Tasik Chini - Pahang Malaysia

Beautiful Tasik Chini. Such strong will to survive the ravishes of humans. It's been several years since our last visit to Chini lake, and she is still as beautiful as when we first laid our eyes on her in 1996. She is a little sicker. Everywhere, we see life clinging on to a fine line of survive or perish. The old fig trees in which the jungle birds and animals feed off fruits are around but fewer. Palm oil plantations encroaching into the area, illegal logging, introduction of alien destructive plants like the 'ekor kuching' and that damned dam - they're all tightening the noose round her neck.. and the authorities are not heeding to it's melancholic call.

Tasik Chini, the country's second-largest freshwater lake, is contaminated with high levels of e-coli, the bacteria that may have caused rash and diarrhoea among the orang asli living near it.

The state government had warned the 400 villagers, including 100 children aged six and under, not to drink water from the lake and wells but they do nothing to improve the situation... The orang Jakun (indigenous tribe who lives around and on the lake) believes that the lake is slowly suffocating and the spirits of the lake and the jungle fringing her are upset with the state of the lake. As it is, the lake people have been complaining of poor fish harvests recently and that the stagnant lake water is giving them much worry that soon the juvenile fish stock will die off and the river fishes will no longer return to the lake for spawning. There is only one way to resolve this and it is to do away with the dam.

The orang Jakun are still keeping their chins up on the matter in hope that the situation will be reversed. They believe that the problem is rectifiable and if things happen soon, the lake can be saved and their livelihood restored. With the restoration of the lake will also come the restoration of their folklore and their tales of the good old days where water was so clear and clean one could drink straight from the lake! That would be nice....

Lake Chini Resort is a favourite haunt for fishing enthusiasts and at times, corporate team building trips. But this Resort is not for the fainthearted... just be sure to bring a pair of rubber slippers, a bottle of dettol or bleach, your own toilet roll and towels, and lower your expectations.

But once out on the lake and into the narrow sungai or river chini, life becomes clear..this is it...this is worth the trip ... just to be at one with the lake..Birds can be heard all round..deep behind the veil of vines and foliage, melodious singing lures strangers like sirens of the mermaid.

Let's hope that due to the insensitivities or perhaps greed of a few, this gift of life is not taken away from us..

Tasik Chini

Deep within the still, dark waters of Tasik (Lake) Chini lies an ancient kingdom that once ruled vast tracks of land around the lakes. It is believed that the Khmer regime pushed their way down as far as Malaya as they swept through the Indochine during their reign in the early 5th century. Legends told by ancestors of the local indigenoues tribes describe the deliberate flooding of an ancient city to avoid being invaded by enemies. To this day, the underwater kingdom has remained elusive to mankind. Perhaps this city of gold, hidden in the deepest, darkest waters of the lake is the legacy left behind by a great empire.

Aerial photographs taken of the lake show unfamiliar formations on the bottom that suggests presence of structural foundations or canals. However there has never been any in-depth archaeological studies made in the area to verify such grounds but the existence of this mysterious underwater city remains strong in legends and myths of the people living around the lake.

For centuries, the Jakun (one of the many indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia) people have lived off the land around Chini lake, gathering jungle produce (such as rattan), fishing, tapping rubber and planting crops. The Jakun form one of the main Proto-Malay groups - a blend of early Mongol and Indonesian. The original home of this race is traced to Indochina based on linguistic similarities but recent evidence on comparing cultural similarities suggests that they came from as far away as Northwest Yunan in China. These people are dependent on the lake and its surrounding forests for their existence. Although the younger generation has pretty much lost touch with their natural habitat, the older folk maintain great respect for the jungle and lakes and continue to weave the tales told to them by their forefathers.

A place to stay

A nightjar

Visitors come to Tasik Chini for a variety of reasons. To reflect, to ponder, to rediscover, to reap the harvest of the lake, to appreciate.. and others, well - just because it's on their tour itinerary. But there is more to Tasik Chini than meets the eye. The area is now under the protection as a vital water catchment site with about 1,000 hectares... 200 hectares of open water and 700hectares of swamp forest and freshwater swamp gazetted as reserve. There are several places to consider if you're thinking of staying overnight at Chini. This depends on the type accommodation and the budget. Tasik Chini Resort is a more established set-up with chalets, team-building activities and a restaurant. Rajan Jones Chalets and Kijang Mas Gumum Chalets are what you could describe as homestays. Rajan of Rajan Jones runs a basic longhouse concept and doubles up as a trekking guide as he speaks English pretty well and knows the Chini Lake area intimately. (Unfortunately Rajan passed away some years back but his family continues to keep his dreams alive at the guesthouse).

