A Sunrise at St. Veronica’s Hill – I went through this surreal experience in December, 2019 during an early morning hitch-hike to the top of St. Veronica’s hill in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Kota Kinabalu (or KK in short) comes under a region called Sabah which is fairly far from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
If you see the map of Malaysia you would know that it is majorly made up of two big land masses (apart from an archipelago of islands) divided by the sea.
Kuala Lumpur and other major cities are in the western land mass whereas Kota Kinabalu and few others are on the eastern one.
Before reaching Kota Kinabalu, my friends and I were in Langkawi, which is further west from Kuala Lumpur and hence, awfully far from KK.
The flight from Langkawi took three and a half hours to reach and it felt like we had come to a really far-off place on the planet.
This was the last leg of the journey and we were all very excited to make every day count. We had already spent about five days in Langkawi and we wanted to spend another four days here in KK.
In the first three days, we did all the things we could. Night life, evening markets, island hopping, trip to see fire flies and Proboscis Monkeys (a rare species found only in Malaysia) yada yada yada. It was a packed three days for us. We, however, had to decide what to do on the fourth day before we left KK for good.
One of our friends suggested that we hike St. Veronica’s hill which was around an hour’s drive from KK and about a thousand feet above sea level.
I loved the idea of an early morning trek to see the sunrise but I also dreaded it because we had to get up at 3 AM for it. Even by the standards of a morning person, 3 AM was way too early for me.
Plus, I was somewhat exhausted by all the activities from the last four days. But at the same time I was also excited as we were promised a view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain range in Malaysia) from the top of St. Veronicas.
I decided to go for it. We booked the activity with a local adventure company and we were all set for the next day.
With only two hours of sleep and burning sensation in my eyes, I got up at sharp 3:00. All of us got ready and we left for the hill at 3:30.
The travel company had sent a mini-van and two people – a driver and a guide. We picked up another five on the way who had also booked this activity and we all headed for the hill in the dead of the night.
We reached Tamparuli town by 4:15am and started trekking around 4:30am.
To give you an idea, St. Veronica’s hill towers over the rustic Tamparuli town and the surrounding villages at around one thousand feet above sea level.
The locals call it Bulkit Perahu or Hill Boat because of an inverted boat shaped rock near the summit. Along the way, you pass 14 crosses planted by the Roman Catholic Church of Tamparuli town and every year during the Easter the locals participate in a mini pilgrimage up the hill, stopping at each cross to commemorate Jesus Christ’s last day on earth as a man.
The trek looks pretty simple in the pictures but it wasn’t all that easy for everyone. The trail is mainly between the bushes and the trees as it is rocky as hell.
To begin with, you start trekking when it’s completely dark and you don’t even see the trail properly.
So many times in order to climb, you had to grab the nearby rock or shrub as the trail itself was quite steep. Few members from the other party stopped in between and never completed the whole thing.
However, once you reach the top, the view is worth all that effort. After some struggle and a lot of motivation, we reached the summit at 5:45, just in time for the sunrise. The air was suddenly cooler and it gave a breath taking bird’s eye view of the misty lowlands. It was truly a “Top of the World” experience for all of us.
As the sun started coming up, the view of the mountain became clearer and it felt surreal to me.
Suddenly the whole sky lit up. It was, as if, God himself had switched on the light for the world.
I had never seen a mountain range this up-close before. In the backdrop of the mountain, you could see the rustic villages below and the shimmering river which was snaking past the Tamparuli town.
We were so surprised by the beauty of our surrounding that all of us felt silent. It was truly breath-taking. With the mountain range ahead, I stood in the direction of the morning sun feeling one with nature.
After sleeping for just a couple of hours, and with so much exercise, I wasn’t tired or hungry. On the contrary, I was feeling energetic. It felt as if my body was getting recharged by the sun’s rays.
We spent some time on the hilltop clicking hundreds of pictures and videos and eventually started our journey downwards.
Post trek, the driver took us to a local restaurant in the Tamparuli town for a sumptuous Malay breakfast. To my own surprise, I was awfully quiet on the way back to the hotel.
I think I was still in the awe of the view from the summit. All in all, it was a day of bewilderment and something that will last within me for as long as I live!