Monday, July 20, 2009

Magical Moments on Mt Mat Cincang

AS OUR cable car glides over lush rainforests towards the summit of Langkawi's Mt Mat Cincang, a humanlike profile in the rock formations comes into view.

"Look closely," says Guide Thomas Lam, 35. "See how the rock formation resembles the profile of a man? See, the tip of its nose covered by clouds."

I trace the outline on the cable car window and wonder if the clouds at the tip of the nose are not condensed vapour from a breathing entity. It's all a bit whimsical, but then Langkawi is a land steeped in fables.

Mat Cincang, it is said, was a giant who was turned into a mountain after a quarrel with his son's in-laws. The two families had been celebrating the engagement of their children when Mat Cincang's son was caught flirting with another woman and a fight ensued. In the mêlée, pots and pans and other kitchen utensils were turned into missiles.

Clouds surrounding Mt Mat Cincang made it look magical. (Inset) The Langkawi Cable Car.

Apparently, this engagement-gone-sour is why Langkawi has strange names for its towns.

Langkawi's capital, Kuah (gravy), is said to be the spot where gravy spilt from this legendary fight. Belanga Pecah (broken cooking pot) marks the spot where a pot broke into pieces. Air Hangat (hot springs) was where hot water was flung, and Selat Cincin (ring straits), which separates Langkawi from Terutau Island in Thailand, is the body of water over which the engagement ring went flying.

As the gondola makes a slow ascent and wisps of clouds float past, I wonder if the story might indeed be true.

Of course, I had also learnt that Mat Cincang, which is part of a mountain range that extends all the way to Yunan in China, arose when geological upheavals pushed sandstone up from the seas. Erosion over 161 million years ago then carved the mountains, somehow bringing about the humanlike rock face.

Science is well and good, but myths are so much more engaging, don't you think?

As we near the Top Station, I take in the scenic view of the Mat Cincang range. Up ahead, the mountain face seems to have been scarred by a landslide. To my left, a waterfall plunges into a thick carpet of trees.

General manager of Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), Kamarulzaman Abdul Ghani, who trekked up the 3.2km trail that links Telaga Tujuh to the middle and top stations, tells me that the forest has some of the world's oldest rainforest trees, and of these, the Shorea curtise, the tallest species of trees on the island, can grow up to 60m high.

"There is one part of the trail called the Hanging Gardens where you can see trees coming out of the rocks. This is where I saw a 17cm-long centipede," says the 50-something Kamarulzaman with astonishment.

For some reason, I ask if he thinks Langkawi and Mat Cincang will be around for another 450 million years.

"Some people say that the end of the world is near. But near or far is relative. Imagine, the world has been here for 4.5 billion years, so it's been around a long time. But for a small ant, a few weeks is comparable to a few hundred years. When we talk about eternity and all the things which are relative to time, it brings out a different perspective. It makes you think whether living for a hundred years is short or long when you compare it to the mountains, the seas and the stars," Kamarulzaman replies.

When I alight at the Top Station, the wind is blowing, its misty and it all looks surreal. We make our way to the pedestrian bridge, 10 minutes away. It spans 125m across a chasm. At 700m above sea level, the view from here is spectacular!

You look out to the Andaman Sea and find that sea and sky have become one. Mat Cincang looks glorious up close.

The cable car, Lam adds, is part of LADA's eco-tourism project. Costing close to RM50mil, its construction was carried out with due deligence, using a cable and helicopter to carry building materials up the mountain. Trees were felled only when necessary.

I'm more interested in the rock faces peering out from amidst the greenery. Because of the mist, the colours from the sandstone are muted, but you can tell they are a warmish brown with traces of yellow and black streaks – the effect of trace minerals caused by compacting pressures over millions of years.

Since it took Mat Cincang 450 million years to grow to a height of 713m, that works out to 1.58m per one million years. So, where mountains are concerned, 100 years is indeed a relatively short time. W

Langkawi Cable Car is located in Oriental Village, Burau Bay on the southwest coast of Langkawi. It is a 15-minute drive from Langkawi International Airport and 30 minutes from Kuah. For bookings, call (04) 959 4225.

Published in The Star on Saturday, September 16, 2006

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