THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday March 29, 2008
The big blue
It’s funny how the Blue Lake of Bau, Sarawak, gets its beautiful colour from a toxic substance.The Blue Lake, or Tasik Biru, of Bau, really is blue in places. At first glance, it looks like just any other lake, but when you walk over to the side of the lake, its blueness becomes noticeable. Just 1km from town, the lake has long been a prime attraction of Bau, a small town near Kuching in Sarawak.
By LIZ PRICE
By LIZ PRICE
It is not a natural lake, having been formed as a result of open cast mining. The gold mine, known as Tai Parit Mine, was operated by the Borneo Company from 1898 until it was flooded in 1921. The history of gold mining in the Bau area actually goes back further as Chinese settlers had begun searching for alluvial gold in the early 19th century.
The newly formed lake was known as Tai Parit Lake, and later became a popular place for picnics. Its name was changed to Tasik Biru in the 1970s. A bridge was built across a narrow part of the lake to enable the growing number of visitors to reach the other side. People would swim and go fishing in the lake, and sail model boats.
Visitors also used to paddle boats on the lake, but this was stopped after a bus tragedy in 1979. A bus carrying students and teachers plunged into the lake killing 28 students and a trainee teacher.
The lake, about 91m(300ft) deep, was drained in 1990 when a mining company wanted to extract gold ore from the sides and bottom of the lake. Tasik Biru and its surroundings covered about 6ha (15 acres) at the time but this area was increased when the site was restored in 2000.
It was at first thought that the water appeared greenish-bluish due to reflection of the green vegetation and the blue sky. However, tests later found that the colour was, in fact, due to the lake containing high levels of arsenic, a poisonous element.
Signboards were then put up at the lake to warn people against swimming, fishing, and drinking the water. It’s ironic that such a delightful blue colour is actually formed by a toxic substance.
The arsenic level in the water is 40 times higher than the permissible level allowed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and yet the residents of a nearby kampung had been using the water since 1997, when their own water supply was cut off. The lake is constantly fed by a small stream, which has even higher levels of arsenic.
It’s like beauty and the beast, a beautiful colour coming from a toxic source!
There are a lot of legends relating to Tasik Biru. One concerns the creation of the lake. It is said that a group of miners saw a golden tortoise at the bottom of the mine. When they tried to catch the tortoise, it buried itself in the earth.
As the miners tried to dig it out, the tortoise bored deeper into the ground. Suddenly, a jet of water shot out of the ground, and the mine started to flood. The frightened miners tried to scramble to higher ground but the water kept rising.
Just when it looked as if the mining settlement would be wiped out, an old man, said to be a bomoh, appeared on the scene. He pushed a white man into the rising water, and, strangely, the water stopped rising.
The lake even has its own Loch Ness monster story too.
In 1988, three monsters were said to have appeared in Tasik Biru. Crowds gathered to watch these strange large figures about 3m long swimming below the water surface.
The medium from the nearby Bong Low Sian Tze Temple said they were evil beings. His helpers burnt some talismans around the four corners of the lake, and a day later, the strange figures disappeared. There have been no sightings since, even when the lake was drained in 1990!
I had a good look but couldn’t see any monsters disturbing the surface of the water. There is a walkway leading down to a pontoon, and it’s nice to sit here and catch the breeze and watch the ripples moving across the water. The colours change slightly, depending on the angle you look.
Tasik Biru is definitely a peaceful place despite the hidden dangers lurking in the water.
© Liz Price