Wednesday, September 14, 2011

(Travelogue) Oriental Outings Day 11: Tea Plantation, Strawberry Farms, and Weird Insects of Cameron Highlands

March 11, 2011

Cameronian hills covered with tea plants
This morning we managed to wake up early enough to have breakfast; paratha and omelet with the Cameronian tea before replenishing our inventory of Malaysian Ringgits!
A money exchanger around the main road
We got reasonable rates there: 1 USD = 2.95 MYR

Maybank's ATM and currency service
Buy a Tour or DIY?
But that was not early enough to catch the country side tour we investigated yesterday. “First trip had already departed at 9:30 and the second one will leave at around 2”, the receptionist at CS Travels informed us. “Would the tour include a visit to Rafflesia?” asked Urooba referring to the world’s largest flower. “Nope! Afternoon trips don’t cover that. By the way, we have reports that the trek to Rafflesia is too muddy to traverse because of rains”, the lady elaborated.

“Why not we do all these places ourselves?” my independent traveler instincts came alive. “Ok! But keep in mind that we have Misha with us and it’s already too cloudy for long walks” the better half cautioned. “Let’s give it a try, if it wouldn’t work we have the option of 2pm tour”, I compromised.
Getting tour details
Public Transport around Cameron Highland: A Dare
So we headed to the Tanah Rate bus station to check the local transport and those maps which I downloaded from the internet. At the bus terminal, there was a separate counter for the local bus, operated by Regal Transport, with an old lady roaming around and muttering the language unfathomable for us. Somehow, we managed to comprehend that the next bus will leave at 11:30, about 45 minutes from then.

Spring Arrives
On our way to the bus station we passed along side a huge public park, blossoming enticingly with the arriving spring, a good pastime until the next bus would arrive. Green grass was making an eye-catching combination with colorful flowers – yellow, red, white, purple, and orange – arranged aesthetically. Weather was also very pleasant – around 20 C with a clear sunshine – perfect for the Vitamin D intake!

A bunch of middle school students were also hanging around bunking the adjacent school; where some kind of ceremony was going on. Like the diversity in flowers, the group was also multicolored: Malay, Chinese, and Indian!

Urooba was keen to make it to the swings as soon as those teenagers would disappear. The ambiance was fitting and the rest was too private to blog!

Back to the Bus Station
We got back to the ticket counter to enquire about the bus; the lady pointed out to an equally old bus parked in a corner with no hints of life except for the bus driver who was busy in fixing some external parts. All we could understand from him was that the bus will now depart at 12 and not at 11:30!
The Bus Driver!
Without having options, we occupied two better looking seats in the front. Sooner, another commuter appeared to keep us interested in the voyage. He uttered a few words, may be local greetings, with a skeptical face. I told him that we are tourists, to confirm his doubts, and asked for his help about our plans which he happily accepted.

According to him, the bus was actually off-schedule because of a detour to the tea farm to pick a group of students on their study tour. On one hand, that was a good news, but on the other hand, that was a bad news too as we had to come to the main road, after visiting green farms, by foot! We would have not minded that if the fellow passenger would not have warned us about the remoteness of the area, which we could not grab from our simple map.

Plan 'B'
Taking all these uncertainties as a clear omen, we switched to Plan B and bought tickets for the 2pm country side tour from CS Travels! RM 25 (~USD 8) per person including hotel pick-n-drop and the certainty! By the time the pick-up would have arrived, we shifted our belongings to the newly allotted room.

It was a small group; a solo traveler from Germany, two friends from Borneo, and a couple of other fellows. Sightseeing started from Sam Poh Temple, one of the largest Buddhist complexes in the country. Located on a hill in Brinchang town and surrounded by foresty hills.

The Impressive Sam Poh Temple:
It was impressive, neat, and uncrowded!
Sam Poh Temple: Entrance

Big size gold statues in the first hall

More statues

Another character in the first hall

A glimpse of the second hall


Huge Golden Bhudda with white companions and offerings
The first hall showcased big golden statues of various religious characters. The second one was more spacious and installed with a giant golden Buddha accompanied by a bunch of white ones. Offerings, in the shape of best quality fruits and glass candles, had been decorated around. The seating arrangement was church like as we observed in the Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown, Singapore.

A Valley of Flowers:
'Rose Center' was the next destination. We were expecting a typical nursery on a couple of hundred yards area. The claustrophobic entrance also conformed to our perception and RM 5 entrance fee looked like a tourist trap. Fortunately, that was not the case; it was actually a whole valley of flowers spread from the bottom of the hill to the top and arranged in various terraces. There were around hundred species of rose including the black one!
The Rose Valley

Shady ticket office!

The nursery

This is Cameronian spring!

Round cactus

Cactus flowers

Our German companios with the boot like flower
We stopped the fifth patio, out of ten, to grab stunning views of the surrounding valleys. In the meantime, it also started drizzling, spreading an authentic fragrance around. For floral Connoisseurs, even a full day will not be enough to appreciate the idea and the hard work! We also wanted to spend more time there but we had to forgo our liberty in lieu of the tour facility.

