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The Sabah experience

Referred to as the land below the wind, Sabah, in eastern Malaysia is refreshing. A peaceful ambience greets a visitor everywhere, says S. ANNAMALAI.


A group of Proboscis monkeys making an appearance at Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.

KUALA LUMPUR

THE STATE of Sabah, in eastern Malaysia, is very much "God's own land". Here, one comes face to face with Nature in all its splendour. A blend of exotic colours in the heart of Borneo, Sabah is a feast to the eye, and the soul. Lining the coast are some of the world's most famous resorts that offer the best in leisure.

Sailors who passed the South China Sea often took shelter from strong winds in "Sabah", also referred to as the "land below the wind". Rightly so. Typhoons, hurricanes or earthquakes do not visit Sabah. There is peace, absolute peace, everywhere you go.

Kota Kinabalu, the capital city, is well connected by air from Kuala Lumpur and other major cities of the region. The crucible of life and culture of eastern Malaysia, the city showcases the people's moorings in the heritage village of Kampung Warisan, Here, models of tribal houses are on display. Sabah has 32 ethnic communities, including the "Cowboys of the East", the Bajaus, known for their horsemanship. They speak 50 languages and 80 dialects. Even today, one can come across these tribes who have settled along the mountain ranges. Mt. Kinabalu (4,101 metres), often covered by clouds is the highest mountain in South East Asia. Draped in greenery, the peak gets its name as a revered place of the spirits as the tribals believe that the soul rests here after death. There is also a sad tale associated with this mountain. A Chinese prince, who came in quest of a pearl in the possession of a dragon, fell in love with a tribal girl on accomplishing his task. After marrying her, he went back to China alone, never to return. The girl kept an eternal vigil on the sea from atop the mountain till she fell dead.


An exotic plant in the jungle.

As one takes a drive towards the Kinabalu Park, clouds float by. And suddenly rich green vegetation comes into view. Inside the park, the visitor comes across exotic plants and flowers.

Sabah is a place ideal for ecotourism and adventure tourism. (Ecotourism is not mere visits to parks or climbing peaks.) Even agricultural practices here are environment-friendly. The Kundasang town grows tonnes and tonnes of vegetables using organic manure. By application of bio-technology and eco-friendly farm practices, farmers have ensured that there is a steady supply of all vegetables and fruits all round the year.

Driving beyond Kundasang, one can reach Ranau town where there are hot springs which were believed to contain "an evil spirit". At the end of World War II, the Japanese, who had marched into Ranau with captive British soldiers, discovered that the hot springs could heal. The people then realised that the waters contained "a good spirit". The Air Panas Poring Hot Springs, with their sulphur content, known for its curative nature, attract people from all over the world. These springs have open air Japanese-style baths. Goodbye body ache!


The Panas Poring Hot Springs at Ranau.

The able bodied can trek up the mountain from here to a height of over 500 feet to reach the "canopy walk". Along the narrow pathway you are sure to come across exotic flowers and birds. The fortunate get a glimpse of the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia. The "canopy walk" is the zenith of adventure. After climbing up, you walk on a plank that connects the pine trees. Coming down, you always have the hot springs to soothe your heels.

On the east is Sandakan, which is another popular tourist attraction. About 38 km away from Sandakan is the home of a rare species of monkey — the Proboscis monkey. A drive through gravel roads along palm plantations takes you to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. The monkey, with a distinct pendulous nose, is endemic to the Borneo island. It lives in groups, with a dominant male, the leader of a group of females. (The young and the aged form a different group). The monkey thrives on leaves and sour fruits. For the benefit of tourists, this private resort prepares a pancake made of flowers and leaves to be fed to the monkeys in the evenings. They come in droves to entertain tourists and eat the pancakes.


The "Heritage village" at Kota Kinabalu.

The world's largest sanctuary for orangutans is at Sepilok, a 30-minute drive from Sandakan. The sanctuary has a rehabilitation centre for orangutans, a museum and a theatre. Animals that stray into habitations and those kept as pets are rehabilitated at the sanctuary and integrated with their peers.

Here, they learn to climb, swing and jump. Tourists can have a glimpse of the "man of the forest" when it comes to feed on fruits placed on a wooden platform. Sabah, with its picturesque coastline, has facilities for scuba diving and other water sports. The unique Nexus Resorts located in Karumbunai, offers a wide variety of services. In Malaysia, with its ethnic mix, an Asian feels "at home". Because Malaysia is truly Asia.

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