Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wind and Fairy Caves of Bau offer secrets of the dark


Wind Cave and Fairy Cave. The names spark the imagination. Carved by water out of the soft limestone over millennia, these caves lie in a narrow belt which extends from the Kalimantan border to the southwest of the town of Bau, some 35 km by road from Kuching.

On an overcast day accompanied by occasional showers, we explored the two caves. Wind Cave, about 3 km outside Bau, was our first stop. Just as we arrived at the park headquarters, the sky opened up and fat raindrops thundered down us. We walked on, glad in a way for the cold drops of water, a change from the stifling humid heat of day.

When Sir Hugh Low visited the cave in 1845, he was told it was the habitation of dragons and evil spirits. The tales of dragons probably originate from the noise the wind makes when blowing through the cave. It can sound eerie especially inside a pitch black cave.

In recent times, the cave has been developed by the State Forestry Department, and has become a tourist spot with a plank walkway, baruk-like rest huts and other facilities. Its entrance is reached through a short trail.

A breeze from the bowels of the cave ruffled our hair and rustled leaves as if welcoming us.

Our guide told us we had to keep to the paths and walkways. He pointed out the prominent rock formations seen along the way.

Known as 'speleotherms', they are caused by deposits of minerals on cave floors, walls and ceilings brought by water seeping through the porous limestone. It can take 150 years for a rock formation to grow just an inch!

Stalactites hang down from the ceiling as stalagmites try vainly to reach up to them.

Where they meet, columns stand proudly. Stalactites and stalagmites are formed from water dripping down from the cave ceiling. A steady stream would form squat, dumpy stalagmites, slow drips get you thin, fragile and pointed pairs.

As we walked in the eternal twilight, the chirps of bats and the click of cave swallows echoed in the gloom. Mounds of guano had piled up beside the path infusing the air with the stink of ammonia.

A little stream flows through the cave out to the river. Its cool water is ideal for swimming and the beautiful natural surroundings make it a perfect setting for picnics and barbecues.

Six kilometres down the road and a few minutes' drive from Wind Cave, lies Fairy Cave, the largest cave entrance in the Kuching area.

According to the Bidayuh tribe who live in Bau, the cave is believed to be the home of fairies, as well as the stone people from the legendary Kapur village.

The cave is also of great significance to the Chinese people who live in the same town and who have erected shrines in the cave.

Until about 30 years ago, visitors had to trek through the jungle for half an hour before scaling the rocky cliffs to reach the entrance to Fairy Cave. Nowadays, access requires a bit of exertion but is safe and is by way of concrete steps rising about 100 feet with a further set of wooden steps to the main chamber.

The cave is huge and impressive with plenty of light streaming in. This has led to the growth of plant life inside part of the chamber. There are also lots of bats, swiftlets, cave frogs, numerous insects and even cave crabs.

A stalagmite structure at its entrance is said to resemble Kuan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. At about three metres in height, it resembles a woman dressed in classical Chinese robes, complete with hat, looking down benignly upon worshippers.

Inside the main chamber concrete stairs and walkways have been built to give access to the various parts of the cave. The beautiful view that one can see, up from the entrance of the cave, of the valley below, with its forest and fields is a wonderful relief after the climb.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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