Sungai Bil Waterfalls

The calming sight and soothing sounds of the river belie the ferocious battles that was fought beside it during the Second World War. The road outside was littered with casualties from the British Indian Army attempting to thwart the invasion.

It was on this road that invading Japanese tanks rumbled through in its drive to capture Singapore in the south. This was the old road going north or south until the tolled-Slim River highway was constructed in the 1960s.

74 years later, the actions of the brave men are mostly forgotten or ignored. The river that bore witness remains as stoic as the giant, mossy boulders.

The stoical stance lessens the pain of indignation, I guess. Its banks are now littered with styrofoam boxes from disregardful picnickers.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 50, f22, 1/2 sec.

The First Tolled Highway In The Country

To tell the story of Federal Route 1, one must note the historical significance of this segment of the route.

Not many will remember, care or even know this. The first tolled highway wasn’t the North-South Expressway. It was this road between Tanjung Malim, Behrang and Slim River.

Built in 1966, the toll booths collected 50 sen from cars. The amount was a lot during its time and it was also perceived by many as mere widening and straightening of the existing Federal Route 1.

The Slim River Highway was indeed a very modest highway, especially when you are now comparing it with today’s 8-lane expressways. Still, in its time, it was an improvement over the nightmarish narrow and winding road that was crowded out by heavy vehicles.

Toll collection stopped in 1994 with the opening of the North-South Expressway.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 125, f13, 1/250 sec.

RGB – Red Green Blue

A red hibiscus in front of the blue mosque in Bandar Behrang 2020.

Lofty name notwithstanding, Behrang 2020 is one big housing estate that is as drab as the weather today. From a photography perspective, it is as boring as any such planned township can get.

Maybe I expected more from the name. Fortunately, the mosque, religious school and flowers at the entrance added some colours.

From here, I will be moving north again, after spending considerable time at Behrang town and villages. Those old places possess an ingredient that is usually missing in a systematically created town: character.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 100, f4, 1/2000 sec.

Chilling With Makcik Hasiah

Was exhausted after a long hard day exploring the railway area of Behrang. Thus was happy to see a roadside hawker stall serving cold drinks and food. Also a good place to rest and check accumulated messages on my phone, I thought.

Makcik Hasiah, the elderly stall owner, asked me if I came for the lekor. It is east coast fish crackers made from fish and sago flour. It wasn’t ready at the time I arrived.

I told her I came for a cold drink. She said whenever a non-Malay come to her neck of the woods, it must be for her lekor.

Me: Wah! It must be good then?
She: But of course! Muahahaha.

We then went on to joke about so many random things, exchanged anecdotes and laughed ourselves silly. I called her aunty. She’s like an own aunt: motherly, wise, caring, honest and funny.

Me: How many grandchildren do you have?
She: Make a guess.
Me: 10?
She: 27!
Me: Wah! (clasping my head in mock disbelief)
She: Why? But I have 8 kids. Hahaha.

Funny how two strangers from different worlds can connect even with nothing in common, except maybe for the slightly twisted sense of humour and good vibes.

I ended up not looking at my phone at all. When you have good company, you won’t even realise you have a phone. I bid farewell and packed some lekor to go.

She: Will you be back soon?
Me: I am afraid not. Will you miss me so soon?
She: No. Hahaha. I want to see the prints of the pics you took of me.

I should get a battery-operated printer soon.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 800, f13, 1/60 sec.

A Ghost Station For A Ghost Train?

The permanently-closed ticketing counter at the Behrang Train Station is plastered with newspaper cuttings. A collection of morbid news on fatal accidents and suicides involving people on the railway track. It is to serve as a warning, perhaps. For there is open access to the platform and track.

The silence and emptiness is strangely attractive. It was as though me and my new friend, the invigorated cat, own the station. We wandered on the platform, looked at the tracks up-close, sat on a steel bench and waited for the train that never came.

I found out later from local residents that in spite the solitude, the station is functioning. One can still hop on a train from here, I was told. Provided someone on board is getting down, the train will stop.

The info left me with more questions. How does one disembark at the destination when boarding without a ticket? How would they know which station you board from?

How does a passenger from inside stop the speeding train in order to get down. Is there a bell button to push like buses of old days? From the platform, can I flag it to stop?

This is a nice and well-equipped modern train station, mind you. It is sad and surprising to see it so under-utilised. To the town’s credit, it isn’t vandalised at all. It also makes sense to not waste money on staff when there are hardly any passenger.

I don’t know. When it comes to train stations in small towns, the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or re-locate it” applies, sometimes.

Maybe this is the reason it was chosen as the location to scrap the phased-out trains. No one comes here. I am glad I did.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 400, f13, 1/60 sec.