Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bukit Malawati - Silvered Leaf Monkeys

On the first day of Raya we went to see the leaf monkeys, and boy, was the traffic crazy…

Salam Aidilfitri to all my Muslim friends. Originally, I have intended to do a trip to Bukit Malawati (Malawati Hill) to see the silvered leaf monkeys on Monday, on the eve of Hari Raya Aidilfitri. However, I was informed that in the past, the park is closed on Mondays, and since I was not too sure, the trip got postponed to Tuesday, which was the first day of Aidilfitri (Eid). Needless to say, traffic on the road was not that smooth as we joined the Hari Raya crowd and many who took advantage of the holidays to go sightseeing. On weekends and public holidays, cars are not allowed up the hill, and one would have to take a tram ride up to the top. Tickets for the tram ride (RM 3 for a single trip ticket for adult) are available at the base of the hill (a shed beside the toilets, or further down the road at Taman Ikan Air Tawar (Freshwater Fish Park).The ticket covers the ride up Malawati Hill and a trip to the Freshwater Fish Park.
Silvered leaf monkeys with their babies at Bukit Malawati, Kuala Selangor.

Where is this Bukit Malawati?
Bukit Malawati (Malawati Hill, sometimes spelled as Melawati Hill, not be be confused with Taman Melawati or the Bukit Melawati nearby in Ampang/Ulu Kelang) is a small hill located in Kuala Selangor town, which is in the Kuala Selangor district. The town of Kuala Selangor is well known amongst tourist en-route to see the synchronous flashing of fireflies (kelip-kelip) at Kampung Kuantan or local travellers seeking out seafood restaurants for seafood binge eating at Pasir Penambang. The Malawati Hill however, has much more history and places of interest to offer than just fireflies or good seafood.

A trip back in time
Okay, here’s a bit of local history on Bukit Malawati. Please do not hate me for making you feel like you had just failed your high school history paper – this is the heavy stuff (enough to put anyone with insomnia to bed in three seconds) as Kuala Selangor was the old royal capital of Selangor.

The Malawati Hill was once home to Kota Malawati (Malawati Fort), a fortress built for defence by Sultan Ibrahim Shah; the second Sultan of Selangor (reigned from 1778 until 1826). This fortress faces the Straits of Malacca and has a commanding view of the coastline and the Selangor River mouth.
The present view from Bukit Malawati. The blue arrow indicates the location of the Selangor River (Sg. Selangor) mouth.

So why is there a need for a fort?
The Bugis established themselves in Selangor during the 17th century and installed Raja Lumu as Selangor’s first Sultan in 1756. Raja Lumu, who took the title Sultan Salehuddin Shah, established himself at the Kota Malawati, replacing its earlier earthworks with one of stout stone walls and ringing its perimeter with cannons.

Sultan Ibrahim Shah who succeeded him further improved the fort’s defences with the construction of additional walls at the base of the hill and the placement of even more cannon. Solid slabs of stone were used in the fort’s construction and they were held by massive pillars, which was impressive for a fort at that time. It was also at this time that a second earthworks fort was built at Bukit Tanjong Keramat, to help support the main fort from any surprise flanking attacks by sea.

Conspiracies and the fall of Kota Malawati
Due to the decline in the influence and status of the Dutch between 1780 and 1784, coupled with the fact that Malacca was a strategic trading port, the Sultan of Johor and the Sultan of Riau conspired to attack Malacca with the intention of overthrowing the Dutch there, thereby gaining control of an important trading port. The Sultan of Selangor at that time was Sultan Ibrahim Shah, the second Sultan of Selangor who had replaced his deceased father, Sultan Salehuddin Shah (Raja Lumu from Bugis).

