Monday, June 28, 2010

Ba'kelalan – The Land Where Rainbows End

Images by: Seth Peli of Seth Photography
Fahmi Aziz

The 45-minutes flight on MasWings twin otter plane from Miri provided a mesmerizing view of the long stretch of green terrain below with miles of lush tropical rainforest painting the landscape of Miri. Deeply lost in my own thoughts as I sat there gazing at the scenery below, I knew we were nearing our destination as the plane started to descend and stretches of paddy fields can be seen dotting the village of Ba’kelalan.

Coined as the Heart of the Borneo escapade, Ba’kelalan is situated about 3000 feet above sea level, and 4km from Kalimantan, Indonesia. The charming and rustic rural village of Ba’kelalan comprises of 9 other small villages and is home to about 1500 Lun Bawang people.

Three beautiful Lun Bawang girls, heads adorned with yellow strings of beads and dressed in their traditional black costume which set a startling contrast against the azure blue sky of Ba’kelalan greeted me as I stepped down from the small aircraft
The welcoming ceremony did not stop there. As I headed towards the Apple Lodge, which will be home for the next four days and also literally situated right next to the airport, I was greeted by the melodious voices of the people of Ba’kelalan, young and old, singing the tunes of “Ba’kelalan My Home Sweet Home”, a reflection of the harmonious culture in Ba’kelalan. Tapping my feet to the uplifting beat of the song, I felt myself feeling at home amidst the the sun shiny warmth of Ba’kelalan.

Only in Ba’kelalan

Ba’kelalan is well known because of its apples. Yes, only in Ba’kelalan are you able to find locally grown apples. The cool and refreshing highland air makes Ba’kelalan the ideal, and in fact, the only place where apples are cultivated in Malaysia. The Ba’kelalan apple story began some time back in the 1960’s, when Andrew Balang Paran brought back 50 apple seedlings from Kalimantan, Indonesia. It was only 5 years ago back in 2007 when Pak Tagal and his family decided that it was high time Ba’kelalan has its own Apple Fiesta. Held yearly from 6-8 May, the Ba’kelalan Apple Fiesta brings about a festive air throughout the normally quiet and peaceful village. It is during this 3 day fiesta that the villagers will get a chance to showcase their talents at singing, dancing and even demonstrating on how to make apple pie from scratch. This is also an opportunity to visit the apple orchard and be fascinated at the apples wonderful colors of green and red. Consisting of four varieties with names such as Rome Beauty, Manalagi, Ba’kelalan and Cherry, bite into any of these apples and you will find yourself wanting more of the juicy sweetness and soft crunch of Ba’kelalan apples.

Apples and a bit of adventure

But apples aren’t the only main attractions in Ba’kelalan. To me, what defines Ba’kelalan is the endless warmth and genuine smiles of the people. Wherever you go, either taking a leisurely stroll along the paddy fields in the warmth of the evening sun, or sweating it out and hiking to Bukit Sarui to take in the wonderful sights of Ba’kelalan, you will always be greeted with a toothy smile and sometimes toothless grins (depending on the age) of the villagers, and if you’re lucky enough, after a few curious glances and smiles, you will have your own personal entourage of kids from various ages, showing you the sights and sounds of the village.

Breathing in the fresh air and watching the kids playfully chase each other around the paddy field; there is an element of serenity surrounding the village. However, don’t be fooled by the quiet tranquillity of Ba’kelalan. Adventurers in search of the beaten track can expect for the challenging terrain here to live up to its expectations especially during tropical rainy season. The Borneo Jungle Safari (BJS) offers an adventure trail package which promises to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping. This would be a good opportunity for you to test your off-road driving skills. If you are up for a roller-coaster ride in a 4WD, you can enter Ba’kelalan from Lawas, where the off road journey would take a good 5-6 hours, depending on the road conditions. Be prepared to camp out if the roads get treacherous especially during those heavy rainy seasons. If you’re an avid tracker, a five hour trekking expedition through the jungles of Borneo will lead you to the border of Malaysia-Kalimantan.


While the images of mud tracks and rivers are appealing, I very much preferred a less strenuous activity. Spending a whole day visiting 3 villages around Ba’kelalan, I took the opportunity to learn more about the people of Ba’kelalan and immerse myself in the Ba’kelalan culture and lifestyle. I was even lucky enough to witness a Lun Bawang marriage ceremony. There was relentless teasing from the crowds as the mock bride and grooms shyly took their designated place as husband and place at the front of the room. What is a wedding celebration without a traditional dance routine? All the guests and myself included was then dragged to dance along to one of their traditional dances done at every wedding ceremony. I could see from the smiling faces on everyone present that they were having fun and a little bit drowsy perhaps from the endless cups of rice coffee served to us at every village, but that’s Lun Bawang hospitality for you. Serving the guests the best of what they have to offer.


