Listen to this blog audio translation:
From 2020 to 2021, I have been lucky enough to stay 400 days in Malaysia. Last year at this same period I was staying in Kampar, near Ipoh in the region of Perak. Despite the rampant Covid and all the restrictions in the country, I was blessed to be able to visit Gua Tempurung, I was one of the first visitors after they reopened for local tourists 1 year ago in February 2021. As a consequence, I was also almost the only visitor at that time during my visit. This allowed me to explore and record the sound of this marvelous cave without much outside noise.
Gua Tempurung is a majestic cave about 3km long. It is the largest limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia. In fact, the whole region around Ipoh is speckled with geological limestone formations that were formed throughout times hundreds of millions of years ago, they mostly are beautiful small hills, that sometimes host caves like this one. In Gua Tempurung, a river flows at the bottom of the cave, however, there is more than just an underground river there. Going by foot, you can walk along on a path that takes its own route through the darkness of the mysterious beauty of our motherland.
Along the way, are five platforms, and multiples natural chambers, some of which are gigantic and magnificent. I was charmed from start to finish by this curiosity of Nature, and thus I want to share it with you.
So let me bring you through my journey of underground sound exploration.
I arrived this day a little before 10 am at the cave entrance, as they officially open at 10. In fact, this cave is well-known and usually well visited, they have an entrance well marked and guarded. I did not try to get a special entrance outside official hours, although I could have asked for the purpose of recording. But I knew there were so few visitors at this time, and my accommodation was just a short 20min ride, so there was no reason I would not crash there to see the cave as soon as they opened back. At my arrival, I was pleasantly greeted by a symphony of birds and insects, proudly emitting loud chirps and noises, all of them bouncing off on the large and high cliff that extends around the cave entrance.
Hopefully, there was almost no noise at this time, here is the recording I took this morning before entering the cave. You can hear the lush jungle that surrounds the cave area. This kind of soundscape is familiar to Malaysia. The climate is purely tropical and thus Nature abounds in all its beauty in many places despite illegal logging and the growing culture of Palm trees.
Then, I walked to the office of Gua Tempurung, which is standing in a wooden cabin next to the cave. I got my entrance And with still nobody around (apart from the 2 or 3 employees) I adventured myself onto the path of the empty cave, checking my recording gear.
I started walking onto the platform that overlooks the river. The sound during the 200 first meters was dominated by the roar of the underground river. At this precise point of the cave, between the entrance and the interior, moving just a few meters has an enormous impact on the perception of the sound.
As the cave began to close up in all directions, the resonance of the sound is felt a little deeper each step inside.
The darkness started to immerse the space, simultaneously the reflection of the river soundwaves started to form a wall of sound.
After the first tunnel, the space opened up, as we entered the first chamber, a wide and fascinating cavity, here they brought electricity and lighted up the space so we can appreciate it in all its glory. With the ears, the eyes, and the gentle breathing on the skin, we can experience the cave in a multisensorial way. We arrived at the first platform of this walking path. Here we can start to hear the magnitude of the cave size. This is a place where a temporary colony of bats takes refuge every year in the month of March, however, at the time of this recording, there were no bats to spot.
We continue our journey through the naturally carved shapes of this itinerary. As we climb higher, the sound of the river fades away. Here at platforms two and three, we can clearly hear individual water drip from all over the big chamber. it feels more as if we wander inside an absurd cathedral of glory; this is here that the sound is the richest as we can identify easily every event of water trickling all around us.
As we approach the top of this chamber, we notice the entrance of a rather small tunnel. They call it the ‘wind tunnel’, and indeed, we can sense the slight breeze coming from this tube. This is where our path leads us, we have to walk, or almost crawl through this tiny space for a hundred meters. Here we can experience the quietest space of the entire cave. It starts to feel a little creepy as I can hear my own breathe, and my own heartbeat. It is clearly more intimate here than the previous space.
This tunnel meanders right and left, and appears to never end. After a few minutes, it finally starts to be a little more exciting as we start to hear water dripping again. Here the tunnel feels alive, like if we were walking inside the body of a giant animal. At this stage, the disconnection with the outside world starts to be noticed and our mind can freely play with our imagination.
It has been now almost one hour inside the cave, I can’t think what people who stay days long in caves can experience. I understand better why it is easy to lose our internal clock in these kinds of places. Indeed there is a complete detachment from the outside that operates here, it feels strange and fascinating at the same time.
After passing by platform 4, the path goes up and up, in fact, it never stops going up, and this seems counterintuitive as I would rather think a cave would go down instead of up; but of course, this cave has been formed inside a hill, so we are just going up and it is exciting. The effort to climb is somehow strenuous, and in this closed space, the oxygen starts to lack. My breaths are becoming shorter, and I might feel daisy.
After a last steep stair, here it is, we finally reach the last platform of the cave. This place once again overlooks the river, but this time it is far, from a hundred meters higher above the stream. The name given to this platform is well suited: ‘top of the world’. It really feels as if we are at the top of a world, an underground world. It is one of the most paradoxical places I’ve ever been to.
How can it be possible to be on the top of the world when we are beneath the earth’s crust deep inside a cave?
Here the time has stopped and reality escaped us. From here I can take some minutes to ponder, record, and meditate.
Now there is only one way to exit, this is the way back, following the same path but in the opposite direction. Going down, and passing through the wind tunnel again. Coming back to the main chamber, I got surprised. Swifter birds that were not there earlier appeared. They make some sparse screechy cries, creating some rare magical moments. I really like this ambience, the resonance of it all is very satisfying for the ears.
Now it is time to leave the cave and go back to a normal life of a mortal human being.
I surely enjoyed this short but intense walk inside Gua Tempurung cave, or should I say Tempurung cave, since Gua actually means cave in Malay.
In any way, it was one of the most interesting caves I have visited in my life, and I was so lucky to be able to explore its sounds without the usual tourist noises.
Now back to the outside surroundings, the atmosphere of the jungle has changed since this morning. Now, at mid-day, and it is hotter, many birds stopped singing, but it is still quite an interesting Nature ambience. I can now leave this place.
Thank you Gua Tempurung, and thank you to you, audience, who followed this journey with me! We can now go back to our lives.
This day, I jumped onto my motorcycle and went to the nearby town to find some food.
**** A little note about the technical side:
The Complete Playlist of Gua Tempurung: