Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Secret Road

It’s Chinese New Year. At this time of the year you will always find me in the far north of Malaysia, about 40km away from the border with Thailand in the state of Perlis. This is the hometown of my wife and a necessary annual pilgrimage point for family re-bonding.

The weather at this time of year is the coolest you will get in this region. The north wind is always present, rising to a reasonable force mid afternoon. The skies are clear and it rarely rains but the force of the sun is nicely off-set by the wind which also reduces the humidity significantly.

It’s absolutely the best weather for cycling, and of course I never fail to have a bike with me. It’s an area of stark contrasts: the pancake-flatness of the padi fields off-set by the abruptness of the hills which mostly look like they have pierced the surface of the earth by some cataclysmic subterranean force. So lots of flat riding interspersed with some brutally steep climbs.

Most mornings of my stay here you’ll find me out on my bike for a few hours, spinning around my favourite routes, but - eternally inquisitive - I can never resist seeing where roads I’ve never been down lead to.

On one such exploration I followed a road through the back of a village that had no indication of direction, but nevertheless was well tended and seemed to be going somewhere. The road eventually came to a police post - not an unusual sight in this border area - at a T junction. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone around to get information from, I ventured forward.

What I came across literally took my breath away. With tidily cropped verges and good tarmac, the road went on and on in both directions through some incredibly beautiful scenery, included a few brutally steep climbs and fast descents......and absolutely no traffic!

By this time I was talking to myself. “This is too incredible”, “this can’t be real!”. It honestly felt surreal - and slightly spooky - to be riding along on such a beautiful road by myself. Like a 2-wheeled Alice In Wonderland - I’d found cycling heaven!

My first thoughts were: private estate? plantation road? secret military installation?

At one point a high wall appeared at the roadside with barbed wire along the top, and then I came across the first of the observation towers and it dawned on me that I was in fact on the border road that ran along the actual wall between Malaysia and Thailand.

But what an amazing road! 25 kilometers of peace and quiet, climbs, descents and stunning views. Unfortunately not linking anywhere to anywhere, but that is of course it’s reason for survival in this state. In the couple of hours that I was riding on it I was passed by a total of 2 cars and 1 motorbike - all at a crawling pace - and I saw one dog and one human. Incredible.

That proved to have been a busy day. On most subsequent rides I haven't come across any other humans.

Gong Xi Fa Chai!

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