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Tanah Rata and The Cameron Highlands

Written on: Wednesday April 30th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

For me, only Taman Negara can compete with this place in terms of my favourite in Malaysia. We?d heard mixed reports before coming here, some said that it was a really relaxing place, while others told us not to bother as there was nothing to see or do. I?m glad we took more notice of the first report. The Highlands and our base at Tanah Rata, 1300m up in the hills were named after the British surveyor, William Cameron, who mapped the area in 1885. Still today the area has a very British countyside feel to it with mock-Tudor houses, rolling green hills, people dependent on a good cup of tea to get through the day and every other restaurant being a curry house cooking up the finest chicken tikka masala, complete of course with garlic naan. Rob and I felt quite at home. It was even raining when we arrived. Making us feel even more welcome were the extremely relaxing and eager to please Father?s Guesthouse at the top of one of the hills in Tanah Rata that served a sumptuous spaghetti bolognaise. It was also packed full of very rah-rah English people which gave it quite a comical value. It was like a weekend break in the Cotswolds. Around the Cameron Highlands are various trails that climb many of the surrounding hills leading through the forested areas. Our first day we took a trail that led to Robinson Falls. The Falls themselves were a little disappointing, we weren?t even sure we?d actually found them they were so uninspiring, so we continued further down the increasingly muddy path until we reached a fenced area with an unlocked gate at it?s entrance that appeared to lead steeply down the side of a hill. In my stupidity I convinced Rob that that was the way we needed to go and that it would be way more fun then the well-worn path that continued on the right side of the fence. Despite being in a fenced-off area, there was a loose path we followed down the very steep trail, leading over broken down branches and slippery rocks. I leapt on ahead at each downward climb and then took out my camera and waited sadistically for Rob?s less coordinated limbs to flail out from underneath him so that I could get a good photo. My Buddhist roots really came through though as karma came back and bit me firmly in the ass. After reaching nothing but a power station at the bottom of our descent Rob had a recovery cigarette and then we made our way back up the same way we had come. At one of the first steep parts, close to a stream crossing, my foot slipped on a broken tree-trunk and sent me hurtling down the side of the rocks and bracken beneath me. Thankfully my foot met a solid rock after only about a 5 foot drop, halting my free-fall, but my ankle took a couple of wacks on the way down and felt really weak when I tried to stand up on it after pulling myself back up. And of course it had to be right ankle, the same one that had previously caused me two hospital trips. Rob to his credit didn?t pounce to take photos but instead stood there concerned that I had seriously hurt myself. As it was the ankle was just badly bruised. The following day we left a little earlier, caught a bus to a town just north of Tanah Rata called Brinchang and hiked from there up Trail 1 to the summit of Gunung Brinchang standing at 2031m. It was an even tougher trail than the day?s previously, probably down to the altitude we had climbed to. Rob looked beaten on occasions and mentioned a few times he might just stop where he was and see how long he could last eating only the leaves around him. Doing his nicotine-lined lungs extremely proud we both arrived at the top after about an hour and a halve climb. From there we followed the road down through the stand-out green rolling hills, and the amazing tea plantations, set out like a giant maze lining the sweeping landscape. In much need of some refreshment we stopped off at the Cameron Bharat Tea Plantation and had a fine tea and scone combo in good Devonshire tradition. Drowsy from the late-lunch neither of us relished the 10km walk up and down hill to Brinchang, so upon immediately leaving the tea plantation?s car-park I began thumbing cars for a life. The Malays being as friendly as they are meant that the very first car to pass us, a tiny Daihatsu to Rob?s discomfit pulled over, picked us up and drove us 4km up the road to the junction for Brinchang. Here we visited the butterfly museum where amongst the colourful and plentiful butterflies fluttering around we could see scorpions, exotic beetles, snakes and strangely enough, ducks, chickens and hamsters. We continued about another kilometre still thumbing for a lift but having no luck as Rob said I was putting my homicidal smiley face on and nobody would pick two guys up with one of them smiling like that.  I took this as a personal insult and with the next pick-up approaching extended my thumb and gave an Oscar winning Norman Bates smile. The truck braked, the driver thinking about pulling over before he sympathised and eventually did, turning in ahead and allowing us to jump in the back. Riding through Brinchang brought the pedestrians in the markets we passed to wave and smile at the two of us beaming out at them in appreciation at not having to have to walk any more. As I said at the beginning, The Cameron Highlands were definitely one of my favourite places in Malaysia, despite even more excessive walking an area extremely relaxing with a great sociable guesthouse even the chance for Rob and I to get in some basketball with some of the locals.