Pack your hiking gear, lace up your boots and go on an adventure trip with these two entrepreneurs.
FOR the past few years, hiking has become a favourite activity of Malaysians. A search on the Internet will list some of the best hiking spots in the country and reviews of the hikes.
There are many reasons why people enjoy hiking — for health, social connection or to immerse themselves in nature.
Hiking helps improve cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness. It also lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, among others.
Zain Asri and Siti Nur Hidayah Mohd Azlan’s love for mountain hiking not only keeps them healthy but also serves as a source of income — they guide people on hiking trips and even mountain climbing.
The two have set up their own company which specialises in hiking trips in Malaysia and abroad. Their goal is to encourage people to be more active through this challenging activity.
CAPTURING THE VIEW
Four years ago, freelance photographer Zain Asri, 40, went on his first hiking trip. It wasn’t for health reasons or that he loved the outdoors. He wanted to capture a scenic view that he saw in a photograph.
The picture was taken from the highest peak on Samosir Island in Lake Toba, Indonesia.
“I booked a flight ticket and made my way there. When I arrived there on a motorcycle, I was stunned by the view. It looked just like a painting and it was so beautiful. It was then that I decided to hike so that I can take more of such photographs.”
When he came back, Zain went on his first hiking trip to Bukit Tabur in Taman Melawati. He did not train for the trip because he thought it would be an easy climb.
“I was so wrong. Back then I was obese and was never involved in physical activities. I was out of breath and had to stop every five minutes.
“But I persevered until I reached the top. Although it was very difficult for me, I found that I liked hiking and wanted to do it again. I went on a few more hiking trips on my own including to Bukit Broga in Semenyih and Gunung Nuang in Hulu Langat. By then, I had more stamina and enjoyed it more.”
In 2014, a friend invited Zain to hike to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. It was a challenge as the trail is totally different from local hiking trips.
At a height of 4,130m, he had to deal with high altitude and weather, among other issues.
Zain was working with the food and beverage department of a hotel and found it difficult to find time to train.
He then decided to use the next best option — climbing up the stairs.
“The hotel has 30 floors, so every day during my break, I would climb the stairs. The first day, I could only reach the fifth floor. The next day, I managed to climb up to the 10th and eventually, to the 30th floor. After a month, I can reach the top with ease.”
Although physically ready, Zain says hiking to the Annapurna was extremely difficult and there were times he regretted his decision.
The only thing that kept him going was the pictures he had taken during the hike.
Like other hardcore hikers, Zain could not escape the lure of the mountains despite the various obstacles and challenges.
It was during this trip that he met his business partner, Anuar Amir. They set up New Horizon Explorer to organise hiking trips for Malaysians.
When he posted pictures of his trip, people kept asking him where it was taken and if Zain could take them there. The partners then decided to organise a hiking trip to Annapurna.
“More than 30 people signed up so I had to split them into two groups. There was no age limit and it was open to everyone, even those without hiking experience. For those without experience, I took them to train in Hulu Langat.
“The trip was a success and personally, it was an achievement for me. I was able to conquer Annapurna twice in a span of 10 days as there were two groups.”
Two years ago, the partners trained their sights on Kashmir.
“Since there were many other Malaysian companies organising trips to Annapurna, Anuar suggested that we focus on Kashmir, which was relatively unknown to Malaysians then.
“Last year, we organised the first camping and hiking trip there. We were the first Malaysians to do so, with the help of a local who helped with logistics and equipment.”
This year, Zain has planned six hiking and sightseeing trips to Kashmir.
He says the company focuses only on hiking trips abroad because he wants to encourage Malaysians to explore places that they are not familiar with.
It is also to allow them to face and overcome challenges with the different trails and weather.
For Zain, the best part of being a hiking guide is that he gets to encourage people to be healthy and, at the same time, enjoy nature.
“Hiking can easily burn between 400 and 800 calories an hour. When you are hiking in nature, you are not distracted by noise and people. It helps reduce mental fatigue and helps us to think creatively. It can also reduce stress and boost self-esteem. This is why I love hiking.
“Most of the participants tell me that they continue with their healthy lifestyles after the trip. For me, to be part of that is a huge achievement.”
KEEPING IN SHAPE
A hiker since she was 13, Siti Nur Hidayah has been a certified hiking guide for the past eight years.
She set up her company, National Outdoor Adventure, in 2009 while she was still in college.
“Back then there were not many women who were into hiking, let alone as hiking guides. When people look at me, they do not have much faith in me because I don’t look tough.”
“It was difficult at first to get people to join my hiking trips. But eventually, through word of mouth, people realised that I know my job and have the experience to guide them.”
Hidayah, 27, says hiking is a way for her to keep in shape since she does not have the time to engage in other forms of exercises.
“I love to eat and since I hike three to four times a week, it is a good way for me to manage my weight. In addition, it builds muscle strength and stamina.”
To date, she has hiked the seven highest mountains in Peninsular Malaysia, namely, Gunung Tahan, Gunung Yong Belar, Gunung Yong Yap, Gunung Korbu, Gunung Gayong, Gunung Chamah and Gunung Ulu Sepat.
The longest trip was 12 days and the shortest was eight. At times, there were more than 80 people in her hiking groups.
She says the most important thing to focus on is safety.
“When it comes to safety, everyone in the group must listen to me. To me, the success of the trip is when everyone arrives home safely. Reaching the mountain’s peak is a bonus.”
Due to her experience, Hidayah was one among the search-and-rescue team members looking for Syed Redzuan Syed Salim Shatri and Ramli Abd Majid who went missing while scaling Mount Damavand in Iran last November.
Next on her agenda is to climb the seven summits in seven continents.
“In September, I am going to China and India for a technical alpine climbing course. I will learn how to climb alpine peaks and survival techniques in such conditions. It is one of my goals to climb alpine peaks, which are more challenging than hiking.”