Saturday, May 17, 2014

From concrete jungle to the green corridor – Bkt Batok to Choa Chu Kang to Hillview Ave

A different world awaits just a step away from Choa Chu Kang Rd

Today I made a circuitous loop to Choa Chu Kang via Bukit Batok Central. It was a pleasant enough walk along the town's main thoroughfare and the slight drizzle did not deter me too much. 9 am at most times would be scorching hot in May but thankfully today the overcast sky has made it a pleasant walk.

After my errand at West Mall, I proceeded towards Choa Chu Kang via Gombak. The plan was to go as the crow flies. Unfortunately crows have a hard time in this part of Singapore because of the hilly area. In the end, I hugged the road along Bkt Batok West Ave 2 that leads to Ave 5. At Bukit Gombak Station, the tail end of the morning crowd made their last dash to work.

Bukit Batok West Ave 5 was long but pleasant for walking, with the Park Connector in the shade of the MRT tracks. The sky was clearing and gloom was gradually replaced by an emerging sun in the late morning.

I made a right turn towards Bukit Batok Rd at the junction of Bukit Batok West Ave 5. It is downhill in  the direction of Bukit Timah, which I was thankful. At ITE West, I was torn between going into the college for a drink at Kopitiam or to continue along the road. A huge banner shouted out that the food court is opened to the public but I was hesitant to enter.  I was drenched in sweat and probably wasn’t smelling too good either.

ITE West campus is gargantuan with its perimeter extending to the junction of Choa Chu Kang Way and Bukit Batok Rd.  I made a left and mentally marked that there are 3 fancy restaurants at this section of the campus, all run by students, which would need a visit sometime soon.

The final leg of my mission was towards Keat Hong Center, where I was to do my second errand.  Between the ITE campus and Keat Hong, not a tree grew. The pavement at the other side of Choa Chu Kang  way was shadier because the path lies under the LRT tracks . 

It was 10.30 am when  I was done at Keat Hong Center. How should I get home? By train from CCK to Bkt Batok or complete the loop back home by way of the green corridor? In the end, the lure of the old KTM track  prevailed.

The old signal house at CCK

I joined the old railroad off Choa Chu Kang Rd, opposite Ten Mile Junction. From beyond the old signaling house,  the entry point was like a rabbit hole opening me into a new world. The cacophony of  traffic and insistent piling sounds of the nearby construction was drowned the moment I set foot onto the trek, now overgrown with grass. Safe for 2 trails of muddy, dirt track sculptured by determined mountain bikers rain or shine, it bears no resemblance to the flat, undulating rail road two years ago.

There is a certain wild side that I love about this track of land. Flanked by Bukit Timah Rd at my left and the tail end of the army camp on my right, it is an oasis of calm. The shrubs waved waves of green and everywhere about me was bathed in jade green under the noon sun. I gave thanks as the rain clouds were nowhere in sight or this walk would be impossible on an already lumpy, wet path.

Mimosa carpeted the first section of the old railroad. The bustle from construction sporadically broke through the sanctuary of green. Without lifting my head, I would not have been the wiser that bus stops and The Linear  a mere hundred meters away.

Civilisation is just a stone's throw away

The old KTM void of its sleepers

The Linear beyond. New banana trees along the old track

Lalang that is as thick as sugar canes

No worries about giving up halfway. The bus stop's yonder.

Welcome shade near the stretch outside Mindef
The wilderness is newly formed and distinct fauna can still be observed at different sections of the trek.  At the centre part of Mindef Hillview Camp, shrubs gave way to tall lallang.  There were telltale signs the path has been regularly maintained despite the thick overgrowth. Dried thick lallang, sheared sometime ago, was strewn along the trek. They have yet to dehydrate to twigs and the stalks were still thick like sugar canes.

Mindef fortified seen along the old track

Well used path


The driveway entrance to Mindef , which terminated the old track was in full sight. Two  huge  boulders marked the end of the first section of my walk, like some milestones. The trek resumed, again marked by two boulders.

From where I was, I could see the huge campus of Assumption School rising majestically behind the grass. The noon sun made everything I looked at appear crisp and sharp like on a focused lens.  

Lalang gives way to trees near Hilliew

Glendale condo beyond

I did not meet a single soul from the beginning of my walk on the railroad to the end. Most wise folks have better plans that to trek at high noon. What to do, when my heart was bent on doing it  the entire day even though I knew I would be cinders from the sun.

The thick vegetation afforded a hiding place to different birds. Safe in the bushes, I heard the cooing of pigeons and unfamiliar ‘coughing’ of birds. I even recognized the shrill call of baby birds nestling in the deep thickets, incessant and loud.

Hillview Heights at the end of the walk

At Hillview, the trek came to a sudden stop. The original rail bridge across Hillview Rd has been dismantled and barriers have been put in place to stop clueless trekkers from falling off the elevated track onto the road 2 meters down.

I got off the trail beside the old Standard Chartered Bank, using a little path paved with coconut husk and rocks.  It is time to call it a day, all 2.5 hours of  it.

