I first climbed Mount Murud on a whim in 2013. With that spur-of-the moment decision, I found myself walking two days through the muddy jungle from the small village of Ba Kelalan deep in the Sarawak interior to get up the mountain.
It was tough, and I confess that I would have given up if I could, especially when we ended up walking late at night through the forest.
There wasn’t any choice, of course, but to keep going.
At that time, I didn’t know the story of Mount Murud and the biennial Christian pilgrimage that starts from Ba Kelalan. It draws hundreds who come from afar, including from abroad.
I heard the story much later, and it struck me as a remarkable story.
Pilgrimages are rites of passage for the adherents of many faiths around the world, and many such journeys do tax the pilgrim’s strength and fortitude.
It was only when I climbed up Mount Murud – my second time was as part of the pilgrimage – that I understood why the tough walk is regarded as essential to the pilgrimage. And why prayer mountains are such an integral part of the practice of the Christian faith in Sarawak.
The walk was difficult because it had to be so. The faithful see it as a journey to meet God, and the difficult trek prepares them for it by clearing the mind cluttered with daily worries.
This is the case even if you are not religious. It takes focus to get through the obstacle-strewn and muddy path safely. The outside world quickly fades away as the focus has to be completely on the here and now, and the next step forward.
And hence, prayer mountains are always a little bit difficult to get to.
But it’s worth the effort, whether one is religious or not.
The climb is not about conquering Sarawak’s highest mountain – nature cannot conquered – but about knowing the true might of nature.