Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Walking up Penang Hill

We went up Penang Hill last Sunday. No, we did not take the funicular train to the top. Rather, we walked from the Botanical Gardens. Along the jeep track beside the gate into the Gardens. Saw the dead tree there, of course. What a sad sight. A great pity. The Gardens curator should arrange for the seedling of a new majestic tree to be planted there once this one is removed.

Anyway, this was the first time that I would be walking this jeep track up to the top of Penang Hill. In the past, I've used other alternative ways. Like, for example, during my schooldays, the Penang Free School would hold annual hikes up the hill at the end of the year. The hike would start at the Moon Gate, perhaps some 200 metres away from the Gardens entrance, and take us along the hill trails and undergrowth before joining up with the jeep track at or around Station 84. However, I don't think the annual Penang Hill hike is held anymore, which is a pity. The pupils would love it.

When I first started working at Ban Hin Lee Bank, some of my former colleagues had organised some rare hikes to the top from Hye Keat Estate in Ayer Itam. Maybe two or three hikes, that were all, before everyone lost interest in them. I remember having to pass through a small Chinese cemetery on the way. Again, this hike would take us to the Station 84 and join up with the jeep track.

And then in 2008, we went hiking again with some of my former colleagues. Although we were all so much older by now, our adventure spirit still burned within us. We decided to climb through a circuitous route that took us to the Ayer Itam Dam, through vegetable and fruit farms and Tiger Hill.

Fast forward some nine years and here we are at the base of the jeep track on an early Sunday morning (5 March 2017) waiting with some one or two hundred other people for the start of the D"Home Mental Health Association's Hike for Health. This hike was organised to raise money for the day-to-day running of the association. D'Home is doing a marvellous job with raising mental health awareness and their public activities such as this are definitely worth supporting. We didn't expect to be participating in the climb because we thought they'd want us to be volunteers but a week before the climb, we learnt that they needed more participants than volunteers. So here we are, donning their t-shirts and making our way up the hill. Slowly up the hill.

Our lack of fitness showed. Our progress was slow. We stopped so many times, especially when the incline became so very steep. We struggled at the start of the climb when the jeep track was steep, and we struggled again towards the end when the track again took a challengingly steep incline. But we made it, finally, after about two hours and 40 minutes. As stragglers, we missed out on the medals for the first 100 participants to finish but there were free bowls of Penang Hill ais kachang waiting for us at the food court. Yum yum, worth the effort after all......😋😋😋

We stayed at the summit for some three hours. The rain came and everything became wet and misty. Eventually we called it a day and proceeded to the upper train station to take the funicular train to the lower station. As usually, it is a very eventful train ride if you take the first carriage where you can see the train practically rolling off the track at the half-way point. Almost like a roller coaster ride at this juncture, it elicited screams from the ladies in the carriage. Heh heh....

A 4WD vehicle making its way effortlessly up the steep hairpin drive while we have to struggle step by step all the way to the top.

Even motorcyclists can make it to the top effortlessly but the track is also difficult for cyclists.

I'm puzzled by this old milestone as it still showed the distance in miles and not kilometres. VI MILES, it read. Six miles as measured from where, I wonder?

Wonderfully thick foliage lined both sides of the track.

Whoops, I came across this mean beast which easily measured six inches long from claw to sting. It was just at the side of the road. It was a stand-off. The creature was eyeing me at the same as I was eyeing it. Warily, of course, seeing that its tail was poised to strike forward. I'm sure it would be a lightning strike. Would I be able to avoid it, seeing it already has a lifetime of practice to get to this big a size. I doubt so. Back off, my inner voice told me, back off. So I did, after getting close enough to get this picture. Luckily it did not advance forward as the camera went closer. Nevertheless, my wife was concerned with the scorpion's well-being and asked me to remove it elsewhere. What? Pick it up?? Didn't she notice that the tail was ever ready to sting anyone or anything that threatens it??? I pick up a harmless millipede and she asks me to put it down. Here is a dangerous six-inch scorpion and she asks me to pick it up. 😆

And finally, reaching the Grace Dieu bungalow, a sure sign that the summit wasn't too far away. Unfortunately, I must have missed the Ban Hin Lee Bungalow and the way to Crag Hotel, the latter being the location for the British television series, Indian Summers, some three or four years ago.

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