Niah National Park, Boreno; May 2017

Niah is a national park centred around the huge Niah Cave which has anthropological significance. There is a lot (relatively speaking) of rainforest surrounding the cave, but I didn’t have time to explore that and was focussed on the cave including its burial sites and paintings.

I had to repeat steps of my previous journey, but made this easier on myself by sharing a ride with some people heading to Brunei. I picked a company and was dumped over the wheel arches of a bus which was meant to leave at 07.45, but, I assume, was only allowed to leave once the 08.00 bus had left. Whilst I am getting  better at rolling with transport in Asia (Japan excepted of course) with a ‘don’t worry be happy’ attitude my highly strung nature means I get a bit bent out of shape where I shouldn’t. Happily I am British and repressed so my being disgruntled doesn’t impact on anyone other than my own blood pressure I assume.

I met a very nice Swiss couple, Jacqui & Andy, on (BLOG here – they are long term travelling so it’s awesome) the bus and agreed to split the cost of taxis to the park and explored the park together. We were also briefly joined by an American who was rushing around attempting to completely some Facebook fuelled travel-ticking-off club where by you have to go to 100 distinct (and I assume arbitrary)  locations in order to be inducted. From what I could tell, they were unable to stay on the same subject for more than 10 seconds, they were in Borneo for one night from KL. I don’t see the point.

The first cave, which was until very recently a huge market place for the swiftlet nests collected inside, opened up before us after a pleasant walk through primary forest. I realised the scale of the caves must be something else and way bigger than the caves I’ve seen in the UK. On the subject of swiftlets whose nests are still collected and used, I think, generally in cosmetics and still continue to be collected in Niah albeit it with controls. You can hear their clicking which they use for navigation as they swoop acrobatically through the caves – they really are remarkable fliers.

Niah cave itself is vast and I remember staring at the opening chamber (I think it’s second only to Deer Cave in terms of size) and being staggered. It really is something else and then seeing the stairway lead into darkness of the cave reminded me of Moria! It was at this point the American left (after a frenetic selfie session) and we went deeper into the cave needing torchlight. It’s pretty tricky not to slip at times here and how I didn’t end up on my backside is something of a mystery. There was all manner of things crawling about the cave and, of course, the constant swiftlet clicks. Eventually you are led to the cave paintings (1200 years old) which are protected, in rather unlovely fashion, by a chainlink fence. I enjoy seeing the work of ancestors  – the dissonance of permanence and ephemeral fascinates me – and this was no exception. Then, despite Andy looking for a new route on maps.me in hope rather than expecting, we had to track back the way we came on the subterranean slip and slide. I didn’t fall! Again!

 

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