Tasik Bera Part 2
Tasik Bera is Malaysia’s largest freshwater lake. It is claimed to be about 35 km long and 20 km wide. The stretch that we can see is dotted with reed beds and the water is calm and quiet, a few ripples testifying to the presence of the more than 200 species of fish that are said to reside in its waters. Semmelai, a local tribe has inhabited the area for more than half a millennium and they still live in pockets around the lake. The forests around the lake are home to many species of birds and animals including mouse deer and wild pigs, not to speak of many snake species including the python. The locals still trap these for food and other uses.
We check in to the hotel and go to our room. The room is just at the edge of the lake, tucked away from the restaurant and we can see nothing but the lake and the forests beyond. There si verandah where you can sit and contemplate the absolute or alternatively use your binoculars to check out the birdlife. It is a little perplexing to see that there are no water birds. I wonder why? One would have expected this area to be full of waders and floaters.
The room is large, it is air conditioned (!) but the bathroom does not have a sink. Again, perplexing to say the least. The two ladies who man the reception counter and handle the restaurant as well are very friendly and informative. We can choose to row ourselves in the lake or alternatively use their boat fitted with an outboard motor to be guided around the lake. We opt for the latter, the blazing sun is not too inviting does not invite any strenuous exercise.
After cooling off in the room for a while we gather at the jetty . This is a huge structure, extending about 25 meters into the lake and one can fish from its edges or board a boat. It appears to be favourite place for the “Shooting” that seems to be mandatory for all weddings in Malaysia. There are no less than two couples all dressed in their wedding finery posing for snaps all around the jetty, supported by a gorgeously dressed supporting cast. They smile, a little embarrassed by our attention.
The boat roars off into the still waters. There are floating branches of trees on the water, looking for all the world like submerged crocodiles. The boatman reassures us: no crocs here now. The lake is a wonderland. We pass between what look like floating islands of reed like plants. The boat stops just adjacent to a large bush of pitcher plants, the first time that I am seeing them in the wild. (Or did I see them on Taman Negara, I do not remember).
We float between islands, the reeds brushing our hair, and come upon a net suspended on a bamboo frame anchored in the water. It s to trap birds we are told, the Orang Asli trap them for food. There are many nets in the water, placed by local tribal groups waiting for the owners to come and inspect their catch.
We stop at a village nearby. The locals live in huts, raised from the ground, the basic design exactly the same as our tribals in the Dooars. However their boats are provided with outboard motors and a couple of young men drive down to the jetty where we disembark in motor cycles. The track leading to the village is bordered by rubber trees, the sap collecting in plastic jars. We poke the rubber collected. It feels just like the rubbers we used to use in our schooldays. Rubber process are up, our guide informs us. It was a mere 8 RM in January, now it is 40 RM a Kg. Doing wonders for the balance of payments for Malaysia and hopefully resulting in much increased incomes fro these people as well.
The huts have electricity and are placed away from each other. Each of these large huts are occupied by one family, we are told, there are 20 odd families in this village. They are as I said earlier the Semmelai, who have made these watery lands their home. They live, in many ways, as their forefathers have done for centuries, In other ways they have many of the modern world’s conveniences.
We return, out 90 minute trip has been eye opening. For the first time since we came to this land of rubber, we have seen how the rubber is actually extracted. I have also never seen an Orang Asli camp up close, Susmita has though, she has gone for a medical camp to an Orang Asli village near Gombak.
Dusk is falling and the shadows lengthen over the lake. There is some rain, sudden and intense, but soon it stops, leaving the vegetation green and well washed. The birds are active as they settle down to their roosts and the only sounds that we can now hear are the insects hum.
Dinner is rice and the local Patin fish, which has come from the lake itself. The flesh is soft, and fresh, the curry is unbelievably tasty and while we were complaining just a while ago that it was too early for dinner, we tuck in and quickly polish off the mounds of rice and fish and vegetables as a side order
We repair to our rooms, the verandah beckons. The clouds have now cleared, the sky is rich with stars. The lake is pitch dark, there is no artificial light here to be seen. Once you switch off our room light , you can imagine what this land was like in the days of the Malacca empire. There is a splash in the water, a fish? Water monitor? There is now way to find out. There are many birdcalls that I cannot identify. I wish we had an expert with us.
We sleep soundly, only I have to get up in the middle of the night to switch off the air conditioning. The morning dawns misty, the lake is covered with mist, thick, we cannot even see a single of the many islands that dot the lake. Slowly the sun dissipates the mist as we decide to go for a walk along the forest trails. As we set out a huge tree suddenly comes crashing down about 250meteres away. We are startled and the forest denizens immediately set up a protesting hullabaloo. Obviously the locals or perhaps foresters are felling a tree. I wonder if this is legal. We meet monkeys again; these are the same cynomolgus monkeys we saw yesterday. They jump from one tree to another, sailing dangerously in the tree tops as they make for the most luscious leaves. There is large group here, they slowly move away as we watch.
It is time to leave now. We decide to skip breakfast and travel to Temerloh , where we plan to shop at the Sunday Market. The drive through the forest to the road is delicious as usual. The bird calls are particularly loud today as we drive slowly to enjoy the wilderness for as long as we can. Sooner than we like we are at the gate and the guard waves us on and we are now on the road to Bera town and then to Temerloh. We will be back.