Kedah - Mountain Jerai

Mount Jerai (Mount Jerai)rises above the surrounding plains at 1380metres/4140 feet above sea level and is visible for miles around. 11kms of winding road lead up to this mountain resort which can be reached by car. The vegetation begins to change gradually as you ascend the mountain - through the lower and upper dipterocarp forests that we commonly encounter in parks and reserves down in valleys and low lying areas that give way to the low montane forest where conifers thrive. At the top of the mount the trees are much shorter in height, twisted and gnarled from the base to the branches. It certainly is a delight to step off the cemented trails and onto the soft forest floor - nature's best carpeting, thickly covered with layers of acid humus soil and peat.

The forest is saturated with delicious scents. A wonderful mixture of balsamic fragrances from various types of coniferous and oak trees gives the forest a rather alien feel. It's like walking into a curio shop in a little seaside town - everything seems so strangely out of place.

Just a short distance away from the resort, sits the forestry's museum. The displays give a fair bit of information on the Malaysian forests. However, a number of displays do not have English placards and can be frustrating for some. There is also a section dedicated to wildlife found within the Jerai Forest Reserve area. Guides can be arranged for trekking expeditions in the reserve park through the rangers at the forestry's museum.

Dusky Leaf Monkeys are common around the area and can often be seen feeding on trees at the quieter end of the road leading to the old shrine at the peak. Its unfortunate that the old Hindu shrine, believed to date from the 7th century CE is off limits to the public. There is now a telecommunications tower located by the shrine. The nine square foundation blocks constituting the shrine is believed to be hearths which some archaeologists believe they might be connected with the nine sacred planets of Hinduism, or Navagrahas.

Mount Jerai plays a most important part in the history of Kedah. Years before Melaka became a central trading hub, the Indian and Arab merchants preferred Kedah as it is geographically positioned on the same latitude as Southern India. In those days, the ships got to their destinations by hugging close to the coastlines so that they didn't float away into the vast, open sea. This means that the ships could sail due east or west through the Bay of Bengal without getting lost. Mount Jerai must have been a welcomed sight, being the only visible landmark identifiable from miles away. It commands a magnificent view of the coastal plain, the Merbok estuary to the south and the sea.

Many centuries later, Mount Jerai was again used for strategic means. During World War 11, the British army built trenches close to the peak where the lay in wait for the enemy coming in from the sea. The trenches are still there, snaking its way along the slopes of Jerai. Unfortunately, some of the historical sites and a number of sites associated with local myths are left in poor condition. Disposables such as plastic containers, bags etc are strewn all over. It's best to stick to the outer areas of the reserve, where fewer visitors roam and therefore you can appreciate the true beauty of the place minus the unsightly human contributions. There was once a time when it was suggested that a 10,000 step walkway be constructed from the base to the peak. (Horrors!). All that has stopped now thankfully and the jungle is once more as it should be - natural.

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