Because the ruler of Selangor had allied itself with the forces of Raja Haji (the uncle to Sultan Ibrahim Shah, brother to Raja Lumu aka Sultan Salehuddin Shah) that attacked Dutch Malacca in 1784, a fleet of 11 Dutch ships and several vessels belonging to Raja Muhammad Ali of Siak, a Dutch ally, sailed to Kuala Selangor in July that year and bombarded the fort mercilessly for two weeks in the act of retaliation. On August 2, a combined force of the Dutch troops and the forces from Siak managed to land and stormed the hill, driving Sultan Ibrahim’s forces into the surrounding jungle. The Dutch then occupied the fort, renaming Kota Malawati ‘Altingsburg’, after Willem Arnold Alting who was Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company (officially from Sept 1 1780 until Feb 17 1797, the second last Govenor-General of VOC before it was formally dissolved in 1800 and the territorial possessions of the VOC were nationalised under the Dutch Government as the Dutch East Indies); and also occupied the fort built on Bukit Tanjong Keramat, which was renamed ‘Fort Utrecht’ (now called Bukit Belanda – Dutch Hill).

In the absence of a ruler, the Dutch appointed Raja Muhammad Ali from Siak as the regent of Selangor. The Dutch also made a peace agreement with Raja Muhammad Ali, thereby further strengthened its stronghold in Kuala Selangor. After the war, Altingsburg (also spelled Altingburg) was repaired by the Dutch and equipped with better cannons.

Recapturing Altingsburg
The victory of the Dutch in Kuala Selangor does not mean that the war was over. Followers of Sultan Ibrahim objected to the rule by Raja Ali and the Dutch, whom they regard as the unlawful ruler, resulting in frequent frictions between the two parties. The deposed Sultan Ibrahim and the other royal families had to retreat to Hulu Selangor. The Sultan then further retreated to Bernam and from Bernam to Pahang. In Pahang the Sultan managed to get assistance from the Bendahara Abdul Majid to recapture Selangor and was building up his army in Pahang.

On 27 July 1785, just after a year of Raja Muhammad Ali’s rule in Kuala Selangor, war broke out again in Kuala Selangor. With an army of 2000 followers gathered from Pahang, Sultan Ibrahim came back to recapture Kuala Selangor. Sultan Ibrahim’s army build their defence fort at Permatang, which was further strengthened by the local people of Permatang who joined the army. On the night of 27 July 1785, the forces of Sultan Ibrahim laid siege on the Dutch. By the following morning, the Dutch were defeated, resulting in the Dutch fleeing from their forts in Kuala Selangor to their ships.

Ultimate downfall of Kota Malawati
After the demise of Sultan Ibrahim in 1826, Sultan Muhammad was unable to control his territorial chiefs, some of which began to engage in piracy. With the demise of Sultan Muhammad, and an ongoing dispute on succession in the royal palace, Raja Abdul Samad was enthroned as the next sultan. The lure of the lucrative tin mining trade, and a weakened influence of the Sultan due to the disputed recognition of Abdul Samad as the rightful heir to the throne, led to attempts by Raja Mahdi (Mahadi), who was a territorial chief, to gain control of the district of Klang that sparked the Selangor Civil War (1867-1873

All does not end well for Kota Malawati, as she bore witness to the many struggles and battles over the years during the Selangor Civil War. At that time, Raja Mahdi held control of the fort at Kuala Selangor after being defeated by Tengku Kudin in Klang. In 1871, the British came into the picture of the complicated multipartite civil war. This intervention was triggered by a pirate attack on a Penang based junk. The pirates responsible for the attacks were allies of Raja Mahdi, whose main base was in Kuala Selangor. Hence the British sent HMS Rinaldo and HMS Pluto to attack the ‘pirates' fort’ at Kuala Selangor. HMS Rinaldo stood off to seal the river mouth while HMS Pluto entered the river and landed Marines on the July 3, 1871. Raja Mahdi’s forces attacked the marines, and in the ensuing skirmish, left one Marine killed and five wounded. HMS Pluto then left with the wounded for Penang, leaving HMS Rinaldo to guard the river mouth. On the following day, HMS Rinaldo bombarded the fort (and also Fort Utrecht), destroying it and driving Raja Mahdi’s forces (led at that time by Saiyid Mashur) to the surrounding jungle. This is known as "The Selangor Incident", an event which eventually led to the end of the Selangor Civil War and the imposition of a British Resident named Frank Swettenham to "advise" the then ruler Sultan Abdul Samad.

So what remains there today?
Not much was left of the fort after that attack and today, all that remains of the original fort for visitors to see are a few decrepit foundation stones and walls, along with some of the 68 cannons originally used for the fort’s defences. Grass and shrubs now cover the hill, creating a pleasant park-like environment along with rain trees (Samanea saman syn. Albizia saman, Enterolobium saman) that towers over the landscape.

