Standing at 2,423 metres above sea level, Mount Murud is the tallest peak in Sarawak. This quiet understated yet dignified mountain located within the Heart of Borneo. Yet it is no ordinary mountain, for it is the pinnacle of prayer for many of Sarawak’s faithful. It houses a church camp that built-in 1990 by the Lun Bawang communities who live at its foothills (Ba’Kelalan). Today, the new church can accommodate more than 1,000 people.
The mountain serves as holy ground to the Lun Bawang. Many a miracle witnessed by the elders of the community church themselves back in the 1980s. Every year in the month of May, people from Ba’Kelalan spend at least 11 hours walking all the way up through steep ascents to reach the church camp 2,135m above sea level. On alternate years, worshippers from around the world will gather and pray at the three-day International Revival Meeting held in July on the mountain.
Not all can take the gruelling 11-hour (two days, including rest stops) all the way to the church camp. For those who have the heart and the faith but not the strength. A one-hour 4WD ride will see them reach Lepo Bunga, a rest stop where the dirt road ends. From here, they will still need to walk another four to five hours to reach the church camp.
Besides being a place of faith, this quiet giant is a key feature in Pulong Tau National Park. Gazetted in 2005, it contains one of the last remnants of virgin forest in Sarawak. It is also the start of the headwaters of major rivers, home to endangered flora and fauna. A Keeper of the forest that waters the paddy fields of Ba’Kelalan, and an incredibly beautiful place for ecotourism.
Nature doesn’t have to be tallest, biggest or most fantastic to be appreciated
There are hidden treasures that are not known to many others in Mount Murud. About two to three hours’ walk away from the church camp lies the Rock Garden. An area filled with unique giant rock formations in an exposed area. It is part of the holy ground visited by the worshippers. In less than an hour after the Rock Garden is the summit of Mount Murud. Which gives way to a spectacular vista of Batu Lawi, two giant pinnacles protruding 90 degrees from the earth for hundreds of feet. This is the latest extension to Pulong Tau National Park, added on in May 2013.
Mount Murud is also open for visitors the whole year round as part of ecotourism activities. It is one of the exceptional places frequented by adventure jungle trekkers and mountain climbers. Visitors can choose to climb up Mount Murud either via Bario or Ba’Kelalan. They can also opt to start their trek from Bario, heading towards Mount Murud. After that, ending their journey at Ba’Kelalan or vice versa. Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) has identified Mount Murud is an area earmarked for ecotourism. Also, they aim to manage it in a manner that will benefit both nature and local communities.
Michael Ngelai, project coordinator of Sarawak’s Heart of Borneo Initiative in FDS shared, “The Department acknowledges that great potential in Mount Murud for religious ecotourism. There are plans to manage the area for tourism activities that are holistic and beneficial for local communities. As well as without detrimental effects on the natural environment. This will include the Rock Garden as the main attraction.”
Religious ecotourism refers to the niche tourism targeted for people who travel individually or in groups for pilgrimage, missionary, or fellowship purposes. Currently, the annual prayer event on Mount Murud and the International Revival Meeting held every two years. The existing religious ecotourism because the events welcome visitors who are interested to be part of the events.
Apart from ecotourism, sustainable development and environmental conservation for the forest in and surrounding the national park are important aspects for the communities. Their livelihood anchor on a traditional farming system that utilises gravity-feed water from the rivers to irrigate their rice fields. Clean and pure water is important for this. So maintaining a healthy stand of natural forest is important to sustain healthy rivers. Until today, traditional farming by hand still practises in Ba’Kelalan to maintain the quality of organically grown ‘Adan Rice’. In fact, it is one of the premium local breeds of rice available in Sarawak.
Mount Murud might not be world-famous, but it is probably Sarawak’s best-kept secret. Under its quiet, cloud-covered façade, it has proven itself to be the provider of much to many – place of faith, anchor of Lun Bawang culture and one of the last vestiges of truly pristine rainforest in Sarawak. Not only should it be protected for its legacy, it stands to be a valuable treasure of ecotourism for decades to come.