WHEN one mentions Kota Belud, images of golden paddy fields, bustling marketplaces and beautiful hills draped in blue skies pervade the imagination.
But according to district officer Abdul Gari Itam, Kota Belud holds other secrets that make it one of the most ideal tourist destinations in Sabah.
It is, for instance, home to a thriving population of parang makers.
Parangs, or machetes, were historically used as deadly weapons during Sabah’s bygone era of tribal warfare.
But the products of parang makers here are now widely used as agricultural tools and other practical purposes.
Master craftsman Dulah Zaab sets himself apart with his unique patterns as well as the special way he makes the blades.
“I use traditional methods,” beamed the 76-year-old parang maker at his home in Kampung Siasai.
“For example, I use hammers and old-school bellows, called puputan by the local Bajau people, in place of machines.
“The quality and sharpness of parangs made by hand simply cannot be matched,” he said.
His parangs are sold for between RM200 and RM280 each, with the sheath included.
Like many of the district’s products, they can be found in the vividly colourful stands of the famous open air market, or tamu, here.
Gari also highlighted Pulau Mantanani, a picturesque island known for majestic dugongs lounging in its bays, as a popular tourist destination.
Finally, Kota Belud is also where one may experience a truly spectacular boat ride in the fishing village of Kuala Abai.
Here, visitors switch off their mobile phones, waiting in pitch darkness for a chance to witness the surreal view of hundreds of fireflies.
Some of these destinations were experienced first-hand by reporters during the recent Kembara Media Negaraku programme.
Kota Belud was among three destinations, including Kudat and Pulau Banggi, visited by the media convoy.
Focusing on relatively lesser-known areas in Sabah, the four-day programme aims to publicise government developmental initiatives as well as issues faced by local administrations.