I have been hiking regularly again. It has been a few years since I have been this regular hiking the Bukit Timah Hill.
After the Hill was closed for works for about two years the trekking group continued with hikes all over Singapore. I wasn’t keen on those kind of flat ground and hot sun hikes. I had my eyes turned: cycling. So I cycled in those years when the Bukit Timah was closed for renovations and restoration works.
I was pleased when the Hill was reopened and for a while I hiked there but ministry demands on Saturdays meant my outings there were erratic and occasional.
This has however changed recently when my wife and I started doing the hikes on Mondays, the day off for pastors. So I use the Monday mornings and relish these hours of breathing fresh air, under a green canopy, in quiet and with less hikers around. Furthermore, I don’t have to worry about parking as there is free parking in the vicinity of the Hillview MRT.
I usually walk from there to the Dairy Farm trail, along the Jungle Fall path, up the Summit steps, down to Rengas path and circle back to the Hillview MRT, a good two hours of perspiration and sometimes inspiration and thanksgiving.
On my sabbath, it is always good to do something I relish, something that nourishes me.
When the Bukit Timah Hill first re-opened, I was not happy with the changes. Some of my favourite routes were blocked by fences. Old routes were re-routed for some good reason that I do not know. The old rugged, uneven, muddy paths had been made straight and flat and staired. Other hikers in the group were not happy too. The muddy and natural hill paths of the past had allowed us good realistic training for what we would find in many tracks and paths in the mountains of Malaysia and other South East Asian countries. Now it looked far from “natural”.
After many months
Now months have passed. I have been hiking these trails again. My feelings of annoyance at the insensitivity and intrusiveness of the park authorities have subsided. I wished they had interacted with and consulted the hikers who used the place frequently. Or at least they would bother to explain why things have been changed, and why they needed to be changed. Maybe an exhibit or video at the Visitors’ Center to explain the why of the changes. Or guided tours by park of rangers for those who want to learn more about the logic behind the changes. It was a great chance to educate the public about conservation and care of the forests. This was not done as far as I knew. I give them the benefit of the doubt though. They must have thought this through thoroughly.
There are advantages
Over the months, I have gotten used to the new trails and find them convenient. On Saturday, we hiked in the drizzle and I certainly appreciated that my boots were not muddied, and I did not slip, and it was very safe to walk even in the drizzle. The new paths made the trails more accessible to more people because they are now easier and cleaner and safer. Most people used the main road to the summit and never ventured out to the side trails partly because they did not know the way, and partly because the paths used to be muddy, and uneven, and had twists and turns. am sure they will venture to the side trails now that they have been upgraded. These side trails are definitely more fun and work the muscles better and exercise your heart more.
Accessible via MRT
If you have never hiked the Bukit Timah Hill, I encourage you to do so, especially now that it is more accessible by public transportation via the Beauty World Station of the Downtown Line. After you have had a good 1-2 hours hike, you have a good choice of restaurant or hawker food in the many shopping malls and hawker centers and restaurants, all within 5 minutes of the MRT station.
One of the things that puzzled me was why they did not build a multi-storey carpark like they did at MacRitchie. Why? I wonder if you had any questions after your visit to Bukit Timah Hill. Do write them in the comment box below.
Running effortlessly in the air – that is what cycling feels like to me. I used to run a lot. I mean when you play basketball for school and community centre, you have to run, run and run. That was long ago. Since I hit the late 40s I have stopped running. Getting motivated to run required such a gigantic effort. There were many false dawns as I tried to get into a habit of running for health. None lasted more than two months. There was that bright period in Chiangmai when I ran almost every other day for a month. When I returned to Singapore I tried to continue but it evaporated in hot air. Several months ago I bought a new pair of running shoes with fresh resolve to run again. I have used it less than ten times for running. Running seems to do violence to my rigid body. My knees take the brunt of the steady banging as my feet lands on solid ground. My breathing becomes heavy and laboured. It becomes a stupendous effort to jog round the Japanese and Chinese Garden.
Instead of running I found hiking or trekking a gentler more humane form of exercise. The Bukit Timah Hill became my haunt. Out there on the slopes of hills with different gradients, one gets to warm up and build up a sweat gradually, gently and without violating the body. Breath control is needed but the air is fresh and a rhythm evolves. So this has been my happy place for my recreational, meditative, sermon tuning activities. Now it has been closed for a year or more. The Hill needed a sabbatical. The visitors centre
needed a reconstruction. My good trekking friends still meet to trek different places in Singapore. They are quite adventurous and have travelled far and wide (including Gunong Datuk) since Bukit Timah Hill’s closure, but I have not been able to join them on most occasions.
I stumbled into recreational biking. A pastor talked to me about his folding Brompton bike. I was almost persuaded to buy one. Another pastor offered to sell me his few months old folding bike, a Cronus Earl 2.0, at a generous giveaway price. I took it. So I biked around the Jurong Lake since I lived so near to it. I found that I enjoyed it greatly. The feeling of movement, the gentle breeze against my face and cooling my whole body, the serenity of water and trees, fountain and pagoda and golf course, all combined to refresh me while I cycled for close to an hour, and sometimes more. It felt like running in the air. My feet never pounded the ground. I never gasped for air like a dying man. I felt I was running on a cushion of air aided by a machine that is beautiful and smooth and effortless in motion.
