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      Volume 11 |Issue 23| June 08, 2012 |


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Kayaking through the Mangroves

Elita Karim

Entering the silent zone. Photo: elita karim

“There are no winters in Malaysia," laughs Badrillah Jeevan, the guide. "This is as cold as it will get!" We looked at each other, sweating profusely, carrying half-sleeved sweaters and stylish 'hoodies', wondering what to do with the suitcases filled with warm clothes that we had dragged all the way from Bangladesh. It was slightly difficult for us to believe that, in the month of December, it would get so warm in Malaysia!

Thanks to Tourism Malaysia Dhaka, a first-timer like myself, along with other journalists, had the opportunity to visit some of the most happening places in Malaysia, not to mention tasting all the delicious delicacies and meeting people from different ethnicities. They were Malay, no doubt about that, but had interesting stories and tales of their Chinese and South Indian ancestors.

The 5-minute tutorial before the journey. Photo: Elita Karim

Before leaving for Malaysia, I had friends, who had visited the country before, telling me all about the parties, the duty-free chocolates, shopping for i-phones and Canon 7Ds at the malls, not to mention, checking out the amusement parks. Except for purchasing gadgets, I did all the aforementioned. However, I also discovered a couple of activities that can be tried and tested by the young travellers or honeymooners who crave for adventure wherever they go!

One of our stops were at Langkavi, a district of Kedah in Northern Malaysia, a cluster of 99 islands separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca. Traditionaly believed to be cursed, in 1986, the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad decided to transform it into a tourist resort, helping to plan many of the islands buildings himself. Langkawi is a duty-free island and tourists mostly enjoy the beaches, stylish suitcases and travel cases and of course, stocking 'piles' of chocolates. In fact, Langkavi is also known as the 'land of chocolates' by many a chocolate lover. What we experienced at Langkavi, however, was all this and much more, at Dev's Adventure Tours.

We were all asked to wear something comfortable and flexible because we were going to do some water activities. "River cruise!" I screamed in happiness inside my mind. We did go on a river cruise and got an opportunity to enjoy the Malacca river at its best, but what we didn't know was that we were going to warm up with an hour's kayaking in the river, before everything else!

Kayaking, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is the use of a kayak for moving across water. Also similar to canoeing, the activity is also known as paddling. The major difference between the two activities is how one would sit to paddle and also the number of blades on the paddle. During kayaking, the paddler faces forward, legs in front, using a double-bladed paddle.

After a quick tutorial, and a tour of the nearby caves, homes to millions of bats and other species, we were then asked to put our belongings that we would like to take with us on the kayak, inside a rubber bag – cameras, keys etc.

Paired off in twos, the person sitting at the back was the 'driver' of sorts. He or she would have to be experienced or stronger physically, explained the guide. The one sitting in front would help with taking directions, in short was the 'navigator'. I was the navigator and Dewan Toufique, a veteran journalist from Sylhet preferred to be the driver, sitting behind me. In the 5-minute tutorial, we had to learn how to stay afloat in the river, how to turn right and left and also how not to topple over and drown, this being a major concern for many in the group. Thankfully, we were all given life jackets before we had boarded our kayaks.

The experience was overwhelming! We were given our oars and off we began with our journey, when it suddenly began to rain. Not only were we witnessing the mangrove in the island, spotting eagles, snakes, monkeys and other species living there and sometimes hanging from branches of trees, we were also trying to kayak as fast as we could to catch up with our guide. It did take us a few minutes to get the hang of the kayak; we would not stop moving in circles in the beginning! However, after a few minutes of rowing and getting deeper and deeper in the river, all the kayaks seemed to be moving in synch with each other.

Balancing the kayak with the oars. Photo: Elita Karim

While moving into the greater river, we were trying harder to remember what we had learnt about kayaking. To stay still, we had to balance both our oars at 180 degrees across our laps. To move forward, I would row on the right side while my partner behind me would row on the left side, or vice versa. To turn right, both of us would have to row on our left, and rowing on our right side would make us turn left. It all seemed simple enough, but I wished I had kept up with my exercise routine back home, so that I could have a little more stamina for the one-hour of kayaking!

At one point, we entered the silent zone. Just like in the movies, the silent zone had birds chirping and colourful leaves hanging from low branches. We were asked to stop rowing our boats; just one of us was asked to use an oar, to help our kayaks move smoothly in the narrow channel. We were warned of hanging snakes in this narrow channel, of giant lizards and strange reptiles, eager to jump into our kayaks. Thankfully, the group left the silent zone soon, rowing towards other river channels. We finally marked the end of our trip by planting trees at a near by forest by the river.

According to online sites, kayaking can burn up to 300-500 calories an hour. After we rowed back to the point we had started from, we all looked at the stretch of river and were quite proud of ourselves for covering more than 10 kms! I was quite proud of myself for burning all those calories, which were once again put on after we had a filling lunch of rice, chicken and vegetables.

Kayaking through the mangrove on river Malacca, Langkavi, I could not help thinking that something similar could be done in Bangladesh as well. In a land of rivers, nature, culture, and mangroves, Bangladesh could very well be the next location in Asia for tourists and families for water sports and also exploring the world of exotic species. Maybe it is time for us to explore the 'wild sides' and the natural wealth that we encompass and attract tourists to our rivers, mangrove forests, tea gardens and beaches. Why not work on what we have and do something for the country, for a change?



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