Attractions at Bukit Malawati
According to the information provided by the local district council, there are 11 places of interest around and within the vicinity of Bukit Malawati. However, if you take the tram up the hill on weekends or public holidays, you will miss most of it, as the tram goes pass the poisoned well right up to the viewing point, then goes down passing the royal mausoleum, past the 100 steps, down and around the town of Kuala Selangor and then to the Freshwater Fish Park and then back to the starting point. If you go on foot or by your own transport (only possible on non-public holiday weekdays), then you can explore the entire Malawati Hill and the nearby Fort Utrecht (Dutch Hill).
The viewing area just below the peak of Bukit Malawati - photo by Leanne.

The Poisoned Well
This well is supposedly used in the past to torture traitors. The water in the well was filled up to the chin level of the intended victim with water mixed with poisonous latex and hairs of young bamboo shoots. The prisoner is then left to suffer the effect of the itchy hairs and the poisonous latex.
The Poisoned Well - definitely not a Wishing Well. Perhaps it can be called an Itching Well??

Viewing Point
The point where most visitors congregate is the viewing point in front of the Altingsburg lighthouse, just slightly below the peak. From here, one can look out to the lush greenery and mangroves below and further out, a vista of open sea. If one looks closely, one can discern where the sea meets with the Selangor River, often dotted with tiny ships and boats sailing through. This particular point of the peak is also a famous tourist feeding ground for the silvered leaf monkeys.
Cannons at the front portion of the viewing area - photo by Esther Henshall.
Silvered leaf monkeys near the viewing area. There are a few long tailed macaques around too.

Altingsburg Lighthouse
The Altingsburg lighthouse at the top of the hill was built in 1907 and continues to guide ships sailing through the Straits of Malacca today. This lighthouse has a focal plane of 73m (240ft) that emits two white flashes every 15s. It is a 27m (89ft) round two-stage tower with lantern and gallery, with the whole structure painted white. The lower half of the tower is a cylindrical masonry structure whilst the upper half is a conical cast iron tower.
Altingsburg Lighthouse at Bukit Malawati.
Royal Mausoleum
Further down the road from the viewing point and at a corner of the hill, sits a royal mausoleum for the first three Sultans of Selangor. They are Sultan Salehuddin Shah, Sultan Ibrahim Shah and Sultan Muhammad Shah.
The Royal Mausoleum at Bukit Malawati.

Freshwater Fish Park                       
Just beside the Kuala Selangor Nature Park (Taman Alam), and a short distance away from Bukit Melawati is the Taman Ikan Air Tawar, a freshwater fish park with fishes in aquariums and ponds. In addition to the live fish on display, the five-acre park also has a mini theatre, souvenir shop, gallery displaying traditional fish traps, several aviaries for birds (pheasants and fowls including Guinea fowl and peafowl), ponds and a partially landscaped natural garden at the back. There are supposedly about 1,500 fish encompassing 60 species on display, most of which originates from rivers and peat swamps. However, the place looks like it has fallen into neglect and definitely needs more work done. Do take a look at the various snakeheads (Channa sp) on display, including the giant snakehead (Channa micropeltes) and also catfishes (Clarias sp.), arowana (Scleropages sp.) and kalui (Giant gourami - Osphronemus goramy).
A pair of Peafowl with a leucistic (white) peahen on the left.
Giant Snakehead (Channa micropeltes) locally known as toman harimau.
Catfishes in an aquarium.
A traditional fish trap on display at the gallery area.

Monkey Business
Bukit Malawati is more well-known for the population of silvered leaf monkeys. So what are these leaf monkeys, you may ask. Leaf monkey is a general name for monkeys belonging to the Colobinae subfamily of the Old World Monkeys. There are four leaf monkeys in Peninsular Malaysia, represented by two from the genus Presbytis and two from Trachypithecus.

