Bukit Timah means Tin Hill in Malay, but it has nothing to do with tin. The name might be derived from the pokok temak trees that are commonly found on the 163.6m-tall hill, which is Singapore’s tallest hill and natural point.
Bounded by the four reservoirs (Upper and Lower Peirce Reservoirs, MacRitchie Reservoir and Upper Seletar Reservoir), Bukit Timah Nature Reserve covers 1.64 square kilometers of area, which is only 0.2% of Singapore. Despite the small size, it contains a huge variety of plants, animals and insects. Almost 40% of Singapore’s flora and fauna can be found here.
The name of Bukit Timah appeared on the maps of the British colonial government as early as 1828. In 1883, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was established, and has been protected and undisturbed since then. Its surrounding tropical vegetation, the only remaining primary forest in Singapore, stays largely the same for the past hundreds of years.
The 400-year-old Shorea Curtisii trees, reportedly Singapore’s oldest trees, can be found in the nature reserve.
Opens from 8.30am to 6pm daily, the Visitor Centre gives a brief introduction on the history of Bukit Timah and holds an exhibition displaying the animals, plants and artifacts related to the nature reserve. It is usually the starting point for the first-time trekkers.
Bukit Timah was once infested by tigers in the 19th century, which would swim across the narrow straits between Johor and Kranji. It was reported that as many as 200 locals were killed by tigers annually in the 1860s. However, the hunting of the big cats and clearing of forests led to the extinction of tigers in Singapore by 1930. The leopards were also wiped out due to the shrinking of their natural habitats in Singapore.
In the past, part of Bukit Timah was a quarry for granite until the mid of the 20th century. When the resources were exhausted, the quarry was abandoned for decades and only recently it is being redeveloped into a park known as the Hindhede Nature Park. Officially opened in 2001, it is a scenic place for nature-lovers with its bluish water and serene and peaceful surroundings.
Its more famous cousin, the Bukit Batok Town Park or more popularly known as Little Guilin, is also created from a disused granite quarry in 1984.
During the Second World War, the British surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 after they lost the defense of Bukit Timah, which was their main location for food and supplies. The treaty was signed at the nearby Ford Factory which marked the British’s surrender of Malaya and the beginning of the Japanese Occupation, which lasted three years and eight months of horror and pain for the locals.
An interesting trivia about Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is the Bukit Timah Monkey Man, which has been reportedly spotted by locals for more than 200 years since 1805. Said to possess a monkey face but able to walk like a man, no photographs or videos of the cryptozoologically creature are ever recorded, but it has captured the imagination of many people. It, however, may be a mistaken identity as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is home to many species of monkey.
Bukit Timah was largely an industrial area in the sixties. When Jurong gradually took over the industrial and manufacturing role towards the end of the sixties, Bukit Timah was redeveloped into a prime residential district known as District 11. Today, it is Singapore’s most expensive district covered with luxury condominiums, bungalows and mansions. It is also home to many prominent local politicians.
The former Turf Club also falls within the Bukit Timah district, operating from 1933 to 2000 before being replaced by Kranji Turf Club. Bukit Timah Road, and the parallel Dunearn Road, was built in 1845 and is Singapore’s longest road at the length of 25km.
Rifle Range Road and the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) are the only roads that cut through Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Rifle Range Road leads to the Rifle Range Camp and the Ammunition Command Camp whereas BKE, completed in 1986, run northwards to connect Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) to Kranji Expressway (KJE) and Seletar Expressway (SLE).
Part of the former railway system also ran through Rifle Range Road and passed by the boundary of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve near Upper Bukit Timah Road.
Published: 03 January 2012