Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A touch of Guilin at The Haven in Ipoh

I grew up in Ipoh where the landscape is dominated by limestone hills known as karst. As a boy scout, I spent over 100 nights camping out in Tambun at the edge of Ipoh, close to an elongated karst formation that we named the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ because of its curvaceous reclining silhouette. According to geologist Barnard Pearson, the karst of Ipoh and the Kinta Valley are parts of a super limestone formation stretching from South China (Guilin) through Indochina and Thailand (Phuket) into Malaysia. The limestone was deposited at the bottom of the sea over 200 million years ago, as shells of marine animals. When the Indian landmass collided with and merged with Eurasia 45 million years ago,the Himalayas were pushed up by the frontal impact, while the sea floor to the south-east, with its limestone beds, was pushed up as collateral effects. The uplifted limestone then began to erode because of the mildly corrosive action of carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater. As rainwater percolated through cracks in the limestone it formed caves that got bigger and bigger as their sides slowly dissolved away. Eventually the caves got so big that their roofs fell in, leaving the side walls as vertical cliffs. However, perhaps because of tropical weathering, the karst formations in Malaysia are more rounded than those at Guilin.

The karst formations have a unique flora. When I became a professional botanist,I returned to Ipoh to explore this flora. One of my treasured finds was Isonandra perakensis, a small tree with copper-coloured leaves, on the top of a hill that I had climbed as boy. This species was first discovered in the 19th Century and had not been seen again until I rediscovered it.

There is now at Tambun a classy new condominium development called The Haven, the central feature of which is a karst formation rising 140 ft high from a lake of crystal clear water. The water in the lake wells up from a natural spring. Three blocks of condominiums are being built on one side of the lake, on what was formerly a fruit and vegetable farm. On the other side of the lake is a massive karst formation rising up to 1400 ft. With binoculars, I could make out Cycas, orchids and other unique plants on the sheer cliffs. I stayed one night in the show house and enjoyed the cool night breeze on a balcony overlooking the lake. Early next morning I led a small group to the base of the limestone massif and we were soon in the middle of a large patch of flowering wild gingers. The developer, Superboom, has spared no effort to conserve the karst vegetation and the lake. The Haven is a first class development befitting a first class location.

I would like to see the karst formations in the Kinta Valley protected and cherished as in Guilin, but whereas Guilin is the centre of a booming tourist industry that ensures the protection of its superb scenery, Ipoh has failed to attract sustained investment interest. Indeed, the Kinta Valley has been suffering a severe and continuous drain of young and energetic people for the past 50 years. Of my own classmates only two went back to make careers in Ipoh. I think it is inevitable that youth and energy will move to where new opportunities are actively created. Developments such as the Haven will bring new people, new money and new ideas to Ipoh and the Kinta Valley. Already the development of The Haven has stirred intense debate in Ipoh about Ipoh. In Kuala Lumpur, where a new property development is launched every month, one hardly notices the continuous building and rebuilding. Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur are two hours apart by car but 50 years apart in other matters.


Autumn Belle said...

Dr Ng, Happy New Year!

I am so glad that you first post for 2011 is about Ipoh. While many of us have settled down far away, we do cherish the times we grew up among the beautiful environment in Ipoh. I really hope that the limestone hills, its flora and fauna will be well protected despite developments to the areas. I also hope that the tambun pomelo farms wil be encouraged rather than phased off. Whenever I go back to Ipoh, it is the cloud covered blue mountains and verticle rainforests that I miss most whenever I have to return home to Klang Valley.

Well done on the rediscovery of Isonandra perakensis. Hope it will not disappear again under the hands of development. Cheers!

JK said...

Dear Dr. Ng,

I'm heartened by your kind concern for Ipoh's precious karsts and its rare and endemic organisms.

Indeed I fully agree with you that development should go hand in hand with preservation and conservation actions which reflects sustainability.

Such rare projects like "The Haven" are hard to come by and should be applauded as well as endorsed by others.


Anonymous said...

Karst areas should be left untouched. I was wondering if you knew of the specific orchids of the Guilin area.