The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Another Hidden
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Nearly four years ago, I first explored 'The Hidden Valley' off the Telok Kumbar to Gertak Sanggul road which leads up to Bukit Gemuroh. On that occasion I had cut right at the top and come out above the Hakka Centre on the hill above Kampung Pulau Betong. At the time the hillside at the west end of Telok Kumbar was completely overgrown, but over the last year or so, I had noticed one part being cleared and now not only was that complete there was what looked to be a concrete path at the top. In other words, this was a clear indication that it needed investigation.
For all the previous hikes we have started in this area, we have taken the small road off at the Sekolah Rendah Al-Itqan, Pulau Pinang on the corner of the road that skirts the centre of Telok Kumbar.
This time instead of immediately turning right we took Mavis straight ahead up a small hill and down into a small valley. We had checked this out a couple of days earlier, I doubt if anyone has ever done a recreational hike from here, that's our target area in the top right.
There were no dogs here and the unusual small pavilion suggests this orchard may be owned by Malays. In terms of paths, we were spoiled for choice but going slightly right seemed the best option and it soon started to climb slightly.
When we hit quite newly laid concrete, we knew we had chosen correctly and soon the path turned sharp right and got a whole lot steeper.
It may not look beautiful at the moment but the bananas are an intermediate cash crop and the creepers will help stabilise the soil. Scattered all across the hillside are protective black plastic triangles and inside are recently planted small durian trees. Considering the (new?) owner had been faced with an orchard that had been totally neglected, I'd place this as a text book operation.
I can't really believe the padlocked chain is really necessary, there's nothing to steal at the moment except bananas.
Near the top, the fallen tree is a more effective barrier to two wheeled trespassers although it was easy to walk round it. At the top we found a couple of guest workers enjoying the view.
Since we had now lost the sun, the picture doesn't do justice to it. Even so, I had to use the trees as a frame to disguise the fact that Telok Kumbar is no longer just a sleepy fishing village. Over the ridge was the durian orchard at the top of The Hidden Valley. I took a couple of minutes out to check the path that ran south along the ridge.
After a couple of hundred metres, ahead was overgrown, the path turned right and started down, on the hillside opposite was that part of the orchard that gives access to the Bukit Gemuroh ridge towards Gertak Sanggul, a route which is definitely not suited for beginners.
So indeed, this was a new route up from Telok Kumbar giving access to Bukit Gemuroh and we followed the new concrete round till we found the wide road up. Someone had parked up here, the back door was wide open. the front window down and the key in the ignition. However, as the front windscreen was cracked, it didn't look likely to be going far any time soon.
We took the road up to where it finished.
In front of us, we could see the original concrete path curling up and heading towards the forest edge where we found the orchard being extended upward.
This meant that the transition was easier than before as there was no current intermediate zone. The high canopy left the floor relatively clear and the secateurs were needed only for a few prickly vines and palms.
This kind of country holds no terrors for Yuehong these days and soon we reached the minor ridge and met the old rubber in front of us.
We turned left and headed up, almost inevitably we met another large wild boar wallow. We were never going to see any today as loud barking nearby suggested someone had tied up some dogs to scare them away.
On our previous visits, we had turned right at the top and followed the old rubber for some way, but this time it was bright ahead and once we had passed this large fallen tree we were next to the cleared area above the Hakka Centre.
Yuehong proved that she's now better than me at the forest 'exit strategy' and was already admiring the view when I emerged, that's Pulau Betong, of course.
As the rain here had now just passed, the normal haze had vanished and the view to Pantai Aceh across 'Bukit Kampung Pulau Betong' was excellent.
We now went past the water tanks along the ridge. This is a 'secateur free' zone as it's not always clear which bushes are wanted and which are not but at the moment it's not at all difficult to pass. Unlike the redevelopment we had seen at the start of the walk, this had been overgrown rubber, but again clearance had been followed quickly by replanting and again this will look very good in 5-10 years time. Elsewhere on the island, new owners have lost interest after clearing land and the result has been a succession of long term eyesores.
We emerged at the top of the path up from the mosque in Kampung Pulau Betong. In the days before we had the luxury of Mavis, we would probably have turned left here and headed for the Hai Ching coffee shop to pass the time until the next 403 bus. Instead we would take the right turn which follows almost immediately.
However, that would would only happen when we had soaked up the view and I had soaked up my Tiger. I had set out with an open mind as to how long it would take to get here, but we had taken it very gently and managed to while away a couple of hours. Yuehong consulted her toy and found to her disgust that we had covered barely 2 km.
We could have carried on along the ridge, but that would have meant starting the descent 'off piste' through an out of season durian orchard, an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to geriatric knees. So we took the path shown above down through an area which could have passed for virgin rain forest.
We passed a fine stand of bamboo and then the reason for the good condition of the path became clear. There's a previously overgrown durian orchard which is getting a makeover.
A lot of tree felling has taken place and not all of the resultant wood has been cleared off the path. We had been here a couple of days earlier and knew that the top of this one was right across the path and had had to cut a way through.
As you can tell, these days, Yuehong goes over the top of such obstructions rather better than I do.
On the other side, I stopped to clear some small stones from my boots and Yuehong vanished ahead. I'm not sure which this palm this is, it is not one I know, but very attractive.
Those involved in the clearance go no further and it was perhaps as well that we had known this path in better days as it was almost invisible.
We dropped to a small valley and if anything it got even more overgrown. It didn't matter, we were very close to a maintained area.
Until this year, Yuehong would have paused at the hut for a 'breather' and a water 'top up' but now she just went straight on down what is an uncomfortably steep path, although the gradient eases just beyond the bamboo.
With the sun out but the day still cool from the rain shower, it was as pleasant a descent as it gets through the durian trees.
As related, we had been here two days before, that time we had had 'company', four very young puppies who had attached themselves to us as we climbed up the path a little to the north. We had tried to discourage them and anticipated they would turn back where the path finished, but they had clung on though the orchard and up the abandoned rubber to the hill top. By then, it would have been bad manners to have left them as dinner for some snake or other, so we slackened our pace still further and they had followed us through thick and thin down from the view point. I think for them, the novelty had well and truly worn off and it was more a case of 'hanging in' till something turned up.
We had known about this hut with the kindly old Chinese gentleman who is something of a 'dog person' and fortunately he had been present and had taken them off our hands. Yuehong had explained how to access their 'home' and it's possible he had returned them using his motorbike. Whatever the case, he wasn't here today and neither were they. Soon after the path finishes by passing across someone's front lawn and since the turning coming the other was is anything but intuitive, I'd like to record that it's at electricity pole JKM 20 24.
I asked Yuehong what she thought of the walk, "Too short." she said and we strolled back to the junction and back up the hill to recover Mavis. Indeed it had only been bumped to a mere 5 km by the final walk through Kampung Masjid.
I have to admit that it had not been the most demanding of expeditions but this was a 'trip into the unknown' and it had actually gone entirely to plan for a change. Now my task is to weave it into a rather more demanding but satisfying route because it merits a repeat visit.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson