A city and corporate life makes me wither away hence the scent of any travel trail hits me head-on soaring my spirits. A recent tour of the land of the rolling hills – Cameron Highlands – nestled in Pahang, Malaysia brought me closer to nature much like a lovelorn lass.
Tea gardens and trek have always lulled my senses. Back home the Himalayan foothills resonate the same aura as Cameron Highlands although the landscape of the former is more rugged, roughhewn and arresting. I undertook this journey via road starting from Kuala Lumpur on a grey Saturday morning. A straight four-hour long journey but it took longer than the scheduled time to reach the Tudor-styled resort I’d earlier booked into.
Halting mid-way chancing upon fine spun views of nature and slowing down on the meandering way uphill while the rain-gods blessed with a torrential downpour.
It is always wise to embark on such a journey very early in the morning – it left ample time later in the day, post reaching the resort located at Tanah Rata and refreshment hours, to saunter around in the fresh evening air. Good for one’s limbs and lungs.
Tanah Rata is the administrative hub of the Highlands, choked with narrow slippery roads, roadside eateries, shops and offices, hotels and night markets, resorts and residences spilling over. Located in the lap of the lush rolling hills of the Highlands washed by the incessant rainfall the district opens up pristinely naked caressed by the nature. The weather here round the year is cool and sublime. Tea gardens, strawberry farms, orchards, apiary farms, waterfalls, rivers, dense tropical forests and wildlife paint the Highlands charming and colourful.
The first evening of my stay at the Highlands I decided to take a stroll around ending my walk with a visit to the nearby strawberry farm. It was worth a visit. Here all farms are green housed – this is quite but obvious as the Highlands record heavy rainfall almost every day. The little fresh pinkish-red strawberries dangled from the thousands of plants neatly arranged in rows looking like tiny neon bulbs ready to illuminate the entire greenhouse once the darkness sets in.
Besides the strawberries the farm also nurtured a wide variety of orchids, ferns, potted plants, bonsai and grew organic vegetables. The farm also sold, from its boutique shop, seeds and fertilisers, organic vegetables and fresh strawberries, strawberry jam and chutney, herbs and saplings and strawberry shaped, fragmented and coloured souvenirs – flip-flops, pillows, key chains, fridge magnets, car perfumes, bags, mobile cases to name a few.
Early morning next day after a good night’s sleep and a splendid breakfast at the resort I went trekking along the Highland trail documenting the sunrise above the hill tops. The path was wet as it had rained the whole night. The forests were green with life dotting the mighty hills and the rivers muddy and overflowing. It was a refreshing walk.
On my trek down I visited an apiary – a sprawling family-owned farmland engaged in bee keeping business for over four decades. Organic and natural honey is well-known throughout the Highlands constituting a chunk of the country’s exports of the premium farm products. A five storeyed building adjacent to the farm housed the honey processing and packaging unit, an exhibition centre, a cafeteria and a boutique for selling products. From the farm one could see many a forests sloughed making room for swanky resorts or shopping zones – it was devastating leaving no doubt that climate change is a reality courtesy mankind’s gluttonous behaviour towards environment.
Post stopping over for a coffee session midway I made my way for a butterfly farm. Little did I know that there would be heaps of nature’s surprises stowed away inside the greenhouse? The first panel of the greenhouse opened the door to fluttering bright and colourful butterflies flying round the shrubs, drawing honey off the flower pollens or mating. They were truly a feast for the eyes.
The other panel of the greenhouse transported me to a world of flora and fauna. A sweeping area, built as a man-made habitat, had a small pond where Mandarin ducks and colourful fish played in the cool freshwater. From reptiles to birds and insects to sun-kissed (via the greenhouse) beautiful flowers and orchids the farm made for an enthralling visit. Inside the greenhouse the regulated air temperature and streaks of sunlight filtering in made it an ideal place to fritter away time for once from endless chasing it in our breakneck lives. I sat for hours, basking in the fragrance of the wild flowers and orchids, on a wood log crafted as a stool. To me the farm was an ideal place for writing or reading a book not having to worry about the on and off heavy showers outside.
Lunch was sandwiches and garden fresh cardamom tea sitting at a boutique tea house mounted atop a highland with views of vast expanse of lush tea carpet rolling down the hills. A pulchritudinous landscape, inestimable in time locked up in nature’s serene lap. The views unfurling before me arrested my gaze for so long that my pot of tea turned cold. I’d to re-order a fresh pot of hot brewing tea. The tea leaves, here, are not of a superior quality but the preparation of tea is first-rate. Many tourists on weekend gateways and locals drive up to the hilltop for a photo shoot against the backdrop of the nonpareil Boh tea plantations setting. There is more cacophony than calm. One can enjoy stillness and silence during an early morning or afternoon visits to such picturesque spots.
If it does not rain it is good to explore the Pasar Malam (night market) resplendent with street food, fresh strawberries and other tropical fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat, daily essential items and other knick knacks. What is more striking is to see the local populace flock to the market not only for procuring supplies but also for networking round the small dinner tables neatly put up under the clear evening sky enjoying their food and drink after a hard day’s labour. I was not surprised to see young people grouping to form dance circles, after dinner with the tables and chairs being cleared making room for the dance floor. Musical instruments popped out lighting the night market with vigour and vitality.
Most of my time spent at the Highlands was for trek. Early morning treks were pleasant and rejuvenating although I took extra caution in case it rained which is usually heavy splattering down without any prior notice. It is always wise to go out exploring the Highlands carrying an umbrella or wearing your raincoat.
Among the various farms I visited, the rose farm regaled me much. Aptly manicured in rows the rose shrubberies emanated a sweet scent that hung to my nasal cavity and clothes long after leaving the farm. There were roses of varying colours and sizes. Drinking to the fragrance the farm was a spectacle for the sore eyes. All you carry from here are visions of a majestic nature. Remembering Ralph Waldo Emerson -“Earth laughs in flowers.”
There are other farms – lavender and blueberries and orchards – that are worthy of visiting. Bird watching in the Highlands is a favourite pastime. There is also a Buddhist temple in Tanah Rata, the resort manager informed me, which I did not find time to pay a visit to. People drove to the Highlands over long weekends to enjoy a game of golf in the cool weather. On few trekking trail you may come across aboriginal villages too. To me the Cameron Highlands was a rumination of what John Muir once echoed – “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”