“Cycling in the Footsteps of White Rajahs:”
By TTR Weekly Nov 13, 2016
SINGAPORE, 3 November 2016: A week-long cycling “Fort-to-Fort” trail launched, earlier in October, by the state’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MTAC) Sarawak and Paradesa Borneo was given an airing at the recent ITB Asia.
The trade show, late October, attracted around 890 buyers and those that visited the Sarawak booth were given a briefing on the new soft adventure travel experiences some of them created by Paradesa Borneo.
The cycle project, co developed with the ministry, identifies a marketable heritage route for six out of 12 gazetted forts that are linked to the legacy of the Sarawak White Rajahs.
The forts were constructed over 105 years ago to keep the White Rajah’s adversaries at bay. Now they are the signature features on an interesting new cycling trail that opens visitors’ eyes to a quirky side of the state’s history that is particularly fascinating to European visitors.
The White Rajah refers to line of rulers of British ancestry, late 18th century to the 1940s. They were all members of the Brooke family from England. When the last Rajah finally retired he migrated to Australia, shortly after the Japanese army retreated from Southeast Asia at the close of World War II.
The founding, 18th century, White Rajah was awarded the rights to rule Sarawak as a favour for assisting a sultan in his battles with Dayak tribes. But it was never an easy task to quell the spirit of Borneo’s freedom fighters, many of them proud Dayaks famed for fearlessness and daring battles with the White Rajahs. They were also avid head hunters.
Hence the string of forts built close to the river at strategic intervals to defend territory and to keep the Rajah’s head firmly on his shoulders.
For decades after independence, the forts were left to wreck and ruin, but in recent years a heritage project identified forts that could be restored and featured in a tourist trails.
The bike trail, marketed as “Cycling the Headhunter’s Heartland,” follows the fort trail from the capital city of Kuching to Batang Ai, exploring the heartland of the legendary Dayak communities.
The five-day journey covers roughly 51 km a day, with a total distance of 146 km for the entire cycling trail, using comfortable mountain bikes
Along the trail, cyclists can experience the distinctive Dayak longhouses, enjoy the hospitality of the tribal hosts (head hunting no longer a hobby) and indulge in authentic cuisine prepared from nature’s freshest ingredients.
Some of the forts, along the trail including Fort Margherita, Fort Alice and Fort Lily, were named after the wives of Brooke administration’s political figures. They have now been restored to their former glory and turned into museum galleries of the Brooke era.
Paradesa Borneo, an adventure travel company specialising in cycle tours in Sarawak, first introduced historical bike tours in Sri Aman, a city approximately 200 km from Kuching.
Based in “Old Kuching Town”, close to the riverside boulevard, the company is probably most famous for introducing the first ever city tour on a bike that skirts the river along quiet roads, or the dedicated bike lanes of Kuching.
Today, the company, through the help of local cyclists, has created 16 bike tours exploring heritage and nature destinations in and beyond the state capital.
When the ASEAN Tourism Forum was held in Kuching just a few years ago, the company hosted the media on city bike tours.
As a keen and critical recreational cyclist, I was fascinated to see if the tour had merit. It was quite amazing how Paradesa Borneo managed to satisfy the needs of fitness cyclists, while introducing them to landmark attractions and providing insights of the city’s culture and heritage. It was just the right mix of cycling for fun and an introduction to Kuching’s history and culture.
Like all well managed cycle tours there was ample snacking and dining on local specialities. I counted three food stops on the half-day tour of the city, plus an equal number of drink stops for sweet tea, freshly squeezed fruit drinks and plain old chilled water.
Created for cyclists on vacation, who are travelling without their wheels, you get to select the right-fit from a respectable selection of bikes at the company’s headquarters close to riverside Kuching.
Then tour takes a spin around the city old quarter and heads across the river to view government and historical landmarks before finishing off at a small Malay community on the river bank facing the Kuching old quarter.
If you don’t have time for a full-fledged two to seven-day cycle tour, then there is nothing amiss in choosing the half-day city tour. Great way to explore the city at an easy, chill-out pace. I would do it again, whenever visiting Kuching, one of my favourite spots in ASEAN.
Sarawak and Kuching deserves to be in the spotlight for travel companies that are looking for authenticity and destinations with a history and deliver a travel experience.
You can round off the cycle tour of the city with a leisurely afternoon meal in one of the city’s chic restaurants, or enjoy a cold beer, perhaps a chilled wine in one of many restored traders’ premises that have been converted into trendy pubs. The dining and pub scene is just one, or two streets, back from the riverside promenade.
Paradesa signature products remain the multi-day tours promoted on the company’s Facebook page.
They include “Discover Sarawak Borneo” featuring six different bike holidays in the East Malaysian state from three days (two nights) to nine days (eight nights), all- inclusive arrangements including the supply of mountain bikes if needed.
“A bike holiday on this scale is something new for Sarawak and it will take some effort to make it stick and gain traction with visitors,” Paradesa Borneo CEP and founder, JC Chua, told TTR Weekly in a recent interview.
As the only cycle-specific travel venture operating out of Kuching, Chua intends to reach out to other cycle companies in ASEAN to promote multi-destination bike tours.
The adventure travel firm offers kayaking, caving and hiking tours around Sarawak in addition to its core products for cycle tourists.
(Source: Sarawak Tourism Board and Paradesa Borneo)
Find out more about Paradesa Borneo’s Multiple Days Cycling Holiday.
Youtube Video of the project:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgPrUc1Tb_g
A Special CSR Project Participated by Paradesa Borneo, Nov 2016