Around the Rocky Isle of Pulau Tikus

By Rexy Prakash Chacko

May 2022 PEAKS AND PARKS
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Huge granite boulders on Pulau Tikus.
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MENTION PULAU TIKUS to a Penangite and most often what comes to mind is the northwestern suburb of George Town, well known for its good food and interesting history – a strand of which is entwined with Penang Island’s early settlements.

But a niggling mystery lingers for many: “Where is the ‘Pulau’ (Island) in Pulau Tikus?” To solve this enigma, one does not need to look beyond the Tanjung Bungah Bay.[1] Nestled barely 800 meters away from the coast is the little rocky Isle that gave its name to the suburb.

I am on a quest to visit every offshore isle in Penang, and this time I decide to explore Pulau Tikus. Taking the lead for this mini adventure is avid hiker Eugene Quah, who also harbours keen interest in the history of Tanjung Bungah.

We start our journey with a boat ride to the Isle. Passing beyond the little cape under a clear morning sky, we spot what looks like little pillboxes along the coast. These are searchlight emplacements from World War II, when they were used to identify hostile vessels approaching from the north. Behind the searchlight emplacements and a grove of large trees, we discover an even more historic monument, The Hai Choo Su Tua Pek Kong Temple (海珠嶼大伯公廟) built in 1799, believed to be one of Penang’s oldest Chinese temples.

Searchlight emplacements from World War II along the coast.
The Hai Choo Su Tua Pek Kong Temple, established in 1799.

As we journey further out to sea, Pulau Tikus begins to take shape in front of us, in the form of a little green building and a modest-looking jetty. The boat ride is barely 10 minutes long and soon, we are disembarking on a sand spit close to the Isle’s southern tip, where a breath-taking view of Tanjung Bungah greets us. It is a picturesque scene with verdant green hills in the background and a bustling township in the foreground. I spend a few minutes taking in this vista, trying to locate familiar landmarks.

Read also: A Quaint History of the Mystical Islet We Call “Pulau Tikus”

To start our hike, we head north along the sand spit that connects the southern tip to the larger northern portion of the Isle. Fortunately for us it is low tide and we are able to pass through without getting wet. In front of us are huge weathered granitic boulders stacked up in the most gravity-defying manner. As we go around the boulders, we hear the lively chatter of a group who have just landed by kayak. Pulau Tikus is in fact a very popular kayaking destination, with most starting the hour-long journey to the Isle from the Water Sports Activities Center in Tanjung Bungah, where kayaks can be rented at affordable prices. 

The sand spit that connects the southern tip to the larger northern part of the Isle.

We press on and before long come across an obstacle: A wall of huge rocks. My immediate instinct is to climb over them, but after a few tries, I realise this is impossible. Eugene points to a gap between two large rocks and without much deliberation, we get down on all fours to crawl through the opening. The quintessential Pulau Tikus experience! Safely on the other side now, we catch sight of the Isle’s jetty behind which a series of steps leads up to a green building and a lush Tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica), chock-full with Tamarind pods. As we approach the tree, the crackling sound of fallen pods breaking underfoot draws our attention to how abundantly it has been fruiting. Tamarind pods have a tangy pulp popularly used as an ingredient in local cuisines and traditional medicine.

Getting down on all fours to crawl through a gap between the boulders.

We climb the stairs towards the green building and realise that this is a “Keramat” (shrine). Peering through the door grill, we see what looks like a tomb, draped in a green cloth, in front of which are ritual offerings. Above this is a green board emblazoned with the name Seyad Mohamed Kuddoos Oliyullah. Legend has it that he was a pilgrim en route to Mecca when the vessel he boarded sank, causing his untimely death. Thereafter, Seyad Kuddoos' spirit appeared to a friend, informing him that his body was wedged under the rocks of Pulau Tikus. The friend subsequently erected a tomb in his honour.

A stone tablet at the right side of the door bear inscriptions in English. Curious, we switch on our phone flashlights to read. It is a list of donors who contributed to the extension and renovation of the shrine 85 years ago. Interestingly, the first line of the tablet reads “Pulo Kechil Pavilion”, Pulo Kechil being one of the names by which Pulau Tikus was known in the past. Beside the shrine towers a white light beacon; this too is historic. It was once a Harbour Mark Obelisk before a light beacon was built atop its foundation in 1922. The light beacon currently belongs to the Marine Department Malaysia. 

The "Keramat" and the towering white light beacon beside it.
What looks like a tomb, draped in a green cloth inside the "Keramat".

Following a narrow trail which leads through the secondary forest behind the shrine, we descend steeply down to the western coast of the Isle. There are no beaches here, so we decide to explore the northern tip instead. The boulders ahead require us to scale them; thankfully, their dry and rough surface makes for steadying grips. Between the cracks and crevices of the boulders, we notice that the parts closest to the water have what look like dark jelly-like blobs. These are banded bead anemones in their tucked state. Only when they are submerged in water at high tide, do they open to feed.

Banded bead anemones on Pulau Tikus.

We backtrack from this point to the jetty; and as we stop for a meal to celebrate our successful “round isle” trip, it dawns on me that this ratty Isle is not only a good place for an adventure, but also one which is rich in history and folklore. I will certainly be back, maybe this time on a kayak! 

Note: Be respectful when visiting the “Keramat”.

Hike At A Glance

Length: 1.5 hour 

Difficulty: Easy

Interest Level: Moderate 

Signposting: No signposting, mostly walking along the beach with some boulder-clambering involved. Its only trail is the one that connects the jetty to the “Keramat” (shrine)

Likelihood of getting lost: Low

Number of hikers: None. Most visitors to the Isle are kayakers

Footnotes:

[1] The Tanjung Bungah Bay was once called Tulloh Tecoose, an archaic spelling of “Teluk Tikus” (Tikus Bay), yet another locale on Penang Island named after the little Isle.

PM
Rexy Prakash Chacko

is an electronic engineer by profession and a nature lover by passion. While he spends his weekdays earning a living at the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, his weekends are spent reflecting and recharging on the green hills of Penang.


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