Silvery monkeys with golden babies!
At the top of Bukit Malawati, one can find the silvered leaf monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus). Also known as the Silvery Lutung/Lotong, the silvered leaf monkey is a folivorous species (consumes leaves) that also consumes fruits, seeds, flowers, and young shoots. The silvered leaf monkeys have a matrilineal and a harem based (one male group) social structure. Their babies are born with orange fur (golden babies…okay perhaps ginger babies??) and unpigmented, hairless skin on the face, hands, and feet (pink skin) with females allowing other females to carry and to care for their young (allomothering). However, one need not go up Bukit Malawati just to catch a glimpse of these silvered leaf monkeys. A small group can be seen congregating at the playground by the parking lot.
Quit staring at my ginger baby. A silvered leaf monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus) with its golden baby at the viewing area of Bukit Malawati. Notice that the baby has pink unpigmented face.
A group of silvered leaf monkeys by the carpark.

Feed them?? You must be crazy!
First of all, I do not encourage feeding of wild animals as that will lead to them being dependent on human handouts. Then there is the problem of animals being fed the wrong kinds of food, or limited variety of food due to the human 'supplemented' diet. However, the population of monkeys here have already grown accustomed to human handouts, and what you can do is to ensure that you feed them the right kind of foodstuff. Now leaf monkeys are very gentle, and unlike their distant cousins the macaques (subfamily Cercopithecinae genus Macaca), they are very less prone to aggression and aggressive behaviour. The leaf monkeys will not sneak up on you and snatch whatever bags that you are carrying. Instead, they will wait patiently for you to produce food for them. Thus it is relatively safe to let your child feed them. Do make sure that your child do not step on them (or their long tails) or suddenly hit out on them as this might trigger an unwanted reaction on the part of the leaf monkeys, and the possibility of a defensive attack. They are after all wild animals, thus one must not underestimate the risk of contact with them.
Feed me, feed me - photo by Esther Henshall.

Where to get what to feed them with?
There are stalls selling long beans, bananas, bread and nuts; both at the bottom of the hill as well as at the top. To prevent the monkeys from taking the food on display, the sellers either put them in wire baskets or place fake rubber snakes and a small lion on top of the food. The leaf monkeys leave them alone, possible due to experience (or more likely instinct in the case of the fake lion) which tells them not to mince with 'deadly’ predators like snakes and larger cats.
A peddler selling long beans, bananas, bread and nuts. Notice the toy lion and (partly hidden) rubber snake beside and on the long beans.

Since they are folivorous, they should only be eating leafy stuff of plant origin. So you should not be feeding bread to them. And don’t try giving them ice-cream. The long tailed macaques, also present at the site, will take ice-cream (they are omnivorous), but the leaf monkeys usually reject ice-cream or ice lollies (smart of them). You can also bring your own food, like long beans, just remember to wash and cut them to lengths of about 13-15cm. The silvered leaf monkeys will also take cucumber strips (a little cautious as it is not their ‘staple’ diet) and apparently they also love water convolvulus (kangkung).
Gimme that piece of long bean. The baby in this picture is very much older that the one shown in one of the picture above as the face has darkened (become pigmented).
Yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy (okay okay, long beans in my tummy, sheez!).

Okay, I have food, so now what do I do?
If you show them the whole bunch of food, be it long beans or cucumber, they will take the entire bunch. This is a normal foraging behaviour and the leaf monkeys does it gently, in the manner of a shy child taking food from a stranger. This is in contrast to the long tailed macaques that will snatch food from you whilst hissing and barring their teeth. If the leaf monkeys see you taking food out of your pockets, they will paw incessantly at the pocket, asking for more. If it is open, they will gently come up and ‘forage’ your pocket. However, if you keep it closed (e.g. Velcro shut or buttoned shut), they will wait patiently for you to give it to them whilst looking at you with their shiny eyes, similar to what Puss in Boots does in Shrek. This is usually accompanied by pawing and tugging at your pants or skirt or shirt (make sure your pants don’t fall off). So all softies be warned. My advice is to keep the food hidden, and give them one piece at a time.
Just checking your pockets for security reasons. All clear.

A hot momma sitting beside a hot chick (I am so gonna get killed for this).

