Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Guang Ming Daily
BAU, Sarawak -- Sarawak used to be known for gold mining some two centuries ago, but the state was equally littered with unclaimed dead bodies. In the end, the people started to forget about the glittering metal that used to be found there, and called the place "Bau" (smelly) instead.
Today, the caves here continue to lure with their mystical past and breathtaking scenery. However, the authorities have failed to exploit the town's touristic potentials. Instead, residents are discouraged by the many eerie rumours surrounding the place.
With an adventure-seeking heart, we were led by a well-heeled guide to tread upon the dark and damp "gold cave" impregnated with legends.
Many people are aware that the town of Bau near the state capital Kuching used to be a gold mining town some two centuries ago. Even until this day, gold deposits are still said to be very rich in Bau, although no one could tell for sure how much gold is still buried deep underneath the town or how much gold has been excavated here.
Prior to the arrival of the White Rajah James Brooke, Bau was inhabited by the Hakka miners who spent three days fighting and conquering Kuching then under the rule of the British. However, when the miners were about to return home in triumph, they were massacred by the British soldiers at the gold mine. Almost 3,000 miners and their family members were killed, their bodies lying in waste in the gold mine, resulting in the noxious stench and hence the name of the town.
It was said that some ten thousand tonnes of gold was excavated in the area. The miners hid their gold in safe places before their uprising against the British, and very few people actually knew the whereabouts of the hidden gold.
The Bau residents today are descendants from the second batch of migrants since the town's original population was wiped out by the British. As a result, not many local residents are aware of the fact that there was actually a gold cave deep inside the forests.
Other than illegal gold-mining syndicates, some local residents also go into the forests stealthily to look for gold. They even acquire chemicals to extract the precious metal with their rudimentary backyard facilities.
Some Chinese residents not only openly admit involvement in illegal mining activities, they even proudly show outsiders their gold extracting facilities, detesting to the fact that such activities are almost a semi-open secret.
While approaching the "gold cave" with much anticipation, we discovered that the cave was filled with more than a foot deep of rain water, impeding our advances.
We were told that illegal gold prospecting activities were rampant more than ten years ago, with one after another pick-up trucks making their way into the cave.
When we were just about to give up because of the knee-high water, we found a second cave equally pitch dark but devoid of water puddle.
So we picked up our courage and made our way into the second cave which led to a large pond of water. As a matter of fact, these two caves are interlinked, a fact not even our guide was aware of.
The cave was very damp, and water was seen dripping down from the roof.
With the torch light in hand, we squatted on the floor to collect the funky looking stones in hope of chancing upon some gold sand if Lady Luck was on our side. Suddenly, our guide whispered to us in suppressed tone, hurrying us to leave the place at once.
Before we could quite fathom out what was going on, we turned our back and the torch light flashed upon a bamboo ladder leaning against the granite wall leading up to a large, dark cave about one-storey above.
I flashed my torch light around me, and saw a tiny dark cave that could only allow an adult man to pass through sideways. There were some water bottles and clothes!
There is this Tasik Biru, a picturesque and mysterious artificial lake in Bau, which is about 300ft deep. This place used to be a gold mine where Hakka miners excavated gold with simple tools, but later laid to waste when the gold ran out, forming an expansive lake from the rain water or underground spring.
When the gold rush hit the town of Bau a century ago, Tasik Biru saw an influx of mining workers from China.
Upon arrival at the lake, we could see the warning sign for arsenic poisoning and members of the public were warned against fishing, swimming, bathing in the lake or drinking the water drawn from the lake.
Nevertheless, we still saw some children fishing on the bridge while others plunging merrily into the lake in stuntsman's styles.
There are people who believe that the arsenic warning is actually a conspiracy theory aiming at stopping miners from excavating the gold believed to be found in large quantities underground.
Some others argue that if the lake water really contains excessive quantities of arsenic, why so many kinds of fish still flourish in the lake and many who have come and fish here all these years have shown no signs of poisoning?
Our guide told us there were rumours the state government would dry up the lake to excavate the gold buried underneath.
He said a friend of his jumped into the lake in snorkelling outfit and found some Japanese samurai swords and cannonballs from the second world war.
"Some say there is a passage into the sea from deep inside the lake and lake monsters making frequent appearances."