High on cameron.
The steady hum of the bus droning away on the vast north-south expressway lulls me deeper into my seat cushion as the skyline of Kuala Lumpur recedes to the south and fades away. When I open my eyes the bus' pace has visibly slowed and it is snaking it's way through lush green rainforest and the mid-afternoon sun is barely palpable as it struggles to breach the high canopy. The climb to the Cameron Highlands has started.
After the chaos and bedlam that is the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, I had to take a break, to give the eyes and the neck some relief after moving from one sky scraper to another. The Cameron Highlands, a three hour drive from the popular Genting Highlands, manages to attract a fair number of denizens from Kuala Lumpur for a real altitude rush. Nestled in the state of Pahang, you quickly realise the prime draw here as the bus creeps higher--the mercury drops like a stone and the prickly ever-present humidity magically vanishes. Passing the bustling settlement of Tanah Rata, the administrative capital of the highlands, I head higher before being dropped off at my hotel, the Strawberry Park near the trading town of Brinchang. Checking into my room, I notice that it has neither an air conditioner nor a ceiling fan--good news in the month of May.
The first activity on the agenda is meeting the inhabitants of the Cameron Highlands, the Orang Asli. The name translates literally into 'original people' and these hunter-gatherer communities living in reservations across the region still manage to keep some aspects of their life intact in the face of modernity. Grouped into cooperatives, they churn out a variety of handicrafts--bamboo baskets to trinkets and still trade in minor forest produce like honey, exotic orchids and bamboo shoots. But the real kick is in using the tribe's main hunting weapon, the blowpipe. It is an unusual weapon for its length, but is supposed to be deadly accurate with its poisoned darts in the close confines of the rainforest.
The Cameron Highlands was spotted and developed quite late by the British, in the early 1900s, when compared to similar hill stations developed by them in India and Sri Lanka. The first inroads began in 1920s and soon the high gentle slopes were cleared away for vast team plantations. The rainfall, cool climate and soil composition was deemed ideal for growing tea. Founded in 1929, the Boh Plantations is the oldest and the highest plantation. It is an exhilarating drive up into the clouds to get to Boh Plantation. The narrow road winds through hectares of lush green tea, shrouded in the drifting mist.
The main Boh tea factory is the highest point and takes you through the process of how tea reaches your cup from a plant. The tour ends sipping piping hot tea watching the clouds play with the mountains...
Agriculture, horticulture and floriculture along with tea is the mainstay of highland economy. Nestled on the slopes as the tea, are vast farms that produce juicy strawberries. I dropped into the Raju Strawberry farm's cafe to try out delicious dishes made from fresh berries. A little lower are farms that supply fruits and vegetables to most of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The Teh Market, the main trading post, is a delight to walk through. Be sure to sample the green 'Cameron apples', which are pepino melons, native to South America!
The geography of the Cameron Highlands is unique. Though nestled in the northwestern part of Pahang state, its hills spur into the neighbouring state of Perak. These lower hills entirely composed out of limestone are a quite a marvel. They are home to a fascinating array of limestone caverns and underground rivers. Thus I decided to try my hand at spelunking, the art of cave exploration. The Gau Tempurung in Gopeng, Perak, is one of the longest caves Malaysia at three km. Not wanting to get wet in the knee-deep waters at the deep end of the cave, I chose to go about two-thirds of the way into the cave. The vast limestone caverns with patterns carved into the rock over millenia by flowing water are a sight to behold. Stalagmites and stalactites grow to heights of almost a hundred feet. Carry a bottle of water as the humidity inside can get quite oppressive.
Further west is the city of Ipoh, the capital of Perak. Ipoh traces its origins to being the centre of tin mining, which was the early occupation in the region. But as the tin dwindled and Malaysia moved on in the 1970s, Ipoh got left behind. Today this mainly ethnic Chinese city is among the few in South East Asia with its old world intact. Adding a twist to the region around Ipoh is the fact that the area is still active geologically. The soil is rich enough in sulphur from past volcanic activity to enable the growing of what is considered the most succulent pomelo (a citrus fruit) in all of Asia.
I checked into The Lost World of Tambun--a hotel built around one of the geothermal hotspots. About 15 minutes away from Ipoh, the Lost World complex comprises a hotel, geothermal amusement park, geothermal spa, a private zoo, and an adventure park. A heady mix, though the picks are the amusement park and the spa. In what is a marvel of engineering, the water from the main geothermal lake has been channelled into the park. The ambience is surreal and soaking in the geothermal jacuzzi is sure to calm your nerves, alone making the visit absolutely worthwhile.
At a Glance
Fly Malaysian Airlines Delhi -Kuala Lumpur for around Rs. 30,000 return economy. Cameron Highlands and Ipoh are about four hours from KL. A number of buses and trains are available to Ipoh from KL.
When to go
The weather is the same all year round; there's more rainfall in November and December.
Strawberry Park; www.strawberryparkresorts.com
Another good option in Cameron is The Lakehouse; www.lakehouse-cameron.com
Lost World of Tambun; www.sunwaylostworldoftambun.com
Tea plantation tour, or try the more active spelunking, rock climbing and rappelling.
Sample locally grown Cameron apple, and be sure to tuck in a pomelo in Ipoh.
Support the Orang Asli by buying some of their handicrafts. (Don't buy honey if you are travelling by air. It is not allowed on board).Reproduced From India Today Travel Plus. Copyright 2012. LMIL. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2012 India Today Group. All Rights Reserved.
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