Penang Hill

Thu 21 Oct 2010 03:21
21st October 2010
Why do I always want to climb the local hill? They loom over you, the 'challenge' (you have to see it from an elderly persons point of view!) seeps under your skin. At school I was a champion tree climber. It cannot have been allowed, but the school grounds were large, and I do not recall ever being caught or reprimanded. What freedoms we enjoyed. The backdrop to this great city is the verdant, frequently cloud topped, Pennang Hill: or 'Flagstaff Hill', or 'Bukit Bendera'. Same difference: 821 metres, but that is still around 3,000 English feet. And it was the British who cleared the first path to the top, quickly appreciating that there was a cooling breeze, and with height, a drop of about 5 degrees C in temperature, at the summit. The early path is preserved: travel was by foot, packhorse, or sedan chair. Now however only shank's pony is permitted, and with fairly regular rain the path is slippery. It was a 5km walk up from the rather splendid Botanical Gardens: themselves an hour's tortuous bus ride from downtown. I encountered several groups of middle aged Malay males, sweating in shorts and running shoes, perhaps enjoying a day's corporate bonding? I slipped once, banging my right thigh, but was otherwise unscathed as I finally emerged from the rainforest at the top of the Funicular, built by the Swiss in 1923, but recently closed down for an overhaul. Breathless and drenched in sweat, I was immediatly attacked by mossies. So a hasty sasparella and an ice cream from the food stall, a quick tour of the Mosque and the Hindu temple, and a photo of the indeed spectacular view accross the city and over to the mainland. Then back down. As it was by now dusk, I chose the 'jeep track': a metalled road open only to resident's vehicles. With the funicular out of action a 4wd business has been set up: £20 a trip to the top, £20 back down. The walk down was agony: hard surface, constant 30% decline, but better scenary than the path up, which was often hemmed in completely by the forrest. Lots of macaques, in families by the roadside, but also up in the trees, where they would swing effortlessly, but with a crashing of twigs and foliage, from the top of a tree one side of the road to a lesser perch opposite. At the bottom, an hours wait at a roadside stall for the bus home. When I had extracated myself from the uncomfortable plastic chair (to which I had become glued by drying sweat), I could barely hobble: this crazy idea of resting soft tissue injuries!!
Well, that is that then, as T Blair famously said, and I'm off to Langkowi in a few hours time.