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Tambunan – the Switzerland in our midst

Rafflesia Information Centre

10th July, 2017

TAMBUNAN: Tambunan these days is synonymous with deputy chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan and the stop-over for motorists plying the old Kota Kinabalu-Keningau Road.

To some, Tambunan is associated with the tales of Mat Salleh, the man who fought the British colonialists. Photographers can never get enough of the rustic panoramic view of paddy fields when viewed from a vantage point as one approaches Tambunan from Kota Kinabalu.

But there are actually 15 good reasons why visitors should make Tambunan their next getaway, according to the Tambunan District Office which has been promoting Visit Tambunan Year 2017. It even dubbed the land-locked district 80 km from Kota Kinabalu as ‘Switzerland of the East’.

In1985, Tambunan was thrust into the political limelight when its famous son and now deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan was sacked from the then ruling Berjaya party and the district was ostracized, abrogated and isolated. What happened next has been described as the emergence of Kadazandusun nationalism driven by the so-called ‘Tambunan Spirit’, concluding with the shocking defeat of Berjaya. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s more than three decades since Tambunan became famous but the district of about 25,000 people retains its easy, rustic village ambience with no major industry to speak of. There have been some attempts at developing industries using the bamboo found widely in Tambunan. But with no commercial planting, an ambitious chopsticks factory quickly ran out of supply. There was also an attempt at producing tapai (a homemade alcoholic brew made from rice) but that too fizzled out though Tambunan remains an important paddy growing district.

It is no surprise therefore that when it comes to attracting visitors, the district covering 134,540 hectares (almost twice the size of Singapore at 71,910 ha) is counting on most things natural.

Under the Visit Tambunan 2017 initiative launched by Chief Minister Datuk Musa Haji Aman in November 2016, the Tambunan District’s tourism action council identified 15 attractions.

Located in a valley west of the Crocker Range and with most economic activities being agricultural, words such as ‘emerald’, ‘green haven’, and ‘sanctuary’ have been used to describe Tambunan. A 90-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu on the old winding road with numerous severe bends is a daunting challenge to faint-hearted drivers, what with the many heavy duty trucks that once plied the route. Many trucks have since chosen the straighter though no less hilly Kimanis Road to transport goods to and from Keningau.

Most of the winding stretch is still within the Penampang District. The Penampang-Tambunan boundary is located at Sunsuron, the highest point of the KK-Tambunan Road. And it is from here that Tambunan counts its tourist attractions.

In a recent meeting with New Sabah Times journalists, District Officer Thomas Logijin enthused about the prospects:

1. Sunsuron – What is famous here is Mount Wakid. This 1,327-metre peak is part of the Crocker Range. Some extreme activities can be had here including the 90-minute hike to the peak, passing along the Sunsuron River and the rich flora typical of forests in Sabah. Tour operators organise a monthly day trip to the peak. For photography buffs, Sunsuron is the point where they must keep their eyes on for shots of Tambunan valley as they descend 18km into Tambunan Town. Although the rusticness of the scenery – green during the paddy growing season and golden during harvesting – has been adulterated as the many traditional thatched roofed huts are now replaced by zinc roofings, the naked beauty still attracts many.

For a more relaxed introduction to Tambunan, visitors can opt for the numerous cafes and restaurants at Sunsuron.

2. Tambunan Salt Trail – this 34km jungle trail starts from Kampung Tilokod. It is not for the faint-hearted. Tour operators recommend at least a four-day trip that includes daily 8km treks that promises experiences with birds, animals and flora. The highlight is the salt well which supplies the valuable commodity to rural communities.

3. Minduk Suang Trail – The trail also offers thrills for those who are in search of an expedition-style jungle trekking experience. It is located at 2,050 meters above sea level and the journey for those who want to tackle this adventure trip starts from Mount Alab. While the trek – 12km in 8-9 hours – promises an adrenalin-pumping experience, the reward at the end of the trek is the Mahua Waterfall.

