I was suddenly awakened by the cold breeze sweeping through the tent. The morning was so still I could hear the thud of a tiny casuarina seed on the roof of the tent. The entire stretch of the beach suddenly came alive with squid rigging. A local boy strutted past happily with his meagre catch of four squids. As I turned to take a peep at the sea, I was greeted by a delightful shimmering carpet of calm sea in the first blush of the sun.
The azan rang clear, breaking the silence. The birds were chirping excitedly, exchanging calls while perched at the top of the casuarina trees. A shoal of tiny fishes jump in and out of the water in chorus, fleeing the relentless pursuit of predator fishes. A small boat was chugging by, with the fisherman standing stoic on the bow, a posture reminiscent of a warrior in anticipation. It was the break of dawn. The sun was bursting through the myriad of pink and orange clouds, like cotton candies suspended in the horizon. It was truly a sight to behold. Telaga Papan was the perfect setting for one seeking spiritual inspiration and closeness to god through endless hours of zikir, dua and night prayer. But for me, I was just grateful to be a temporary guest of utopia (Fig 1&2).
Telaga Papan is no longer the exclusive enclave it once was planned to be. It was targeted to be a high-end development project of a serene, quiet beach resort for the rich by the Terengganu state. The estate development was designed to be large, wooden resort-like beach houses. Unfortunately many were built too far out to sea. The sea had been fiercely eroding the beach-front, uprooting the casuarinas, washing away the sand and depositing it elsewhere. A few of the resort houses were laid to waste by the relentless sea and the state development project was duly abandoned.
Telaga Papan is now a hive of activity, although of a different kind. The fishermen have invaded the exclusive beach. They found the beach rather convenient, bringing in their fishing boats (Fig 3) and selling off their catch of the day on-site. It has lately become a routine for the village people, coming to Telaga Papan on their motorcycles or lorries, armed with baskets, waiting for the fishing boats to come ashore with their catch. But of late the fishes have gotten smaller. The bigger ones have been netted off by the big fishing trawlers belonging to Thai nationals.
The monsoons will be coming again this year. For four months a year, from end of October till February of the following year, there will be a lot of rain and little sunshine. But the other eight months more than make up for it, promising beautiful dawns, exceptional sunsets, clear skies and memorable riding experiences on the beach of Telaga Papan. Then there is the fresh fish……bakar tawar, where little spice is used. Its delightful flavor is derived entirely from the freshness of the fish and the hot black chilli dip.