Bamboo raft is synonymous with the earliest mode of transport on Pahang River as it is the most basic of boat design, characterised by the absence of a hull. As such, to reminisce the glorious heritage and the tradition of the people who settled along Pahang River, the National Department of Culture & Arts (JKKN) Pahang, in collaboration with Pahang State Government, organised the Pahang River Rafting Expedition 2014 in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2014 last 14th to 17th of May 2014. 210 contestants from 29 local agencies took part in the competition.

I was never into this kind of expedition before. As a matter of fact, I’m not very familiar with Pahang except for its Taman Negara, its highlands (Genting, Cameron and Fraser’s Hill) and not forgetting its capital city, Kuantan. This expedition inspired me to read several articles about the history of Pahang and how Pahang River affected the whole storyline of Pahang’s existence. So, I have made up my mind to experience and get to know the state’s wonders by joining this rafting expedition, which is an initiative by the government to promote Pahang as one of the magnificent states in Malaysia that is packed with unmatched natural beauty. Pahang River is the longest natural waterway in Peninsular Malaysia. With the length of 459 kilometres, the river is formed by two equally large and long tributaries, Jelai and Tembeling Rivers on the Titiwangsa mountain range, and drains into the South China Sea. Pahang River has been used as the mode of transport since the times of the old Sultanate of Pahang back in the 14th century.

My experience began on 14 May 2014 when I the participants of the expedition departed from Kuala Lumpur in a van at 11:00 a.m. and arrived in Jengka at 1:00p.m. Since the rafting expedition started only the next day, we had some time in Jengka. We stayed at a tranquil homestay known as Felda Jengka 25 Homestay. The house that I’ve stayed in is owned by Tukiran B. Munajat, affectionately known as Wak Tukiran. He lives with his wife and his youngest daughter, so they were my foster family for that day. The sightseeing activity started at 2.30 pm, after we had our lunch at Wak Tukiran’s.

Touring Around Jengka

The first spot that we went was the Mausoleum of Mat Kilau located about 18km from Felda Jengka 25. Mat Kilau was one of the Malay warriors who rebelled against the colonial British in Pahang between 1880s and 1890s. According to legend, Mat Kilau was hunted down by the British until he had to move away and change his identity several times. His disappearance made the whole community thought he was dead. However in December 1969, an old man emerged and claimed that he was actually Mat Kilau. After government investigation, it was finally proven that he was the real person. He died a year later and his remains were buried at Kampung Masjid, Pulau Tawar, the place where he was born and raised.

The next stop was the lush green mountain known as Gunung Senyum. Located approximately 10 kilometres from Felda Jengka 25 Homestay, Gunung Senyum is truly one of a kind because it has 25 caves and each of them has a unique and classical Malay name. Some of the are Gua Terang Bulan, Gua Kelam, Gua Kolam Tujuh, Gua Batu Merlap, Gua Kambing, Gua Gajah, Gua Silat, Gua Gong and Gua Danau Impian. There are numerous versions to the story of how Gunung Senyum got its name. According to legend, Gua Kolam Tujuh (Cave of Seven Ponds) used to be the place where a bunian (supernatural) princess took her bath daily. There are 7-layered partitions in Gua Kolam Tujuh that looked like ponds.

We went back to the homestay after sightseeing. We had tasty Pahang cuisine for dinner prepared by Wak Tukiman’s wife. Personally, I never had any food that originated from Pahang besides gulai tempoyak ikan patin (silver catfish cooked in yellow curry with fermented durian). She indulged us with siput masak ubi (sea snails cooked with cassava shoots), kerabu kerisik (roasted coconut paste salad), gulai ikan pari kering (salted stingray cooked in curry) and telur ayam masin (salted chicken egg), which was the highlight of all delicacies because normally salted eggs are made from duck eggs but Wak Tukiman made them the other way around. The egg tasted slightly different and less salty than usual. The dinner was an excellent way to wrap up the day in preparation for the expedition the next morning.

First Leg Of Expedition, Heading to Guai

The real expedition took place on the 15th May 2014. We departed from Felda Jengka 25 to Esplanade Square, Temerloh,where the first checkpoint of the expedition was located. We arrived at 8:00 a.m., in time for the Pahang River Rafting Expedition 2014 opening ceremony. The Chairman of Tourism and Culture Committee of Pahang cum the State Legislative Assemblyman for Lanchang, Yang Berhormat Dato’ Haji Shakar Bin Haji Samsudin, officiated the ceremony by releasing 31,000 fingerlings into Sungai Pahang as the symbol of warm welcome to all participants. The participants of the rafting expedition competed in three categories: Champion of each checkpoint; the most stunning raft; and Special Jury Award. The team who made to the checkpoint in the shortest length of time and become the champion of each checkpoint will be interestingly rewarded with a fine and healthy cow instead of cash. The rafts were released at 10:30 a.m. There were 29 bamboo rafts involved, with five to seven contestants to a raft. The first leg of the expedition was towards Guai, which required 32 kilometres of pedalling from Temerloh. My colleague and I were given the chance by Tourism Pahang to handle one of their rafts for the expedition.