Monkeying around the leaf monkeys
A trick that makes a good photo shot is to get them to sit on your shoulder whilst they munch on the food that you have provided them! To do that, you show them a piece of food, and then raise the piece of food up above your head. With a little encouragement, they will climb up and sit on your shoulders whilst they munch on the food. They would usually sit on after finishing the morsel, and engage in a little surveying of the surrounding area for more handouts. This is a good time to get friends to take photos of the leaf monkey on your shoulder. If you do get tired of them sitting on you, and eventually you will, just walk about a little and they get the idea that it is time to move off. Being animals, if there is an easier choice to get food, they will get it from where it requires less effort (ahem…lazy). Hence, if there are many people around who are just handing food out to them, the ‘food above the head’ trick might not work. What you can do is to just walk away from the crowd and find a spot where you will be the only few feeding them and the leaf monkeys there will put in a little effort to climb up and get it from your upraised hand. Do note that they will grip on whatever that they can hold on to with sufficient strength when they climb onto you, thus you might get a few light scratches. This is done with no malice intended, and it is just natural as they are used to climbing up trees whereby a weak grip would certainly result in a nasty fall.

Monkeying with the local tourist - photo by Esther Henshall.
Hmm, to pee or not to pee, that is the question... - photo by Esther Henshall.
She ain't heavy, she's just a monkey.
A little too chummy with the tourist.

Getting to know you
After being fed, they will sometimes sit beside you and hold your hand, expecting you to give them more food. If they get comfortable enough with you (or distracted enough), mothers will even let you touch their young. If she is not ready to have her young ‘fondled’ by you, she will push your hand aside, a sign meaning hands off my baby. Some people have also reported that they were allowed to touch and play with the juveniles (usually past the orange stage) by the mother, as if the human is one of them, and she had just passed the baby on to be cared for by the human like the human is one of the females in the troop. A word of caution, despite their mild disposition, one should be careful at all times when handling wild animals, for anything that upsets them might put you at risk and I am NOT responsible for any untowardly incident that you may encounter with these monkeys.
I want to hold your hand - photo by Esther Henshall.
Please, can I have some more?
A baby with its dried up umbilicus still attached.
Coochi-coochi-coochi-coo - photo by Leanne.

A bunch of long beans - RM1
One ticket for the tram ride - RM3
Photo shot with the silvered leaf monkeys....definitely priceless!

Whipping up an appetite
If after the 'historic trip back in time' coupled with the monkey business at the top of Bukit Malawati have whipped up an appetite, you can have a light meal at the Kuala Selangor town before heading home (if seafood at Pasir Penambang isn’t your cup of tea). There are numerous restaurants by the main road, guaranteeing that you need not go back hungry. As it was the first day of Hari Raya, many of the restaurants were closed so we had to settle for a late lunch at one of those fancy schmancy franchised cafe called Auntie Kopitiam Cafe. Not too bad though as the Hainanese Chicken Rice that they served had a kick-ass roasted chicken that tasted like barbecued chicken. It was not the typical Hainanese chicken rice, but delicious in its own special way.

How to get there
1)      Set your GPS to Kuala Selangor and follow the directions. Be careful as driving along the the coastal road is different from driving on highways.
2)      If you are coming from Shah Alam, first head towards Klang, then towards Kapar/Meru, then follow the signage on the coastal road to Kuala Selangor. The journey from Sg. Rasau toll gate to Kuala Selangor isn’t that long, just that there are many traffic lights once you turn off towards Kapar/Meru and this goes on until Kuala Selangor. You will pass by places like Pantai Remis, Kg. Sg. Buloh, and Assam Jawa. As you approach Kuala Selangor, you will see Tesco Kuala Selangor on your right and a police station on your left. The transmission tower atop of Bukit Malawati is a landmark that you should head towards. The signage for Bukit Malawati and Bukit Belanda is clearly posted, and isn’t easily missed. There is a parking lot just by the playground and if there are no parking available there, just turn into Taman Alam and park at either the Taman Ikan Air Tawar parking lot or the Taman Alam parking lot. You can get the tram tickets at the entrance of the Taman Ikan Air Tawar. If you have crossed the bridge over Sg. Selangor or had reached Pasir Penambang, you have gone past the turn off to Bukit Malawati and need to do a U-turn back.
3)      If you are coming from Sekinchan or Tanjung Karang or Jalan Ulu Tiram Buruk, head south towards Kuala Selangor, past Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Khai Tee on your right and after crossing the Sg. Selangor bridge, look out for a turning to your right, which leads to the foot of Bukit Malawati. If you have gone pass Tesco Kuala Selangor on your left, then you have overshot the junction to Bukit Malawati and need to turn back.
4)    Use the Kuala Selangor Expressway, LATAR (also known as the Assam Jawa Templer Park Expressway) if you are coming from the east. Tol collection starts on 1 Sept 2011. Head towards Kuala Selangor, which should bring you to a junction at Assam Jawa that joins the coastal road from Klang, where you turn right. It is also possible to exit the highway and go through Ijok, and onwards through Jalan Ulu Tiram Buruk or even to Tanjong Karang, where you will need to turn left when you have reached the main road to head back towards Kuala Selangor.
5)      Get a taxi to bring you to Bukit Malawati. You might want to hire the taxi by the hour, so that you will not have trouble getting a taxi for the trip back. However, rates can be exorbitant.
6)      Pay for a half day/one day tour package, which usually covers a trip to feed the monkeys at Bukit Malawati, a seafood dinner, a boat ride down Sg. Selangor and viewing of the fireflies at night.