The food van that supplies local folk with fresh produce and groceries comes to the nearby village once a week but is known to be pretty unreliable. There is the Saturday morning market just down the road from the chalets which is a great place to go for food shopping but a little pricier than the food van.The market runs from 8.30am till 10.00am. The only place now to stay at Kampung Mas Gumum is at Rajan Jones Guesthouse . You can contact them directly at https://www.facebook.com/rajanjones.chini/

To those travelling by bus from either Kuatan / Pekan to Chini, you could call us to arrange for a private transport to get in to Kampung Gumum to where our Guest House is.
Call us at either +60169014509 or +60179135089.

If you are coming a long way without own transport, there is no need to burden yourself with gallons of drinking water. Bottled mineral water is available at the sundry store run by a chinese family down the road from the guesthouse. But if you do have mosquito netting, bring it along although Rajan has mosquito netting in the rooms.. just in case.

Trekking at Tasik Chini

Easy trek

The giant vines in the forest is a good source for clean water. However, vines like the one shown here may take 10 to 15years to grow. So unless it's absolutely necessary, don't chop for fun. Look for bamboo trunks instead. Bamboo is also a source for fresh water in the jungle

The next day we hired a local trekker to take us for a trek through a section of the secondary jungle that runs into tracks of palm oil plantations and old rubber plantations and then into another run of secondary jungle fringing the lake area. The trek takes 5 to 6 hours to complete one way but not to worry, the boatman will pick you up at the end of the trek and whiz you back to Gumun for a late lunch. Usually the jungle walk can be arranged a day before with the 'Batin' (the headman of the village); or arrangements can be made with Rajan of Rajan Jones Guesthouse . Of Indian descent, Rajan has lived with Orang Asli communities for 18years. Before the death of a Jakun elder residing in another village, Rajan took apprenticeship under the old man to learn the skills of making traditional 'portable lighters' that Jakun hunters never fail to carry along with them on long hunting trips. In the old days, the Jakun men would travel deep into the jungle for days on end to hunt. The lighter flint made from palm wool (a layer of protective cover on the trunk of a palm species found in the jungle) has to be completely dry. In the jungle where humidity is extremely high, the only way is to pack it in airtight containers.

The Jakun portable lighter and flint

They carried their portable lighters in a watertight container made of bamboo and only used it when necessary. Rajan makes these lighters to sell, each costing RM375. But he would gladly demonstrate, for free! to anyone who is interested. It's an interesting demonstration of the basic mechanics of air pressure and heat energy. Orang Asli handicrafts are also sold at his shop. Except for the sumpits or blowpipes, which are crafted by the local Jakun, strangely the other items found here appear to have been made by the Semelai Tribes of Tasik Bera rather than the Jakun Tribe of Chini.

There are a number of local guides who can take you on the trail and the standard charge is between RM35 and RM40, but it's best to go with the guides mentioned earlier. We went trekking with Batin, a quiet elderly man who walks stealthily, speaks only when he has to and is ever watchful for any movement around. Every now and then he would stop, listening quietly to the clicking and chattering up in the canopy. However, if you don't speak Malay then it's best to go with Rajan.

About 20minutes into the trek, we spotted a flying squirrel gliding from the crown of a tree, high in the forest canopy. We were told that it's slightly easier to spot wildlife if it rains the night before, for the next morning the animals would be out to feed. Just to help you out if you do get to hear or see some of the wildlife we had seen on the trek, we've added the Malay or Jakun names for these animals in brackets. The guides at Tasik Chini are not well versed with the English names of the variety of wildlife found there. Along the walk, we spotted the Crimson-Winged Woodpecker (burung pelatuk), Pink-Necked Pigeons(punai), Lesser-tailed drongo(cawi), Common Iora (burung lilin), Spiderhunter (sasai) and the Orange bellied flowerpecker (kryet). As we approached the fringes of the lake, we heard the cry of a Grey-headed fishing eagle (helang). We also heard the Black & Crimson Oriole with a voice as beautiful as the nightingale that stole the Chinese Emperor's heart away. The trick to watching wildlife in the jungle is to make as little noise as possible.

