This is truly an island of dreams; no wonder its visitors keep coming back for more.

It was Never-Never from the start. Our ferry looked like a Yellow Submarine and, from the moment we cast-off, a phalanx of hornbills exploded off the trees and escorted us across: flap-flap glide, flap-flap glide. They looked like a flight of pterodactyls, aerial outriders into a Jurassic Park. Our minds spun with images: of fairy tales and fantasies and delightful absurdities. The mainland diminished into a blur. Pangkor emerged. We strode down a jetty standing in a crystal-blue coral sea and into a different cadence, a slower, deeper, heartbeat.

Pangkor is the forested peak of a submarine hill, thrusting out of the sea. Its top was covered with dense rainforests, its edges fringed with white coralline sand, washed with the surf of Malaysia's Bay of Melaka.

The grounds of our resort were extensive with their own beach and backed against rising rainforests. The charming Guest Relations Manager, Shelina Fernandez, said her grandparents had come from Kochi but she didn't know if it was from Ernakulam, Vypeen or the Fort. She had been born in Malaysia and was married to “an Indian” but he could have been of Gujarati or Punjabi origin.

Clearly, the first message of Pangkor is if you were born in Malaysia your more distant roots don't matter. Like the children of Peter Pan's Never-Never Land, you have shed the baggage of the distant past.

Of rainforests and beaches

We hired a pink taxi and did the island tour, into the rainforests and down to the fishing beaches. Fat pussycats purred on the sun-striated decks of stilt huts while brightly painted fishing smacks bobbed languidly in a sheltered bay.

A man with grizzled hair sat on a beached buoy, whittling a stick. He wished us and said, “If you're looking for anchovies, you won't find any here. They sell it all to the fish processing factory” We thanked him and then asked “Are you French?” He thought for a while, “It is my accent, of course. But no, I'm Belgian from Ghent. I'm a market gardener. I come here every year to escape. And you?”

“We're travel writers...” He nodded to himself. “So you write so we can escape... good. But don't bring too many tourists here. It will lose its magic...” He nodded again and went back to his whittling...

The fish processing factory was squeaky clean, exotic. Everything shimmered in gold fins and plastic packs: dried, pickled, bottled and extracted. A Chinese sales girl dimpled at us and held up a bottle of ruby liquid. “This very good for long life. Is sea cucumber oil. Stops aging.” We looked around. “Do any of you take it?” we asked. She dimpled at us again “We don't need. We live on this island. Feel young...” Which is probably why the market gardener from Ghent kept returning.

“Next stop, Indian temple” our driver-guide said. “Here whole village of Indians.”

Not quite correct because the village had Malays, Chinese and Indians. The Sri Pathira Kaliamman Koil run by the Paribalana Sabha was a rather simple, single-celled shrine on a stretch of sandy beach. The head pujari was a portly young man named Venketaraman Sharma who had been educated in England and had had his priestly training in Chennai. He seemed uneasy with the fact that the local Tamils held their weddings during the day and even on Saturdays. Also, “They prefer to have it in halls because here they can't serve NV, but in halls they can.” That threw us till we realised that he was referring to non-vegetarian wedding feasts.

Clearly, Pangkor has dreamed up its own religious scenario.

We had two more stops on this eclectic island. The Fu Lin Kong, identified as a Taoist temple, was brilliantly ornate with gold, crimson and green, sinuous dragons and a carp pond embellished with a warning sign saying. “BEWARE. Any accident at own risk. FU LIN KONG not responsible. Thank you.” It looked like a picture-postcard Chinese shrine, dramatic against a densely forested hill. It was also said to hold a mystical living drum that grew hair. But, we were told, the keeper of this hirsute instrument was away so we had to forego a darshan of this miraculous artefact.

Finally we drove up to the conserved ruins of the 17th century Dutch Fort. The Netherlanders had built it to secure their tin exports. But then, as shown on a massive boulder across the road from the fort, local people - outraged by the arrogant ways of the Dutch - had attacked them. The boulder has a line carving on it showing a tiger pouncing on a boy. One story says that it captures the tragic story of the Dutch Governor's son being killed by a tiger. The other story, and a far more likely one, contends that this carving is a symbolic representation of the eviction of the Dutch from the island. This is probably why it is called The Sacred Rock.

Personal memories

We returned to the resort as sunset was gilding the waters of the bay. Fellow guests, Rolf and Elsie Fischer, told us that they have been coming here for a holiday every year, for many years, occasionally accompanied by their children and grandchildren. They're German, he's a chemical engineer, and they've spent many years in Singapore and are now in Shanghai. This time they were on a three-month vacation unwinding in Pangkor. They said that we were very blessed because we had converted our hobby into our profession. We agreed with them. We did not tell them about our anniversary but they must have guessed it when they saw a cake with candles and a bottle of wine being placed on our table that night. And then a band came and played the tune that we had heard the night before we had left for our first professional trip overseas.

Time doesn't cease to exist in Pangkor. It's just that, since everyone is encased in glowing bubbles of very personal memories, time just does not matter.

Quick facts

Getting There: By air to Kuala Lumpur and then a 3-4 hour road journey to Lumut Jetty where a 30-minute ferry trip takes you to the island

Accommodation: There are 258 rooms in the Resort in the Garden Wing, Pacific Wing, Ocean Wing and 12 exclusive villas

Reservations: Pangkor Island Beach Resort, c/o Kuala Lumpur Sales office Ph: (603) 2287 6868. Mail


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012