Singapore Sundays 1: Old Rail Corridor

Singapore is normally considered to be the city in a garden. The city state is dotted with perfectly curated parks that provide a much needed respite from the regular hustle and bustle of the metropolis. But for someone like me, well kept parks are not the mana that I need. I crave natural surroundings. Forests. Rivers. Mountains. Beaches. That is what I need. And I am sure a lot of people out there want the same. These can be hard to find in Singapore, where we are already pretty hard pressed for land. But if you look closely, you might find some gems. There are some places like Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Macritchie Reservoir which everyone know about. But some spaces are those that only a handful of us know of. One such place which offers beautiful, green, forested areas is the Old Rail Corridor.

The old rail corridor is the area surrounding the old train track that used to run from the Woodlands checkpoint to the Tanjong Pagar station. If you do a quick google search, you will find some well documented paths.

Path of the old train track. Taken from the Green Corridor website:

So today, Ayush and I set off to explore the stretch of track between Bukit Timah and Tanjong Pagar. For Ayush, it was the first time on this track. For me the third. After a quick breakfast of an apple each, we started from NUS at about 730AM. The route from Clementi to Bukit Timah was not very remarkable, although we had some amazing weather. Once we reached Bukit Timah Plaza, we turned right down Dunearn Road. After a couple of hundred meters, we turned left on to Rifle Range Road and climbed on to the old rail corridor.

The steel tracks of the rail line were removed a few years back and since then, joggers, cyclists and leisure walkers have claimed the area for themselves.

From the Rifle Range point, the first sight you get when you look down the tracks is the Bukit Timah railway bridge. This old iron bridge has become an iconic part of the Bukit Timah landscape. Thousands of people pass under the bridge each day as it shelters Dunearn road beneath it. For many, especially people who have lived in Bukit Timah (like me), it is an assuring presence. The only constant in an environment that changes faster than you can say “Bukit Timah”. And it was this resurgent feeling of coming back to a homely place that welled up inside me when I reached the centre of the bridge after a gap of nearly a year. We stopped and clicked a picture and headed on. Too bad, that feeling of assurance couldn’t be taken along with us.

Upon crossing the rail bridge, we reached the old Bukit Timah railway station. This crumbling building is the source of many a ghost story. My high school was just down the road and we used to have a good time telling each other stories (some purportedly true, mostly made up) about the haunted station of Bukit Timah. Coming back to the present; we once again stopped to take a couple of pictures and then set off.

Right after the old station is when the colour green consumed every other colour on land and resulted in a sight that was just blue and various hues of green. The green abundance was cut right in the middle by a well worn track that joggers and cyclists use. The scene was strikingly beautiful. Even more than what i had remembered. The sunlight was flitting through the gaps in the evergreen foliage as I stopped and admired the view. What added to the beauty of the view were the sounds. The tweets and chatter of the innumerable hidden birds was music to the ears. In our houses in Singapore, we barely hear any birds over the noise of the traffic etc. But there in a thicket of tropical forest, we heard hundreds of birds clucking away to glory.

We passed Ulu Pandan on the right and were soon behind Ghim Moh, the foodie's paradise. We reached Buona Vista in another ten minutes or so. Passing below the Buona Vista flyover, a pleasant surprise awaited us. Graffiti. Pure unadulterated art. Made with real feelings and emotions by regular people. Last time I was there, there was barely anything on the underside of the flyover. But it seems, in the past year, it has become a favourite haunt of street graffiti artists. We admired the art for a while and clicked picks of and with our favourite pieces. It was quiet refreshing to see a bit of disorder in the systematic normality of Singapore.

From the Buona Vista flyover the scenery did not change much. Blue sky with tropical greenery on land with a brown track. The track went on for another half an hour until we reached an insurmountable barrier — A metal fence. It turns out that the area around Tanjong Pagar station has been cordoned off for conservation of the building. Oh well, we couldn't reach the station, had to satisfy ourselves with the fence. We stood by the fence in the shade and had a sweet bread bun each. Much needed energy boost. After that, we got back up on our bicycles and started on the journey back.

On our way back we stuck with the road and civilisation. All the way along Jalan Bukit Merah and then a short way on the rail track to Buona Vista. We stopped at the Silat Road Gurudwara and even Ikea on our way back. Sort of ended up making a picnic of the trip! We reached NUS at 1120AM after a whooping 26.8km cycle ride.

That is all for episode 1 of the Singapore Sundays. We had a great time cycling through the hidden green environs of Singapore. It is always a pleasure to temporarily escape the sound of cars and construction to the calm solace of forested areas. Such areas are scarce in Singapore and we must cherish them. In the next episode of Singapore Sundays we will try to cover the mountain biking trail at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Photo Credits:

Most photos are by Ayush and me. The map of the old rail track is from the Green Corridor website.

Most photos are from today's trip. Two pictures are from my previous trips to the tracks.

Read our previous journeys at the publication page:

Singapore Sundays