Home to numerous ethnic groups and diverse flora and fauna, Sarawak is a treasure trove of wonders. The majestic vistas in Malaysia’s largest state take the breath away.
With over 50% of the population professing to be of the Christian faith, it is no surprise that there are different “prayer mountains” located across the state. Tucked away in Lio Mato in the Baram heartland is Mudung Sio, a mountainous gem that awaits those who enjoy hours-long treks through dense rainforests.
Mudung Sio translates to “Holy Mountain” in the Kenyah language. Close to 1,220m above sea level, it stands above the sleepy hollow of Lio Mato (or Hundred Islands), and hosts an annual pilgrimage of Christians who ascend to seek the face of God.
Getting there is no easy task. One would have to first fly to Miri before travelling slightly more than 100km along the Pan Borneo highway in a 4×4. This is the easiest part of the journey.
The next segment takes approximately six to eight hours along treacherous logging trails, where conventional road rules do not apply and your driver’s skills are all you can count on for your safety.
As you snake your way, you will be greeted by amazing views of valleys and faraway mountains, following dust trails kicked up by the vehicle in front of you, navigating muddy terrain in rainy weather, skilfully avoid massive trucks laden with timber, and crossing numerous rivers on rickety bridges.
Forget about proper rest stops: answering nature’s call requires you to get acquainted with shrubs for men, and creative use of a sarong for the ladies.
Once you arrive at Lio Mato, it is time to take a break from your backbreaking travel. This Kenyah village is not connected to any electricity grid, although it has a solar farm that offers sufficient power to charge your electronic devices and power streetlamps throughout the night.
As with most places in the interior, there is no cellular reception, although those who simply cannot live without the internet can always purchase a Connect Me satellite Wi-Fi package from the local sundry shop.
Here’s a brief history lesson: a revival among Christians took place in certain parts of Sarawak in the 1970s, including Bario in Miri and Ba’kelalan in Limbang.
But these weren’t the only places – the Kenyahs, Kayans and Penans in Ulu Baram also experienced increased spiritual interest in 1973, with Lio Mato right smack in the middle.
Smoking, drinking, gambling, fights, and all the habits that brought ruin to the social fabric among the Kenyahs were vastly reduced during this time. Pak Aba, once a featherweight boxing champion in Sarawak who worked as a police forest ranger, recounts how he had amassed numerous trophies and boxing accolades.
When the revival happened, he took his collection of trophies and medals, placed them in a boat, and dropped them into the middle of the river. This was to the chagrin of his late wife, who felt he should have kept those trophies as a keepsake for his children.
His reply? “If I do not rid myself of these trophies and accolades, I will remain proud for the rest of my life and never learn to live in full dependence on God.”
There are three checkpoints as you ascend Mudung Sio. The first is known as Lasan 1, where there is a small shanty that can house approximately 20 people.
To get there involves a 5km trek from Lio Mato with a minor incline, which should take you about 1.5 hours. Douse yourself liberally with insect repellent to make yourself unwelcome to stingless bees, hornets, and other bugs.
From Lasan 1, head farther up for about 2km to Lasan 2. This is the most challenging segment of the trek: the locals dub this trail “Bukit Pencobaan”, or “Tribulation Hill”, thanks to the steepness.
Each step has a minimum clearance of 15cm – meaning, depending on your fitness level, you might need to literally crawl upwards. The trek comprises five steep segments punctuated by very short, level areas where you can catch your breath.
This entire portion of the journey might take approximately 1.5 hours to complete, assuming you carry your own baggage.
At Lasan 2 lies a very humble church building, constructed in 2001 and surrounded by different huts to house visitors. It is located around 3.25km from the peak, which will require another 1.5 hours of hiking.
Persevere and you will reach your targeted destination, Lasan 3. A sense of serenity and peace, so far away from the hustle and bustle of city life, exudes from this spot.
Pilgrims spend three days here each year, before making the trek back down to Lio Mato with renewed strength and vigour to face whatever challenges come their way.
So, if embarking on a hike with a spiritual aspect piques your interest, you might want to add Mudung Sio to your bucket list.
Read more articles by Edwin here.
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about travel, consumer electronics, and other topics.