDN= 5000 Rupiah (rp). Exchange rates fluctuate wildy and travellers are advised to carry credit cards and US cash (when no ATMs available). Large denomination bills ($100) get better exchange rates. Most purchases require bargaining but look to your conscience before applying this too stringently. Tipping is generally not expected. Budget rooms can be found from 15 000 rp; meals from 5 000-10 000 rp.



When to go: Travel is possible year round. It's hot and wet during the wet season (October to April) and hot and dry during the dry season (May to September). The best time to visit Indonesia is from April to October. Monsoons can make travel difficult in remote areas and affect underwater visibility for diving/snorkeling.



Getting around: The interior roads on Sulawesi are in dubious shape. Mountain rpads are often clogged by mud and rockslides. When traversing the island, allow plenty of time and extra days. Air-conditioned buses to Rantepao are advisable as it is a long trip: six hours from Pare Pare; nine hours from Ujung Pandang (Capital). The Pelni ship from Maumere (Flores) to Ujung Pandang only goes once every two weeks on a Friday night. Avoid deck class; pay the extra for cabin class, you'll be glad you did. Flights from Ujung Pandang to Denpasar (Bali) cost 555,000 rupiah (note: allow extra days for flight cancellations). Merpati airlines gives 25% student discounts on flights (require copies of your ISIC card).


Travel advisories exist due to civil unrest, protests against UN action.



Health risks:Dengue fever, giardiasis, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, paratyphoid, rabies, typhoid. Check with your doctor/travellers' clinic for prophylaxis/immunizations.

Chasing tigers and elephants - jphpk

http://www.jphpk.gov.my/English/Jul04%2017d.htm

My article on Chasing tigers and elephants was stolen and put on the above site.

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I've always wanted to see a tiger and elephant in the wild. I've succeeded in seeing elephants on a couple of occasions, but am still searching for the elusive wild tiger.