Tanah Rata, Malaysia
If there was a reason for going to Kuala Lumpur, it quickly evaporated. All it took, after many previous days of research and some phone calls, was the waggle of a man’s head at the Indian visa application office. He’d been asked a direct question and couldn’t tell us yes or no. From that point on we knew that (a) he couldn’t really be bothered, (b) our phone calls to their Australian office had been useless and (c) getting an Indian visa was not going to be as straightforward as we’d hoped.
So we left KL and headed to a place we’d never been before; the Cameron Highlands. We deliberately took a circuitous route to get there so that we were off the main north-south highway. This proved to be a bonus as we found a remote and rarely-visited-by-foreigners tourist spot for lunch. One local even went as far as pointing out that most Malaysian’s “never come this way…”
Our idea was to leave Kuala Lumpur heading north-east and go over the hills inland from the coast. Then head north before heading west again back over the hills and drop into the highlands. If that sounds like 3 sides of a square, then you would be right….ish.
Many, many hairpin switchbacks at 30km/h kept us awake and the bike was, at least, rewarding if a little rubbery underneath us. The climbs and descents were great for practising our trailing brake and gear change technique however the higher revs may have gassed-off a lot of engine oil. But that’s another story. It was all going very pleasantly until the rains started. At first, light and patchy making us think nothing of it. Then heavy enough to hurt the face at speed. There was nothing out there, in those hills, so we sheltered under a not very dry tree.
The rain seemed to ease and we were in the last 30km so we ploughed on. But this was a trick. This is when it really rained. Enough to soak the leather jackets through and stream down into my groin. Enough to soak my trousers and make visibility about zero, irrespective of my eyewear. It was absolutely crapping it down and vehicles would materialise out of a wall of grey in front, behind or beside you. It wasn’t pleasant. If you went fast it was too dangerous to read the road surface and condition. If you went slowly you were almost certainly rail-roaded into the potholed gutter-lake by larger traffic. It was also very hard to see a place to stop because you were always hovering between too fast to stop and too slow to be finding some shelter. I’m not sure why Lemmy never wrote a song about this. Eventually we stopped under a very newly built shelter designed for the police or fire service or something official. No one moved us on so we sat out the rain.
Now drenched and with the rain easing we set off again and finally arrived into a dryish Tanah Rata. Amazingly this fairly short distance to the highlands had left us only 30 minutes of daylight to find cheap accommodation and parking. Thankfully a quick buzz around town left us at the epicentre of guesthouses and Nickiy secured a good deal in a new hotel. The only down side was carrying our wet luggage up to the 3rd floor before we could strip, shower and feel a wee bit human again.
The Cameron Highlands is a pretty popular spot with locals and foreigners alike. Extremely popular with Germans for some reason. This must be because they like tea and strawberries, the main crops of the area. Why no one is baking scones and whipping up clotted cream is a mystery and a pretty big oversight if you ask me. Think how many people from the UK would fly in especially!
Most impressive during our few days there was the BOH tea plantation, which is Malaysia’s largest black tea producer. Founded by a colonial settler nearly 100 years ago, the fertile hills bristle with tea bushes broken by narrow path lines. The plantation has an amazing viewing platform-cafe, old factory and museum to try to explain the process of growing and harvesting the stuff we call tea. Apparently after they cut the jats (twiggly bits) they crush the leaves then let that oxidise then dry it out and sieve it then it goes into your cupboard. The word jats is used in all their literature but was met with a blank face from me. Apparently the type of jats indicates the taxonomy of the tea bush as well as provenance of the seed. The process and terminology was basically lost on me even though you’d think I’d know more about it….I drink enough of the stuff.
And that’s exactly what we did in the cafe, thank you very much. The misty hilltops and the lush green slopes relaxed our eyes before we snapped out of our daydream and headed off. Hopefully there will be more of this sort of landscape in our future as we pass through Assam and Darjeeling (visa permitting of course!)