|Rafflesia in the flesh at Lojing Highlands, Kelantan!|
|A closer look at Rafflesia kerrii, second largest in the genus|
Driving an hour north of the popular hill resort of Cameron Highlands, our full-day adventure started as soon as our 4X4 Land Rover detoured to a bumpy dirt track that lead to our jump-off point to a quick jungle trek to find the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, which I’ve been trying to see for years.
The forests of Lojing Highlands, which belongs to the neighboring state of Kelantan, are home to Rafflesia kerrii – the second largest species of Rafflesia, which produces the world’s largest single blooms. I’ve tried searching for Rafflesia before in the rainforests of Antique in the Philippines, but only found a handful of premature flower buds, which looked nothing more than ugly cabbages.
|Racing through the jungle – that’s my travel mate, Mica of www.senyorita.net, leading the pack!|
|A small cascade along a stream|
We found a single bloom, next to an unopened bud, after an hour’s hike into the jungle passing through shallow streams, ravines and bamboo groves. The fleshy flower was perched along a dry slope surrounded by its host plant, the Tetrastigma vine, which it attaches to. It takes up to 20 months for Rafflesia kerrii flowers to mature; and once they do, the blooms only last for seven days. Fresh blooms smell like rotten meat to attract flies and other insects that serve as pollinators. It is still a mystery, however, how its seeds disperse and find their way inside the host vines. We found a few more mature buds closer to the main trail, which the guide says will open in a week or so.
We were joined by a Senoi aborigine – one of the orang asli (aboriginal people) of Malaysia – who gave each of us in our group fern headpieces, perhaps as a customary form of welcome, to wear on our hike. Our Malaysian-Indian driver also served as our hiking guide to find the elusive flower. Along the way, he would explain the medicinal and therapeutic properties of certain jungle flora such as wild honey ginger and the roots of particular herbs. We also tried drinking out of a bamboo stalk, demonstrating its water retention properties, which definitely proves useful as a source of potable water when exploring the forest.
|Trekking mates take a therapeutic whiff from crushed wild ginger stalks|
|Malayan Tiger tracks!|
Besides admiring the resplendent Rafflesia up close, what was also most fascinating – and unnerving! – was coming across tracks of the endangered Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), a newly-designated subspecies of tiger found in the central and southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia. It is also the national animal of Malaysia. Sadly, only around 500 individuals of this subspecies are believed to remain in the dense interior of the country.
Hiking in the jungles of Lojing Highlands proved to be an insightful journey, coming face to face (or face to foot, at least with a Malayan Tiger!) with its rich flora and fauna, thanks to the knowledge and expertise of our guides. This nature adventure definitely turned out to be the highlight of my trip to the highlands of Peninsular Malaysia.
HOW TO GET THERE: Lojing Highlands, Kelantan is located an hour north of Tanah Rata, the main town of Cameron Highlands, Pahang. Rafflesia adventure tours (seasonal) can by arranged through tour operators in Tanah Rata. Our Raffesia hike was part of a full-day tour that included other destinations for only MYR 98 per person. We booked through Hill Top Travel & Tour, No. 24, Main Road, Tanah Rata, 39000 Cameron Highlands.
This trip was made possible by Airphil Express – which now flies from Manila to Kuala Lumpur thrice weekly – in cooperation with Tourism Malaysia and travel insurance provider, Travel Guard Chartis.