Where nature and history abound
10 Mar 2011
There’s no public vehicular access into the Tanjung Tuan Recreational Forest
THE off-duty Portuguese guards had barely closed their eyes to take a much earned siesta when the alarm bells from the heavily fortified lighthouse above rang out loud and clear.
Barely having enough time to fully dress for battle, the men raced up to the ramparts facing the Malacca Straits, just in the nick of time to witness the first heavy cannons salvoes fired from an assembly of galleons several kilometres away. The battle did not, however, come as a surprise, as rumours of an impending Dutch attack had been making its rounds of the barracks for the past few days.
They watched in awe as the gigantic Dutch and Portuguese galleons tried to outmanoeuvre and sink each other. A total of 31 ships, 20 of which were Portuguese, were engaged in the largest naval battle in the region at that time. At the end of the day, despite both sides losing an equal number of ships, the Portuguese claimed victory while Admiral Cornelius Matelief de Jonge commanded his surviving Dutch vessels to sail south for the safety of the Johor River.
Today, historians are of the opinion that this historic theatre of war that took place on Aug 16, 1606, had great bearing on the future of both Malacca as well as the land surrounding it. At that time, the Portuguese had already established complete control over the regional lucrative spice trade after building a heavily fortified bastion in Malacca almost a century earlier.
The Battle of Cape Rachado, as what this famous sea engagement later came to be called, signalled the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or better known as the Dutch East Indies Company’s first serious intention to dislodge its European competitor from its stranglehold on the spice trade. Finally, in 1641, the combined massive Dutch, Johor and Acheh forces finally managed to breakthrough the stalemate and claim their ultimate prize, Malacca.
Today, however, the only battles that visitors to Cape Rachado (Broken Cape) or Tanjung Tuan as it is now called, can witness is in the air. Once a year, ornithologists and birding enthusiasts the world over make a beeline here to see migratory raptors make their majestic appearance, swooping gracefully while riding the powerful air currents.
Among the predatory birds that can be seen heading home northwards between the months of February and April are the crested honey buzzard, Japanese sparrowhawk and black-shouldered kite.
This year, the Malaysian Nature Society’s Raptor Watch event will be held this weekend. The annual event “celebrates” the return of the migratory birds of prey on their journey back to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere.
Nature and history
If you visit Tanjung Tuan outside the “raptor season”, you still have a lot of things to do and see in the area.
Trekking in Tanjung Tuan Recreational Forest during the Raptor Watch Week
For instance, you can take nature walk in the Tanjung Tuan Recreational Forest where wildlife thrives. This 80-hectare reserve is also habitat to a diverse species of plants ranging from the giant tropical hardwood trees at a relatively higher elevation while lush mangrove forests thrive in the mudflats nearer to the coast.
I decide to try out both trails in the reserve. I discover that they eventually end up at the lighthouse. The walk up the hill to where the imposing structure is located, though tiring, is well worth the effort. The original Portuguese lighthouse, presumably made of wood, has long since been demolished. In its place is a whitewashed concrete building built by the British in 1863. I walk along the external perimeter of the lighthouse walls and discover a panoramic view of the Malacca Straits.
Route to the old days
You may also discover more historical trails along the Negri Sembilan-Malacca coastal route. Just five minutes’ drive away from Tanjung Tuan, which is within the boundary of Malacca, is Port Dickson — the popular resort town of Negri Sembilan.
There are only two nature trails at the Tanjung Tuan Recreational Forest and both lead to Tanjung Tuan lighthouse
My first stop is the Port Dickson Military Museum. Walking through the various galleries in the museum is like a walk through time. I find the exhibits to be interesting and informative. You get to learn about the pivotal role played by the armed forces throughout our nation’s history, starting with the Malacca Sultanate. The Royal Malay Regiment featured prominently during the Second World War, Communist Insurgency and Independence.
I am specially fascinated by the underground tunnel built to resemble one used by the communist terrorists in the 1950s. Certain sections of the tunnel have been carved out to serve as meeting areas, stores, kitchens and even a specially designated place to treat the sick and wounded.
Feeling a bit claustrophobic, I quickly make my way to above ground where I discover a large assembly of decommissioned military combat vehicles, armoured trains, artillery and aircraft that were once used in helping to ensure peace in our nation.
Entrance to the Military Museum is free.
Next, I leave for Lukut, which is 10 minutes’ drive away from the museum. Lukut is a small town which rose to prominence some 200 years ago, thanks to the discovery of tin in the area.