The thing that I love most about Ba’kelalan is the passion of its people. The passion that they have for the land they call home. I could hear it in their voice, see it in their expression what Ba’kelalan means to them. Over a steaming cup of tea on my last night in Ba’kelalan, Mutang and his band of brothers circled me and began narrating stories of Ba’kelalan from years gone passed down from generation to generation. It was a story of their people; their tribe. They began their story saying that hundreds of years ago, many tribes in Sarawak were head hunters. Tribal fights occurred because of revenge and the power over territory. When a warrior is victorious, a ritual dance would take place around the perimeter of a crocodile or “Buaya Ulong” erected from earth. The warriors would then be chanting incantations relaying the story of the fights and how they were victorious. It gave me the goose bumps, listening to his story while in my mind I was imagining a warrior, looking down at me from a hill, challenging me. I was shaken from my reverie when told that there are still a few sites of these Buaya Ulong intact around the village. I didn’t need to twist anyone’s arm when I asked to be taken to one of these sites the next morning. Mutang was very much eager to show me around, proud and very passionate of sharing the story of his people.

Rural golfing anyone?

My late night conversation with Mutang also led me to the discovery of a 9-hole natural golf course right there in rural Ba’kelalan. I challenge those golf enthusiasts to have a go at Ba’kelalan’s Highland golf course as it is made even more challenging with natural hazards such as rivers, paddy fields and jungles. Don’t expect a club house or buggies to be made available here, but you will find yourself loyal spectators in the form of buffaloes. Yes, buffaloes but fret not, these buffaloes will be herded away from the course if there are any players on the green. Granted, buffalo dungs will be scattered here and there and if your ball goes into the dung, the good thing is that you get to take a free lift! A plus point of playing on this natural gold course is that you will be able to take in the beautiful scenery of Ba’kelalan as you play. If you are interested and up for the challenge, a two weeks notice is needed by BJS in order for them to prepare the green and fairway.

Where rainbows end

No one is a stranger here in Ba’kelalan. I was constantly greeted and smiled at and not forgetting the centre of constant friendly bantering and teasing from Kading and Lisa, two locals who made sure that I had a comfortable stay there at the Apple Lodge. Ba’kelalan may not be able to offer a luxurious five star retreat, but what it does offer is a simple lodging with basic amenities.

I have always wondered where rainbows end, what amazing things can be found at the end of such beauty. As I was flying out of Ba’kelalan towards Miri, gazing out the window, looking at the twin peaks of Mulu and wondering when will I ever come back to the warmth of Ba’kelalan, I saw a beautiful rainbow across the blue sky, I did not scramble to take out my trusted camera as I just wanted to take in all the beauty of Ba’kelalan one more time before I go home. As cliché as it may sound, I left my heart back in Ba’kelalan, bits and pieces of it with Mutang, Bulan, Kenny, Edwin, Sultan, Freddie and all the wonderful people.

A few days after, back in busy Kuala Lumpur, I thought of Ba’kelalan. I sent a text message to Freddie back in the village, telling him how much I miss the people that have now become my friends and family. His simple reply made me ache more to go back. He simply said “come home”. I found where my rainbow ends, and it’s in the land of warmth and sunshine – the land of Ba’kelalan.


Maswings flies to Ba’kelalan four (4) times a week.
Monday – Lawas
Wednesday – Miri
Thursday – Lawas
Saturday – Lawas

In support of the Apple Fiesta, MASwings increased their direct flights from Miri from once a week every Wednesday to three times a day, four days a week.



Sir Pök Déng said...

So Miss C, you wrote a column in Going Places, do you? You can be a Lun Bawang's ambassador in tourism industry.

During my stay in Sarawak, I was told by the locals that Lun Bawang's ladies are among the prettiest in that state! I never encountered one, but I was quite satisfied to see the sweet smiles of demure Sarawakian ladies from other tribes such as the Melanau, Iban, and Bidayuh.

Speaking of Lun Bawang, there's one tribe in Sabah which also has 'Lun' in their tribe's name. They are the Lun Dayeh people, whose their fair complexion can melt the heart even the hardest of men.

Nice article Cinta. Love it. Sarawak, is indeed a nice place. If I were given the chance to make a point out of this, I'd say, Sarawak is Bawang Putih and Kuala Lumpur is Bawang Merah, taken from the famous Malay folklore Bawang Putih Bawang Merah.

Cinta said...

Am flattered that u think this article is worthy of a spot in Going Places. No, this is just my personal writing in this space of mine. But thank you.

It was my first visit to Sarawak, and I fell immediately in love with it. Yes, the Lun Bawang ladies are definitely fair maidens. So are the guys.

hoping to go back soon

Anonymous said...

Is it as good as PD?
I never go anywhere except PD...

Banzai PD!!!

FairyGodmother said...

Lovely post. I never doubted ur writing talents, but this is out of this world!

Cinta said...

This is actually a rejected version :) I'm still working on one that would please the person who's gonna okay it.

Seth said...

Hey there,

I think this article is great. As I know i was there in the event and was one of the photographers.

Im glad that you used some of my work to be posted there. Please sent me the copy that was accepted ya...

Planing to back anytime soon? I miss the place a lot.


Seth said...

Owh ya Cinta,

this is my article...

Not as good as yours

Seth said...

Owh ya Cinta,

this is my article...

Not as good as yours