These days, Langkawi has been given the green light for some dramatic restructuring of the environment. In the corner of the island, however, Sina Maran Tadun finds that it is still possible to take a walk on the wild side.
As the starlight fades from the sky, a new dawn breaks upon the Macincang Forest Reserve in Langkawi. The sound of furious morning activities are not yet heard, although one does hear the hood of an owl which has somehow got, its timing wrong. Within a few minutes of leaving The Datai, situated at the foothill of the Macincang Range the skin is already covered with a thin film of moisture. One has to hurry from a languid stroll to a brisk walk to keep up with the resort’s resident naturalist, Irshad Mobarak.
Taking the road rather than a forest path, his eyes dart from side to side and he cocks his head for sounds that are familiar only to him. “A crested serpent eagle” he points out and all eyes scan the sky, following the grace the swoop of this elegant bird. Irshad Mobarak is a man of few words, but one can not help sensing the excitement in his voice. The silence is broken and the senses slowly tuned in to the same frequency as nature. The long tailed macaques seem to be more talkative than Irshad Mobarak. Their chattering is the first sound to be heard. A family has descended on a clump of trees and this can be seen from vigorous shaking of one particular branch. A flash of steely grey passes from a branch and suddenly you see an admirable acrobatic feat conducted by a show-off.
Soon the raucous chatter is supplemented by new sound, such as the calls of birds above the thick canopy leaves, insects and reptiles at your feet such as frogs on a late night out and the Tokay gecko. Here Irshad Mobarak volunteers information on this particular species of reptile, which is the largest of its kind. One of its most distinctive characteristics is the war in which the male emits a laud barking sound- “tokay”. Such is the breaking day of this tropical rainforest in an isolated tip of the main island of Langkawi, The 4,974-hectare Macincang Forest Reserve is endowed with unique physical characteristics. It consists of the oldest sedimentary rock formation, which goes back 550 million years, dating from the Cambrian period.
Situate at the north-western tip of Langkawi, the age-old rainforest meets the shore of Telok Datai and overlooks the Andaman Sea and the island of Turatau belonging to Thailand. “Admittedly, we do not have the fine beaches and the entertainment of night life of Phuket or the culture and arts of Bali,” says Irshad. “What we have however is a richness of natural heritage. This is our number one selling point”. There are rare creatures here that are found nowhere else in peninsula or throughout the world. The large green pigeon, already an endangered species for example is found only here. There is a long bird list, painstakingly compiled by scientists and researchers, which only emphasizes the importance of keeping the area intact. On the shore, shy otters bask in the sun and at dusk the flying lemurs and squirrels make graceful dives.
Irshad Mobarak, who takes guests on the morning and evening walks, is a storehouse of information with a superb knowledge of natural history. He also happens to be a trained physical therapist who works with the resort’s health club, practising aromatherapy, reflexology and holistic medicine. “Every rock and plant has its meaning and every bird has its own language,” he says.
“What I am trying to accomplish is to create awareness of this heritage of ours.” In his years at The Datai, Irshad has personally sightings of 60 birds. These are obviously his favourite creatures. Eagles have a direct relationship with the island, as the name itself derives from the Malay words of Lang and kawal which mean eagle and guard. Thus the name Langkawi literally would mean the eagles that guard the island.
A beautiful series of illustrations, entitled Langkawi After dark has been done by Irshad Mobarak. These cards are printed on recycled paper, and donations from the sale of the cards go towards Langkawi Nature Preservation Work. This primarily provides extra funding for the Nature Centre at The Datai and the Macincang Range. A most commendable project is the setting up of a Nature Centre within the hotel grounds. “It is an interpretative centre with a reference library,” says Irshad enthusiastically.
“My ultimate hope, however, is to see the Macincang Range gazetted into a national park,” says Irshad. As dusk falls upon the rainforest nocturnal activity spurred into life with an orchestra of cicadas who rise and fall in harmony. “This is the resort after dark,” he says. “No bars no discos just the sounds of nature co existing in one of Malaysia’s richest ecosystems.”
Malaysian Tattler April 1995.
Sina Maran Tadun.