Batin showing us how to make our own crockery in the jungle

Batin showed us how the Jakun hunters used to make traps to snare small animals such as squirrels and rats for food. For cups and plates they used palm leaves called 'daun palas'. And he showed us that when the bark of a Kulim tree is crushed and mixed with their food, it is a good substitute for garlic. The Jakun people used to hunt with sumpits or blowpipes using small darts laced with poison collected from the Ipoh tree to paralyse the animal. The sharpened points of the bamboo darts were wrapped with bits of wool or bark to avoid any accidents when not in use. The rough undersides of the leaves from the Mempelas Tree were used as sandpaper to sand down blowpipes and darts and sometimes used even to sand their dugouts. Batin showed us each useful tree and plant as we went along. There are numerous plants in the jungle that the Jakun people have used for centuries to treat, cure, hunt with; for clothing, for food and to build their huts with. In the old days, they sometimes built platforms high above ground, supported on all four corners by sturdy trees. Skilfully woven roofs made from the Palas fronds (palm) sheltered them from the rain and in a corner of the platform they built open fireplaces. These basic houses kept them safe from wild animals such as elephants and tigers roaming on the forest floor. Although the Jakuns living in Chini have abandoned many of these practices, the older folk like Batin still remembers the old ways of their ancestors. In case, you ever need to survive in our jungles, the most important survival tool you will need to look out for is a source of clean water - look for vines(only in times of emergency). Batin can show you a thing or two about jungle survival skills.

Trekking and Boating at Tasik Chini

flowering season invites a large variety of birds and insects to the lake

In the late mornings, the white-handed gibbon (we call the Wak- Wak) begins its cacophony of screams, songs and 'wook-wook' calls, high up in the canopy. Batin stopped us just 50 yards from a tall tree. Up in the crook of the branches and against the light, we saw a most beautiful sight, a mother wak-wak and her two youngsters. The mother lazily stretched her lanky arm to tear off young shoots, stuffing them into her mouth. Having had enough, the mother moved on to another tree with the two babies in tow. We were told that it was a pretty rare sight and it was good fortune that the mother had not noticed us. We even bumped into a family of wildboars scrounging for grubs on the wet, muggy forest floor. First came a youngster, then a female adult and then a large male. Along the trail are mud baths where the wildpigs would wallow to keep cool. The mud provides protection from infuriating mite and fly bites. There were also old porcupine (landak) burrows close to the trails. Porcupines and armadillos only leave their burrows to rummage for food in the cover of darkness and therefore are seldom seen in the day. We mentioned to Batin that while driving on the road to Lake Chini Resort the day before, we almost ran over a long, black snake slithering across our path. He nonchalantly replied that it was a black cobra - often found in plantations. Its relative, the yellow cobra is also common here. He explains that it is difficult to spot these reptiles especially where there are dead leaves and tall undergrowth. Their body twisting and twirling around, the female cobra gathers dead leaves to make into a small mount where she lays her eggs. The nest is so well camouflaged that any unsuspecting person could easily walk into it. Before we could go any further, the clouds had darkened and it was time to return to the chalet. An end to a most educational trek - all worth the money spent.

things to bring with on the trek

  • water & snacks
  • cap
  • binoculars
  • wear contact lenses. Spectacles get fogged up easily
  • insect repellent. Spraying Baygon on your shoes is the best, although not too environmentally friendly - it'll keep the leeches from crawling into your trousers. Plenty of leeches! another method is to buy a packet of cheap tobacco, soak it in a bowl of water and then dab on shoes, socks, anywhere you think the leeches may sneak in.

Chini boat trip

The Chini River is the only river draining into the Pahang River from the lake. At the mouth of this 4.8km river, is a dam built to retain and maintain the water level in the lake. The lake water used to rise and fall with the seasons. During rainy seasons, water would gush down from Datang River in the Northwest, Gumum River in the Northeast, Perupok River in the West and Melai River in the South and all the excess water would converge down Chini River and gently filter out into the Pahang River.

Up until a decade ago, the lake would take its natural course. During the monsoon

black and red broadbill repairing its nest along Chini River

season, the lake swelled, covering a large area of the swampy forest. Nutrients seeping into the water from the land nurtured the lake and the fishes. When the rain stopped, the water receded and the swamp forest rose again. The fishes matured and swam away, lotus blooms covered the stretches of water where Jakun fishermen collected abundance of fish for sale in the market.

Then came the day when it was decided that Tasik Chini was to be promoted as a tourist' venue. In response to requests, local authorities dammed up the Chini River in 1995. However, foolishly the dam was built without a sluice to control the level of water in the lake. In doing so, the lake flooded - way above acceptable level - inundating the low areas.

Trees in the low-lying area were quite accustomed to natural and temporary flooding but could not survive the continuous flooding and soon the strain became obvious. The trees in the low-lying plains began to die off. The first was the Eugenia sp., a common swampland tree.(they're the spooky looking ones on the edges of the lake with off-white branches stretching upwards).

Trees by the banks of Sungai Chini survived the high water level caused by the dam by pushing roots through its trunk just above the previous water level so that it could breathe. The problem now is that the banks are eroding away...eventually, the trees will topple and die.