Huge Green Carpets
Then the troupe moved to the main attraction highlands are famous for: Tea Farms. While the van was running between lush green tea valleys, the driver-cum-guide stopped besides a bunch of workers who were collecting tea leaves. Wearing traditional caps and busy in their job, most of those workers ignored us while one of the fellows looked unhappy over taking snaps. Our driver told us that the workers are still given the same stipend, 20 cents per kilogram of leaves they pick, same amount which they used to get more than fifty years ago! Although due to the use of machines they can now pick much more than what they would have collected by handpicking.
After a day's work!

Another tea worker

This guy is not happy!
Soon we reached the Sungai Palas Factory and Tea shop built by BOH Tea Company, which is owned by a Scottish family and is considered one of the largest tea companies of Malaysia. 
On our way to the tea factory

This is tea business!

Tea trees are not allowed to grow beyond 3 feet, pity!
We started off with a factory visit which took us to various processes and machines involved in tea making before heading to the adjacent tea shop. It was the first time we saw what happens behind the curtains in the making of our close-to-national drink!
Tea factory entrance

BOH Tea Factory
The gentle drizzling converted into heavy rains giving us another reason to feel satisfied on our decision to hook up with the tour!

The modern looking tuck shop was surrounded by tea fields, spread on hundreds of hectares, and was loaded with a variety of black and flavored tea. I ordered a cup of mint tea while Urooba settled for the conventional milk tea. With low sugar levels, we could not resist and also ordered a slice of dark chocolate cake before selecting a table facing the picturesque hills.
Tea shop at Best Of Highland (BOH) Estate
Those were some of the best views in my life! Trees had been cut so uniformly that it looks like a huge green carpet spread all around. Indeed a perfect spot for calander photographers!
A view of the Tea Estate
Another view of the Tea Estate
Tourist Trap
There was a factory outlet also selling varieties of BOH tea, however, the prices kept us to window shopping only. We found this price trend consistent across all the places we visited during that tour; be it the rose center, strawberry farm, and the honey ranch. So we later did our haggling from the main market of Tanah Rata for souvenirs. Famous makeshift night markets would have been even a better deal which we could not try due to the rain.

The tour then continued to the honey ranch which was more of a sales pitch and that too with exorbitant prices.

Fresh Strawberries!
Strawberry farm was a better experience; sand was stuffed in long and porous polythene material, laid on ~3-4 feet high platforms, while sprawling strawberries peeking from those holes were casting a pleasant contrast. However, the highlight was the live jiuce from handpicked strawberries! It was so refreshing and delicious that we had to buy an extra round to compensate what Misha had sipped in with a greedy face!!

The Weird Part
Butterfly farm was the last stop. The artificial enclave nurturing sedated species was far from the experience one can get in a hilly meadow where colourful butterflies roam freely. Or maybe we were a bit tired after a long day. The adjacent insect garden which also hosted a variety of snakes made up for the RM 5 entrance fee.
The butterfly farm

A sleeping butterfly

There we also saw some amazing creatures, especially those resembling to botanical organs; the one which looks like a dry tree leaf was just unbelievable. There was another which was hard to locate as that resembled a wooden stick! Unfortunately, the camera ran out of battery and hence not enough proofs to show here!

When the brave, Bengali origin, curator told us that some of the creepy ones are from Taman Negara - millions of years old rainforest which we planned to peek into after visiting Cameron Highlands - Urooba’s appetite for the adventure dropped dead low!
The white snake!

Disappointed from her frowned reaction, the warden focused on gora fellows, who actually bought some of those bugs, after a brief whispering cum negotiation session! On a side note, we met a lot of Bengali origin workers in Malaysia, which was good for us in a sense as most of them know workable Urdu/Hindi.

Fresh from the farm!
Germans and the Chicken Tikka
It was around sunset when we reached back to the town so we decided to have early dinner from the main market which turns into a lively food street as the sun goes down! We settled on a table outside a restaurant and ordered Chicken Tikka – a spicy Indian/Pakistani variety of bbq – with Chapati.

It was lip-smacking and wholesome with the slightly different use of spices. For the French looking couple, sitting next to our table and trying the same kind of cuisine, the contrast in the taste would have been stark. So much so that we could hear signs of Rhino-rhea before they had to leave the table with dishes half full!!

The Tragedy
At the dinner table we saw the horrifying images of yet another Tsunami striking Eastern Japan and around. Soon, we started receiving worried calls from back home. Although we were far from any caostal line but that do little to pacify their concerns. At times, it sounds utterly selfish having a sigh of relief that one is not part of the tragedy!

Change of Plan
Before the dinner, I made a quick enquiry with Kang’s Travel,  to confirm their announced departure to Taman Negara on the coming Sunday. That was our last hope to make it to the rainforests. But the gentleman at the reception told us about flooding reports around the jungle region. We had no option but to abandon our expedition; the glimpse of weird creatures at the insect farm made a bit up for the lost opportunity!

After the dinner, we came back to the hotel room with Urooba pondering what to wear the next day in the wedding we were graciously invited for by a local Couchsurfer Eda!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoy reading your adventure of Cameron Highlands. I like the cool green tea plantation view in my visit there.