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Urban exploration

We trash through the jungle with the Urban Explorers of Singapore to discover abandoned graves, British bunkers and hidden reservoirs

No way we’re going through that. Cobwebs, mosquitoes, lizards, fire ants and god-knowswhat- else lurking in that knee-high overgrowth. Nope. This isn’t what we signed up for. [Ed’s note: Actually, it is.]

Sigh. Once more unto the breach, then. So here we are at the foot of Mount Faber, threshing our way to a derelict gravesite. We were prepared for sweat and grime, but not for the creepycrawlies that snarl at us on this tour with the Urban Explorers of Singapore. Founded by Azyure D Hikari (or ‘Azy’ for short), the group skips around the island’s lesser-known spots – and we mean lesser-known – looking for and documenting forgotten relics of the past. Today we visit an abandoned grave, a British bunker and the rim of the Keppel Hill Reservoir. This is not the glossy Singapore we’re used to seeing.

After more wading and flicking insects off our bodies, we arrive at the former village site. There, we spot the graves: its markers are stout stone structures occasionally capped with a square of white or yellow (a sign of royalty) cloth. And if we were to be honest, they’re not all Instagram-worthy. But we learn from Azy that the markers indicate the head and foot of the 'grave occupant', and that this system arose in part as a way of ensuring the grave is not walked over. It’s this part-Indiana Jones, part- Robert Langdon mode of Azy’s that makes the whole experience feel as though you’re physically grasping at history, its dust settling into your shoes.

That’s not to say the 20-strong group doesn’t uncover grand finds. Back in 2012, Urban Explorers of Singapore mapped out the site plan of a post-war underground fuel depot in Woodlands and hinted to the public about a British bunker two years long before it gained media exposure this year. Azy and his crew also make regular sojourns into Fort Serapong, a sprawling colonial military encampment whose dungeon-like caverns – seriously, Azy brings rope to rappel down – strike a chilling counterpoint to its Sentosa Cove neighbours.

The grave done, we were taken to the Keppel Hill Reservoir, an oasis of calm framed by forest. He skips across to the edge of the reservoir, pointing out a flight of steps that lead into the water and a metal frame of a jumping board in a previous life. 'It was one of three reservoirs in the area. It was later converted into a swimming pool. There was an old newspaper article that reported that someone drowned here in the pool,' he shares.

But the group’s not just about down-and-dirty exploration of dilapidated sites. Good old-fashioned research with books and maps from yesteryears, and ad hoc interviews with the older generation are an essential part of urban exploration. In fact, eleven members are solely focused on reconciling differing historical accounts and sifting facts from hearsay. Maybe we’ll sign up for that the next time.