The sun casts a warm hue over the landscape, painting the foliage in vibrant shades of gold and green. The familiar scent of damp earth hangs in the air.
Caribbean pines line up the path that welcomes you to the first, of several formidable hills in the Bukit Shahbandar Recreational Park.
Spanning 234 hectares, it once captivated the souls of nature and fitness enthusiasts alike. It also became a part of history, as the venue for the first Brunei Marathon held in 2005 which saw local and international participants.
Now however, the pioneering trails of Bukit Shahbandar have been eclipsed by the new and uncharted hiking destinations that have popped up across the Sultanate in recent years.
As less and less people trek through the once bustling trails, it is unfortunate to admit that the park has lost a bit of its lustre.
Yet, even with the emergence of newer, more accessible trails that cater to the growing demand for outdoor activities, none are as feral and as rewarding as the trails in Shahbandar.
As one of the first hiking/trekking parks opened to the public, the trails at Bukit Shahbandar are simple and aptly named. They correspond with the amount of hills you are about to trek through, and the beginner friendly trails are understandably known as Hills 1, 3 and 5.
If there is anything that is synonymous to Bukit Shahbandar, it’s the notoriety of Hill 1.
Despite the number of hills it entails, Hill 1 is a towering staircase of cement.
The incline is steep but you’ll find that it is short. It is merely a quick peek of what’s to come should you choose to continue your trek beyond the first summit.
If you are still early in the fitness arc of your life, there are a few options to choose from and they are all valid because one’s fitness journey should always be treated more like a marathon, than a sprint.
You can turn back and be content with the hill that you conquered. If you still have several breaths within you, the left path at the summit will lead you to Hill 3.
The trail is a manageable challenge for novices, but the view that awaits you at the second summit, is breath-taking – a panoramic view of the South China Sea.
For hikers who seek a decent challenge that is not overwhelming, there is a path to the right, following the first summit, and it will lead you to the subsequent trails, the path we are treading today, is one of the most popular – Hill 5.
Where Hill 3 will envelop you in the shadows of the canopy, providing a cool albeit, challenging few ascents.
Hill 5 is a good introduction to the varied ecosystems of our tropical heat forest locally known as Kerangas which means ‘land which cannot grow rice’. The trail boasts several terrains; from moss-covered cement stairs, dry sun-blasted sandstone ridges to the humid undergrowth of its small river banks.
It remains one of the most popular even until today, mostly due to its accessibility, but also for its spectacular views, almost rivalling the summit of Hill 3.
You will notice this as the Hill 5 trail opens up immediately as you approach the third summit.
The soft, loamy sand and firm roots beneath your feet will give way to the crunch of gravel with loose grains sand trailing your steps.
Majestic rock formations will emerge, pleasing the eye and as you peer up into the sky and take in your surroundings, you become awash with the tranquil colours of the sand, the ocean, the forests and the sky.
As you head towards the fourth hill, you’ll descend to one of the many small rivers that flows through the park. There is a small man-made bridge that you can cross, but try to take a moment, and breathe in the forest’s abyss.
As a watering hole, the rhythm of nature beats the loudest within these spaces and you’ll also see the Nepenthes species of pitcher plants littered about the area, disrupting the brown and green overgrowth with crimson reds.
By this point, you are already near the end of your trail. Just another ascent, and you will reach the summit with the majestic view of the South China Sea, which will take you through the previously mentioned Hill 3 and lead you back to the beginning that is Hill 1.
As you descend through the forest one last time, remember that the trails you’ve walked on have seen generations pass, witnessing the evolution of many individuals both young and old.
While newer paths may beckon, the trails of Bukit Shahbandar still endures, awaiting those willing to embrace their quiet beauty. Their allure may have dimmed, but to those who have ventured their winding passages, the magic remains untamed. – Wardi Wasil