While the first part of my travelogue to Niah National Park covers crocodile hunting along Niah River and trekking along Madu Trail to Lobang Lelong (Niah National Park (1)), second part of the travelogue covers the cave complex which is formed by the Painted Cave, the Great Cave and the Trader’s Cave. It was where the 40,000 years old human remains were discovered.
If you think visiting Niah National Park, Sarawak is as easy as going to the Park HQ and the mouth of the cave opens to you, you are wrong. One has to cross over the river using the boat available at Jeti Pengkalan Lubang. The boat ride costs RM1.00 if taken between 7.00am to 5.30pm. From 5.30pm to 7.30pm, you have to pay RM1.50 each way.
We started our afternoon trip to Niah Caves with a visit to the Niah Archaeology Museum. Free admission. Reading through the information boards in Niah Archaeology Museum, I gather that the earliest Homo Sapiens in island Southeast Asia was found in West Mouth of Niah Caves. The ‘Deep Skull’ dated ca, 40,000 years ago. The Perak Man is dated to around 10,000 years old. However, Kota Tampan where Perak Man was found is believed to be of the same stature and period to Niah.
In an exploration led by Tom Harrison, he and his team unearthed a skull at the West Mouth of the Great Cave and plenty of human settlements in the area like tools, cooking utensils and ornaments, made of bone, stone or clay. These items found suggested that a long period of settlement reaching back into the Palaeolithic era (the earliest part of the Stone Age).
The fragment of the skulls were discovered at the depth 105 inches in the “occupation” area. It was suggested to be of 17 years of age but the sex could not be determined. It was said to have similar characters to Tasmanian skull.
Having the idea of what we were about to see in Niah Cave, we started to walk on the walking platform towards Niah Caves Complex. Never ever underestimate the walk to Niah Caves Complex. Before I noticed, I was already panting out of breath. We filled the time admiring nature.
As one of the most famous national parks in Sarawak, Malaysia, Niah National Park is enveloped by thick riverine and limestone rainforest with beautiful geological formation. 23 million years ago, the area where Niah National Park now lies was full of coral reefs that grew as thick as 800m. This is evidenced by the massive deposit of limestone formed by the skeletons of billions of dead corals.
Deafening sound from the cicadas combined with sweet songbirds lullaby, I inadvertently walked to the rhythm of rainforest music. The forests in Niah National Park are guarded by many tree species of high conservation value such as riverbank giants such as the Ensurai trees (Dipterocarpus oblongfolius) and Borneo ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri). By the riverbanks, huge tree trunks leaning down steadily supported by the knotted tree roots that crept into the soil and to the trees nearby.
The large strangling fig tree rooting into the outcrops was also a sight to behold. We wondered how old the trees were to have rooted into possibly million years of age deposits.
Big limestone boulders marked our approach to the Niah Caves Complex. Not far from the boulders, we set eyes on a shelter which housed small kiosks selling local handicrafts.
The first cave we went was the Trader’s Cave which we had to pass by to go into the Niah Caves System. Trader’s cave was excavated in 1950s. Athough the cave was huge, the space inside the cave was occupied by the remains of ancient ‘roofless huts’ made of ironwood. They were stilted structures which were constructed and used as shelters by the birds’ nest collectors and their families during the harvesting season.
Trader’s Cave is named for the collectors who sold or traded their harvests in return for products brought to the cave by traders from the towns. This huts were used until the late 1970s.
Michael pointed to me two wells which were used by the collectors. He said the waters were never more or never less. At first instance, I thought they were just holes containing water. The wells were very clear. One well was used for consumption meanwhile the other well was used for bathing and washing.
Photography enthusiasts will love this place very much especially when the rays filled the cave through the gaps and holes. I was busy indulging myself in taking pictures inside the cave when Angela and Michael called me out and told me we had not arrived yet.
We still had to walk for about 10 minutes before arriving to the famous postcard landscape of Niah’s West Mouth with the background of Tom Harrison’s house. The Niah Great Cave is estimated to cover an area of 600m width and extends about 900m. It consisted of many chambers formed by shales and sandstones and connected by many small passages.
On the left side, there was an excavation site surrounded by the fences. Behind the fencing, Tom Harrison and his excavation team had found archaeological artifacts and the deep skull. Without these findings, we would not know about the history and stories of the early inhabitants in Borneo. Apart from the dead, pottery and adzes, bronze bangles, beads and metal items were found. Interestingly, the archaeology team found secondary jar burials which were radiocarbon dated to the late 2nd millennium BCE. The jars were used to hold cremated and burnt remains.
As the skies darkened, we hurried back to the Niah National Park Headquarters without having the chance to climb the steep staircase that would lead to “Padang” or “Large Chamber”. The “Padang” is connected to the Painted Cave or the “Gua Kain Hitam”. At the time of writing, the trail to the Painted Cave was closed. If you are planning to visit, do check with Sarawak Forestry.
In Niah National Park, there are 6 types of accommodation to choose from if you wish to stay within the vicinity of Niah National Park.1. Forest Lodge Type 1 (Master Room) costs RM318/night 2. Forest Lodge Type 2 (2 rooms/2 single bed per room) costs RM530 per unit or RM265 per room. 3. Forest Lodge Type 4/Aircond Chalet (2 rooms/4 single bed per room) costs RM238.50 per unit or RM159.00 per room. 4. Forest Lodge Type 5/Non Aircond Chalet (2 rooms/4 single bed per room) – RM159 per unit or RM106 per room. 5. Forest Lodge Type 7/Hostel (4 rooms/4 single bed per room) – RM169.60 per unit or RM42.40 per room 6. Camping – RM5.00/person (Check in : 1400hrs & Check out : 1100hrs)
For food, you might want inquire the HQ on the Park Canteen. You can also rent PA system (RM150/day), Audio Visual Room (RM100/day), Projector/LCD (RM50/day), BBQ Set (RM5.00) and Towel (RM5.00).
Entrance fees are as follows:-Foreigner :- Adult – RM20.00 Disabled :- RM10.00 Children, above 6 years old but less than 18 years old : – RM7.00 Children, 6 years and below :- Free Local :-