Bukit Kiara: Haven for jogging, walking, hiking and cycling

The sun peeks through the foliage at dawn in Bukit Kiara

Klang Valley residents can reconnect with nature at this precious green lung in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Benedict Lopez writes.

Nestled in a former rubber estate in Kuala Lumpur lies a green lung that draws joggers, walkers, hikers and bikers.

For exercise freaks and those yearning some tranquillity, the serene ambience provides an ideal respite from the city’s nauseating daily traffic snarls, which can test your patience to the limit.

Kiara Hill Walk is a challenging exercise park in Bukit Kiara, an affluent suburb of KL, containing some attractions, a golf course and an equestrian centre.

This area along Jalan Changkat Abang Haji Openg in Taman Tun Dr Ismail is one of the larger green spaces – a rarity in KL these days.

The area has some roads, trails popular with mountain bikers, and walking and hiking trails. Despite the fairly hilly terrain, groups from nearby clubs hold their hash runs here regularly.

Start at Taman Rimba Kiara, near the Aether Cafe, then run up Changkat Abang Haji Openg and do a loop at the top – that would be 5.2km out and back. The route rises to be 480 feet in elevation, with the steepest part being the first 1.4km. The labelled trail is nearly 2km each way; the first 0.5km is steep, then it levels out.

Exercise work stations and rest areas for meditation and yoga can be found near the walkways, which has a concrete cycling lane running through the middle.

The area is safe, and the facilities well maintained by a dedicated team of workers from City Hall. The guardhouse at the entrance is open from 6.45am to 7pm daily.

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Well-maintained pathways at Bukit Kiara

As this place is so popular, parking space is limited, and it gets crowded on weekends and public holidays. So you need to be there early if you need parking space.

The ideal time to walk is at 6.45am – for then you get to see the sun rise.

Rubber trees in the city at Bukit Kiara

Some regulars like my friend Pathma Naban have walked here for the last 15 years. It is his favourite area not only to sweat it out but to find peace, tranquillity and solace. “It is a form of therapy, providing joy, happiness and a time to ponder and reflect on many things,” he says.

Complementing the tranquillity is the flora and fauna in the vicinity. A variety of trees of varying heights, sizes and shapes and flowering plants, ferns and creepers dot the park.

A bee feasting on a flower in full bloom

Adding to the enchantment are streams and a waterfall.

A serene waterfall at Bukit Kiara

Along the pathways, birds chirp merrily.

Macaques and occasionally, the dusky leaf monkeys (as they are the shy type) inhabit this place. So too an assortment of birds, butterflies, squirrels and occasionally a tortoise.

You may also come across centipedes, snakes and scorpions – but not to worry, they are unlikely to harm you unless provoked.

A snake trying to swallow a squirrel

Cool fresh air pervades the area with no vehicles emitting greenhouse gases. You can sense the pollution-free air as soon as you start walking from the guardhouse. How I wish many other parts of KL could be in harmony with nature, as in Bukit Kiara.

The benefits of a good workout? A good sweat and the positive sensation of health and fitness. The brain is infused with innovative and creative ideas as you immerse yourself with nature. You will find your stress levels lower after a good workout. What a marvel of nature, and it is free of charge – no need for workouts at a gym.

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In several studies carried out, researchers have found that people experienced improvements in immune functions after spending time in natural surroundings with lots of trees and natural flora and fauna.

“Shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing” is the simple idea of reconnecting with nature. Simply visit and spend some time in a natural area and walk in a relaxed way to calm and rejuvenate your body and mind. The concept of shinrin-yoku was first developed and practised in Japan in the 1980s and yielded excellent results.

Naban taking a breather during his daily walk at Bukit Kiara. Taman Tun Dr Ismail is in the background

Researchers at the University of Essex found that 94% of individuals surveyed believe spending time in nature and connecting with it helps them to experience a positive mood. So, if you are living near a park or spending time in green spaces, you will experience less anxiety and depression than others who don’t pass their time in nature.

What’s more, at a place like Bukit Kiara, you are bound to meet old friends. Take the opportunity to renew relationships and make new friends and share many things in common. For retirees, this park is an ideal place to spend some time meaningfully while improving your health.

Thanks to my friend Pathma Naban for his perspective on Bukit Kiara and for taking the photos.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime