Durian Feast in Malaysia 25th July

Dear Blog readers,

If you are in Malaysia, free for the weekend and also craving for durians, you might like to know about this upcoming event. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of madding crowds but if you’re up for an interesting durian consumption scheme, then this might just be the thing for you…

ALL THE DURIAN YOU CAN EAT

If you can’t resist the king of fruit, mark July 25 on your calendar and set your GPS system straight for Bukit Gantang. That’s where PUTRI ZANINA will be again, licking her fingers at the annual Jom Makan Durian Festival

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THE car in front of us makes a sudden swerve to the side of the road and stops. On any other occasion, we would have been angry with such a thoughtless driver but not today.

After all, just moments ago we had done almost the same thing (almost because we did signal before pulling to a halt). So did almost every other driver along that stretch of road. What’s happening?

It’s fruit season… and we’re in durian land! So forgive us for being selfish drivers who can’t help but follow our nose, and our heart, for that luscious, sweet yellow flesh.

The road in Bukit Gantang is flanked by rows of stalls offering not only the “best” durian you can ever find but also rambutan, mangosteen and langsat – all in season now.

Bukit Gantang is, after all, the venue for the annual Jom Makan Durian Festival or the Great Durian Festival that has lured thousands of durian lovers since the event was first held three years ago.

Many find it hard to resist this all-you-can-eat free durian feast though you’d have to jostle with the crowd. But there’s actually more than enough for everyone. Last year, it was reported that 15 lorry-loads of durian or some 16,000 fruit were savoured in just two hours.

This year, the number is expected to be even bigger. So we’d rather be ahead of the crowd.

Good Old Days

As soon as July comes, we make our way to this small town in Perak, just half an hour’s drive from the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Instead of taking the North-South highway from Ipoh and exiting at Changkat Jering to go to Bukit Gantang, we decide to take the more scenic old inland road from Kuala Kangsar.

This route passes through Padang Rengas (another durian haven) and Bukit Berapit which is about 10 minutes’ drive to Bukit Gantang. For me, it’s a road of nostalgia. When I was small, my parents would take us kids to Bukit Berapit for picnics near the river surrounded by the rolling hills of the Bintang Range.

Now, however, I could hardly see the river. In the old days, as you drove along the road, you would see the clear waters cascading over boulders and forming natural pools for swimming.

Cars, lorries and motorcycles would be parked on the road side where there were many food stalls too. Drivers making the long journey from the north to south or vice-versa (pre-North-South highway) would stop at Bukit Berapit to take a dip in the cold mountain waters or have a refreshing cuppa before continuing their journey.

Sadly, you don’t see such scenes anymore and you have to go further in from the road to have a good view of the river.

There’s a telecom tower marking the spot where you can still see a good stretch of the river. There are signs of logging and parts of the land have been cleared for a double rail track project. But the river water still looks enticing enough to take a dip in and that’s quite comforting.

Traditional Noodles

Near Bukit Gantang, we see a stall “advertising” laksa pulas, so we make a stop. Laksa Buyong, the name of the stall, is apparently famous for laksa pulas (made by using a traditional noodle-making tool that you have to turn). The coarse, pale white noodles are made without preservatives.

Instead of ikan kembong or mackerel as is usually used for Malay-style laksa, flaked sardine is added to the piquant gravy. A bowl of the laksa comes with sliced cili padi and lime. The verdict? Absolutely hot, palate-burning, mouth-watering and tangy.

Much as we enjoy the laksa, our minds are still set on durian.

Roadside Fiesta

Bukit Gantang durian, according to the locals, is one of the best in the country. Roadside stalls offer several varieties, including D24, D99 and MDUR, that are grown in the little hamlets in Bukit Gantang and surrounding areas.

Like in previous years, there’s a glut this year, so you can get durian quite cheaply. A medium-sized fruit is priced at between RM3 and RM4. Small ones sell for as little as RM1 each, so it’s not surprising to see car boots filled to the brim with not just durian but also mangosteen and petai (stinky beans).

Well, the durian stinks too, so imagine the journey home with durian and petai in the boot. What a pong!

For us, the joy of buying durian includes eating it on the spot. The stall keeper happily opens a few and we dig in, enjoying every bit of the sweet, creamy flesh.

At other stalls, most customers are doing the same thing and it looks like one big durian feast all the way. The colours of the different types of fruits – green, red, yellow and more – add to the festive feel.

With the smell of durian drifting in from the car boot and the lingering aroma on our fingers and our breath (arrgh!), we leave in a happy mood.

We see some signboards to Long Jaafar Mausoleum and to an old railway station site but we decide to give these historical places a miss. Somehow, durian and history don’t sound like a good mix.

There’s no mistaking the air of history in Bukit Gantang but we’re too smitten by the king of fruit to think of anything else.

Bits Of History

Larut District’s eminent son, Long Ja’afar, created history when he found tin in the area in 1840. This started the tin boom and, later, wars between two Chinese miner clans, Hai San and Ghee Hin.

Bukit Gantang was Long Ja’afar’s administrative centre. His son, Ngah Ibrahim, took over the business 16 years later and built his residence, fort and store in Matang, known today as Kota Ngah Ibrahim. This fort and Long Ja’afar’s Mausoleum are two of the area’s historical attractions.

But for now, it’s durians we’re after. We are drawn to a signboard directing us to Ladang Bukit Gantang. Perhaps we’ll find a durian orchard there.

Fruit & Flowers Haven

But what we find really bowls us over. Not only do we drive through a durian valley but we also pass other fruit orchards including rambutan, ciku, mangosteen, jackfruit, cempedak, papaya, mangosteen, dragon fruit and mata kucing.

The looming Bintang Range stands guard over this green sanctuary. Cold winds give us a chill as we alight from the car and walk along a garden of blooming hibiscus, cannas and heliconias. The plants “fence” a brick bungalow house fringed with fish ponds.

This is the house of Robitah Zainuddin and her husband Md Tarmizi Md Noor. Robitah is the “celebrated” farmer-cum-entrepreneur who co-ordinates the increasingly popular Bukit Gantang Homestay and the Jom Makan Durian Festival. She won the national-level Successful Farmer Award 2004 while Tarmizi won the Successful Livestock Entrepreneur, Perak 2002.

Within the sprawling fruit farm and flower garden are a chicken farm and a fish farm. Tarmizi rears and sells chicken (some 70,000 birds annually) as well as prized arowana and fish fry for breeding.

Homestay Model

The couple is now reaping the fruits of their labour over the last nine years. Their home in Kampung Lorong Makam Long Jaafar is the reception area for farm visits and showcases facilities available in the 30 other homes that are part of the Bukit Gantang Homestay programme.

The sample homestay room in their bungalow is simply furnished, with wooden furniture and a fan. Outside the house is a clean flush toilet.

The couple would direct visitors to the other homes if they are interested in staying and experiencing life in the kampung. This is one of the ways Robitah gets the villagers involved in the homestay programme.

It’s a full-time undertaking. When we are there, a vanload of tourists from Holland arrives. It’s starting to drizzle but, led by Robitah, the tourists walk in the rain and soak in the cool atmosphere as they pass the pokok pinang walk lined with the tall palm trees and later, the fragrant herb garden. We lose sight of them as they turn towards the foot of the mountain.

After our durian feast, we are hoping to burn off some extra fat. So off we go in the rain, winding our way through rows of ferns and fruiting rambutan trees.

Jom Makan Durian Festival 2009

Mark July 25 in your calendar for this year’s Jom Makan Durian Festival. Invited to grace the event organised by the Perak Tourism Action Council and the Homestay Bukit Gantang Committee are Raja Muda Perak Raja Nazrin Shah and his wife, Raja Puan Besar Perak Tuanku Zara Salim as well as the Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir. For details, call 019-574 0767/05-255 0413.

Homestay Bukit Gantang

The homestay packages include stays in Malay homes, Malay-style food, village tour on bicycle/motorcycle, livestock feeding, rubber tapping, visits to agro-farm and cottage industry (bedak sejuk, kerepek and cookies), natural hotsprings, mountain streams, historical places, traditional games and cultural performances including a mock Malay wedding.

Visits to nearby attractions can be arranged, including Taiping’s heritage buildings, Taiping Night Safari, Matang Mangrove Swamp, Larut Hill and Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary.

For details, call Robitah at 019-574 0767 or 05-855 49 67 or email bghomestay@gmail.com

Ladang Bukit Gantang

The farm includes a durian valley, garden trails with fragrant garden, herbal garden, heliconia/canna/hibiscus walk, fern walk, pinang walk, water apple canopy and water garden. Activities include farm tours and fruit buffet. For guided tours, call Robitah at the same number above.

How To Get There

Bukit Gantang is about 10 minutes’ drive from Changkat Jering toll exit from the North-South Expressway. It’s about two hours from Kuala Lumpur, one hour from Penang and 45 minutes from Ipoh. You may also take the old road from Kuala Kangsar, a drive that takes about 30 minutes.

• Pictures by ZAABA JOHAR, Muhaizan Yahya and Ikhwan Munir

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