Tea with Al­ti­tude

Let's Travel - - ASIA - By Nigel Pilk­ing­ton

Stand­ing in front of a ho­tel fire­place watch­ing a light­ing cer­e­mony while the out­side tem­per­a­ture is 20 de­grees may seem a lit­tle odd but when you have just trav­elled from the coast where the tem­per­a­ture is 35 de­grees and the hu­mid­ity clos­ing in on 90% it all seems rather log­i­cal!

Wel­come to Malaysia’s Cameron High­lands – the cooler cli­mate play­ground of the colo­nial Bri­tish and to­day’s Malaysians. The high­lands, only ac­ces­si­ble by road, is the small­est dis­trict in Malaysia’s Pa­hang state, sit­u­ated in its north-western cor­ner, ap­prox­i­mately two hours south of the city of Ipoh and around three hours north of the cap­i­tal, Kuala Lumpur.

De­vel­oped in the 1930’s, the table­land is one of the old­est tourist spots in Malaysia and one of the most pop­u­lar hill re­sorts, the Cameron High­lands, still re­tains much of the charm of an English vil­lage. Al­though mas­sive de­vel­op­ment in the last decade has changed the land­scape, it re­mains a pop­u­lar desti­na­tion for those who want to es­cape the hot weather of the low­lands. It is also known as the strawberry cap­i­tal of Malaysia and when one drives up the 1,500 me­tre high­lands the myr­iad of mar­ket gar­dens and strawberry farms perched on the steep hill­sides bear tes­ta­ment to it be­ing the fruit and veg­etable bas­ket of the coun­try.

What is strange is see­ing strawberry patches on hill­sides in ter­races much like those used for grow­ing rice. Com­pare this with the flat strawberry fields of home and for some rea­son it just doesn’t look right – yet the out­put is phe­nom­e­nal. In fact many of the farms run strawberry tours and mini theme parks for the lo­cal tourists who flock to the farms and devour the ice-cream, waf­fles, cakes, drinks and sours made with the hum­ble strawberry!

Our stay in the Cameron High­lands was at the beau­ti­fully re­stored Cameron High­lands Re­sort lo­cated in the ma­jor hub of Tanah Rata. This is the ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal of the Cameron High­lands, where all the gov­ern­ment of­fices and hos­pi­tal are lo­cated. Most of the chalets and guest houses are lo­cated here in and around Tanah Rata and most all the jun­gle trekking and wa­ter­fall trails starts from here. Dur­ing the week­ends the traf­fic jams can be mam­moth and lo­cals told us of three hour crawls up the high­lands two lane road that only takes an hour dur­ing the week­days – so the moral of the story is visit Mon­day to Fri­day (which we did).

Set on a hil­lock over­look­ing the only golf course in the high­lands the Cameron High­lands Re­sort be­gan as a lo­cal vil­lage house in 1923 dur­ing the colo­nial era when the Brits, see­ing the sim­i­lar­ity to the hill sta­tions in In­dia and Sri

Lanka, started to grow tea in the re­gion. As the tea in­dus­try grew the ho­tel was con­verted into a “wa­ter­ing hole” for the Brits and even­tu­ally re­built and re­stored in 1974 as a 65 room re­sort still main­tain­ing the look and feel of the ear­lier era. Each evening the ho­tel staff ask guests to gather around the open fire place and help light the fire - a rather quaint colo­nial cer­e­mony that re­in­forces the his­tory of the place. And trust me a tum­bler of good whiskey while sit­ting in a won­der­ful old arm­chair in front of the fire cer­tainly makes one envy the life­style they had in those days.

Tea fea­tures strongly in the re­gion and many of Malaysia’s ma­jor tea producers are sit­u­ated close to the re­sort. One of the largest is BOH Plan­ta­tions where a tour is a must. While many Ki­wis have “con­verted” from the hum­ble cuppa to a flat white or ex­presso for their morn­ing fix a tour through a tea plan­ta­tion can cer­tainly

chal­lenge ones cof­fee ad­dic­tion. The BOH Plan­ta­tion tour takes you through the his­tory of tea, how it is grown and pro­cessed. The most in­ter­est­ing part was walk­ing through the plan­ta­tion and get­ting up close and per­sonal with the tea bush – ba­si­cally a va­ri­ety of camel­lia that they trim back rather ag­gres­sively to pro­mote new growth, which is then plucked – women have al­ways been pre­ferred as tea pick­ers be­cause of their smaller fin­gers and per­ceived del­i­cate touch. Just try to pick one or two and you soon re­alise it’s not as easy as it looks and, more con­cern­ing, are the huge num­bers re­quired to fill one bas­ket let alone enough to process. This is not work for a fat fin­gered male, es­pe­cially one used to the Pon­sonby cof­fee cir­cuit!

Tea tast­ing fol­lows, and again, the huge va­ri­ety and dif­fer­ent styles are amaz­ing – we all drink it black to en­sure we fully ap­pre­ci­ate the nu­ances of the dif­fer­ent blends. And drink­ing tea on a veranda over­look­ing the mag­nif­i­cent val­ley of the tea pla­na­tion cer­tainly makes it a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence. Of course our bags are filled with sam­ples to take home to savour with friends.

While tea is im­por­tant the ad­ven­ture tourism sec­tor is tak­ing over with white wa­ter raft­ing, wa­ter­fall treks and jun­gle trails criss­cross­ing the re­gion, in­clud­ing one that fol­lows the sup­posed track taken by Amer­i­can en­tre­pre­neur Jim Thomp­son, known as the Thai “Silk King”, who mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared in 1967. This sparked a ru­mour mill that in­cludes foul play, CIA as­sas­si­na­tion as well as ab­duc­tion and mur­der by lo­cal tribes­men. In fact they still run Jim Thomp­son Mur­der Mys­tery treks and week­ends to “cel­e­brate” their own Hitch­cock­ian mys­tery.

The trails and treks are all graded, with some need­ing a high level of fit­ness, while oth­ers can be eas­ily un­der­taken by those with very av­er­age fit­ness – all take in the beau­ti­ful jun­gle and sur­round­ings and are a fan­tas­tic way to get up and close with the en­vi­ron­ment and some of the re­gions many wa­ter­falls. Our treks took in two beau­ti­ful wa­ter­falls and a wan­der through vine stran­gled trees that tow­ered above us and a myr­iad of flow­ers and colour­ful shrubs along the side of the tracks.

The drive south from the high­lands through the thick jun­gled hills to­wards Kuala Lumpur is also spec­tac­u­lar with the road switch back­ing down the hills and around rush­ing streams and wa­ter­falls bro­ken by views over hills dis­ap­pear­ing into the dis­tance. The Cameron High­lands is cer­tainly a dif­fer­ent part of Malaysia from the cities and beaches in most tourist brochures yet one that is fas­ci­nat­ing and very worth­while the visit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.