PADAWAN (Sarawak) (Sept 6): An hour’s drive from Kuching City will take you to Bengoh Range, Sarawak’s very own Jurassic World.
With its pristine natural beauty and majestic, cascading waterfalls, this treasure trove offers tourists a quick getaway for a breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Surrounded by untouched nature, tourists are able to carry out recreational activities such as hiking and experience a village lifestyle during their visit to this place, a wondrous hidden gem in Sarawak, also known as the Land of the Hornbills.
A local tour guide Joekasi Kosok, 37, who is an indigenous Bidayuh from a village nearby said, several residents who were relocated to the Bengoh Resettlement Scheme (BRS) namely Kampung Rejoi, Semban, Taba Sait and Pain Bojong, relied on the Bengoh dam for tourism activities such as providing boat service packages.
“From the starting point at Bengoh Dam jetty, visitors will hop on a 20-minute boat ride before entering the village area for their hiking expedition and experience the grandeur of waterfalls as well as immerse in the exquisite natural landscape,” he told Bernama.
“They can also opt for an overnight stay at Kampung Sting, located at the top of Bukit Butah here and the price for a one-day trip starts from RM50 per person,” he said, adding that the price includes tour guide and boat service as well as fees to enter the village.
Disconnect to connect
The Bengoh Range, with its beautiful natural surroundings and wealth of biodiversity, helps visitors step into the jungle by disconnecting from the online world to reconnect to nature.
The writer experienced a digital detox during the visit to the place as no phone signal was found. As such, don’t expect any notifications or calls here.
“Nowadays, youngsters cannot ‘survive’ if there is no Internet or Wi-Fi. They cannot live without it so they leave the village. There are not many people of my age left and most of the villagers who stay and run the business are the old folks,” he said.
According to Joekasi, the seasonal floods made worse by the construction of the Bengoh Dam in 2007 may have forced some residents in several Bidayuh villages here to leave the area and relocate to BRS.
He said those who chose not to relocate decided to actively promote the area as a tourist spot via the social media after receiving positive feedback from tourists who visited the place.
Apart from the fertile land, he said the villagers can now earn a side income as more people are aware of the place via the social media, with Bengoh Dam on their travel bucket list when visiting Kuching.
Also known as Joe among his friends and family, the father of four children who also runs a boat rental and homestay service said villagers used bamboo poles to build hiking trails and bridge when crossing the rivers.
“As you hike, you can see bamboo trees grow naturally and abundantly here so the villagers use it as trail and bridge and replace them once or twice a year.
“The bamboo poles are tied with durable PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic straps and the poles will be changed once or twice a year, if necessary,” he said adding that local folks will clean up the trail on weekends.
While hiking along the trail, one will be mesmerised by some of the breathtaking waterfalls in Bengoh Range such as Curtain Waterfall, Koring Waterfall, Pe’an Waterfall, with the furthest Susung Waterfall. The 1.5km trail is one hour away from the village’s entrance.
Here, the writer found a huge and sturdy hanging branch to sit on and capture pictures with the view of the alluring Susung Waterfall as the background.
“Visitors are not allowed to swim in Susung Waterfall due to safety reasons because the water is very deep. However, they can enjoy the cool waters of Curtain Waterfall,” Joekasi said.
The Curtain and Susung waterfalls have recently gained local interest due to its unique semblance to the jungles in the popular movie Jurassic World.
Tourists who stop by for a visit at Kampung Sting located on Bukit Butah (Bengoh Range) which also provides homestay facilities will get to enjoy the unrivalled picturesque view of Bengoh Dam from the top of the hill under the azure sky.
“Villagers grow various types of fruits such as guava, durian, rambutan and pineapple. Tourists can have them for free but usually the fruit season will be in November and December,” Joekasi said noting that there are some 14 houses in Kampung Sting.
At Kampung Sting, a homestay owner, Tikom Duyau warmly greeted visitors in a local Bidayuh language, “Seramat Manug (Welcome).”
The 66-year-old who runs the business for more than 10 years said visitors who choose to spend overnight in his house can bring their own food to cook as it is equipped with a stove, kitchenware, in addition to basic necessities such as mattresses and pillows.
Potential tourist attraction
With the growing popularity of Bengoh Range among visitors outside Kuching, Tikom said the local residents hoped for collaborations with the state government and Tourism Malaysia in promoting Bengoh as a tourist destination via the government’s platforms.
Meanwhile, Joekasi said bookings are required to enter Bengoh Dam as the number of visitors can reach up to 300 visitors per day on weekends and 20 to 40 visitors per day on weekdays.
“When promoting the place on Facebook, I always advise potential tourists who are planning to go on weekends to contact for bookings two weeks ahead because we only have 10 boats that are operating in this dam and almost 30 locals managing this recreational spot.
“All recreational activities here are fully-handled by the locals, as well as the maintenance. We appreciate if the government is willing to help and provide aid to the locals to maintain and boost the tourism sector here,” he said.
The Bengoh Dam is capable of storing 114 million cubic metres of water with a catchment area of 127 square kilometres intended as part of a water supply project for the needs of residents in the city of Kuching and surrounding districts.
The project worth more than RM300 million commenced in 2007 and was fully completed in January 2017.
“Bengoh Dam sangon poson (Bengoh Dam is very beautiful). Harap bidapod lagik (Hope to see you again),” Joekasi said after sending off the writer back to Bengoh Dam jetty.