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MEMORANDUM OF A JOURNEY TO THE $UMMIT OF GUNONG BKNK0, OR THE 8UOAR M>AF MOUNTAIN, IN THE
INTERIOR OF BKNCOOLEN.
This mountain, which stands detached from the regular rangjSof hills, forms by its peculiar and remarkable shape, an excellent landmark on this part of the coast. It lies about 18 miles N. E. of Bencoolen, but its exact position and distance had never been correctly ascertained. Two attempts had been made by Europeans to ascend the mountain but without success, and a general impression prevailed that it was utterly impracticable to gain the summit. Remarkable mountains of this description are generally believed by the natives to be the residence of spirits, and their summits are considered as Kramats or places of peculiar sanctity. A krumat of this nature was Baid to exist on the top of the Sugar Loaf, and it was reported that the natives sometimes adventured to visit rt from motives of superstition. It was therefore resolved to make another trial, in the expectation that it might afford the means of correcting and extending the observations already commenced on the coast with a view to a more accurate survey of this part of the conntry.
A party of gentlemen accordingly proceeded from Bencoolen on the 10th of June, 1821, for the purpose of effecting this object. They crossed the Bencoolen river a little above Tanjung A^unw, and proceeding through the Lumba Selapan district halted the first night at Lubu Pooar, a small Rejang village on the banks of a stream which falls into the Sungey Lamow. Thus far the journey was accomplished on horseback, but it was found impracticable to carry the horses any farther, and the party proceeded on foot to Punjong, a respectable village situated on the banks of the Simpang-ayer, and the residence of the Pasirah of the tribe of Marigi, the chief of the four into which the Rejangs are divided. The others are called Bermani, Saloopu and Joru Kallang. On the third day they reached Rejak Bessi, the last village in the direction of the mountain, where they rested for the night. It is situated on the Ayer Kiti, a stream which falls into the Simpang-aver below Punjong. The journey from Lul»n Pooar to this, mi*ht
with ease have been accomplished in one day instead of two, had the weather permitted.
The mountain was now to be attempted, and in order to ensure success, it was arranged to pitch a small tent in the forest in case the ascent could not be accomplished in one day. From Rejak Bessi they proceeded over hilly ground gradually rising for about five miles, when they found their progress impeded by the increasing steepness of the ascent, and then halted under an overhanging rock, where the tent was pitched as it was impossible to carry it any further even if space could have been found to erect it on. The course from Rejak Bessi was through deep forests which precluded them from seeing the mountain. The last view they had of it was at Rejak Bessi, which it appeared to overhang and whence they were able to form some idea of the difficulties thev were likely to encounter from the steepness of the ascent, and the precipitousness of the declivities. Soon after quitting Rejak Bessi they crossed a small river, on a temporary bamboo bridge thrown across a deep chasm between two rocks, which confined the stream within a narrow channel after being precipitated over a fall of considerable height. A fine view of this fall was commanded from the bridge, which was itself suspended about 100 feet above the stream, and the whole formed, with the surrounding forests, a beautiful and romantic scene. About 10 o'clock they commenced the ascent of the cone along the rocky bed of a mountain torrent, until they arrived in front of a perpendicular face of bare rock stretching completely across the ravine which had hitherto afforded a passage, and seeming to bar all further progress. This difficulty was surmounted by placing two of the longest bamboos against the rock underneath where the bare root of a tree projected from above; by the aid of these held fast at the bottom, and afterwards secured by a rattan at the top, they succeeded in clambering up to the tree which overhung the precipice. The next acclivity terminated at the head of another ravine, where their progress was again checked by a jutting rock rendered moist by the trickling of a small spring of water"from among its crevices. Here the guides declared that further ascent was impracticable, and that from thence the party might return as soon as they pleased. The fact is they were extremely averse to their proceeding, fearing the vengeance of the evil spirits if they conducted strangers to the summit; they were therefore advising to return at every difficulty, and the ascent was ultimately accomplished without their aid, or rather in spite of them. The appearances around were calculated to confirm this assertion, but before determining to return they examined the extent of the precipice, and crossing the ravine, perceived that the opposite side, though almost perpendicular, had a thin coating of soil and moss with numerous roots of trees half laid bare, by laying hold of which with the hands and placing the toes in the niches, the}' at length reached the ridge which formed the right hand shoulder of the hill. Along this a path was found, sometimes along the base, sometimes over the face of a succession of bare masses of rock, which it was necessary to clamber over by the aid of such twigs and roots as occasionally fastened themselves in their fissures. The last of these precipices was perhaps the most dizzy and dangerous, as it was necessary to make a step or two on a narrow ledge on the face of a cliff of such height that the eye could not discern the bottom, and thence catch at a dry stump barely wilhin reach, by swinging from which it was possible with a considerable effort