TANJUNG Karang is about 10 minutes from Kuala Selangor, that is if you are driving at family speed. It used to be one of those towns that you had no time for, about 10 years ago.
So if you are one of those given to impulses and game for anything that doesn't smell, look or even taste like Klang Valley, Tanjung Karang could very well be a welcome diversion.
Twenty years ago, this place was almost a forgotten dot in the map of Peninsular Malaysia. Today, it has acquired a personality that would put its old image to shame.
It has a few supermarkets that stock everything you need for a decent household. You need to drive about 60km from Petaling Jaya to find this place in the sun, away from the prevailing haze.
I must be one of the few people who actually can't remember when I last visited Tanjung Karang. Back in those non-North-South Highway days, we only drove past Tanjung Karang when we had this enormous fear of getting stuck on the trunk road during the Chinese New Year balik kampung exodus. That was when we took the coastal road and Tanjung Karang briefly emerged as a blur as we zoomed pass.
Now eight years into the 21st Century, Tanjung Karang has grown up, so to speak. There are new shophouses where there were none before. Travellers will swear that they are hard put to find any bullock cart or water buffaloes.
There are plenty of birds though. Bird watchers, I believe, call them white egrets. Scores of them mill around the vast green padi fields like little ornaments. The feathered ones look like storks, the smaller kind.
Their presence is explained by the coastline which is just a bicycle ride away. For city residents, the sight of these white birds is captivating and fascinating. There's a world of difference between watching them on the National Geographic channel and seeing them in real life, especially when the early evening breeze brushes across your face.
|Hawker stalls in Kampung Sungai Sireh offers home-made keropok, fried on the spot.
Tanjung Karang is surrounded by a couple of villages that probably would remain relatively unknown except that they are briefly mentioned here. They are Kampung Sungai Sireh Batu Sebelas, Kampung Ulu Tiram Buruk, Kampung Sungai Burung and Bagan Sungai Tengkorak.
A motorist may be tempted to veer into the town proper itself for a brief respite. There are plenty of coffeeshops where you can get a drink to quench that thirst and satisfy some pairs of very curious eyes.
As with most non-city towns, the residents here are friendly and they can spot a stranger two kilometres away. Like yours truly. A friendly incursion into a hardware shop draws the usual "hello stranger" look from the proprietor.
A cursory glance at a parang reveals that it is stamped "Bidor". Now what is a Bidor agricultural implement doing in Tanjung Karang?
Surely, they have blade makers in rural Tanjung Karang. Obviously not. It's tagged at RM30 but when you ask for the price, just to be sure, the shop assistant quickly responds with "RM20!" There lies one of the charms of Tanjung Karang. The prices here are so flexible.
After two hours of an unofficial survey of the town on a pair of very tired legs, Kampung Sungai Sireh was such a refreshing sight that it would soothe the soul of any savage beast. This village has, on several occasions, played host to foreign students, including the Japanese, here on an exchange programme.
These students stay in homesteads adjacent to padi fields so that they can experience the rural life. Modern conveniences aside, Kampung Sungai Sireh is all about staying in a village and having a taste of what it's like to be far away from home.
Aside from the rows of coconut trees and irrigation canals, there are the roadside hawker selling home-made keropok and the guy selling hot pau with choices of kaya, red bean and chicken curry.
There's really nothing quite like freshly-fried keropok and kaya pau with a glass of hot teh tarik in a corner warung near the road junction.
Of course, you will surprise the boss and his wife when they ask you, "dari mana?" To these simple kampung folk, Petaling Jaya seems like another planet, just like how we PJ people perceive Kampung Sungai Sireh.
Don't talk about the prices of these kampung delicacies. It will only bring tears to your eyes, especially in the wake of escalating food prices in the city.
|Signboard leading to a forest area in Bagan Tengkorak, which means village of skulls.
For those who have a penchant for exploring places off-the-beaten track, do go to Bagan Sungai Tengkorak. A family member in the car who is familiar with Malay terms quickly said the place is akin to a "village of skulls".
Surely an ominous invitation to explore a mysterious place? What Bagan Tengkorak turns out to be is a long, narrow road leading deep into the heart of a forested area where a banana plantation lines the road and a wide swath of oil palm trees welcome all first-time visitors.
There is nary a bicycle passing by, although occasionally one may catch a glimpse of a motorcyclist in the distance. The place is very quiet and lonely. During the unexpected foray into the village of skulls, even the insects seems to have gone on holiday. Wow, who knows what takes place in this forsaken land?
A thought springs to mind. Let's make the visit short, said a frightened little soul. And off we go, heading back to civilisation. City folks have no sense of adventure. We leave that to the real Indiana Jones who makes it his business to expect the unexpected.
Before we are fully out of Tengkorak, I promise myself I'd return at a later date. Next time, the expedition will be deeper and the exploration more extensive. Hey, it is getting dark. That's why we have to leave. Figure that one out for yourself.
Nevertheless, Tanjung Karang is like manna for a city soul. Sometimes we have to venture out of our backyard to establish a therapeutic communion with Mother Nature. Tanjung Karang may not be much to look at first glance but if you keep your eyes peeled, the place and its people will slowly unveil its inner secrets.