Saturday March 16, 2013
Hiking up Penang Hill is no sweat for senior citizen Pola Singh
By POLA SINGH
One active senior citizen talks about a great, easily accessible place for a good workout.
Penang folk should consider themselves fortunate to have an excellent and convenient place to exercise. The 700-metre high Penang Hill, strategically located in the heart of the island, may seem insurmountable to conquer but one need not go all the way to the top to enjoy a good and sweaty workout.
My other half calls me a health nut; I am not ashamed to confess that I am addicted to exercise. My day is not complete without doing some form of exercise. I used to hash but now, at age 63, I do brisk walks up Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, almost every day rain or shine.
I enjoy it tremendously; the more challenging or steep the slopes, the better. My home town is Malacca; when I was young, climbing up and down Bukit Cina Hill was part of my daily routine to school as a shortcut.
So, when I was in Penang during the Chinese New Year holidays, the first thing I did was to head to the Youth Park to start my climb up Penang Hill (the official name is Bukit Bendera).
For those from outside Penang, there are several trails up the hill but the most popular ones (apart from Youth Park) begin at Moongate, Botanical Gardens (all along Waterfall Road) and Rifle Range Road in Air Itam.
Thanks to the relevant government departments and a group of retirees and senior citizens, the trails up the hill have been well maintained with good signages. Several rest areas have also been set up at strategic locations along the trail for walkers and hikers to take a breather.
The first two rest areas – No. 3 and No. 5 – are the most popular. Then, there are rest areas No. 39 and No. 84. Strangely enough, no one seems to know why the rest areas are numbered in such a sequence except that it has some relation to the location of the stops.
The rest areas are equipped with all the basic amenities for the tired and thirsty walker and hiker. Besides toilet facilities, hot and cold boiled water is available, plus tea and coffee. Sometimes, biscuits and fried meehoon are served. Hence, there is no need to carry any bottled mineral water up the hill.
If you feel guilty after consuming the free stuff, you are most welcome to contribute financially by dropping something into the donation box. No compulsion!
Remember, there are no roads for vehicles to transport things to these rest areas; this means that the volunteers who man the rest areas have to manually carry up whatever stuff is served at the rest areas (eg biscuits, meehoon, coffee and tea powder and sugar, cups, chairs etc). So, do appreciate the services of these volunteers; plus they keep the trails and rest areas clean and tidy!
I chose the trail beginning from the Youth Park. It took me about 20-25 minutes to reach the first rest area, No. 3. It was not too tough, nor was it a simple walk in the park, but I had done enough to whet my appetite for more.
The climb from rest stop No. 3 to No. 5 is indeed challenging. It is like climbing up a spiral staircase. Quite a few walkers stop along the way to catch their breath. Nearer to the rest area, walkers are given an option; either they take the steep steps (with ropes to hang on to) or take the longer but gradual trail. By the time walkers and hikers reach rest area No. 5, many opt to turn back as they still have to walk down for at least half an hour.
From rest area No. 5, it is another 20 minutes to the next rest area, No. 39. Along this trail, the number of walkers and hikers are considerably less. Not many stop at No. 39 as one has to make a detour from the main trail. At the halfway mark of the trail, mist may overwhelm you; in any case, the fresh air one breathes is something money cannot buy.
After another 20 minutes of brisk walking along a trail rich in flora and fauna, one arrives at rest stop No. 84 which is located on the main road leading to the top of the hill. A stop here is recommended to reenergize and rehydrate one’s body.
Some opt to take the road down to the Botancial Gardens while others have two options – either walk along the steep inclined tarmac road or continue with the jungle trail. I opted to use the road. It took me about 45 minutes to reach the top from rest area No. 84. By that time, I was a spent force having walked for more than two hours.
The fresh air was fantastic, so the sweat and weary legs were quickly forgotten. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction, which is difficult to describe or put into words. A feel-good sense of excitement then set in when I realized that I had conquered Bukit Bendera by foot.
All in, I took about two hours to reach the top (where the funicular station is located). Tough as it was, the climb was satisfying as I had burned enough calories to justify enjoying the lovely Penang food! I felt so good when I reached the top and all the heavy sweat was well worth it. The fresh cool air and breeze at the top was simply invigorating! I was also rewarded with a panoramic view of George Town and the mainland.
Another interesting way to get up the hill is to cycle. There is a mountain bike trail from the Youth Park, but many prefer to use the tarred road. Instead of walking down, I took the funicular train which cost me (a senior citizen) only two ringgit.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my climb up Penang Hill. I must say that not only are the trails well-maintained, but the whole area is clean and inviting. The greenery is just beautiful.
For visitors, please do your part in maintaining the cleanliness of the trails by not leaving behind any litter. Penangites should not take the hill, a prized natural beauty and an icon, for granted. Let future generations also enjoy what we are currently enjoying.
> During his prime days, Dr Pola was always a front runner during Hash House Harrier (HHH) runs. He is the Hon Secretary of the NGO, Friends of Bukit Kiara, which wants to ensure that the hill (which he walks up every other day) remains a green lung for future generations. If God had granted him a wish, it would have been that there was a beautiful hill beside his house – that’s what he got and he is enjoying every minute of it.