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Stepping into the Sarawak chamber
Imagine standing in the widest, clearest chamber imaginable to man. There is no technology. No construction. No trace of modern mankind. Only your breath against the sounds of nature, and your flashlight illuminating your every step. Now imagine touching and running your hands through the creased, aged crawlways. You’re knee-deep in running water and wading your way through soft current, listening to the chatter of geckos and bats.
And you stop in your tracks, only to behold that you’re in the middle of a space so massive, it makes you look almost insignificant in comparison. In a place so wide, so quiet, so mysterious and so untouched. With the help of advanced lights and a little bit of gut, you look around the illuminated darkness to discover aged rock walls dating over a billion years back. With the echoes of bats within earshot, you take a deep breath and absorb the fact that you’re standing in none other than the great Sarawak Chamber.
Part of the Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, one of the two states in East Malaysia, the Sarawak Chamber situated on the northern side of the Melinau Paku Valley is a part of Good Luck Cave. Recognised as the largest underground chamber in the world, it boasts a dimension measuring 2,300 feet long, 1,300 feet wide and – at the very least – 230 feet high. It’s approximately three times the size of the esteemed ‘Big Room’ in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, an underground chamber once thought to be the largest in the world.
To put everything into perspective, it is able to fit 10 jumbo jets – nose to tail in a straight row – all at once. But if you were to imagine completely filling up every nook and corner, you’re looking at a whopping 40 jumbo jets in a massive enclave. It’s awe-inspiring when you try to stomach the beauty of Mother Nature, and even more so if you were to put yourself in the shoes of the three Englishmen who had first found the room.
Andy Eavis, Dave Checkley and Tony White are recorded as the first men to discover the chamber. Their expedition, dated January 1981, saw them diving into the dense, unpopulated area of the Gunung Mulu National Park. They were initially part of a larger crew of over 20 people who made up the Mulu ’80 exploring team, but with hostile weather and unforgiving accidents striking the luck of others, only the trio made it to discover Good Luck Cave and a massive 12 million cubics of pitch black darkness which we now know as the Sarawak Chamber.
In Dave Checkley’s journal, he wrote about his trying efforts in discovering, surveying, photographing and mapping the chamber. He added that the exploration took an extremely long time, which made them realize that they had found something priceless. “It wasn’t until we drew up the survey the following day that we realized that we had found by far the biggest chamber in the world—we just had to call it Sarawak Chamber,” he wrote. “It was a fitting end to a wonderful expedition.”
Having this record set in the 1980s, flags were raised when other explorers discovered what seemed to be equally massive ‘rooms’ in other countries such as China’s Cloud Ladder Hall. With that in mind, a recent expedition was made to re-calculate the size of the Sarawak Chamber. Called the Mulu Caves 2011 Expedition, a modern laser scan was conducted by Kevin Dixon and his team to produce a virtual 3D cave model. It illustrated the chamber’s tremendous size, putting in the same league as some of the world’s tallest buildings including the Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101, and the Petronas Twin Towers. When the results came in, the Sarawak Chamber was revalidated and maintained its status as the biggest underground chamber in the world.
Visits to the chamber will first require the approval of the Park Manager and costs a little over RM200 per person. As a general safety rule of caving, a minimum headcount of three people is required before trekking. During your visit, expect a 3-hour long trail to reach the entrance of Good Luck Cave. Then, you’ll take another 3 hours along an 800-metre river with sheer rock faces on the side. Then, you’ll reach a steep boulder slope where you’ll come face-to-face with the blackness of the world’s largest chamber. The total duration of the visit is estimated to take a full day.
So if you’re looking to discover the undiscovered, the Sarawak Chamber is a great place to start. Get carried away along the way by beautiful rock formations, rivers, puddles, fragile animals and shockingly vast rooms – you’re bound to leave Borneo having found a piece of gem in its untouched rawness.
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