sign in a cave in Laos

19 April 2009

Bau's caves - Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (
Sarawak's 'smelly' cave no longer on the nose

Hidden valley: The path leading through Fairy Cave as seen from the huge entrance to the cavern. Picture: Liz Price [wrong photo!!]
Liz Price

Sunday, April 19, 2009

THE town of Bau in Sarawak has a very strange name when translated into English. It means smell. The name has a historical origin, dating back to the days when three freedom fighters struggled for the country's independence from the Brooke rule. In 1857 there was heavy fighting between Chinese miners and the Brooke's men as the miners were angry at ill-treatment by the first Rajah, James Brooke.

When Brooke organised a counter attack on the miners' stronghold, several thousand Chinese were killed, and freshly smoked heads of victims were hung in bunches of 30 or more in the Bau bazaar. Some Chinese escaped and fled into the jungle, or hid in Ghost Cave. The burnt and decomposing bodies produced a bad smell, which is said to have given the town its name.

Today Bau is a peaceful place, is easily accessible from Kuching and has two caves which are interesting tourist attractions. The only smell is a natural one coming from the bat guano! These caves are Wind Cave and Fairy Cave and are part of the Wind Cave Nature Reserve.

There are many caves in the Bau area, and they were first described by Europeans in the mid 19th century. Famous explorers such as Wallace and Low wrote about the wondrous caves and the birds' nests collection from the caves.

Gua Angin or Wind Cave lies about two kilomtres west of Bau town. When Sir Hugh Low visited in 1845, he was told the cave was the habitation of dragons and bad spirits.

The tales of dragons probably originate from the noise the wind makes when blowing through the cave, the wind that gives the cave its name. It can be an eerie noise when in a pitch black cave.

There are also lots of bats in the cave, and the noise of their fluttering wings can also sound like wind. Other animals live in the cave, mostly invertebrates such as long legged centipedes, spiders and crickets.

Wind Cave has three main entrances and a river flows through the cave and joins the Sungai Sarawak Kanan at the northern entrance. Exploring the cave is easy as a plankwalk runs through the length of the cave, although you need a torch as there is no electric lighting.

As you walk through the cave you can see lots of stalactites and stalagmites. You can hear the bats squeaking overhead, and the clicks made by the swiftlets as they navigate through the cave. In some places you may be able to see a swiftlet nest built on the rock.

The collection of the nests made by the swiftlets is a big industry in Borneo and the prepared nests can fetch high prices on the market. A kilogramme of processed cave birds' nests can cost US$5,500 ($7,975).

Fairy Cave is quite different from Wind Cave. There is no river and the cave is located high up in the hill. Situated in Bukit Kapor about eight kilometres southwest of Bau town, Fairy Cave is well visited. And there are many legends relating to the cave.

A Bidayuh story relates that during a Gawai festival villagers laughed loudly at some cruel tricks played. They laughed so much that a violent storm blew up and the rain came followed by thunder and lightning. When the storm eventually passed, the whole kampung and all its inhabitants had been turned into stone, and become the rocky mountain of Fairy Cave and Bukit Kapor.

Chinese stories tell of how the cave is home to fairies, gods and goddesses. The cave has great significance to Chinese religious groups, who have erected shrines in the cave, and devotees place offerings and say prayers to the many rock formations that resemble the Chinese gods.

Until about 30 years ago visitors had to trek through the jungle for half an hour before scaling the rocky cliffs to reach the entrance to Fairy Cave.

Access to the cave is now very easy, as one can drive to the foot of the hill, and then climb the steps to the entrance 30m above the base of the cliff.

Inside the main chamber concrete stairs and walkways have been built to give access to the various parts of the cave. It is a very impressive cave due to its size. Steps lead through the main chamber which is huge, and has a shrine to the Air Fairy at the top end. Beyond this chamber the cave narrows but there are some huge stalagmites in the form of columns and pillars.

The stalactites and stalagmites have associated stories. One in the rear of the main chamber looks like the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Yin. Others resemble a crouching man, a turtle, even the Roman Coliseum. Locals say a lot of these formations resemble shapes of people from the village that was turned to stone.

You can walk through the cave to a small entrance at the back, and from there a trail leads to the top of the hill. But I wouldn't advise this in wet weather, as the trail can be very slippery.

These two caves are quite different in formation and character, and both are worth a visit if you are in the Bau area. And I can assure you there are no longer any bad smells.

The Brunei Times

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