Monday, January 18, 2016

GUNUNG LEDANG - PRINCESS OF MT. OPHIR


A Malaysian Legend
Legend says that Centuries ago, in a dense forest, high up the mountain in Johore, there lived a maiden. She was the most beautiful woman, anyone had ever seen. No word in any vocabulary, could describe the beauty of this mysterious being.

Far across the ocean, tales of her long flowing hair, flawless complexion, tall slender body, sweet humming lullabies echoing in the valleys, at sunrise and sunset, were conversation topics.

Men came in droves, and waited patiently to catch a glimpse of her. None could lay eyes
on  her, except only a few, who were of pure heart. No one knew who she really was, or where she came from. She was said to be a nymph - the guardian of this mystical forest, who lived high up the mountain. She was named Puteri Gunung Ledang - Princess of  Mount Ophir.

She needed no wealth. Her spiritual wealth was far greater than any material wealth anyone could give. Once a powerful ruler from Malacca sent his entourage, with gifts of gold, jewels, silks, brocades, to seek for her hand in marriage.  She appeared as an old woman, and intercepted them at the foot of the mountain. To make her his wife, the ruler needed to fulfil these 7 utterly impossible requests. 

* To build a golden bridge, and a silver bridge from Mt. Ophir to Malacca
* To deliver a container filled with tears from virgin maidens
* A container of juice squeezed from dried areca nuts
* Seven trays of the hearts of mites
* Seven trays of mosquito hearts
* A cup of the ruler’s blood
* A cup of his son’s blood

Surely, no man on earth could fulfill all these wishes. It was a humiliating rejection to his proposal. Today, many different versions of the tales of the legendary Princess are related in movies, plays and books. Below - my story.

Mystical mountains
Over decades, her presence could be felt everywhere around the mountain. Those who entered with good intent to be close to nature, benefited immensely. They returned as changed beings - mentally and spiritually evolved.  They were inspired with secrets of life, on how to live in harmony with nature. The knowledge was brought down for the purpose of good.

Today, the tradition continues. Aside from Gunung Ledang, other mystical mountains in Malaysia, are sanctuaries for seekers in search of spiritual enhancement, and peace. They come to meditate at different corners of the mountains. Many claim to have benefited physically and mentally.

Strange phenomenon
For decades, visitors to Gunung Ledang vouched that many strange phenomenon did occur, when they were on the mountain. It is an astute perception here, that when the laws of nature are deliberately abused, minor consequences can happen.

Hikers who were lost and separated, in Gunung Ledang, were later found in remote, and isolated parts of the jungle. Some suffered temporary amnesia. When discovered, they were disorientated, and confused.  Positively, many pleasant occurrences were also reported. Some hikers who were lost in the mountain, were mysteriously guided to safety.


Today, thousands across the world, continue to flock around the mountain.  Some left, feeling disappointed that the miracle they expected, did not occur. Non-believers say, that the stories were exaggerated to boost tourism.

Yet, despite scepticism, mystical Gunung Ledang continues to be a favourite destination for tourists, families, and adventure seekers, who desire to be close to Nature.  

Rituals and beliefs
Belief in the unseen, is an integral part of religion and culture. Unexplained phenomenon do occur even though the mind does not perceive.

It is a common belief in Eastern cultures, that when one enters holy places, jungles, or haunted places, respect should be given to the guardians/spiritual occupants of the place. Usually, a salutation is given, to indicate that one enters in peace.

One is expected to behave decently, and not to disturb, or vandalize the environment. When needed to answer the call of nature in isolated places, especially in remote jungles (where public facilities are unavailable), one should ask for permission, and pardon, beforehand, so as not to offend or violate any spiritual law.

Maiden trip to Gunung Ledang
I was fascinated by the place, since childhood.  Having heard many different versions of the tales of the Princess, I had my own impression of how I carved her out to be.  It was only in the 90s that I made my maiden trip to Gunung Ledang.

The drive from my home in Kuala Lumpur was long, and weary. Finally, from afar, Gunung Ledang came into view.  It stood majestically before my eyes, and I was proud to be born in this country, well-known for its beauty, and mysticism.

In anticipation that something miraculous would happen, I entered the jungle for the first time. Whilst taking the strides, consciously uttering my prayers and salutation.

Every second, my eyes observed little details of the surroundings, which I happily captured on video. I wondered when, and how those huge protruding rocks were elevated, high up on the ground above me. The pebbles in the river, the weird looking branches, the creeping plants, and gigantic roots, were amazingly unique. I was enthralled, and felt truly blessed to be close to Nature. I sat down on the wooden bench, at the tended part of the jungle, and in meditation, softly recited my prayers.

