The Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge II, an ecotourism event by communities living in the highlands, is still open for registration till end of this month.
Among others, the event will bring participants rare opportunity to see megaliths which are rarely found elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
The highlands of Sarawak, Sabah and North Kalimantan are dotted with ancient stone monuments or megaliths, with over 40 sites and about 100 earth-made effigies.
The megalithic culture once practised by the highlanders of Kelabit, Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh and Sa’ ban communities reflects their traditional animist beliefs since time immemorial until they converted to Christianity after the Second World War.
Some of these megaliths are associated with the legendary giant called, Upai Semaring, by the Lun Bawang community, while known as Agan Tadun to the Kelabits.
The highland communities believe that the Upai Semaring possessed supernatural powers like carving stones with his fingers and making himself invisible. Upai Semaring travelled across the highlands and left behind many traces of his existence which can still be seen today. They included the great carved stones and giant sharpening stone.
The Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge II starts from 20 to 29 July and it offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these megaliths and learn the stories behind these ancient stone monuments from the communities.
A trans-boundary grassroots initiative, the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples in the Highlands of Borneo (FORMADAT), is organising the Eco Challenge.
The Eco Challenge is not a competition but an ecotourism event that relives history, culture and stewardship of nature in the highlands.
It aims at promoting the importance of conservation in the highlands and preserving its history, nature and culture. So the concept of treading lightly, take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, is core to the organiser and participants.
Event director and FORMADAT Sarawak deputy chairman John Tarawe said the first Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge took place in 2015 and the trekking route was from Ba’ Kelalan to Mount Murud Church Camp and ended in Bario.
He said this time around, the Eco Challenge routes are expanded to the highlands in Long Pa’ Sia’, Sabah; and neighbouring country in Krayan, Indonesia.
“This event is special because it is the only cross-boundary event to be held in the highlands, deep in the Heart of Borneo. Furthermore, this year’s event really reflects the spirit of FORMADAT’s slogan ‘Perurum, Selawe, Meruked’ which means unity.”
“We are brothers and sisters divided by regional and international borders. We share a common heritage and land as the Lun Dayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang, and Sa’ban people. I hope this biennial ecotourism event will bring us together to work, protect our remaining forests, enhance security along the borders and our home within the highlands area,” he said.
“This event also can be a good platform to highlands’ communities to share their knowledge and experiences with outsiders,” he added.
John thanked FORMADAT’s partners and supporters comprising, among others, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Sarawak, Forest Department Sarawak, Natural Resources and Environment Board, Consulate Indonesia in Sarawak, Sarawak Energy Berhad, Immigration Department, Roger Harris Associations, Mercy Malaysia, Ceria Group and WWF-Malaysia for assisting the communities in making the event will be another success.
The challenge offers six trails to cater different interests of jungle trekkers. For hard core jungle trekkers, the 10-day, 9-night Heart of Borneo trail is recommended as the adventure starts with a journey to Sipitang, Sabah and ends in Bario after crossing neighbouring highlands of Long Semadoh, Ba’ Kelalan, Sarawak and Long Bawan, Kalimantan on foot and four-wheel drive vehicle. This is the longest trail and ends in Bario on the first day of Pesta Nukenen Bario Food and Cultural Festival.
For those who are pressed for time can opt for the shorter trail such as the 5-day, 4-night Jungle Exploration trail.