Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stairway to Granite Heaven.

Standing 881m above sea level, with visible radio towers sticking out on its peak from below, is Gunung ("mountain") Raya, the tallest mountain on Pulau Langkawi, I think the tallest also in the Langkawi archipelago. This is a granite mountain, and its intrusion in the late Triassic pushed Langkawi out of the water to become an island (I could be wrong about this, please correct me if I am wrong). Pulau Langkawi has a rich geological history and is a UNESCO Global Geopark, though not known to the majority, this designation actually covers the ENTIRE Langkawi archipelago, hence the reason why some people may now refer to this group of 99 islands (annoying ones will tell you it is 104 when the tide is low) as Langkawi Geopark.

Anyway, I used to live at the foothill of this mountain near a granite quarry (naturally) and have been to the top of Gunung Raya a handful of times as it is easily accessible by car since there is a really nice paved road (one lane for each direction) up to the peak where the radio towers sit with an old, but newly reopened tea house on top. The last time I drove up to the peak it was free, but a friend who visited Pulau Langkawi last week told me he had to pay a fee to drive up the mountain and he got a cup of tea at the tea house. So I am not sure if you can choose to not pay the fee or not.

It is a slight windy road and has little road hazards during the day, but night time please be extra careful. There are nocturnal creatures running and gliding about, like some species of civet "cats" which I ALMOST ran over a couple of times while travelling up and down the mountain at night. (I was not speeding, I promise!) Plus someone's herd of cows roaming along the road can be quite a fright while driving in the dark. During the day, you will be able to see different species of birds, which is a very big reason why birdwatchers and "twitchers" (the photographers of birds) love to visit Gunung Raya (duh!).

The view of Gunung Mat Cinchang (sometimes "Chincang", sometimes "Chinchang", sometimes "Cincang"), another peak on Pulau Langkawi where the cable car sits. I think this is Mat Cinchang, someone correct me if I am wrong, please.
Beware for wild pigs too!
That is Sungai (River) Kilim by Tanjung Rhu side in the background and me being a tourist in the foreground.
The view of Pantai Cenang or Kuah, I cannot make it out from Gunung Raya at night. Not much stargazing on Gunung Raya because of the orange streetlamps by the tea house and radio tower.
I personally like to go up Gunung Raya to enjoy the view and look at the hornbills. There are three species of hornbills on Pulau Langkawi, the Great hornbill (Buceros bicornis), the Oriental-pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirotris), and the Wreathed hornbill (Rhyticeros undalatus), and you can find all three of them on Gunung Raya. I get to see the Great and Oriental-pied hornbills at my workplace, but not the Wreathed. And for a very long time, possibly only after 14 months of living on the island, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of a pair of Wreathed hornbills. When I took this photograph, it after I heard them "bark" in while driving down the mountain with my windows closed. Wish I had a larger lens.

A flying Great hornbill on Gunung Raya.
I had to stop in the middle of the road when I heard the call of the Wreathed hornbill to take this photo. This pair was wayyyyy up high so forgive me for the blur picture. The husband has a yellow gular pouch, while the wife has a blue one. Check out better photos in the Wikipedia entry.
A male Oriental-pied hornbill eating a fig from a strangler fig tree at workplace.
The resident Giant hornbill pair at my workplace on the same strangler fig tree as the Oriental-pied hornbill. The wife is in the top photo, while the husband is in the bottom photo. Beautiful pair!
Another more challenging way to get up the mountain is by walking. Yes, you read that right, WALKING. There is a staircase of 4,287 steps up to a viewing point, and then a few hundred more metres of walking on paved road to the peak from there. This staircase is called Tangga Helang Seribu Kenagan, in terrible direct translation would be "a thousand memories/experiences of eagle staircase" and the start of this staircase is located at Lubuk Semilang, "catfish hole" in another terrible Jonathan direct translation.

A part of the staircase to the top. Forgot which part. Haha.
The walk is amazing because the staircase is built to lead you to the top through the rainforest and the flora there is beautiful! Large dipterocarp trees and lianas. Some of the trees are labeled with common names, probably the good work done by legendary traditional Malay medicine practitioner, Dr. Ghani.

Not sure what tree is this in English. Sorry.
Possibly a type of meranti tree (Shorea sp.). Super tall and large!
Not much wildlife to see while walking along the staircase but I have seen some "flying" lizards (Draco sp.) resting well camouflaged on the tree trunks, some butterflies like the Malayan tree nymph (Idea hypermnestra) that looks like paper fluttering in the air, Great hornbills, and Jumping spiders (Salticidae). And if you are a fan of mushrooms, you will be able to see plenty of this fabulous fungi about. (Check out my Gunung Raya Staircase album here.)

Another well camouflaged animal, the flying lizard (Draco sp.). So many camouflaged animals! It is as if they do not want to be found! Oh... Right...
Camouflaged fungi.
This is a type of Lantern bug (Pyrops sp.). Very beautiful.
The first time I did this was with two friends. We walked up and down, then went for a nice dip in the creek/river at Lubuk Semilang at the end. It was quite scary because one of them almost fainted because of the lack of calories in the morning. (I asked them if they wanted to consume anything before but they declined. Noobs. Love them still.)

Sebastian and I. We completed the walk up and down in about three hours.
The creek at Lubuk Semilang. There are deeper spots to swim in, where we swam.
The second time I went up the staircase was for BDB's Triple Challenge Climb and Run event. I never joined a run before because I thought it is such a waste of money to pay to run on trails that you can normally do for free. But wow, my colleague who joined me on the run was right; once I start I am sure to do it again. I suppose it is because of the feeling of achievement at the end. But I digress...

The Climb and Run track started from Lubuk Semilang, then a run up the Eagle Staircase of Sweet Memories, before running down the mountain on the road, then a run on the main road back to Lubuk Semilang. I enjoyed this event. I thought it was well run (no pun intended). I had no problems going up the stairs (done in roughly 52 minutes) but the run down, gosh, painful. No problem on the run on the main road. I finished the event in two hours and 39 minutes, not bad for a newbie. (You can find the results of the event here.)

Me at the end waiting for my colleague. Selfie taken using my Nexus 6P.
Other than battling the pain from running downhill, I had to do some last moment maneuvers to evade funky looking caterpillars descending using their silk from the trees above the road! Not sure what lepidopteran this is yet, but my boss tells me it is a type of moth. I am still awaiting the answer from one of the authors of the photo guide book on Butterflies of Langkawi.

Here is the funky looking caterpillar. Some people are calling it "Trump" for its uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump's hairstyle!
Anyway, if you do visit Langkawi, check out this magnificent granite of a mountain to enjoy the rainforest and the view.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that was a really neat post! You're looking great. Those hornbill pictures are amazing, those are such cool birds. And you've got flying lizards too…? How lucky!