It was daytime. I wasn’t at all expecting anything magical to happen. I did not join the rest of my family, as I wanted to be alone. It was a weekday. The peace and quiet, flora and fauna, rippling water from the brook, were all soothing to the nerves, especially with no human voice around. When it began to drizzle, the jungle aroma that permeates the surroundings, was incredibly refreshing.

I decided to remain on the hard, uncomfortable bench, and waited for the rest to return. We spent an enjoyable day there, and returned in the evening. Even though, none of the anticipated phenomenon occurred, I felt physically and mentally rejuvenated, just being in the jungle, close to nature. To me, that was enough magic!

Thereon, several trips took place. Many guests from abroad, were occasionally entertained by our unique style of Malaysian hospitality. The first venue on the itinerary would be Gunung Ledang. Every visitor was intrigued by the experience of being in this amazing forest.

Strange phenomenon
This time, our guests were close friends from England. They had never been in a tropical forest, and were really excited to explore. We decided to stay overnight at the nearby chalets, so that they could spend more time hiking. I’ve never been up the mountain myself, merely contented just lingering around at the foot of the mountain. Therefore, I really don’t have any personal story to relate, except what happened to one of my guests, during our last trip to Gunung Ledang, in the year 2000.   

Like in many Eastern homes, mysticism is not strange in my family. I am extremely familiar with the pros and cons, when one tramples or invades certain forbidden territories, especially after sunset. There are consequences. Of course I did not relate any of the fables, or reported incidents, to my guests. I presumed that they would not believe.

To the skeptics, these strange stories are far-fetched. Today, producers of documentaries, and movies, are focusing more on topics of the supernatural, psychic phenomenon, etc. I see this as an awakening, that a 3rd eye is opening, when the minds begin to perceive, for many. The magic of life itself, is slowly unfolding!

Now back to my story. Dusk was approaching, and the place was getting darker. I politely encouraged everyone to shower so that we could proceed with an early dinner. Our friend’s son decided not to shower, but insisted on refreshing himself in the nearby river. To my apprehension, he immersed himself in the running water, and obviously enjoyed being alone. I quickly ushered everyone to be ready for dinner. He lingered on until his mother returned, and harshly told him to step out of the river, as everyone was hungry. He joined us much later, around 9 pm, and seemed refreshed

The next morning, everyone was at the restaurant for breakfast, except him. His mother returned to the chalet to check on him, and found him asleep, shivering. He complained of pain and blocked ears. accompanied by continuous rippling sounds in both ears, These were affecting his hearing. We rushed back to Kuala Lumpur, to see an ear specialist. He was given some medication even though the doctor confirmed that his ears, throat and lungs were clear.

After three days of not having any logical explanation to his problems, I reluctantly told the tales of Gunung Ledang. He then revealed that, not only his ears were affected, but each time he closed his eyes, it was as though he was continuously floating in water, and at times, drowning. This, he did not tell the doctor.

To my utter surprise, our guests actually believed in the strange phenomenon that happened in Gunung Ledang. The morning after, he was miraculously cured!

Prologue
Could this be pure coincidence? Was he in a wrong place at a wrong time, or was he disrespectful? Was it the admission of belief, that cured him? Could the experience be a magical gift to carry home? Yes strange, but very explainable, only if you believe!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

PENANG - NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS

The arrival of a New Year is looked upon differently by each individual. To the young, it could mean that the long awaited door to adulthood will be opened. To the elders, the joy of seeing children and grand-children growing up, when they will soon be living an independent life, away from family homes.

The year 2016 meant the beginning of yet another phase in life. I feel truly blessed being able to relish every moment of what’s left of life, in sound mind, body and spirit. Each New Year commences with a resolution to do better in every way, than what I did in previous years. Gratified I am, that all made possible for me, are by the will and charity of my Beloved Creator. 

(Photo on the right - taken from the balcony of my home in 2015). 

The Yesteryears
There are many fond memories to recall, ushering in the New Year. The most unique experience was a particular year during my childhood, in Penang. What I specifically remember is that, the New Year then was celebrated in a simple yet meaningful way. Families rejoiced, and bonded with one another alongside neighbours, regardless of religious, and cultural differences. 

It was a common belief that the New Year would best be welcomed with joy and laughter, so that throughout the year there would be plenty of smiles. It was a superstition that few would dare to ignore.  What if this was true? It cost nothing to believe, and no one was prepared to risk the repercussions.