Shredded husks, work of monkeys?
This, not the work of monkeys. Paved path.

Old Standard Chartered

Looking back where I left, at Hillview Heights.

I completed the trip home on bus 963 which came almost immediately.  The ride from HillView Heights to home took a mere 7 minutes, instead of another 30-45 minutes should I decided to pursue it on foot.

It was a modest 12 km in 2.5 hr  which meant an average speed of 4.8km/hr, a decent timing for me. Thankfully I did not suffer from any blisters nor was I severely sunburnt. At every opportunity, I doused myself with cold drinks which most likely was the reason for my stamina. Of course everyone cheats and I did too on this occasion. I jogged some parts when the terrain was good or when it was downhill to keep spirits up and my timing down.

Maybe next time I will forgo the concrete jungle. Or perhaps I would wear hiking boots instead of running shoes. Walking along HDB flats was not the most scenic way to see the morning but the people watching did make up for it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Walk ( Green Corridor from Hindhede to Rail Mall ) and more

First  light. Morning has broken.
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Ps 103 :1

It started as an aimless morning walk. I am in my usual self, undecided. Should I turn right towards to Bukit Timah , check out Rifle Range Rd and hopefully end up at Turf City ? Or should I go for the familiar by doing the Old Ford Factory route?

In the end, after my mental dilly-dallying, I decided to do a right. Sometimes , I consider a bit of right as a major decision so as to inject excitement in my life. After all, I am at the crossroads and it has to be either right or left , isn't it?   

The walk from home towards Hindhede Rd was cool. I was flanked by cars piled up towards Bukit Batok on my left and a long, green lush slope on my right. Despite the sound of traffic, I could make out the songs of different morning birds.

At the Old Fire Engine House ( The Spruce ), I headed right as decided. The pedestrian walkway opened up to merge footpath and bike path. The space was a pleasure. I tsked at the mass traffic pile up, cars waiting to turn off to PIE / Bukit Timah. 7.30am should not look like this.

Now that I have turned right,  I am faced with another decision. Should I make my way towards Turf City, I would have to endure peak hour traffic on Bukit Timah on the way back. It is a good 8 km one way and in my state of fitness,  I am pretty sure a bus ride home is the only option for me.

So I am short, and all I see is grass.
From where I was, a good 100m from the nature park reserve, I saw first light from behind Bukit Timah Hill. It is a good sensation and I did not wish to lose it by walking among houses along Rifle Range Rd.

Path to the secret garden, around Hindhede Rd
So, I did a little climb up the slope, stepping on the steps carved out by those before me who trekked up the old railway track a thousand times. The dirt was fresh with dew and wet with  yesterday’s rain.

View from the old railtrack , towards the nature reserve.

Ok, this looks like many of the other walks, but it feels special to me.
 I skirted stones and puddles. The wet terrain has become uneven because it is heavily used by mountain bikers and trekkers alike. I headed towards Rail Mall , soaking in the unfamiliar calls of birds just meters from the private condo estate. The green track of land is a world of its own, serene and isolated.

Rail Mall Bridge ahead. An early riser.
Sensors were put along the track , a new addition. I suspect it is some sort of monitoring system because underground digging was underway for the downtown line brely 50 m away.

Men at work. Have you given thanks for them yet?
I got off the track at Rail Mall because some workmen were at work. I have got to appreciate them, starting their day so early while the rest of us have it much better than them. 

I did a Take 5 at Toast Box. Tea C Kosong Ice at $2 , nicely executed by a cheerful staff of 4. Give thanks, I thought, for the people who wake up so early to serve us.

I continued along the bridge outside Toast Box. A new bridge, longer, ramped and higher is coming up alongside the present one. I could even touch it if I stretch out hard. In the east, the glory of day shone behind the Bukit Timah Rail, as it always does. It was beautiful, even with the traffic below and all.

At Hillview, The Hillier's monstrous twin towers broke the lush skyline. Just off the roundabout, a man sucked the last of his cig, threw it on the grass and headed for the bus. At the impulse of the moment, I called him back and pointed to the cig butt. The burly man was like a school boy, caught littering. He backtracked and picked up the butt to bin it. Then he ran for the bus to join his friends who were getting up. If the bus was not packed, he would have missed the bus altogether because of me. I showed my approval and waved to him. The gesture was not appreciated. 

I was thankful the litter bug responded to me; hopefully he will not do it again. Perhaps I should consider getting a job at NEA. I have been doing this for free for too long.

Jubilant from the little victory, I did my first jog for a good 3 blocks down.

I made a detour to the market place at Bukit Batok. It was hardly  bustling and the closure of many grocers did not help. Where do folks get their grocery and stuff, I wonder? There was nothing for me to see and I made my way back.

It was a 2 hour me-time and I loved it.  The watch I was wearing ‘died’ at the start of the walk and because of this, I could focus on my experience instead of trying to achieve my timed target. Not totally a bad thing at all!