I was stoked and thrilled at the same time because I had never done bamboo rafting in my life and there were only 3 persons on the raft: my colleague, Mr. Rosli thecaptain from Tourism Pahang and myself. We intend to complete the expedition no matter how long it would take us. The weather was slightly gloomy at first but then turned sunny. We arrived at Guai at 4:30 p.m., taking us roughly six hours to get there since we did not have enough people. But the journey was smooth and blissful without any unwanted incidences. We camped out on the grounds of Sekolah Kebangsaan Sg. Guai, located by the riverside. The organiser provided meals and accommodation for the contestants, even though we had to spend our night outdoor. An Islamic talk show, led by a popular presenter Ustaz Syed Mohd. Norhisyam Al-Idrus, was also organised as part of the activity during the night.

Second Leg Of Expedition: Heading to Kampung Batu Bor

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The sun shone bright and the weather was clear during the second day of the expedition. We proceeded to the next checkpoint, a riverside village named Kampung Batu Bor in Bera. It took about four hours of pedalling to reach Kampung Batu Bor, which was 21 kilometres away from Guai. However, my colleague and I had to ride on a speedboat provided by the organiser instead. Though I was disappointed at first because I would love to continue pedalling down the river, I then realised that from the speedboat, I could observe the whole expedition more efficiently. Seemed like all contestants were motivated and packed with energy.

We arrived at Kampung Batu Bor at noon. The atmosphere here was vibrant because the locals turned up on the riverside to give their full support towards the expedition, making us feel truly welcomed. The activities continued at 3:30 p.m. right after the Friday prayers. Fish netting competition was the starter of all the activities at Kampung Batu Bor. There were 19 participants comprising locals and expedition participants. Fish netting is a common activity for the people of Pahang River either for leisure or business. It looked deceptively easy, but according to one of the participants, Faizal from TNB who has been fish netting since he was 11, it requires technical skill to catch fish this way. Apparently, he won the competition by catching up to 34 fingerlings in 5 tries. During the night, the participants of the expedition were feted with a riveting musical performance by a family band named Anak Kayan that plays Pahang folk music using their own style and techniques. Most of the band members were only between the ages of 9 and 14.

The following performance was by Dato’Professor Aripin Said, who was born and raised in Kampung Batu Bor. He is an academician as well as an artist whose passion lies in learning about Pahang’s dialects, cultures and its heritage. He performed a couple of folk songs with a help of Anak Kayan as his back up musicians. Last but not least, we were also entertained by another group called Anak Semantan, who presented Pahang folk music in contemporary fashion.All participants were at awe with the fascinating performances. I never thought that Pahang has such brilliant traditional music and dance that is so artistic and sentimental in value that couldn’t be found elsewhere. That was one of the nights that I would never forget for the rest of my life.

Final Leg Of Expedition: Heading to Jeti Chenor Lama

The last leg of the expedition was tohead to the final checkpoint, which is Jeti Chenor Lama, Maran, located 16 kilometres from Kampung Batu Bor. It took about three hours to reach the venue. The expedition became more intense, as every team struggled to complete the race. The weather was cloudy yet it didn’t deter them from heading to the finish line. All contestants arrived at Jeti Chenor Lama at 1:00 p.m. The leading team to this checkpoint was from MOTAC. The atmosphere at Jeti Chenor Lama is more vibrant than the rest of the checkpoints since it was the end point of the expedition, besides being the location where the closing ceremony was held. My eyes did not blink for a few seconds because I was so amazed by the environment of Jeti Chenor Lama. The people, the architecture and the vibes reminded me of some old Malay movies back in the late 1950s. There were some interracial musical performances by the locals, mini exhibition and bazaar that added to the excitement of the rafting expedition’s closing ceremony, which was held at 4:00 p.m.

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The closing and prize giving ceremony of Pahang River Rafting Expedition 2014 was officiated by the State Legislative Assemblyman for Chenor, Mr. Mohamed Arifin Bin Awang Ismail, who represented The Chairman of Tourism and Culture Comunitee of Pahang Yang Berhormat Dato’ Haji Shakar Bin Haji Samsudin.

I must say that the expedition made me see the different side of Pahang. The state is not just the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia, it is also packed with heritage, food, music and more, making me wanting to know more about it. I really recommend that all travellers take the chance to know Pahang better – I am sure that you will love the new things you discover about the state!

Text & Images: Firdaus Abdul Rahman

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