Imagine walking along the busy traffic-laden roads of Kuala Lumpur and you suddenly find a virgin rainforest sitting right in the middle of it all? Wouldn’t you do a double-take?
So there I was, one fine Tuesday morning, hurrying to get to an appointment after alighting from the Bukit Nanas KL Monorail. While trudging, I looked up and noticed an intriguing signboard that said, “Taman Eko Rimba KL” or KL Forest Eco Park. A recreational forest park in the city? How cool is that?! The park’s official entrance is located near Jalan Raja Chulan. A small footpath located on Jalan Ampang itself behind a large woodcarving heritage gallery called Wariseni leads straight to the park. You will quickly arrive at the bottom of a long flight of steps, and yes, you could work up quite a sweat climbing up to enter the park.
Luckily, I wasn’t in stilettos that day but decked out in sneakers and jeans. I also thought I recognised the forest well. You see, up until recently, this forest was originally known as the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve.
Bukit Nanas holds dear memories for me. I spent all my schooling years studying in Convent Bukit Nanas ─ one of Malaysia’s oldest schools. It bears English-Gothic architecture that dates back to 1899. I still remember the school’s entrance and exit faced a veritable forest separated by just a narrow road. As schoolchildren, we never dared to enter the jungle as it was filled with monkeys and mystery and also, it was fenced off, gated, and locked.
The Chronicles of Bukit Nanas
But how Bukit Nanas came to be is quite another story. According to history, Bukit Nanas was the site of one of Kuala Lumpur’s earliest settlements. In 1857, a warlord Raja Abdullah told his Bugis lieutenant Syahbandar Yaseh to build a garrison around his home situated at the top of the hill. To protect the home of Raja Abdullah, Syahbandar Yaseh planted acres of nanas (pineapples) all around the stockade. Their prickly leaves were seen to be suitable deterrents against attackers. Suffice to say ─ the hill became known as Bukit Nanas or pineapple hill from that day on.
The Tiniest Forest Reserve in Malaysia
Years passed and Bukit Nanas today is the remnant of a once majestic dipterocarp rainforest that spanned 17.5 hectares across the middle of Kuala Lumpur. In 1906, it was gazetted as a permanent forest reserve but due to increasing urbanization, including the construction of the
Kuala Lumpur Tower on the hill itself, Bukit Nanas was reduced to just 9.03 hectares. It was also later renamed the KL Forest Eco Park as part of appreciating the green lung and tourism efforts.
The KL Forest Eco Park continues to brim with biodiversity. It is rich with jungle foliage and trees including endangered species such as Kapur (camphor), Karas trees (agar wood) as well as Nyatoh, Mempisang, Kasah, and many others. The park is also home to insects, birds, and wildlife ─ you can hear them sing, call, chirp, and hoot to remind you that the hills are alive ─ and occasionally, you might see squirrels, skinks, snakes, and moths. For sure, the monkeys are still there, only these days, they show themselves quite openly as they are no longer afraid of humans, having become familiar with seeing us traverse their homes countless times.
Walking into a Different Dimension
With the sound of traffic fading behind me as I arrived at the top of the long flight of steps, I felt transported, as if stepping into a different dimension and I marvelled at the moment. Just a while ago, I was in the air-conditioned opulence of the Shangri-la Hotel. In the blink of an eye, I am in a primordial rainforest surrounded by ferns, buttress roots, and venerable trees.
Generally speaking, these trails can be divided into two types: The man-made trail with constructed walkways and the more “natural” trails where you’ll have to pick your way among twines, mud, roots, and dead leaves.
I opted for the Penarahan trail first as I wanted to “warm-up” before tackling the more slippery slopes of the natural pathways. The Penarahan trail features man-made brick and wooden broad steps that promise kindness to your shoes, which was why I chose this path first.
After a while, you will walk past a pocket of dense, almost untouched virgin rainforest comprising very tall matured trees with high, compact canopies that shade off the sun well. The forest inside is dark, humid, warm and very soon I was accosted by mosquitoes.
As they stung me, I made a mental note to bring repellent next time, and that is strongly advised for visitors should they visit the KL Forest Eco Park.
