Caves: A Hidden Tapestry In Stone ∼ A Journey to Discover An Ancient Wonder of Refuge
“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” ∼ Elizabeth Barret Browning ∼
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in You my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed. Psalm 57: 1 Of David. When he fled from Saul into the cave.
On 27 August 2014, I visited the world renown Mulu Caves in Sarawak. The main purpose of this visit was to gain a sense of the surreal ability of the man David, eighth and youngest son of Jesse from the kingly tribe of Judah, who in the midst of darkness and despair, could seek refuge in his God while hiding in a cave. In 1 Samuel 24 the Hebrew Scriptures reveal that David was hiding ‘far back in the cave’ in the Desert of En Gedi when he fled from King Saul. It was while he was hiding in the caves that the sweet singer of Israel wrote Psalm 142 and Psalm 57.
How could such a man who later would be anointed king of a nation, in the company of 400 men who were also in despair, in debt, bitter in their soul and discontented with the situation in their own lives, find solace, security, satisfaction and refuge in the shadow of the wings of God the Almighty in a cave. This odyssey to discover what ‘hiding in a cave‘ must have been three thousand years ago, an ancient hidden wonder of refuge, brought me to the limestone hills of Mulu in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Gunung Mulu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses caves and karst formations in a mountainous equatorial rainforest setting. The Mulu Caves are legendary. The limestones belong to the Melinau Limestone Formation and are estimated to be 4000 to 5000 m thick. In the south-east of Mulu Park, sandstones are dominant. Among the most remarkable karst features are the world’s finest example of a karst collapse – The Garden of Eden.The Mulu Caves boast the world’s largest cave chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, and one of the largest cave passages in the world in the Deer Cave. Our two day visit would take us to visit four caves: the Deer Cave, the Lang Cave, the Cave of the Winds and the Clearwater Cave. Accompanying me on this journey to discover this time-preserved world heritage was my son David Lee.
After registration at the Gunung Mulu World Heritage Park Headquarters begins the 3 KM walk (about 45 minutes) to the Deer Cave and the Lang Cave.
I watched the details of the rich green landscape emerge. I have never walked in a rainforest before. Never seen and appreciated the beauty of life except that within the walls of the Hospital Medical Center. That is how much I had missed out in life as a doctor. I stopped and took pictures of every living creature our guide Jason Lau pointed out along the way. I felt insanely excited with this ‘toy’ in my hand – my Canon 60D and I did not know how to operate it! ISO…what ISO?
Mulu’s limestone caves belong to the Melinau Formation. Thousands of years of dripping water, eroding stone and budding minerals create a silent world of mystery and beauty in stone. The most common type of caves form when slightly acidic rainwater trickles into the crevices of limestone and gradually widens the cracks as it dissolves the stone.
The entrance to the Lang Cave looked like opening the first page of a mystery novel. My mind and soul was prepared for this first ever adventure into a tapestry of stone in its beauty of design within the darkness of its enclosure. An awesome experience into the unknown for a first-time caver to see the forces of nature carve a sculpture no man can envision or dream.
Waiting to meet us at the entrance to the Lang cave were these two Wrinkled-lipped bats.
Centuries of water, supersaturated with minerals, dripping from cave roofs cause stalagmites and stalactites to form. One can only imagine the torrents of gushing water that once flowed through these limestone mountains. Truly amazing. A tapestry in stone wrapped in a cloth of mystery.
When a stalagmite growing up joins a stalactite growing down it’s called a ‘column’.
The Deer Cave is currently globally recorded as the second largest cave passage in the world. It is also the home to three million Wrinkled-lipped bats.
A huge mound of guano in the cave is evidence of the size of the bat colony that roosts in the Deer Cave’s high ceilings.
Entry into the Garden of Eden in the Deer Cave. One of the World’s great karst features. A solemn experience to emerge from the depths of the deafening silence of the darkness of the Deer Cave and suddenly see a forest of green trees. A hidden wonder to worship God.
Deer Cave is home to an enormous colony of Wrinkle-lipped bats (Tadarida plicata). It is a spectacular sight of black clouds of millions of bats emerging from the entrance of the Deer cave in their daily flight ritual in search of food – insects. The bats, mostly measuring 15cm from one wing tip to the other, fly out of the Deer Cave in spiral-like formations, like ribbons intertwined in the air. The exodus can take about an one hour and they emerge in batches of thousands.
The third cave we visited was the Cave of the Winds which is part of the Clearwater system. This required a 30 minute ride in a longboat from the Royal Mulu Resort along the Melinau river.
In 1978, Clearwater Cave was discovered in Gunung Api. Clearwater Cave is the world’s 9th longest cave at 197.08 km and boasts one of the biggest known underground rivers – in flood, 150,000 tonnes of water pour through the passage every hour. The Clearwater System is believed to be the largest interconnected cave system in the world by volume. The main cave system of Mulu lies mainly under western margins of Gunung Api between the Melinau Gorge and Cave of the Winds.
A flight of 200 steps through the forest takes you to the mouth of Clearwater Cave. The most awesome gushing sound of its underground river could be heard in the cave. Truly, a beautiful tapestry of stone hidden in the silent mystery of design created not by the work of human hands but by the forces of nature.
It was only from an inner calm that man was able to discover and shape calm surroundings. Stephen Gardiner
This last slide shows the final exit from the darkness of the cave into the breath-taking light of the morning sun. Truly, a remarkable journey into a silent world of mystery and beauty in stone.
Awake, my soul! Awake,harp and lyre! I will AWAKEN THE DAWN. I will praise You, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of You among the peoples. For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be over all the earth. Psalm 57: 8 – 11
I can catch a glimpse of the soul of David, who in the midst of extreme adversity, found peace with God within the shelter of the darkness of the cave. He was able to AWAKEN THE DAWN through a song of praise. Through this quest for the heart of God, I found myself walking through a tapestry of stone sculptured by the forces of nature and this was itself an enchanting experience worth re-visiting.
“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” ∼Elizabeth Barret Browning ∼