Location : Kampung Sait, Padawan, Kuching Division, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Will this be the first & last time we see these 2 beautiful cascades hidden in the virgin jungle of Old Kampung Sait surrounded by gigantic meranti & chengal trees?
Well, if we do visit it again it would be a bonus. As we all know that the whole Padawan is waiting for the announcement of the impoundment of the controversial Bengoh dam. Many beautiful waterfalls, canyons, flora/fauna & of course the architectural phenomena of the hanging bamboo bridges will inevitably be drowned forever.
What is left will be just the fond memories of the precious times we shared with villagers and visitors. Painful for villagers as well as regular trekkers like us but we have to face reality, the reality that because of its geographical location Bengoh has been chosen as the site to house the water needs for an ever growing Kuching city of which consumption of water will face a foreseeable shortage. Holding back this huge watershed of rain water can also help mitigate flooding disaster as we have seen a couple of times when Kuching & Bau was hit hard. With the sea water level expected to be on the rise due to global warming, Bengoh dam might just turn out to be the friend rather than foe in due course.
Friend as it may be to most of us in the urban areas, however, except for the farthest village of Semban, a group of villages, Sait, Rejoi & Bojong is currently fighting an intimidating government order to relocate from their ancestral land to the Bengoh Resettlement Scheme somewhere downstream near the village of Semadang where centuries old way of life may be wiped out. The poor track record of the government in dealing with relocation like in the Bakun dam case has these villages defying government orders and instead of moving to the allocated BRS (inclusive of a 3 acre farming land per family) site which is deemed limited in size for their traditional shifting cultivation, they chose the higher grounds way above the dam.
A lame excuse would be to say that black/grey waters, fertilizers, pesticides & weed killers would pollute the water. The government with all its resources can step in to minimize the impact of such pollution. It cannot be far worse than the current Batu Kitang water treatment plant. Besides, the government could help design and build modern sewage system. Chemical based fertilizers can be replaced with environmentally friendly ‘effective microbes’. From the many visits I made to these villages I did not notice the use of pesticides. Perhaps the slash & burn technique helps to eliminate all these pests as well as weeds. These villagers know what they are doing and if the government persists in pushing them out it will only confirm their suspicion that some politicians are after their land. They do not need environmentalists or greenies to brainwash them as they have been accused of. These villagers insist they have an equal right to their traditional lifestyle as much as we city dwellers have our right to clean water. From the hiker’s point of view like me, I would rather they stay so I can enjoy the purity of humble village life as I do my rounds on the Bungoh Range. Experiencing village life is the spice to a good hike and I am sure all tourists will agree on that.
Besides, villagers like Stanley Sugeg (our guide) who is a mechanical engineering student, is eagerly looking forward towards the Bengoh lake so he can tap into the ‘new Bengoh tourism package’. He dreams about bringing tourists on boat rides, fishing and hiking to waterfalls that escape the impoundment. For this bright, knowledgeable and positive young man staying put is his only chance at the tourism pie. He disclosed to me during the hike to Gono Cascade that he and his village friends are ever ready to start building perahus. With the abundant knowledge of his backyard that he enthusiastically shared with me as we trekked to Rangas & Gono I know deep inside this young man will one day shine as a tour guide, especially with his ability to speak in English as well. Let us not destroy his dreams. Let him continue propagating the knowledge of the jungle to the rest of the world in his guiding work. Letting his village stay is the least Sarawak can do for him.
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