Change of heart
Now I understood what my friend Eric Ng was into. He was into this cycling business with serious intent. He trained for riding trips in Taiwan and the Annapura range. He invited me but I was not interested. My conversion shows that timing and change of circumstances can change a man’s heart quickly. Now it was I who asked him to introduce me to some of the park connectors he was familiar with. So off we went to the Ulu Pandan Park Connector last Sunday evening. It was a hot 6pm but even as we rode, the route was pleasantly shaded for the most part. There was the canal beside it. There were many joggers and other recreational cyclists. You occasionally catch sight of serious bikers in their expensive machines, the occasional Brompton, and many other entry level bikers like me. I was surprised by the effort put in by national parks to make the park connectors such pleasant routes for cycling, walking and jogging. God bless the Singapore civil servants for this great idea that is a gift for the public to use. One day I will write more about this park connector but for the time being here are a few photos I took during last Sunday’s ride.
Analogy to spiritual life
As an aside, cycling is like living by grace. You are aided by grace. Your motion and momentum is augmented by the bicycle the way God’s Holy Spirit powers the walk of grace. Its a gentle running in the sphere of the Spirit.
We trekked from Bukit Timah Hill to the Tree Top walk in the MacRitchie Reservoir on Saturday. We were intensifying our training for the Gunung Rinjani climb round the corner. This was a good 4 hour trek. We wanted to build endurance.
We walked up the steep bitumen service road of Bukit Timah Hill and then turned right at Catchment Path until we reached a clearing next to the BKE. We turned right again before we linked to Rifle Range Road that took us over the BKE. Everywhere the effects of the dry spell that Singapore is facing stared at us. The grass suffered, and the trees were crying for rain. Even the clouds were constipated.
It was a good two hours to get to the Ranger’s Station where we could refresh and refill before we walked the Tree Top Walk and got back on the path back home. The stable steel Tree Top Walk gave us a view of part of the reservoir. Nothing spectacular, but it gave us a perspective of the trees and forests that once only monkeys and birds had.
By the time we walked back it was 12 noon. We took a short cut back using a cycling track instead of using Catchment Path. There were no inclines except at the beginning but it was a lengthy trek over fields, streams, roads, and trees and through the forests. Endurance. The next preparatory training is a trek along the raliway tracks from Bukit Timah to don’t know where and back. Not really looking forward to this because of humidity and the exposure to sun, but it will be another Saturday with friends.
Trekking is a relaxing and refreshing form of recreation and exercise. It is not so vigorous like jogging nor too pedestrian like walking. There is that exertion that will make you perspire as you climb up slopes. However for the most part you trek at a steady pace. After two hours your shirt is drenched. The air is usually fresh and cool in the morning at Bukit Timah Hill and the sunlight hardly hits the ground as you walk most of the time under an emerald umbrella of branches and leaves. When completed you always felt good that you pushed yourself to get out of bed at 7am on a Saturday. As you ate your brunch, you felt gratified that you have had a gentle but long workout.
The Rock Path trail is off the bitumen main path from foot to summit. It is called thus because there is a steep slope of granite rocks that you have to climb and you need to hold on to vines as large as a bodybuilder’s biceps on your way up. Most kids would enjoy this stretch and find it challenging but doable.
The other day I chanced upon this lovely view from the top of the disused granite quarry. A lovely little grove that overlooks a quarry pond, and in the distance HDB flats. I did not know of this place until recently and not many others know of this place, so I’d like to keep it so.
Acquaintances easily form during and after this activity. There are those breaks when we drink, rest and talk. During the trek all kinds of pleasant and serious conversations take place. And after the trek, we eat at a hawker centre and chat about life, politics, and religion and…. the next overseas trek. The trekking group have been together for quite some time with departures and additions over the years. And they have gone several overseas trek every year. The last time I was with them on such a trip was several years ago in Nepal. Now I plan to join them on a rough Gopeng trail in Cameron Highlands. I find I need a goal to give me the motivation to be diligent in preparation. The benefits are health, recreation, fun and good company.
When under stress, the most important thing for me is to meditate and pray, relinquish the desire to have things my way, and rest in His love and power. Going to the hill for a trek also does quite a few things for me. Its an exercise that I do not mind doing during a time when I’d rather eat and space out. Heading for a sweat-it-out at Bukit Timah Hill does certain things for me. It breaks my bad habit of taking short breaths when under stress. It forces me to breathe more deeply, particularly when I climb the wooden or track steps. Every time I pause to catch my breath or drink, I look around with camera in hand and look for a picture worth capturing. The air is fresh, the sounds of cicada and birds catch my attention, the deliberate act of placing my feet safely to avoid root stumps and wet mud, forces my mind off problems at hand, onto intentional walking and listening and looking.