Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Hike to Gunung Panti

I was introduced to quite sometime back by one of my friends. It sounded interesting, but I was not too keen to try it out then. However, recently I have been really interested in going out and exploring the possibilities. I decided to join in a group of people to hike Gunung Panti mountain in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The hike was organised by Philip from couchsurfing. Philip is a Filipino and is a regular hiker and had hiked Gunung panti 8 times before. The group seemed large, with 25 people in it. I made a choice based on my gut instinct and joined them on the hike last Sunday.
At Woodlands MRT
I prepared myself for the hike, packed a sling bag with essential items from a list made by Philip. Everything was being communicated to everyone in the group through a Whatsapp group created out of convenience. The estimated expense was 30-40 MYR or Ringgits. As I was staying up for long hours for quite a few days, i was finding it difficult to sleep early so that I can get up at 5 AM on the day of hike and get ready. Eventually, I went to bed at 2 AM and the excitement did not let me sleep properly.
Things that I packed

We were scheduled to meet at the Woodlands MRT (Singapore) at 7 30 AM near Berth 15. This was the first time that i was going to travel with complete strangers, and that too 24 of them. I was a little nervous but made it a point to meet and greet everyone around. There were 4 French guys, an Australian, a Japanese couple, a few Singaporeans and Malaysians, 2 Filipinos and 2 Indians in the group. We left to Johor Bahru in Bus 950 to JB Sentral (Malaysian Immigrations cum a shopping Mall).
At JB Sentral
 We reached there in an hour or so and the transition through the border was smooth as better. From JB (Johor Bahru), we met few more people who joined us from there making it 25 altogether. We took a bus to Kota Tinggi (one way 4.80 MYR). In the bus, I chatted with Antony, a french tele-marketer and hitch-hiker who loves to travel and had studied Film and Drama. He was an affable guy and i was amazed when he started talking about Bollywood movies and then Rajinikant :) Apparently, his mom works in Chennai and he had traveled India extensively. It was fun talking to him and others in the bus. Aaron, a Singaporean, was interested in my phone, an HTC One, as he planned to buy one for himself. In an hour or so, we reached Kota Tinggi.
Kota Tinggi Bus Station

From Kota Tinggi, we took a cab (MYR 25 for 4) to Gunung Panti. I was travelling with Antony and his friends Flo and Sophie. We reached after a 15 minute scenic drive. We started the hike at around 10 50 AM after a briefing by Philip and his friend Bruce. Philip was heading the group while Bruce formed the tail. Everything was being handled very professionally and that was the best part. Even though it was a first time for me, I felt at ease with these complete strangers. I put on my hiking boots and borrowed some insect-repellent from Flo. We were all set.

At 513m, Gunung panti is not the tallest of mountains. But it was a good introduction for me. At first, i though half a kilometer should be easy, but when you consider vertical climbing and natural obstacles ahead of you, those 500 meters stretched towards more than a kilometer. We took 5 minutes break at regular intervals and kept us hydrated and well fed. I had bought energy bars for easy replenishment. After around 2 hours of hiking, we reached a 90 degree steep wall of rock. By this time, it had started raining and it was getting cold. The forest cover was so thick that even though it was raining quite well, the downpour did not affect us as we felt only a slight drizzle. The wall of rock was daunting for many of us, especially after 2 hours of continuous hiking and considering that most of us were novice. 
The rock wall leading to the summit was very steep
We finally climbed that up with help of ropes hanging from the top and i must admit that it was an amazing feeling to reach the summit. However, we could not enjoy the view as it was all covered up in the mountain mist. We took many pictures and finally settled down to have some lunch. I had brought Bread slices and veggies for lunch to make sandwiches. It was light and healthy. I was feeling a great sense of adventure and it was every bit worth it.

A Short Video of the hike

The place is infested with blood sucking leeches and I had 3 of them on me before I could notice. They are so fast and even though they don't have any eyes, they can sense our presence and leap towards us in great haste. They resembled zombies – coming from all sides, thirsty for blood. But it was again a novel experience. Some of us had brought salt and ethyl alcohol to get rid of the leeches. The Japanes guy Hiro had his white socks turn into red because of the leeches. 
Finally we started climbing down and thats when we all started appreciating the real beauty of the tropical rainforest that covers Gunung Panti. It was simply magnificent. It took us another 2 hours to climb down and everyone was clearly exhausted. After getting back to Kota Tinggi, we freshened up and ate from the local hawker center. I had Nasi Pattaya, fried rice wrapped in an egg omlette and some green apple juice. After satisfying ourselves, we took a bus back to JB Sentral.
At the summit
I reached back home at 10 30 PM. What a day it was and I had a lot of fun as it was clearly a unique and refresing experience for me. However, I would not recommend anybody to go there on their own as it is very difficult to find the right way up and down the mountain. There are many trails and if you are not familiar, there is a very high chance of getting lost. But if you find a good opportunity, I would say go ahead and enjoy yourself.