Kuala Berang’s glorious past
It’s a quiet town that you can whizz past without noticing. But, writes ALIAS MOHAMED, Kuala Berang was once a busy port in Terengganu
IT’S a place that few people will notice. It does not arouse any excitement, unlike Tasik Kenyir located 35km away. Yet, centuries ago, the district of Kuala Berang was one of the busiest ports in Terengganu where traders from as far as China came to trade and to replenish their supply of food and fresh water. Back then (12th-14th Century), the Chinese called the place Fo-Lo-Ann. The locals, however, named it Kuala Berang after the bamboo species known as buluh berang that grew wildly along the banks of Sungai Terengganu and Sungai Berang.
According to records at the Terengganu State Museum, a Chinese historian, Chan Ju Kau, wrote that Kuala Berang was once a very busy port with traders buying local goods like kayu cendawan (candan), elephant tusks and scented kayu gaharu for export to China, the Middle East and West Asia. In exchange, the traders brought gold, silverware and food for sale at markets in Kuala Berang. The traders arrived in large vessels through Sungai Terengganu or other routes that passed through Pahang and Kelantan to reach Kuala Berang.
At that time, Sg Terengganu was more than 15 metres deep and it could hold large vessels, some of them as big as medium-sized battleships that plied the Straits of Malacca. This fact is confirmed by the discovery of an iron anchor used by large vessels, near Kg Buluh. The old trading zone was near Kg Buluh, located between Sungai Terengganu and Sungai Berang, 32km from the sea. Another Chinese historian, Chau Chu Fei, described Kuala Berang as a great port, similar to Kedah’s Bujang Valley during the Srivijaya rule more than 2,000 years ago.
Kuala Berang was a thriving entity on its own, but in the 14th Century, it came under the rule of the Terengganu sultanate. The first sultan was Sultan Zainal Abidin. In the 18th Century, the administration shifted to the State capital of Kuala Terengganu. Today, Kuala Berang is one of seven districts in Terengganu and encompasses Tasik Kenyir.
The famous Terengganu batu bersurat (inscribed stone slab that’s a sign of the early existence of Islam in the State) was actually found in Sungai Tara, Kg Buluh in 1887. The stone is now displayed at the Terengganu State Museum in Kuala Terengganu. The graveyards of local warriors — Tok Gajah, Tok Indera and Tok Pauh — were also found in Kuala Berang. Kuala Berang also has traces of Neolithic and Mesolithic civilisation. After Tasik Kenyir was opened in early 80s, there were several discoveries that proved the existence of the Neolithic people. At Gua Bewah in the area of Tasik Kenyir, several jars and other artefacts were found that indicated the existence of the Neolithic civilisation. Not far away, at Bukit Taat, several jars, plates and the skeletons of Neolithic people were unearthed. According to studies, this civilisation existed several thousand years ago. The findings at both Gua Bewah and Bukit Taat have long piqued the interest of historians and trekkers as well. The two places are listed as attractions of Tasik Kenyir. Since Tasik Kenyir is a popular fishing spot, Kuala Berang too benefits from the scores of visitors passing through to get there. There may not be any of the physical legacies of its glorious past but it suffices to know that it was once a bright spot in the country’s history.
From Kuantan, Dungun or Bukit Besi, drive towards Ajil. From there, signboards point to Kuala Berang, which is about 10km from Ajil. Drive 35km from Kuala Berang and you will reach Tasik Kenyir.
What To Do
Kuala Berang itself has nothing much to offer. Tourists usually head straight for Tasik Kenyir. But those who like local fruits such as buah salak, kelubi or other jungle products, will go to the market which opens every Saturday and Monday. About 20km from the town is Sekayu Recreation Park with a beautiful stream and tiers of waterfall. There are shady spots for picnics and other activities. You can also visit the State Agriculture Department’s orchid and fruit gardens and a herb garden maintained by the State Forestry Department.
Where To Stay
Kenyir Lake View Resort (Tel: 09-666 8888) Kenyir Sanctuary Resort Mobile No. 019-983 6105). You can also stay in a boathouse run by Ketengah (Tel: 09-822 3100).