The Lukut Fort and Museum Complex is located on top of Bukit Gajah Mati (Dead Elephant Hill). It will be a good idea to visit the museum first to better understand the significance of the place before exploring the fort itself.
Entrance to this museum is also free. Visitors are not allowed to use their cameras, video recorders and other recording equipment here.
This two-storey museum houses four galleries that extensively explain the history of Lukut, specifically and Negri Sembilan as a whole. You can also learn about the unique adat perpatih (traditions and customs) practised only in this state. One of the galleries displays the artefacts found on the Dutch VOC warship Nassau which sank during the Battle of Cape Rachado.
The Lukut Fort, built by Raja Jumaat in 1847, is located directly behind the museum. Nothing much is left of this early 19th Century bastion built to protect the tin trade except for some laterite embankments and five-metre deep moats.
I suggest visiting either in the late afternoon or early evening when the temperatures are cooler. This will make the task of climbing the hill a much more pleasant experience.
Lukut Fort fell into disrepair around the 1880s due to internal strife and the gradual depletion of tin deposits. Excavation works conducted by the Museum Department in the 1970s has unearthed a vast stash of artefacts now displayed at the Lukut Museum. These include Qing Dynasty blue and white porcelain shards, Dutch iron nails and British cannon balls.
Historic living stones
In the evening, I take a breather and have my dinner of nasi goreng kampung at Selesa Beach Resort Port Dickson coffee house. It’s one of the many resorts dotting the Port Dickson coastline. Swaying coconut palms and stunning sunset are simply the perfect setting to end my first day at this seaside resort.
I check out early the next day as I plan to visit two more of Negri Sembilan’s famous historical landmarks before I move on to Malacca. The first is Pengkalan Kempas Historical Complex which houses the tomb of Syeikh Ahmad Majnun who helped spread the Islamic faith during the Malacca Sultanate. The locals refer to him as Keramat Sungai Udang.
The complex, located along the main trunk road almost halfway between Port Dickson and Malacca, is also home to a collection of ancient megalithic stones of various shapes and sizes. The three largest stones here resemble a sword, spoon and rudder. The locals believe that these stones are “alive” and are still growing, thus the name batu hidup or living stones.
The complex ground is shaded by many fruit trees that make the area soothingly cool. It being a weekday, I find myself alone here. I sit down near a well and imagine how life was like in this place when it was a busy port handling most of trade in southern Negri Sembilan.
In its heydays, this place surrounding the Pengkalan Kempas Historical Complex must have been a hive of activity with merchants from far and wide intermingling with the locals, all in the name of trade.
Pengkalan Kempas lost its prominence to Port Dickson in the 1820s due to the discovery of large tin deposits in Lukut. The British at that time, decided that it would be more practical to develop a port closer to that area. Port Dickson is said to have been named after Sir John Frederick Dickson.
Side-tracked at the border
Leaving Pengkalan Kempas, I soon reach Tanjung Agas Bridge which spans Sungai Raya that marks the southern boundary between Negri Sembilan and Malacca. Most visitors, in their haste to reach the latter, just step on the accelerator and drive straight across. As a result, many miss out on a well-kept secret — the Tanjung Agas Rest and Recreational Area.
My advice to those going towards Malacca is to slow down when approaching the bridge and turn left when you see the signboard leading to the Tanjung Agas Jetty.
While many anglers try out their luck here, I learn from a group of boatman that this place is actually more famous for udang galah or freshwater prawns.
One tells me that locals as well as out-of-towners often rent boats to catch these delicious crustaceans at night. He says the prawns caught here taste much better than those bought at the market. “The ones found in the market are harvested from coastal aquaculture ponds. They are fed with artificial prawn feed and their flesh has a soft texture while prawns caught in the wild are springy and fresher.”
Just before bidding the friendly weather-beaten boatman farewell, I make a mental note to return to Port Dickson once again to try my luck at prawn fishing as well as join the Raptor Watch Week to see the graceful birds of prey swoop through the skies of historic Tanjung Tuan.
How to get there
From the North-South Expressway, take the Seremban-Port Dickson highway. The Port Dickson coastal route is less than five minutes’ drive from town. Driving time from Jalan Pantai, Port Dickson — Tanjung Tuan Lighthouse (15 mins), Military Museum (10 mins), Kota Lukut (30 mins), Tanjung Agas (30 mins) and Pengkalan Kempas (45 mins).
Where to stay
Selesa Beach Resort Port Dickson, 5th Mile, Jalan Pantai, 71050 Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan. Tel: 06-647 4090 Fax: 06-647 4792. Email: email@example.com
By Alan Teh Leam Seng, NST