It’s the eve of Hari Raya Puasa (Malaysian term for Eid celebrations). In about 2 hours’ time the last day of this year’s 1430 Hijri Ramadan would come to a close, with I and family breaking our fast at my wife’s kampung (village) here in Dong, 15 km north out of Raub, Pahang.
We arrived here at the kampung yesterday September 18th just before midday. All of us, especially the children, just could not wait to get here. The open spaces, the majestic coconut trees, the fruiting, heavily laden rambutan trees, the free-ranging chickens, and of course, the awaiting beloved Atuk (grandpa) and Wan (grandma), were all siren calls beckoning us to return as quickly as we could.
It was a wise suggestion by Ani, my wife, that in contrary to our rotation “balik kampung” (return to village) practice, we return to Dong for this year’s first day of Raya instead of my kampung in Jerteh, Terengganu. We were the only ones to spend the eve of Raya this year with Atuk and Wan. Ani’s brothers and sisters, all married and with children, would be at their in-laws’, following their rotation turns.
I, being the ever understanding life-partner, understood her and her parents’ feelings, and had phoned my mother in Jerteh more than two weeks ago informing her of us returning to her only on the second day of Raya. My mum would be OK, insyaallah, because at least four of my brothers and sisters would be at the kampung on the Raya eve and for the first day of Raya.
The journey from our USJ home to Gombak Toll Plaza, the Selangor entry to the Karak Highway, via New Pantai Expressway and Duke Highway, was surprisingly smooth. It only took 40 minutes to travel the 45 kilometers of the suburban and city roads.
At 9:45 am, after topping up the Innova’s fuel tank with the newly introduced RON95-grade petrol, we entered Karak Highway. Scarcely 25 minutes later, we arrived at the Bentong Toll Plaza. The highway was virtually clear of the normal hordes of East-bound Raya cars that I had apprehensively anticipated, based of previous years’ experience. Normal Raya travel time between the two toll plazas was 1.5 hours, minimum.
Even though the highway was smooth flowing, an LED electronic display board at the entrance of Genting Sempah tunnel, one of the highest peaks of Titiwangsa Mountain Range, warned travellers of severe congestion at the highway’s exit into Bentong town, a few kilometers from the Bentong Toll Plaza.
Knowing the severity of Raya congestion approaching and inside Bentong, I informed the family that we would be taking the longer, but less-travelled and hopefully not congested, rural road from Kampung Cinta Manis to Sertik and Felda Mempaga.
Alhamdulillah and true enough, the road from Cinta Manis to Sertik, Mempaga, Sungai Klau, Sungai Ruan and joining the Raub-Lipis trunk road at Pintu Padang, 10 kilometers out of Raub, was smooth flowing as well. We arrived in Dong in good time, just one hour after exiting the highway at Kampung Cinta Manis.
We were happily greeted by the children’s Atuk and Wan.
For the day’s breaking of fast, my wife suggested that we get some treats at the neighborhood Kedai Dong’s “pasar” Ramadan, a collection of stalls selling various dishes and treats, for the whole of the month of Ramadan. The pasar Ramadan phenomenon is a Malaysia-wide annual, eagerly awaited affair.
And today, the main event of the Raya eve – the grilling of “lemang” on an open fire. Lemang is a traditional Raya dish made up of glutinous rice mixed with freshly squeezed coconut milk, and filled inside specially selected bamboo cuts lined with soft banana leaf sheets.
My four boys – Hanif, Adib, Adam and Alif, had a good time with their Atuk grilling the lemang at a spot at the back of the sprawling kampung house.
Selamat Hari Raya ….