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Taking Time Out And Embrace Nature

Like most Singaporeans, I’ve been living in the concrete jungle for all of my life. At least up till this point in time. Living in the concrete jungle means that I am constantly surrounded by urban pollution. Although there are initiatives by the government to make sure that we build a ‘green city’ despite all the urbanisation, the replication of the serenity one experiences in the forest is still a challenge.

I admit I am a typical urban boy. If you throw me into the middle of the forest alone for a few days, I’ll probably not be able to survive. Yet, my love for nature is evident. Maybe one reason is that I am easily tensed up and stress, so embracing nature is perhaps one of my outlets to de-stress. Furthermore, it is a healthy outlet.

I remember mentioning to Vivian quite a few times during our run how much I yearn to go for a hike. There are people who took time off, get a few friends, and off they wander among the wooden skyscrapers. I never have the chance to do that, though the last time I hiked in one of our nature parks was when I went out for a photography trip with Henry. Man, carrying gears up the sloppy paths and around the long, never-ending route was tiring. But hey, nature photography is my favourite kind of photography. I never like to take photos of human being anyway, because you never know if the smiles behind are genuine. In addition, we tend to read too much into a portrait – every smile, every wrinkle, every emotion. I like nature photography – birds, streams, river flows – for whenever you take a look at it, you could somehow feel nirvana running through you. Life could be as simple, just like how our ancestors once experienced.

One day, we decided to go hiking. Both of us together with Kheng Yin. I was frantically looking forward to it because it was like a dream came true. It was early in the morning, I woke up at around 0600 to get myself prepared for the journey to the west. I met with KY at Ang Mo Kio before taking the train down to Beauty World to meet up with Viv.

Getting There

The entrance to Bukit Timah Hill is just a bridge away from Bukit Timah Shopping Centre.

We came out from Exit A and walked along the perimeters of Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. There is a bridge that leads us to the Church of Singapore. From there, we walked down Hindhede Drive.

WATCH OUT: Be careful of the incoming traffic as you walk along Hindhede Dr en route to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
STARTING POINT: The huge Visitor Centre signifies the start of the hiking trail.

Up We Go

I was shocked as I came face to face with the steep slope at the start of the trail. The hilly elevation is much steeper than the photo I took above. It looks more like a Satan’s creation than a hiking trail. The moment we started walking (more like climbing), we could feel our heart rates increase over time. There was one point that we did not have enough energy to talk anymore. The only sound coming from us was the sound of our panting.

We met several middle-aged uncles along the way. It was slightly before 0900 on a weekday morning and these people were already on their way downhill. I came up with two conclusions: Either they are residents from the nearby estates or that they actually made the effort to wake up early for a morning workout.

I was thinking to myself, would we still be as active when we reach their age in a few decades time. I’d probably refuse to drag myself up early in the wee hours. Their dedication to personal fitness is motivating. Every time when I was having my jog, working out at the gym or just strolling in the park, I always meet these uncles (and even aunties) who will put a lad like me to absolute shame. Despite the age, their level of activeness and, for some, fitness level, are way ahead of me. I told myself that I shall make a continuous effort to keep myself fit and by the time I become older, it will become a habit naturally.

Retro Walking

There was an interesting trend amongst those who were coming down hill. Most of them are walking backwards. We gave them a curious look as we walk past them. We were equally amazed by how almost everyone was walking in an unusual way.

Apparently, this is called ‘retro walking’. Guess what? There are actually health benefits to this kind of walking. Retro walking differs from normal walking (like duh). It involves totally different sets of muscles. It helps to reduce the shear force on the knees by reversing such force. Hence, it is extremely beneficial for people who encounter joint pain. Retro walking also helps to reduce strains on your hamstrings. This is

Retro walking also helps to reduce strains on your hamstrings. This is because it reduces the overall range of motion at the hip point, therefore limiting the extension and the stress on the hamstrings.

As for those who are looking at some cardio exercise to incorporate into your routine, retro walking could well be able to serve your requirements as well. You will require more energy to walk backwards as compared to forward. The reason is that the electromyographical (or muscle) activity of the lower extremity (the part between your hips and your toes) appears to be greater when you walk backwards.

Greater energy burn without straining your joints. Sounds like a good deal.

Sense of Achievement

Everything felt so calm around here. The tranquillity allows me to put all my burdens at the back of my head. I took a deep breath. I smell one of the freshest air I’ve ever inhaled. The last time I could enjoy such nice air was during my jog from Marina Bay to East Coast Park. There ain’t many people, except for a group of students from a local girls’ school.

LOOK HERE: We were basically exploring all corners of the reserve. (Image: Kheng Yin)
IT’S A WEB: KY trying to take a close up photo of a spider web.
TIRED: I swear we looked a little worn out here. (Image: Kheng Yin)
WE ARE GOING UP: Look how energetic KY was. Viv, we’ve tried.
ENDLESS: It looks like a long and winding road (cues Beatles)

To be honest, it did not take us long to reach the peak of Bukit Timah. The journey started off tough, no thanks to the elevation gain right at the start. I think we took less than 30 minutes? Or was it less than 45 minutes? The slope became gentle as we went on.

REACHED: We’ve finally reach the top of the world. Ok, just Bukit Timah actually.

Despite the hill was just slightly more than 163m in height, I actually felt a sense of achievement right there. This is the highest hill I’ve ever climb so far. There are people of my age who have gone on to conquer Kinabalu, Fuji or other legit ‘mountains’. I might have the opportunity to head up to Kinabalu one day but for now, I guess Bukit Timah will do too.

SINGAPORE’S NEXT TOP UNCLE: Okay, I didn’t realise there was this uncle in my way. But well, looks photogenic heh?

A Piece of History

The short route up the peak of the hill was not enough for the three of us. Hence, we took another route to undercover more parts of the reserves. We ended up at the Hindhede Quarry.

When we reached the quarry, there was a group of people doing pilates there. I think it is a smart move to hold pilates or fitness classes in the middle of a forest or a nature park. There is no artificial air, everything that you are inhaling are fresh air. The oxygen is freshly supplied from the surrounding plants and trees.

It was evident that by the time we reached the quarry, we felt more refreshed. Our bloodstream are supplying haemoglobin filled with fresh oxygen to all our body organs.

It is difficult to imagine how deep this quarry is after water from run offs and rain filled the empty surrounding over the years.

Located within the Hindhede Nature Park (located next to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve), it was built around the quarry which was bustled with mining activities between 1900s and 1980s. Named after Danish civil engineer Jens Hindhede, the abandoned quarry was eventually reverted into a proper park in 2001. It is said that the quarry stretches 18m below sea-level with the water level reaching at least 10 storey high. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I fell into the lake.

By 1100, we made our way out of the nature reserve and back to civilisation. I think I will need to return to nature soon.

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