The Esplanade 
Here families gathered daily for various recreations, and for all-year-round festivities. The Esplanade was the very site where the British landed and hoisted the Union Jack flag. Penang was declared its colony in 1786. Photo on the right - an effigy of Capt. Francis Light (1740-1794), the founder of Penang. 

This place is etched with many untold stories of  happiness and sorrow of the people of the island.

As a child, I had been here many times, and was really fascinated by the environment. It was particularly fun feeling the wind gently ruffling my hair, while the soothing sounds of pounding waves filled the air. (Right - little me, at age 5). 

Most fascinating sight for me was the cannons, that were strategically placed on the elevated grounds within the vicinity. While I stroked and wondered what they were, I heard many stories of bravery, and misery, that these cannons inflicted on the intruders of the island. 

There were many gory stories too, of the World War, when Japanese soldiers ruthlessly beheaded many citizens, and their allies. This ground was once soaked with the blood of patriots. It was eerie knowing that I was actually standing on the ground, where many souls perished.

New Year’s Eve
Preparations for the outing were made from the early day of the eve. Families prepared food and drinks to last until midnight. It was an excitement that the young could not understand, except that the normal regimented bedtime would be waived for the night.

There were public transports and trishaws. My grandfather’s home where I lived, was a walking distance to the Esplanade. It was fun walking with my grandparents, parents, accompanied by numerous relatives. They carried along the prepared food, drinks and weaved mats, for everyone to sit on.

We arrived at the Esplanade, just before sunset. A strategic spot directly facing a huge clock was conveniently chosen.

The adults began spreading the feast while we waited impatiently, for the food to be served.  We gobbled the food to our hearts content. Strangely, on that particular night, the food was much tastier than anything I had consumed at home.

Soon the huge field was filled with families, generously sharing what little they had with those seated next to them. It was an open-air picnic under a starry night, and the moon was smiling at me. The sky was clear and unpolluted, not like today.

People within the surrounding buildings, and clubs, mostly foreigners and expatriates, were in a celebratory mood, singing merrily. Of course then, I did not understand why they were making exceptional noises. In later years, I found out, that it was because they were highly tipsy!

After sunset, from the rear corner of the field, the Ministry of Information truck began screening foreign and local films by rotation. Nearby, live performances by local singers and comedians kept the crowd humoured and entertained. Children were allowed to roam around from one corner to the other and mingled with other families. Crime was rarely heard of then.

Every hour, the huge clock would pulsate vibrantly to the discomfort of my ears, as I was seated so close by. Then, the long awaited moment arrived. The atmosphere suddenly changed and climaxed into something totally unexpected, as the countdown began. Then the explosive sounds of human voices screaming with laughter, cheering, singing, followed by “Happy New Year” wishes,  echoed everywhere.  Adults were behaving like children, jumping and hugging one another. From across the street, the crowd in the surrounding buildings were merrily singing the “Auld lang syne”.

I could not understand what the fuss was all about. The excitement of being with the crowd, and sharing the auspicious moment with loved ones, was enough treat for me. Strangely, it was the first and only outing we had on New Year's eve, at this particular place. 

I later discovered what the night meant for me. It was the beginning of my school year, and with it came uniforms, books, shoes, friends and teachers!

Celebrations – today
Today, the New Year is celebrated lavishly throughout the world.  Countries compete with one another to be in the limelight, with psychedelic displays of fireworks, unique landscapes, and mind-boggling shows. The New Year is celebrated everywhere - in living rooms, at the palms of the hands, and on computers.

Penang that was once blessed with the ambience of serenity, is now a bustling city. Crime has increased. Unaccompanied children need to be cautious. Fanaticism separates families and neighbours. Family fun corrodes with progress and time - what a heavy price to pay!

For many decades, I avoided visits to Penang during New Year’s eves. Penang has since gained many uncomplimentary publicity for the misconduct of some unruly youngsters. They vandalized cars, mugged tourists  - in the spirit of celebration! 

Today, I’ve moved away from city life and slightly miss the annual fireworks display that normally sprung a few feet above my balcony (picture above).

I am happier though being closer to nature - the home of these gentle vegans. This is the most perfect abode for peace and serenity, to retire.

Epilogue
When prompted, if I had ever wished that the clock is turned back to the good old days - without hesitation, my answer is “no”. I have no complaints. Progress is beneficial, if and when one knows how to blend, and benefit from both worlds.


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