4. Mahua Waterfall – this 17m waterfall gets its source of water from the Crocker Range. It is accessible by road from Tambunan and has basic facilities such as picnic shelters, toilets and a restaurant.

5. Mount Trusmadi – at 2,642m this is the second highest peak in Malaysia after Mount Kinabalu (4,100m). One of the biggest rewards for a trekker on this trail is the potential discovery of the rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. Mount Trusmadi is increasingly popular trail for trekkers and a growing group of trail runners.

6. Rafflesia Nature Reserve – the central feature of this reserve is the Rafflesia Visitors Centre, located along the Kota Kinabalu-Tambunan Road. It is managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department. Visitors have an option of checking out rafflesia replicas at the centre or, if they are lucky, catch rafflesia blooming in the wild not too far from the visitors centre.

Other than rafflesia flowers, visitors can also experience the pristine protected jungles of the protected area, and chance upon numerous bird species not found anywhere else.

7. Gantung Sorili – Located in Kampung Widu, the main attraction is a remarkably large jar that is the source of many mystical legends known as kakanan in Dusun Language.

There are also activities like camping, river rafting and trekking for the visitors.

8. Ginger & Traditional Craft Centre – this is located at Kampung Tikolod. The village is the largest producer of ginger and the centre for main traditional musical instrument.

9. The Heritage Centre – this is located at Kg Kapayan Lama, one of the attractions is the Mat Sator Museum declared open in July 2017. It commemorates Mat Sator, a key follower of anti-colonial fighter Mat Salleh. The duo and their fellow fighters were said to have waged many bloody confrontations with the British colonial administration. The vicinity of the museum is said to be the stronghold of the historical folk heroes. The Mat Sator Museum also displays photographs and memorabilia of famous Tambunan sons such as Gabuh Piging, who represented North Borneo in the Melbourne Olympics in the 1950s.

10. Batu Gong – loosely translated as ‘stone gong’, this naturally occurring stone produces a wide range of notes when struck. It is located at Kampung Solibog, not far from the Tambunan Golf Club.

“This entirely natural rock produces sounds that is similar to those of the Dusun traditional gongs and that’s why it’s called a singing rock,” said Tambunan Districf Officer Thomas Logijin.

11. The Tagal System, Tambunan River – Tagal is a system devised by natives to conserve fish resources in rivers. Each village determines their respective schedule to ‘buka tagal’ or to lift the fishing restriction. The lifting of tagal is an event usually accompanied by festivities in which villagers partake.

The restricted fishing has resulted in fishes being accustomed to being undisturbed, and visitors are known to wade into the water, touching the ‘ikan pelian’ (or Masheer fish, a kind of carp) that can grow to over 10kg.

12. Sinarumbi Tambunan – This Tambunan Viewing Point is located at the Trig Hill area in Kg. Dalungan. It affords visitors a panoramic view of the Tambunan Valley, as it located at about 877m above sea level.

The building, opened in Jan 2017, is built in the shape of wakid or sigar, a native basket carried on one’s back like a traditional backpack. It is about 50m high.

13. Traditional Village & Food Centre – Two villages, Minding and Tombotuon, are involved in this programme through which the Tambunan District Office hopes to draw community participation in tourism promotion. Aside from experiencing traditional food, visitors may also participate in river fishing.

“If you happen to visit during the planting season, you can see the villager’s plant rice in the fields and most of all, enjoy the local traditional food that is abundant,” Thomas added.

15. Golfing – The Tambunan Golf Club, located at the edge of the town, is an 18-hole golf course that was designed by local amateur golf enthusiasts. It provides a unique challenge to avid golfers because of its unorthodox design. Typical of most things Tambunan, the gold course is rustic with its rough edges, and with traditional villages making up the borders; it is just eight minutes’ drive from the town. The club house provides facilities such as a restaurant, locker room and even a karaoke bar.

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