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A Leverage of Faith


“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”—(Martin Luther King)

The path was hidden away in a very ordinary corner of the deserted road my cabbie and I were following as we went about our search for the signboard(s) indicating St Victoria Hill, also known as St Veronica Hill. Considering the fact that such a site could be a pilgrimage point, albeit the two widely varying origins of the patron saints after whom this is named, I expected a few visitors at least even in the largely Muslim nation of Malaysia. Kota Kinabalu, and the small and sleepy little town of Tamparuli, where the locals know it better as “Bukit Perahu”, does have a good proportion of Chinese who are probably also Christian, but then this hardly matters as any “Bukit” worth its name in Malaysia deserves a clamber up on all fours, if only for the sublime thrill of being right in the heart of an equatorial rainforest.  


I had long been dreaming of a trek up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mount Kinabalu, standing arrogantly steep and arid at an elevation just over a little of four thousand meters, but concerns about acclimatization, the lack of a climbing partner, and the greater fact of the real possibility of suffering a few good twisted ankles up and down the vast expanses of the hard boulder-like terrain, convinced me to instead humble myself before the other pleasures and challenges of this charming city. Atmospheric sunsets at picture perfect beaches, fascinating forays through dense mangrove forest, or just chilling with a beer and pizza by the waterfront were all fulfilled in the first two days of my stay here, and I had the entire day free before leaving for the airport late at night. Even without being equipped with my usual sturdy hiking shoes, my feet were almost itching to go out there to chase a few heights, so to speak.


Juggling time, distance and convenience I finally settled upon St Veronica’s Hill, an hour or so by road from my hotel in the heart of the city. A hearty breakfast the same morning left my stomach ready for some action to burn the calories off, and armed with some trail mix and a bottle of water, I hailed a cab and tried to explain to the driver how to get to my destination. It turned out that it was not, after all, a very popular hiking trail albeit being better known among the hardcore hiking enthusiasts that come from overseas at sporadic intervals as they try to do a few ‘after hikes’ following the epic Mount Kinabalu Trek.

Faith, of course, has its own way of working, even when it is not a leap you take on light hearted wings but a torturous expedition on foot. Leveraging myself on the sheer force of faith, I set off along the steep concretized road that starts right at the bottom of the secluded pathway, with not a single other soul in sight all the way to the top.

I had indeed been apprehensive about the weather, knowing fully well that I would have to retreat and return in case of rain when the trail would likely turn to a slurry of mud, but to my surprise the entire path was a flight of stairs, steep at places, but nevertheless a staircase, allowing me to continue with my inappropriate footwear. To add to my comfort, the sun was mellow and the cool interiors of the forest absorbed whatever humidity there was otherwise. Scurrying chameleons, fluttering butterflies, chirping birds, buzzing insects, and the most musical psithurism kept me company as I trudged upwards in my solo journey, stopping now and then to catch the spectacular views of the valley below, where the town flickered colorfully through the generous boughs I crossed at every landing.


I never did think I would make it all the way. For starters, right at the start where I more or less bounded up the first few steps, I suddenly felt a wave of nausea and giddiness resulting most probably from a combination of lassitude and anxiety. Sitting down to take a few sips of water, I was relieved when the sensation passed after a few  minutes, and I was encouraged to take the flight of steps right in my sights, marked by a signboard with a picture of Jesus Christ and a biblical tale in Malay which I could make no head nor tail of. This was repeated over the next thirteen  ‘points’ with similar depictions on gaily painted posts, with also a thatched shed marking the midpoint of the trail.

All through this ‘ascent’, I did not come across another human being, and the water was being rapidly depleted both from my tiny bottle and also from the pores of my skin, compelling me to imagine the worst case scenario where I would collapse in a heap and have no one find me till a few days later, if anyone else were to come this way in the near future.


But my faith held, and so did the muscles of my legs. Spotting a patch of clear sky past the final point, I trotted swiftly up the last steps to stand proudly atop the hill, at a measly elevation of 278 meters, as I were to discover later. Alone at the ‘summit’, I made the most of my ‘victory’, bursting out in meaningless song, and hollering ‘I Love You’ not a few times to any one of the surrounding elements that might care to hear. Being in the so called center of the ‘Crocker Range’ of mountains in this region, there is virtually a ring of deep green hill slopes around this particular spot, and even a few ‘selfie’ points thoughtfully put together for visitors looking to celebrate their moment of triumph with a similar leverage of faith.

I am now hoping that this small but significant event shall prepare me for the Himalayan trek I am planning later this year in Nepal. As Todd Wheatland says, “leverage the strength that you have; that no one else can be you.” With the name of the patron saint who provided a cloth to Jesus for wiping his face before being nailed to the cross, I too shall empower myself with the fortitude to carry my own cross of conviction up an elevation of over five thousand meters.



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