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Bukit Timah: Its a jungle out there!

Every so often, for no apparent reason whatsoever, I get the urge to step out of a nice, cool, air conditioned environment and become what can only be described as a 'sweaty mess'. Last week, I managed to do this with a visit to the Bukit Timah Nature reserve.

Monkeys at Bukit TimahDon't feed the monkeysBukit means Hill in Malay, and many people think that Bukit Timah Nature Reserve consists of just the hill, but it is more than that - the whole area, managed by the National Parks, is actually 164 hectares, with the hill being the highest point.

The reserve was established in 1883 under the recommendation of Nathaniel Cantley, who at the time was the Superintendent of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is the largest area of primary rainforest remaining in Singapore. Singapore is also one of only two cities in the world to have an area of primary rainforest within it - the other being Rio de Janeiro.

It is a fantastic feeling to be able to leave a busy highway and find yourself in a jungle within minutes and something which should be appreciated by all who live in, or visit the island. I arrived at the visitor centre at around 10.00am and was surprised to see so many people around on a weekday morning. It was good to realise that the nature reserves are well used and appreciated in Singapore.

The visitor centre is a large, open building, which fits in perfectly with the surroundings. It has toilet facilities and a small shop, plus an exhibition which is devoted to the reserve and the flora and fauna to be found there. It is an interesting room to wander around and I was most taken with a scale model of the area which gives a good impression of the amount of forest to be found out there.

I was pleased to discover some handy lockers for use by the public at the visitor centre and managed to store my surplus belongings in one of them and was able to go walking feeling somewhat lighter.

There was a National Park ranger on duty at the centre who was giving out leaflets with maps and information. I asked him whether people ever lose their way in the forest. I was expecting him to laugh at me and tell me I was being ridiculous, but he was very serious and told me that it happens quite often, and not just to tourists. One group were apparently out there until after dark because the Rangers had difficulty locating them.

Given that he also mentioned that snakes were nocturnal, this must have been a very sobering experience for the people concerned. However, he did point out that the people who get lost, do so because they leave the paths and go wandering off elsewhere, which is something worth remembering for anyone planning a visit.

According to the leaflet, there are three main paths up the hill. Most people who visit the reserve seem to make the summit their focal point and I decided to do the same. I followed the red route up the main pathway as it seemed the most direct.

For those who enjoy tramping through the forest on natural paths, then this is also possible as there are paths to the summit which take you through the trees and away from the main drag, plus many more, lesser known paths which can take walkers off to McRitchie Reservoir and beyond. Bukit Timah is not a particularly big hill, but it is a steep climb, which, coupled with the humid weather, makes for a good workout.

There were a fair number of runners around who must use the hill as their training ground. Most of them were on their way back down by this time, as the day was heating up and it would soon be too hot to do much in the way of running. I also saw a few people with babies in prams and thought I would add that if anyone reading this is a proud parent and feels that Bukit Timah is not for them; then think again, because the main route to the summit is a paved road. It would be difficult to push a pram anywhere else around the reserve, but up to the top of the hill and back again should be no problem.

Although there were quite a lot of people around, it was fairly quiet and peaceful walking up the hill (apart from my laboured breathing of course!) When I first moved to Singapore, I'd walk in some of the quieter and leafier areas of the island, and find myself listening to the strange rustling noises going on around me and wondering what kind of exotic animal would be out there snuffling around. It was a good few months before it dawned on me that I was actually hearing the constant leaf drop which goes on in forests in the tropics!!

Speaking of animals: While you are no longer likely to see tigers here, if you are quiet, it is possible you might be able to spot some Long Tailed Macaques (or Monkeys to those who think falling leaves are wild animals!). Two types of squirrels also live here (Plantain Squirrel and the Slender Squirrel), along with Flying Lemurs and even Pangolins if you're very lucky. Needless to say, I saw nothing apart from a dozy monitor lizard and a squirrel, but I did hear Macaques, so figured that counted as seeing them.

It took me about 30 minutes to walk up to the summit, but sadly it was a bit of a disappointment when I got there, because there is no view whatsoever from the top. I walked around the summit, hoping to catch a glimpse of something, anything apart from sky, but to no avail. I have since had a look at a few websites and books relating to Bukit Timah and they all seem to be gushing about this wonderful view.

I know plants and trees in this part of the world can grow very quickly and can only assume that since these other articles have been written, nature has taken over on the summit (either that or the authors were accomplished stilt walkers!).

It's good to see nature thriving, but disappointing for those who'd like a reward for their efforts. If the National Parks people are reading this - how about a (lightning proof!) lookout tower rising above the tree line?

Train runs through Bukit Timah

After leaving the summit, I walked back down, along part of one of the other paths which led me through the trees. I hardly saw a soul along this path and was able to see what the ranger had meant when he said that it was easy to get lost away from the paths. The trees in places are dense and a person does not have to travel very far before the path they left behind becomes invisible. If, when walking to the summit, it seemed serene and peaceful, then this path I was now taking was the complete opposite.

The place was awash with insects - cicadas, grasshoppers and any number of species I'd never heard of, all making their own personal droning. The strange thing I find about these noisy insects, is that try as I might, I never seem to be able to spot them, which I suppose means that their methods of camouflage are a resounding success. I did however see many kinds of beautiful butterfly and as always, the inch long Giant Forest Ants, which, if nothing else, inspire me to stay walking and not sit down!

After a short time, the forest path joined back with the steep path on which I had originally ascended and I made my way down to the visitor centre once again, the perfect end to a perfect day with nature!

MacRitchie and Seletar Reservoirs

Picnic in the park, where the grass is greener

MacRitchie and Seletar Reservoirs are tranquil spots conveniently located in the northern central parts of Singapore. Thomson Road is surrounded by broad swamps, a reservoir park which encompass stretches of lush jungle and greenery. These cool reservoir parks are excellent venues for jogging, full of strolling locals Singaporeans and their families. A three-kilometre trail within the central nature reserve is a nature lover's dream-come-true. The wealth of flora and fauna just waiting to be discovered is tremendous. Plaques and distance-markers along the trail provide useful information about the teeming animal and plant life.

Many fascinating plants flourish here. You may be able to spot the curculigo plant from India, that can paralyse the tastebuds if its fruits are eaten. Or, the mempat tree with a iodine-coloured sap that soothes itching. The MacRitchie nature trail holds many such secrets. Joggers will like the winding tracks that snake around the reservoir. The air is fresh and cool, so pack a blanket or ground sheet along with your sandwiches. You can have a pleasant picnic on these grounds as you watch the ripples of sunlight play on the water and take in the verdant surroundings.


- All locations are open daily and admission is free!
Location:
1) MacRitchie: off Lornie Road;
2) Upper Seletar: off Mandai Road;
3) Lower Peirce: off Upper Thomson Road;
4) Lower Seletar: off Yishun Avenue 1.
Getting There:
1) MacRitchie: Take SBS bus 132 or TIBS bus 167 from Orchard Road;
2) Lower Peirce: Take SBS bus 167 from Orchard Rd;
3) Upper Seletar: Take the MRT to Ang Mo Kio Station (N9) then board SBS bus 138;
4) Lower Seletar: Take the MRT to Yishun Station (N12) then take TIBS bus 851, 852, 853, 854 or 85.