One super-interesting feature growing around these trees are the lianas or thick, woody vines. The lianas are rooted to the ground and creep up the trees to get to the top of their canopies for sunlight. Some can grow to a length of a few hundred feet, it seems! These lianas resemble fat, twisted ropes with symmetrical curls ─ almost like telephone wires you could say. They were quite a sight to behold and according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the presence of large lianas indicates that the forest is very old.
Lianas are not the only highlight of the Penarahan trail. If you turn to the other side of the forest and look up to the sky, you should also be able to see the Kuala Lumpur Tower peeking through the trees.
Next up is the Merawan Trail. It is a narrow, descending trail that features dense vegetation and lots of leaves that protrude into your path as you make your way down. To ensure you get a firm footing while walking in, there are planks embedded in intervals to make some kind of makeshift steps. The Merawan trail is perhaps the truest reflection of what an interior of a tropical rainforest looks like ─ it is quiet, looks untouched and you will also come across a few large trees like the Merawan Batu as well as the Pulai tree.
Coming back to the beginning of the Penarahan trial, I decided to check out the natural pathways of the Jelutong trail. A little walk down and you will come across a fork where the trail splits. I chose one and was pleasantly surprised to walk into an open area decked out with gazebos, how nice! You can sit down for a breather if you like. The footpath leading to the gazebos have paving stones that are artistically done. They feature imprints of leaves from some species in the jungle and I thought that was a nice touch.
From the gazebos, you will also be able to see a longish red wooden plank bridge leading off deeper into the wilderness. Presumably, it is to give nature enthusiasts a chance to observe the jungle foliage from another perspective.
After I finished on the red bridge, I doubled back to the other side of the fork in the Jelutong pathway, and there, I realised why this route had been named the Jelutong trail.
Jelutong trees line the trail and at the end of it, you will see it marked by the granddaddy of those trees ─ a huge, very matured Jelutong standing proud and seemingly reaching for the skies. Jelutong trees are one of Malaysia’s timber species and are known for their worth as panelling material or products such as pencils, matches, model carvings and such. The species grows big and tall, it can grow up to 260ft with trunk girths reaching 9ft!
I continued walking along the Jelutong trail and entered the Bamboo Walk ─ essentially a tiled pavement flanked by giant bamboo plants.
Did you know that bamboo is not a tree but grass? Bamboos are a group of woody, perennial evergreen plants that belong to the true grass family. Like grass, they grow very quickly, sometimes spurting up to 35inches in a day! Here, at the Bamboo Walk, you may even sit down at the seats available to appreciate the beauty of this special grass and relax in the shade they provide.
The trail will change scenes as I walk on and suddenly, I found myself in a banana grove. If you have never examined banana trees up close, here’s your chance. Interestingly, here’s another factoid that may fascinate you. Did you know that a banana tree is not a tree but a herb? This is because the banana tree has a false stem that does not contain true woody tissue.
The Canopy Walk
If you’re looking for the biggest thrill of the KL Forest Eco Park, it’s got to be its latest attraction called the Canopy Walk. You won’t miss its towering structure looking from the ground up. I made a beeline for it. Imagine walking on treetops and having a panoramic view of the jungle and the city skyline? I wasn’t going to miss that for the world.
The Canopy Walk isn’t very high up but its highest point reaches the vicinity of 65ft off the ground. The bridge itself is very stable. Despite many hikers walking across it alongside me, it doesn’t sway or bounce. This makes walking across thin air in the sky very safe. Do stop, pose, and take selfies or videos anytime.
At the top, I was exhilarated at how I could look across the tops of the KL concrete jungle while walking above the trees of a real jungle. It isn’t something you get to do and see everyday. The Canopy Walk is an adventure in itself.
The bridge spans about 656ft across and I took about half an hour completing it. All too soon, my skywalk came to an end and I descended a flight of steps to come down from natural wonders.
My whole exploration of the KL Forest Eco Park took about half a day and all too soon, it was time to leave the wilderness. I walked down to the exit gate of the park and viola ─ I was transported back to the city centre in a blink.
It was a good workout, all in all. To all you city slickers and urban dwellers, if you need a break from your hectic corporate life, the KL Forest Eco Park offers you a chance to take a walk on the wild side, and all without travelling out of the city. How amazing is that?
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