There were other species of trees that coped with the flooding by pushing roots through the trunk just above the water level (as in the photo). By 1997, it was obvious that the damming of the river was a disaster and something had to be done to arrest the situation. During the early days of the dam, the water level rose 2.8 meters. The new, 'corrected' dam was then constructed to rectify the mistake, which now allows the water level to rise and fall. A fish water canal was also built to allow the river fishes to return to the lake to spawn.

But erosion is still occurring. The constant rush of the local boat operators, speeding their customers along the Chini River is still left unmonitored. The speeding action along the narrow Chini River creates waves that smack into the soft banks, slowly washing away the ground from under the remaining large trees rooted along the riverbanks.

As we travelled down the same river with our boatman skilfully steering the boat, we managed to spot a couple of monitor lizards, 2 pairs of black and red broadbills tending to their nests suspended from the overhanging branches just above our heads, 6 species of kingfishers, a racket-tailed drongo. If you're planning to make a boat trip up the river, make sure to tell your boatman not to speed. That's the only way to take in what the jungle has to offer.

The Myth of Tasik Chini

Wrath of the Serpent

Kijang Mas Chalets sit on the banks of Lake Gumum, one of the 12 lakes that add to the water system of Tasik Chini. Where there are lakes, there are always stories to tell of strange creatures that make their home in the underwater caves, deep in the bowels of the black waters. The older Jakun folk that live in the area believe that Naga Seri Gumum; the old dragon still gurads the waters and has been there since the birth of the lake, a long, long time ago.

The story goes like this- once upon a time when the area was miles and days away from any civilised town, the Jakun people were left to their own ways.

One day whilst they were out cultivating land, an old woman appeared. She proclaimed that the piece of land was hers and that the men were trespassing. In claiming her rights to the land, the old woman planted her walking stick into the ground and warned the men never to remove it. Humbly, they apologised and the woman allowed them to continue their work there. Some time later, the dogs started to bark furiously at a decaying log not far away from the area. One of the men went off to investigate the commotion. He hurled his stick at the log and to his surprise, the log started to bleed. He called to his fellowmen and they too hurled their sticks at the log. The startled men stood rooted to the ground as bright red blood gushed out from the log. Shadows fell on them as they watched. The sky above darkened. Bolts of lightning stabbed the earth; thunders deafened the sounds of terrified screams of the men as they fled the area. In their confusion, one of the men knocked over the old woman's walking stick. In doing so a fountain of water shot high into the sky and quickly filled the area. The water gushed for many years, forming the lakes that we see now which has become the home of the mystical dragon called Naga Seri Gumum, the spirit of the log.

Alas, since the building of the dam, much has changed at Tasik Chini. In some areas around the lake, oil palm plantations have crept up almost to the edge. The leaching and flushing of pesticides and fertilisers into the lake from the plantations is likely to damage the fragile ecosystem of the lake. With proper management and use of organic fertilisers this would help retain the natural conditions of the lake.

But there is still so much hope for Chini. The ecosystem is trying desperately to adapt to the changes made and in some parts, it is actually reviving..the Eugenia spp. along some parts are pushing out new shoots. Saplings are springing up where their predecessors have fallen. The lotus that once spread across large areas of the lake are blooming once again; new growth is taking place. From June to September, the lake is speckled with white and pink lotus blooms. And sometimes in the early evening, tomans (a huge ferocious fresh water fish) can be seen leaping over the lotus leaves, eager to make a meal of an unsuspecting frog .

Chini creates a sense of being. A sense of nostalgia. The myths and legends shrouding the lake provide a feeling of preservation. The preservation of the lost city, its serpent and now, it is up to mankind to once again listen to the call of nature before she releases her wrath and then, there is no more.

Update on the place

Our trip back to Tasik Chini this time, found the place to be suffering a little bit more. Although the beauty and mystique of the lake continues to mesmerise visitors, there seems to be a certain feeling of sadness that has befallen on her. The orang Jakun (indigenous tribe who lives at the lake) believes that the lake is slowly suffocating and the spirits of the lake and the jungle fringing her are upset with the state of the lake. As it is, the lake people have been complaining of poor fish harvests recently and that the stagnant lake water is giving them much worry that soon the juvenile fish stock will die off and the river fishes will no longer return to the lake for spawning. There is only one way to resolve this and it is to do away with the dam.

The orang Jakun are still keeping their chins up on the matter in hope that the situation will be reversed. They believe that the problem is rectifiable and if things happen soon, the lake can be saved and their livelihood restored. With the restoration of the lake will also come the restoration of their folklore and their tales of the good old days where water was so clear and clean one could drink straight from the lake! That would be nice....

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