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An outing in Wilderness

Teaming with wildlife and filled with Mangroves, the eco-system at Pulao Ubin in Singapore is a haven for nature lovers.

Here is my feature as printed in Sakal Times, Pune

The detailed feature and more images are posted below. Happy Reading

It was love at first sight, not with a beautiful girl though, but with man-made sites; modern architecture, the stunning Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Island, etc. But after two months of stay, for a not much of a city person like me, who loves roads less traveled, the hustle of modern city living jaded him out.

I searched for a wilderness outing and was told to try Pulao Ubin or simply Ubin, a place with immense natural beauty in Singapore. There are no silvery sand beaches here but the eccentricity and charm of this offshore island make it a magical place. This is a forested wetland teeming with wildlife and is the place of the remaining kampongs in Singapore. You can see glimpses of Singapore’s past as a trading hub and fishing port at Ubin, a place named after abandoned granite quarries.

It sounded just perfect for me, and I headed straight for Changi Point Ferry Terminal from where I took a bumboat to Ubin located to the northeast of Singapore. After about 12 minutes, I spotted land and got ready to explore Pulau Ubin, a 10.2 sq km island that’s wildly different from Singapore with an untamed jungle, glassy lakes, and tin-roofed homes.

Different names of Pulao Ubin

Pulau Ubin used to be mined for granite from the mid-1800s, and the name literally means “Granite Island” in Malay. Pulau means “island”, and Ubin is said to be a Javanese term for “squared stone”. To the Malays, the island is also known as Pulau Batu Ubin or Granite Stone Island. The island is known as Tsioh Sua in the Taiwanese, which means “stone hill”.

Living Museum

Ubin, the biodiverse hotspot is home to over 700 species of plants, 30 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles, 175 species of butterflies, 50 species of dragonflies, and over 200 species of birds, and is home to the largest mangrove vegetation in the region. A living museum may be a more actuate description for this impressive example of successful preservation of both Singapore’s heritage as well as environment.

Exploring Ubin

From the jetty, I headed straight for the village which was full of bicycle-rental outlets, cafes, small shops selling seasonal tropical fruits, coconuts, and soft drinks, and the Fo Shan Ting Da Bo Gong Temple, which houses statues of local deities.

I quickly rented a bicycle and pedaled through rustic roads towards the “Sensory Trail”, going past a number of disused granite quarries, including the Pekan Quarry and traditional kampongs. The heat and humidity started taking a toll on me, as I found Pulau Ubin to be much larger than it appeared from the far shores of Singapore, but continued on to Chek Jawa and crossed several temples, shrines, and also the night camping sites, Jelutong, Mamam Beach and Ubin Living Lab campsite.

I was visiting the island on a weekday and encountered only a few day-trip tourists cycling along with me, though I am sure the roads must be over-filled with tourists and cyclists on weekends.

Chek Jawa Wetlands

After hurriedly finishing my rendezvous with the island’s exotic flora and fauna I arrived at Chek Jawa Intertidal Wetlands, which was my ultimate aim to explore the mangroves vegetation along with a variety of marine wildlife such as sea hares, sea squirts, octopuses, starfishes, fishes, sponges, and cuttlefishes.

Some 5000 years ago, Chek Jawa was a coral reef area and it still is virtually unspoiled. I was thrilled to be there standing on the natural rocky shore, enjoying sea water on my feet and the gorgeous sea views along with the mangrove swamp at the end of a boardwalk.

For exploring Chek Jawa, I first chose to walk on the 600m long Coastal loop through and around the wetland area; and then move on to the 500m long Mangrove Loop; altogether 1.1 km of splendid views of the rustic island. The educational panels along the way helped me identify a few flora and fauna and learn a few fun facts. It was a low tide time when I was walking, and on the rocky shore and millennia-old coral rubble I spotted a lot of marine wildlife busy with their daily routine.

Through the mangrove walk, I entered the mangrove area allowing myself to observe the plant and marine life at close range. I enjoyed observing the Fiddler crabs as they scuttled along the shore and giving me opportunities to shoot them with my camera. I was surrounded by the Nipah Palms, the only true mangrove palm found in such areas.

I was lost in nature; time just flew as I kept moving with the mangroves and finally came to the Jejawi Tower, named after the Malayan Banyan tree (Jejawi). The 20 m high tower looked impressive with a circular staircase and it was a breathtaking view from atop the tower. I was above the tree canopy and hence the wraparound panoramic view of the island’s lush green cover along with the Johor River and islands was amazing. It was getting dark and I was very badly tired too, so I made my way back to the jetty and got into the bumboat again to leave the island on my way to the sparkling, man-made modernity of the Lion City.

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