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Cameron Highlands: Heaven and Hell

Cameron Highlands

There was heavy rain, and then there was this.

It felt like a wave had been dumped on my head. Too cold to stop and take shelter, I kept climbing the narrow mountain-road.

Clutching my camera, I prayed that the raindrops wouldn’t break my parka. They seemed to be coming at speeds defying terminal velocity. I winced as I remembered the taxi-driver I’d rejected only ten minutes earlier.

A truck barreled past, missing me by inches as I clung to the road’s edge. The valley plunged for hundreds of metres to my left as virgin waterfalls carried away the mountainside.

I continued the suicide march.

View across tea plantation valley

Buffeted by the rain, I could only stare at the ground. Memories of the tea plantation faded as another bus roared past, shaking the road beneath my feet.

I was contemplating another hour of this hell when a pick-up truck slid to a stop beside me. The young driver opened the window and urged me to get on. Without thinking, I leaped over the side into the truck’s bed.

The rain had transformed it into a swimming pool. Ignoring the unsettling collection of axes and machetes, I concentrated on staying in the truck as we hurtled back to Tanah Rata.

Where on earth had this deluge come from? I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been. I was in Cameron Highlands, after all.

Cameron Highlands

I hated Cameron Highlands.

If it wasn’t for a single hour of sunshine, the entire visit would’ve been a write-off. I stayed in the area’s biggest town, Tanah Rata, an alternate universe where the Tudors had built apartments. Terraforming had taken place too, providing a climate that was perpetually overcast and dreary.

View of hillside in Tanah Rata

But this English-ness was not just fantasy. Located in central Malaysia, Cameron Highlands was developed by the British as a health resort for those who were homesick. Today it’s most famous for its vast tea plantations which attract city-dwellers trying to escape Malaysia’s heat.

Old tudor house in Cameron Highlands

Old and rusty Land Rover

Church against a violet sky

It performs this task admirably, because the Highlands are cold, really cold. The 15 degree temperature was shocking after Penang’s sauna. The chill mist cloaking the mountaintops came straight from a ghost story. And when it rained, the downpour was biblical in proportion.

Tanah Rata

For 24 hours the rain fell, an incessant torrent I thought would never end. When it finally stopped, I grabbed my camera and rushed from my guesthouse. This rare opportunity had to be seized.

Bharat Tea Plantation

Steam rose from the tarmac as I started the hour-long trek to Bharat Tea Plantation. The jungle strangled the road as it threaded through the mountainside. Switchbacks and hairpins were minor inconveniences for the dare-devil locals.

Sweeping bend in Cameron Highlands

Every so often, a gap in the trees emerged, allowing a glimpse of the valley. It was beautiful, but nothing compared to Bharat Tea Plantation itself.

Cameron Highlands

Less well-known than Boh Plantation, Bharat covered both sides of a wide valley. It rolled down in a wave, taking helpless rows of tea plants to the valley floor. The tea then surged up the other side, an undulating wall of green which stopped at the jungle’s edge.

View across tea plantation valley

Rows of tea plants

View across tea plantation valley

Superlatives can’t do it justice — the place was breathtaking. Not even the overcast sky dampened my appreciation. All I could do was smile, grateful to be in such a spectacular setting.

View across tea plantation valley

Tea plant

View across tea plantation valley

Walking down the rows, I took care not to slip down the steep slope. I was alone, with the exception of a few other souls, who added colour to the green expanse.

Houses in distance in tea plantation

View across tea plantation valley

Malay family posing in tea plantation

Then the clouds parted and a forgotten sun appeared. Making up for lost time, the sun serenaded the valley, amplifying the shades of green. The tea leaves glistened in the afternoon light. This unique landscape had been worth the journey. Satisfied, I returned to the road and began my walk back to Tanah Rata.

View across tea plantation valley

Tea leaves held in hand

Parked by the road was a taxi-driver who offered to drive me to town. “Very cheap!” he yelled as I ignored him and kept on moving.

It was a long way back to Tanah Rata, but the sun was finally out. How bad could walking be?

Do you want to visit Cameron Highlands? What’s the worst weather you’ve experienced while traveling? Leave a comment below

Practical information

I reached Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands from Penang by bus for 44 ringgit. The journey took 6 hours with half the time spent on a winding mountain road.

Accommodation consisted of hotels, with few options for the budget-oriented traveler. I settled on a bed in a dorm for 25 ringgit.

Food was more expensive than the rest of Malaysia and catered to tourist tastes. Look for food off the main street of Tanah Rata if you want something cheap and delicious.

Tour companies will take you to the tea plantations, which is a good idea if you don’t want to walk. From Tanah Rata the distance to the tea plantations is quite far (5 to 12 km). There are also public buses.

Oh, and pack a rain jacket.

One comment

  1. Gma says:

    Hi Dan. This one certainly had me holding my breath!!! How absolutely magnificent and sculptured it all looks. What wonderful memories you will carry for ever. Mike thinks you could become a travel writer. You really are beautifully descriptive in your words. Again so enjoyable. Thanks so much.

    As always love and stay safe.

    Gma

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