Bukit Malawati can be an ideal holiday spot for a day off as it has a lot to offer in be it a family getaway, historical sightseeing or photo taking trip and even a gastronomic adventure (if you include seafood at Pasir Penambang).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Flowers of Herbs and Spices

Just a post to show the blooms of herbs growing on the balcony. Though most of the blooms are not showy and sometimes undesirable, nevertheless, the blooms adds a little spark of colour to drab green/grey green colour of these leafy plants grown for their leaves (with the exception of the chilli).

So first of all, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Nice blue blooms appear on the shoot tips and also from the side shoots. The blooms do come in the range of white to blue to purple to pink. Most of the nursery specimens you get in KL (and those from cuttings sold as commercial herb) have white flowers. Got these cuttings from a friend of a friend in Adelaide. It is so lovely to have a rosemary hedge, with all the blue flowers and oh how aromatic the smell is when one brushes against the hedge. I find that the blue flowered ones appear to be less vigourous than the white ones in our climate. Lesson number one for those intending to grow rosemary in Malaysia (or anywhere humid and wet year round) - once the specimen has been established, do not over water the plants. It does not need to be watered daily. The leaves will tell you when they need a drink. Over water them and you get leaf tip burn and root rot.

Rosemary flowers.
The flowering shoot a few days later.

Next is the purplish pink blooms of Oregano (Origanum vulgare). Whilst most of the fresh Oregano sold in Malaysian supermarkets taste like lawn clippings, you can get better flavour if you grow them yourself. Trick is to restrict watering and let the soil dry out occasionally. Then you will get a spicier, stronger tasting fresh Oregano.

Oregano flowers (notice the forked stigma).

Then there's the white flowers of sweet basil. The inflorescence will sap the vigour of the plant, thus should be promptly removed. However, the blooms do make nice garnish and the whole flowering stem can be put inside a bottle of basil infused vinegar to give it a touch of class. As I had a row of them growing on the balcony by the sliding door, my godmother commented today that she could smell the basil when the breeze blows through, and that it was lovely. Now that has got to be an added bonus of growing basil, other than its culinary use. 

The white blooms of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum var. basilicum).

Then we have the blooms of the Bishop's Crown chilli (Capsicum baccatum). I got the seeds recently when I went to Adelaide last Autumn. Instead of eating it, i gauged out the seeds and packed it home. This was from a batch of sowing to determine the viability of the seeds collected. Capsicum baccatum, as one of the species of chilli 'domesticated' by man, has many cultivars. Bishop's Crown is a cultivar of C. baccatum that has a weird bell shaped, three lobed fruit that can be citrusy in taste with a hotter interior section.  

Capsicum baccatum flower - the green gold markings is a distinctive feature of this chilli species.
Another bloom at anthesis. Was tempted to hand pollinate it.

A developing fruit - you can see the distinctively three lobed fruit developing.

The plant has large, heart shaped leaves, very much larger than the normal chilli (Capsicum annuum). It is supposedly a large leggy plant, but I probably have stunted my specimen by growing it in small polybags.