After the muddy jungle trekk, we were bound for something more tame and genteel. With its year-round cool weather, the Cameron Highlands is famous for its tea plantations. We stopped for lunch at a roadside eatery where I had some Indian stuff that tasted quite good though I didn’t quite know what it was. My Jap companion had chicken rice which he pronounced delicious and the three Singaporean leadies had strir-fried noodles.
Coasting along the winding highway, we passed a car that had been smashed in an accident. The driver was leaning back on his seat. He didn’t look bad and there didn’t seem to be any blood. A couple of people were just looking around an nobody seemed to be doing anything. We were all concerned with the driver and why there didn’t seem to be anyone helping him. Balan said that if he, for example, would take-in the driver to bring him to the hospital and on the way something should happen to the injured, die for example, he would be responsible for him. That means court appearances, testimonies, and other hassles. He assured us that somebody would have called the police already.
The Cameron Valleywas pretty enough but small. We lined-up for some tea and scones but there were just so many tourists, mostly locals, so we opted out. There was nice gift shop that had tea-inspired stuff such as tea gift packs, mugs, and other stuff. I regret not getting a pretty mug with the “Cameron Valley” engraved on it.
A much better plantation and the most famous and the biggest in Southeast Asia was the Boh Tea Plantation. Unlike the Cameron Valley which is owned by an Indian, the Boh is owned by a Scottish family whose roots in the Cameron date back to the days when Malaysia, Borneo, and Sarawak were part of the British Empire. After all, it was a Brit engineering surveyor, Sir William Cameron, who discovered and founded the hill station.
Tea Tea as Far as the Eyes Can See
Being a Monday, the plantation was closed so Balan parked at view point and we went down to the tea shrubs. All around, on the valley below and its surrounding hills were tea shrubs that cut pretty square patterns like a checker board. The plantation was really so vast. It was tea as far as the eyes could see. Balan explained that the shrubs were 86 years old already and they were so prolific that tea leaves could be harvested every 21 days. The shrubs were also very strong and he laid on them. Of course I tried it too 🙂
Being such a truthful and really informative guide, Balan asked us whether we wanted the truth or the little lies. We chose the truth. He said that the best teas are now from Sri Lanka as the Cameron teas are no longer hand-picked. To emphasize his point, he plucked a stem and said that good tea comes from young leaves and only the first 3 ones! In the olden days, the British brought in many Indians to work the plantations. In fact, his ancestors came to Cameron as part of that work force. So maybe that explains the sizeable Indian community. The teas are now machine-picked which doesn’t differentiate the different leaves, the stems, and even weeds. He also said that even a passing snake gets thrown in! True enough, there were patches of stems that didn’t have any leaves. By the way, “Boh” stands for “Best of highland.”
After the vastness of the tea plantations, the strawberry farm was a really big disappointment. I would have sooner visited the farms at La Trinidad valley back home. Turns out that all the farms at the Cameron use the hydrophonic system which means instead of the bushes being planted on the ground like they have always been since these sweet red treats appeared on the face of the planet, they are placed in hospital-looking white bags and lined-up neatly in rows on narrow wooden tables and all conveniently placed in green houses. Looks more like a science experiment on plant grafting than a strawberry farm. Thank goodness for the really good ice cream generously heaped with slighty sour strawberry syrup and fresh strawberries.
We were back at Tanah Rata just when dusk was settling in. Passing Brinchang, a pasar malam (night market) was setting-up already. It would have been nice to get-off and experience it but with so many people, getting cab home would have been difficult.
It was a really great day.