KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian jungle is famously beautiful. It is also dangerous and no place for raw townies from the concrete jungle.
Only the foolhardy will venture there unprepared.
As Malaysians become more urbanised, they forget their ancestral skills and can no longer survive in the jungle as their forefathers did.
So who better to give novices a better chance of coming out alive than the people who actually still live in the forest?
The Orang Asli have inhabited the jungles since time immemorial.
They pass down from one generation to the next the vital knowledge and skills needed to survive in their domain.
Now, the rest of us can learn some of that forest lore first-hand.
Raman Bahtuin, 48, of the Semai tribe, helps outsiders survive in the forest with his Jungle School in the heart of the Hulu Gombak reserve.
That’s near enough to Kuala Lumpur for the real city slickers to venture out.
He and his family moved from the jungle to Gombak, Selangor, in 2002. He started teaching initially as a hobby while his children were still in school.
“Researchers started asking me to guide them when they went into the jungle for their research projects.
“So I became their guide, helping them identify the different plants and basic natural resources.”
Doing this inspired him to start his jungle school in 2010. It gained popularity after foreigners discovered it and started to participate.
“Westerners want to learn more about the tropical jungle, and are environmentally-conscious,” said Raman.
“The classes expanded. Nature-loving individuals started to take part. I’ve refined my methods of teaching and the topics I offer.”
Participants learn basic jungle-trekking skills and how to identify plants that can be eaten, used as medicine or are poisonous.
Raman shows them how to use the direction of the wind to find the way, how to leave a trail in case they get lost, and how to attract the attention of rescuers.
One session involves how to build a shelter and weave bertam leaves for a roof as protection from the rain.
And before lunch, it’s time to find something edible, light a fire the traditional way, and cook it up with rice in bamboo.
Groups also enjoy a blowpipe competition.
Traditionally, the darts were dipped in the poisonous sap of the ipoh tree but not today as the targets are just balloons.
Raman’s classes are open to anyone who wants to learn survival skills or simply to get closer to nature.
Participants need to be aged nine, but families with toddlers and babies are welcome.
“Those who are really interested to learn more meet me on a weekly basis. They can choose the days and time.
“The skills I teach are not only important for jungle survival but also to improve perseverance, strength and self-will.”
Raman said he started his Jungle School not for profit, but because he genuinely enjoys it.
“We all have our priorities. As long as I have enough money for me and my children, and they have enough to go to school, that’s enough for me. It’s not about making a lot of money; that’s not my priority.”
But he has other motives, too. He is concerned that young Orang Asli themselves are going to the cities and traditions are being lost.
By showing the marginalised Orang Asli community how valuable their heritage is, he hopes that the new generation can be inspired.
So he tries to involve his fellow tribesmen as much as possible in the Jungle School.
Outsiders need to remember it’s a jungle in there. Raman and his team can help you enjoy the experience and get out safely.
You could find you have a natural talent for the nose flute, too.