Like tropical rain thundering down to cool the heated earth, lakes have a strangely cooling effect, even if it's only part of a moving scenery. There are only 2 natural lakes of respectable size in peninsula Malaysia and both of them are found in the state of Pahang - Tasik(lake) Bera being the larger of the two. Tasik Bera is important for its biodiversity. This is Malaysia's largest natural lake. It is a shallow, seasonal, riverine lake system that flows into the Pahang River (Peninsular Malaysia's longest river). It is home to 94 fish species, approximately 200 bird species; and endangered reptilian species such as the Malayan False Gharial (a freshwater, fish-eating crocodile), the totally protected Striped Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle, the much sought after Malayan Giant Turtle, reticulated pythons that can grow to a length of 18feet, prehistoric looking monitor lizards and lots of frogs species.
Large mammals have also been seen in the area and tell tale signs of their existence can be found along nature trails: claw marks on tree trunks, fresh droppings, paw prints along the banks of the lake.
The lake stretches 35km by 20km and covers 7,000 hectares of complex, interlocking ecosystems made up of open waters, reedbeds, ponds, lakes, rivers, dry lowland forests, fresh water swamps, pandanus and blackwater swamps (peat). At Tasik Bera, there is still a chance for the fauna and flora to survive and to rejuvenate despite looming threats that the lake will dry up in the near future as water sources disappear due to increasing conversion of forests to palm oil plantations and excessive siltation and soil erosion caused by uncontrolled logging activities and development.
The Lake People
The highlight for most visitors to Bera is a visit to the Semelai villages. The Semelai people call themselves Semaq Tasik (the lake people) and have been living in the lake area; working on the land - planting crops such as paddy, bananas, tapioca, sugarcane etc for over 600 years. They were accomplished forest farmers, practicing the age-old method of shift cultivation. The farmers rotated their crops on that same clearing of land until the soil in the area was no longer suitable or fertile enough to sustain another cycle of good harvesting. Then they collectively moved to another area. When one plot of land was being worked on, the old areas were left to regenerate. Excellent example of forest management! During the Emergency period (the 1948-1960 Communist uprising), the government decided to relocate the free-roaming Semelai families into settlements. A majority of them settled at POS Iskandar, the largest Semelai settlement area at Bera. But there are still splinters of families living in small villages scattered around the lake. Today, shifting cultivation is no longer practiced due to limited land space source of income for the Semelai mainly derives from tapping rubber on their 6-acre 'government-sponsored' land, working as labourers at nearby logging camps, harvest from the surrounding forests & lake, making handicraft and offering various adventurous and cultural eco-tourism activities and packages.
Feeling the heat - the lake trip
The rental for a 5-6hour lake and visit trip (a 1½ hour ride each way) costs RM150 per boat. Advice No.1 This boat trip to Kampung Jelawat at Pos Iskandar is only available during the monsoon season between November and February when the waters in the lake is high enough for the boats to traverse). We were each given a lifejacket; and were reassured that if anything was to happen along the way, we were fully insured. Comforting words from ones safely planted on dry land and waving us off! Advice No.2; bring something comfy to sit on for the trip. Our boatman, Basri skilfully steered us into the labyrinth of the Pandanus swamp. Advice No.3: don't forget the sun block. Here, we understood why they had to use these small flat-bottomed boats.
Any larger and we wouldn't be able to maneuvre through the narrow shallow canals created by the screwpines (Pandanus sp.). Having moved to the front of the boat, we realised that although we had the best view, it definitely wasn't the best seat in the house! Pushing into the narrow openings created by overhanging screwpine leaves - we found our new seating arrangement a big disadvantage. With rough overhanging rasau leaves constantly raking our faces and startled spiders dropping onto us time and again - we ended up pretty messy at the end of the ride
The Pandanus (Screwpines) Swamp
Screwpines are locally known as rasau. The Semelai people use its leaves for weaving into mats, baskets, and food containers. This has helped manage the spread of the screwpines. Now, however, they have found that replacing the rasau leaves with mengkuang leaves, another type of the Pandanus sp., is much less hard work for them and just as good. They no longer harvest the rasau leaves on the lake as Mengkuang can be found growing wild on land. With no one harvesting the leaves,the screwpines began to grow at an alarming rate, closing up large areas of the lake, cordoning sections into secluded bays and creating a complicated labyrinth of narrow waterways with lots of dead ends.
Lakes in Peninsula Malaysia
Lakes in Sabah & Sarawak, Borneo
| Batang Ai |