Travel Journal

Escape to Kelabit Highlands (Malaysia)

(Monday 13 February 2012) by Lynda
A land of sacred stones, of muddy longhouse pilgrimages, of wispy clouds thumbing thick greens like lazy fingers. The Kelabit Highlands is a faraway land indeed. Snuggled up against the Indonesian border like a sleeping leviathan, this kingdom of earth and sticks rests quitly under the rain as time tiptoes by oh-so slowly. - Lonely planet Malaysia -

After reading about the Kelabit Highlands I knew I had to go there. The plan was easily made but getting there (and back) was a bit harder. A 12-hour busride from Kuching to Bintulu, a bus from Bintulu to Batu Niah to visit the enormous batcaves enroute and another bus to Miri. In Miri I had to wait for 3 days for a flight to Bario because the plane, a Twin Otter, only seats 17 passengers. Passed away the time by walking around town, swapping stories with other backpackers, drinking ice Milo and beers, singing kareoke and nursing an immense hangover until it was time to fly into the heart of Borneo.

Hornbill in Kelabit
Hornbill in Kelabit

The flight was amazing, the plane so small and we climbed so high to get above the clouds. The landing was downright scary, finding an opening in the clouds and diving straight into it, flying over the canopy so you could almost touch the treetops and landing in one go on the shortest airstrip I have ever seen. But I've made it to Bario, the "capital" of Kelabit Highlands, a tiny little village with farmhouses scattered on the hills. Rice paddy fields and pineapples everywhere covered under a soft blanket of ever present clouds.
Taking a break - Gorillaz in the jungle!!!!
Taking a break - Gorillaz in the jungle!!!!



I came to see the megaliths. The Kelabit Highlands are dotted with these relics; artfully arranged standing stones and huge boulders carved with unknown symbols. They stand in mute testimony to the ceremonial and ritual world of their animistric ancestors in ages past. In the years since, many of them have been largely forgotten, swallowed up by the jungle that reclaims all untended ground in weeks. To see the megaliths, I hired a guide and walked the buffalo trail from Bario to Pa'Lungan, a 4-hours hike through the jungle, along the buffalo trail the most amazing fruits, flowers and wild orchids, so beautiful. The trail was very hard and hot and got extremely muddy but I was rewarded by the impressive burial site of Batu Ritung, ok it's not Stonehenge but still........and ofcourse another cold shower (mandi style) in a nice homestay in Pa'Lungan. Enjoyed the hospitality of the Kelabit people there and had a tasteful dinner straight from the jungle 'supermarket'.

Batu Navit
Batu Navit


Yes, Bario was well worth the effort. It's great to cycle around town on my mountainbike, visit nearby kampungs on my quest for more megaliths with a handdrawn map and visit longhouses to see the old Kelabit people with their long stretched earlobs because of the heavy earrings they love to wear. Bario is great to relax, unwind, no internet or phone and it's easy to pick up the slow pace of life that is centred around the moving sun and the rythme of the rain. Loved it!

- Travellyn -

 


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