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Published: August 25th 2008
The last time you left us we were stuck inside a dark Chinatown alley at ten past two in the morning, banging on the door of an inn and trying to dodge mothball-sized raindrops.
In our desperation we made such a racket that we probably woke up half of Kuala Lumpur before the guard/night clerk stuck his angry face thru a window with a look that said: "How Dare You! That was the sweetest part of my dream".
The next morning we pondered our next move. Although KL had a nice vibe, we still had more exploring to do in Malaysia. We thought about scooting up to the East Coast baited by stories of world-class diving around remote islands like Sipadan. But rumors of the ruthless tail-end of the monsoon rains ruined that plan. The same logic squashed plans of trekking thru the ancient forests of the Taman Negara Reserve in the Northeast. And so, we decided to push North and after a scenic but nauseating six-hour swivel thru a range of mountains, we arrived in Cameron Highlands. Apart from an impressive panorama of lush, thick foliage, the bracingly-cool wind was instantly noticeable. And it was precisely for the latter
that Cameron Highlands blossomed. In times past, the English colonizers, yearning for a respite from KL's heat and humidity, commissioned a station high in the cool hills. They would escape to Cameron Highlands and sip tea on balconies overlooking their tea plantations and flower gardens. And the hill station still did have a bourgeois feel - uncluttered, manicured streets and lawns, perfect design and layout and even a few out-of-place Tudors tucked up against a background of green.
We stayed at one such place - a comfortable chalet atop a hill just 10 minutes away from the bus station. In the communal area we met Alex and Chiara, an adventurous Italian couple. Over a few games of chess (the win-loss ratio will remain secret) we traded stories. They, too, were doing a bit of travelling but with a twist: no flying. Italy to India on a cargo ship, buses, trains, tricycles, the Trans-Siberian Express from China to Moscow, anything - just 'no airplanes'
. They suggested we strike out into the mountains and tackle any of the network of hiking trails hidden in the vegetation and that's precisely what we did. Up hills and down thru valleys, past fast-flowing streams
and small waterfalls, we trekked. Thru fields of cabbage in the odd farm, to scenic lookout towers, crisscrossing from trail 9 to trail 6 (don't take our word on the trail numbers - we had no map) and on to where the trails vanished altogether and we had to create our own.
The peace and serenity of the mountains was unbelievable and so too were the plants and flowers. A significant portion of our time was spent trying to get unique camera angles on wild orchids, carnivorous plants, ferns and trees. We descended from the heights, cut thru a corn field and landed smack in the middle of the gardens of MARDI - the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute. Never mind 'Green Fingers', the gardeners here must have 'Rainbow Fingers'
judging by the kaleidoscope of colors on countless varieties of plants and flowers. Exquisitely laid out in attractive compositions and complimented by quaint bridges and water features, the garden had an almost magical feel to it and it instantly became the perfect place to while away the rest of the afternoon.
We spent a few extra days in Cameron Highlands, hiking, relaxing and even hooking up for
dinner with 'The Italianos'
. On the last day, and purely for financial reasons, we switched to a more (uh hmmm) 'cost-effective'
hotel which just happened to be closer to the bus station. The receptionist, the very friendly Suresh Rebba, had a bonfire going in no time and it drew out all the other guests like moths to the flame. A motley crew we made - a few South Africans, a Brit, an Irishman, an Indian and us two - bonding around a bonfire trying to escape the numbing chill of the highland nights. 😊
😊 Alex and Chiara - 'The Italianos' - it was great meeting you.
😊 Suresh Rebba - for your friendliness and bonfire
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