Saturday, October 19

A successful dam story

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LAKE CRUISE: Boats ferry tourists along Kenyir Lake.

NATURAL: SETTING: Orchid Island on Kenyir Lake viewed from a boat.

GIFTS FOR ORANG ASLI: Free three-bedroom houses under construction at the Hulu Jelai Dam Project for the Orang Asli . The houses will also have electricity and water.

THANK YOU: Sarawak Energy Berhad Hydro vice-president Polycarp Wong (fourth right), receives a souvenir from a Tenaga Nasional resident engineer after visiting the Hulu Jelai Dam site in Cameron Highlands. Also seen at fourth left is Abdul Baderi.

OUR group left the hotel in Kuala Terengganu, all fired up by the prospect of an exciting visit to one of the country’s top tourist spots – Kenyir Lake or known locally as Tasik Kenyir – in the rustic hinterland of this north eastern peninsula state.

The bus ride took about two hours to reach our destination and as we alighted on arrival that

Nov 2 day, what struck us about the place was the vastness of the water catchment area — some 38,000ha, making it the largest in Southeast Asia.

The tranquility of the surroundings took our mind momentarily off the reality that we were actually looking at the Sultan Mahmud Hydro Electric Dam, an awe-inspiring mega structure, built in 1985.

Soon after, at the office of the Lake Kenyir Resort, our group, led by Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) manager of policy and government relations division Abdul Baderi Sahmat, met the management team of the Kuala Terengganu central government (Ketengah), headed by Mohamad Kamsa, who later briefed us on the the largest man-made lake in the region.

According to Mohamad, over 1.3 million people have come to see the dam and the huge artificial body of freshwater created by its construction, 65 miles from Kuala Terengganu’s Sultan Mahmud Airport, since the lake was opened to the public in 2006.

Island visit

After the briefing, we travelled in three boats to Orchid Garden Island, one of the 340 islets located in the lake area, and were given a guided tour.

The island’s main attractions are the Asean Orchid and Malaysian Orchid zones boasting more than 800 different species of orchids.

From there, an hour later, our group proceeded to Herbal Island, known for its exotic flora such Tongkat Ali,  Kacip Fatimah and Mahkota Dewa, which are among the 240 local plant species, said to have medicinal value.

The island’s rather jovial caretaker, who looks in his late 50s, is a very interesting man who interspersed his explanation on the benefits of the herbal plants with spicy jokes to cheer us up.

Everyone was offered herbal drinks made from Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah and Dewa Mahkota. Some were seen filling their plastic bottles with the home-grown elixirs to take home!

Kelah sanctuary

Mohamad who accompanied us on the expedition, said another must-see is the Kelah Sanctuary but unfortunately this fishery refuge is off-limits for a few months to give “the fish some peace and rest”.

“The Kelah Sanctuary is among the best places to visit. Tame fish swarm around swimmers taking a dip in the lake. It’s a unique experience,” he added.

After a fun and educational half day on the two islands, we were treated to a hearty lunch at the nearby Petang Island Resort on another island.

However, pressed for time, we were unable to visit more places of interest around the lake area — the National Park, the elephant sanctuary, the many waterfalls and caves, among others.

So if you plan to visit Kenyir Lake, it’s advisable to stay for a few days. You don’t want to miss out on the excitement of seeing the numerous natural attractions, the fun of joining the water activities and the adventure of exploring the many islands there.

It’s a haven for nature lovers, jungle trekkers, mountain hikers, photographers, bird watchers, anglers and those looking for a weekend away from the madding crowd!

Kenyir Lake also offers a number of resorts and houseboats for visitors to choose from.

Hulu Jelai hydro project

Two days earlier, our group visited the Mardi Agro Technology Park at Tanah Rata and the RM2.7 billion Hulu Jelai Dam project, built by Tenaga Nasional near Ringlet Town, Cameron Highlands, in Pahang.

After a briefing by the resident engineer, we headed for the site of the dam pro-ject.

Muhammad Heza Zianuddin, an on-site engineer, said although the over 400 Orang Asli were reluctant to move out of their villages, they showed minimal re-sistance when the dam was built on Sungai Bertam.

He revealed that each of the affected Orang Asli family is given a monthly allowance of RM683 for four years and another RM500 as transportation allowance even though the vehicles are provided by Tenaga Nasional.

On top of that, each family is given a three-bedroom concrete house near the dam site plus 10 acres of state land to carry on their livelihood.

On our way back to the Century Pines Hotel at Tanah Rata, we stopped at the site of the recently flooded area near Ringlet Town and the aftermath was still visible.

Our group of 26 members comprised officers from SEB, Sarawak Electricity Supply Corporation, Natural Resources and Environment Board, Information Department, Forest Department, Industrial Development Ministry, Land and Survey Department and Resident’s and District Office.

According to Abdul Baderi, one of the main purposes of the study tour was to gain an insight into eco-tourism development at hydroelectric dam sites in Malaysia.

At the end of the visit, one of the participants, Selamat Jati, who is Limbang Deputy Resident, said the familiarisation and study tour, organised by SEB from Oct 29 to Nov 3, was fruitful, educational and an eye-opener to how dams could boost the country’s eco-tourism industry.

For example, Kenyir Lake, a spinoff from a hydroelectric dam project, is one of the most popular and successful eco-tourism destinations in Malaysia and hopefully, other dam projects in the country will also benefit the eco-tourism sector in a similar fashion.