Saturday, July 03, 2010

Madai Cave - Exploring the hidden depths

The Madai Cave proves to have interesting treasures outside, as well as inside.

To reach the main entrance to Madai Cave, you have to walk through a dark tunnel where there is a grave of an unknown person. None of the villagers know who was buried there.

Then you pop out of the tunnel and are surprised to see a cluster of wooden houses in front of the entrance. These belong to the nest collectors, the guardians of the cave.

Madai Cave is not as well known as the nearby Gomantong Caves in Sabah, or the caves in Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. However, Madai has long been an important site for the birds’ nest collectors and is slowly becoming better known to tourists who are looking for adventure.

Situated between Lahad Datu and Tawau, the hill containing Madai Cave rises steeply from the forest floor. It can be seen from far away, and you get tantalising views of it standing above the oil palm plantations. The final approach is interesting as you drive down a steep hill into the kampung.

A collection of wooden houses line both sides of the road, and the cliff acts as a scenic backdrop. You can see the gaping mouth of the cave from here. There is little activity in the village, except for women carrying buckets walking to and from the river to do the washing.

As we were on a research trip, we already had a guide arranged. We followed him along the narrow path between the houses. I was surprised to turn a corner and see a new mosque in the centre of the village. A collection of children appeared from the various houses, curious to see the Mat Salleh (Caucasian) visitors in their village.

However, none actually followed us up the staircase to the cave tunnel.

We assembled at the houses outside the main upper entrance. Washing was hanging out to dry, and there were wooden tables and benches in the central area. There is also another grave. This one supposedly belongs to Nenek Apui, who was one of the earliest inhabitants here.

There are more than 25 caves in this area, but Madai is the biggest and best known. It has a long history. The caves were first visited by scientists 60 years ago. They reported that the phosphate deposits from the bat and swiftlet guano were collected for use as fertiliser. However, a far older industry is birds’ nest collection. The local Idahan people have had the rights for collecting for many generations.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Madai Cave - Exploring the hidden depths

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