to clear the rock. The denseness of the moss and the stunted appearance of the trees now indicated their approach towards the top, and at length about two o'clock they found themselves on the summit. This was a bare spot of not more than four or five yards in breadth with a precipice on each side partly concealed by brushwood. Of those who set out together from the foot of the hill a few only reached this point, by far the majority giving up in despair at different parts of the ascent, but the labour of those who persevered was amply recompensed by the view which opened from the summit. The line of the coast from Laye on the north to a considerable distance beyond Buffalo point on the soulh was distinctly marked; the vessels in the bason of Rat Island were distinguishable with the aid of a glass, anil the white ramparts of Fort Marlbro' were easily discerned. To the south, they looked down on the hills of Bukit Kandees or the Lion's Rump, and Bukit Kabul (the hill of mist) which formed a straight line with the Sugar Loaf. Inland the view was obscuicd bv a cloud which was cvidcntlv dircutirnjr its course towards the hill, and it was necessary therefore to take the desired observations and bearings with all possible dispatch. This was dorte with a small compass, none of the larger instruments having been got up. The character of the vegetation was decidedly alpine, the rooks and trunks of the trees being covered with dense moss, and many of the shrubs belonging to genera of higher latitudes such as Vaccinium, Rhododendron, &c. There is also found here a shrub which the natives consider a substitute for tea, remarkable by its thick glossy leaves; it will form a new genus in the family of the Myrtacese. Having finished their observations, they made haste to descend as the cloud was now rapidly approaching the hill and threatened a deluge of rain. They found the descent fully as difficult as the aseent had been, but it was occasionally facilitated by fastening a long rattan to a tree above, and then sliding along it down the steepest places. It was necessary however to be cautious not to slide with too much velocity in order to be able to keep a footing when the rattan slipped from the hand. When they had got about half way down, the clouds which had now enveloped the hill burst in a flood of rain, and rendered the footing still more insecure. The steepest parts however were then past, and the trees for a short while afforded some protection, but by the time they reached the lower ravines, the water began to swell, and the latter part of the descent was in the very bed of the torrent. They arrived at the tent about an hour before sunset, and found the spot completely flooded; the rain had in no degree abated, and it was impossible to find shelter for the whole party of natives, &c. which was very numerous; it was therefore determined to make a push forward to Iiejuk Bessi, rather than pass the night in so uncomfortable a situation. A sharp walk brought them to the village soon after dark, and a good night's rest repaired the fatigues of the day. The next day was spent at the same place both for the purpose of resting the people, and of bringing up the tent which had been left in the forest. On the 16th they travelled to Punjong, and the following day they commenced their return by another route, striking across the country in the direction of Bukit Kandees to tho Bencoolen river. Sampans had been previously ordered to be in readiness at Tanjong Sanei, and they arrive d there about 11 o'clock, having in the latter part of the journey forded the main stream of the Bcncoolen river no less than eleven times. About twelve they embarked on the sampans, and placed the baggage and some of the followers on bamboo rafts; the first part of the course was a constant succession of rapids, in shooting down which some management was necessary to avoid being upset upon the trunks of trees and other obstacles that lay in the way. Twice by being driven against these, the boat wa3 filled with water and with difficulty Saved from being swamped. Below the junction of the Rindowati, the depth of the river increased and the current became more regular; and at length they landed near Bcncoolen ahout nine at night, having thus accomplished, aided by the rapidity of the stream, in one day, what would have occupied several in ascending.
Gunong Benko is not estimated to exceed 3,000 feet in height, but its shape, and its stauding boldly out from the general range of hills render it the most remarkable visible from Bcncoolen. It is almost entirely composed of masses of basalt or trap, which is the most prevalent rock along this part of Sumatra. The whole of the country traversed on this occasion is exceedingly broken and irregular and but thinly inhabited. In the neighbourhood of the hill it is a complete forest and very wild, presenting an infinite number of romantic and beautiful views. The soil near the rivers is remarkably rich, and that of the forest tracts is little inferior, particularly in the bamboo groves, which indeed arc generally found to prevail on the finest lands. The greater part of the rice is cultivated in ladangs, but there are a few sawahs. At Tello Anon is a small nutmeg plantation where the trees have never been manured, yet seem as thriving as any about town. The forests abound with noble timber trees; few animals were seen; of monkeys the Kra (S./ascicularis) and Chingkau (S. cristata) were the most common, and tlie land cry oftheSiamang (S. syndacti/la) was frequently heard, though they did not come in sight. It is very singular to observe the young of the Chingkau and Simpai (S melulopltos) embracing their mothers, that of the former being fawn colored while the adult is nearly black, and the latter having the young black while the mother is fawn colored, appearing exactly as if they had exchanged young ones.