PETALING JAYA: Thanks to its proximity to rugged mountain ranges and beautiful waterfalls, Ulu Cheka in Pahang has rapidly risen to become a popular destination for local ecotourism.
The strong emphasis on natural conservation here means there are many opportunities to observe and appreciate the setting’s lush natural beauty.
Many diverse species of Malaysian flora and fauna call Ulu Cheka’s forests home, making it a perfect getaway destination for nature lovers.
Here are two ways to truly have a “wild” time in Ulu Cheka.
Explore the rafflesia trail in Kg Tengah
Mention the rafflesia, one of the most iconic plants of Southeast Asia, and most people think of East Malaysia. And while they do thrive in Sabah and Sarawak, did you know you can also find them in Pahang?
The most well-known rafflesia species, “rafflesia arnoldii”, is native to the forests of Sumatra and Borneo; but you can also find a similar species, “rafflesia cantleyi”, blooming in the lush wilds of Ulu Cheka.
And the knowledgeable guides of the Mukim Ulu Cheka Tour Guide Society (Pamuc) are more than happy to take you to see them!
“There are several trails to see the rafflesia here, which can take from about half an hour to about two hours,” Pamuc chairman Shaiful Alias told FMT recently. “The flowers take about nine months to blossom, but wilt after about three to five days.”
He advised that it is best to contact Pamuc, who will be able to inform you on the best times to see them.
These trails can be a challenge for first-time hikers but should pose little problem to those who are moderately fit. Make sure to wear proper clothing: there are treks up and down hills, so long pants are useful to prevent cuts and bruises.
Socks are also helpful to deter leech encounters, and be careful of any trees or bushes you venture close to – the last thing you want is to accidentally upset a nest of wasps!
After some time on the trail, you will reach a rafflesia station. Most people will see sprouting rafflesia bulbs, which resemble tiny dark cabbages. They often grow on another plant.
If you are luckier, you might come across the rafflesia in full bloom. These reddish flowers can reach almost 30cm in width! Note their distinctive odour, which it uses to attract insects and spread its seeds.
Even if you don’t end up seeing the rafflesia in its full glory, there’s still plenty to enjoy along this trail. The Kampung Tengah woods are a glorious display of verdant beauty.
Making your way through their moss-laden paths, beneath towering trees, birds calling all around you… it is difficult not to feel awed by nature.
A good guide will also enhance your experience, as they can share info on native wildlife – such as the medicinal properties of local plants – and point out interesting sights that may otherwise be overlooked. These could be anything from rare insects to the pawprints of jungle cats!
Go birdwatching at SOMset Wildlife Recreation, Kg Som
Those fascinated in Malaysian fauna will find plenty to love in Kampung Som. This rustic Ulu Cheka village is located by the Jerantut Reserve Forest in peninsular Malaysia’s Central Forest Spine, a noted hotspot for local wildlife.
One of the best places for nature appreciation here is SOMset Wildlife Recreation, a reserve set up to promote local conservation and prevent illegal logging in the area. It is one of the best places here for birdwatching.
For the best experience, SOMset Wildlife Recreation founder and nature guide Rafiz Azuan Ahmad recommends visiting early and bringing scenic binoculars.
“Most of the birds here come out at about 7am to feed, but I recommend you come at about 7.15am to about 11am, because that’s when the sunlight here is best for viewing,” said Rafiz, who is also headman of Kampung Som.
“The key is not to rush,” he added. “Some people can wait here for about five hours before seeing anything. But the joy comes from the patience, the waiting.”
The best place for birdwatching here is atop a 6m-high viewing tower. This has unparalleled views of a cluster of weeping fig trees, a popular avian feeding spot.
According to Rafiz, you may be able to spot avian varieties such as the white-rumped shama and great argus pheasant, as well as seven species of hornbills.
These include the rhinoceros hornbill, the bushy crested hornbill, and the rarer helmeted hornbill whose distinctive cry has been described by many as sounding like the scream of a langsuir.
For those interested in animals, Rafiz recommends visiting at night. SOMset Wildlife organises camping and nightwalk activities, which nature lovers can schedule for after their daytime birdwatching.
“One rare sight here is the mengkira, or the yellow-throated marten. We’ve seen tapir, kijang, mousedeer, and bearcats here before. Sometimes even the slow loris. It all depends who is out that night,” he observed.
Malaysia, Rafiz concluded, is truly rich in biodiversity that should be appreciated. As such, it is important for us to preserve the country’s natural wonders before it is too late.
Follow the Mukim Ulu Cheka Tour Guide Society (Pamuc) on Facebook.
27030 Jerantut, Pahang
Follow SOMset Wildlife Recreation on Facebook.
This article was written as part of Ulu Cheka Exploration 2023 organised by Tourism Malaysia Wilayah Timur.