I was really excited about this place when I did my bookings. The travel shows and travelogues online all spoke very highly of the Cameron highlands. We took a bus from Penang which took an eternity to reach the highlands. Apparently its no more than a 3 hour journey that took us more than 5 hrs in the noisy Untiti Express, the only bus company that plies between Penang and CH. Expecting what we were expected to expect, I had booked us at a chalet more expensive than the rest of our stays so far, another thing I was excited about was to be able to relive the laidbackness of colonial era.
I must say we did get what we expected. Except that it was in the middle of nowehere. There was literally nothing at walking distance from here and to avail the free shuttle they promised to provide was to beg them to take time out from their busy schedule and oblige us. It did not help that the property was also highly understaffed. Something they could have compensated with, were affordable meals so that guests did not need to go to town but alas, dining at the chalet was a dent in the pocket in the land of cheap food we were in. A four course dinner, the only option available, was priced at 45 RM per person, while the much advertised scones for breakfast were tagged at 22 RM per person. It would probably not pinch much for weekend travelers, however for us who had planned this long vacation, we had to watch our expenses to not go overboard with it. However, having said that I must say the dinner was excellent in quality – probably our first ever candle-lit dinner with silverware and the dos, succulent meat with buttery sauces, and christmas pudding for dessert that made the husband nostalgic about the ones his aunt used to bake in his younger days.
We enjoyed photographing around the property, which was truly beautiful. With the green exteriors and cosy interiors, especially interesting of which were the antiques- I envied their ceramic teapot collection. The nights, however, were a struggle for me with all the horror movies I have seen in similar set ups. For example, There was a lamp in the corridor that blinked on its own everytime we crossed it. Its haunted, the husband said nonchalantly, everytime I stopped by it, and trust me, it did not help. I woke up in the middle of the night occasionally to check the mirror, half expecting to see a smiling old english lady. The owner chatted us up whenever he bumped into us, and also was gracious enough to drive us around the town – 15 short minutes is what it took us to drive around Tanah Rata and Brinchang, two of the 3 major towns in CH. He told us he had bought this place from this British lady 30 yrs back, who had apparently built it as a school. The rooms were named after old english female names- Beatrice, Margaret, Diana, ours was named Victoria. they had a tea room which overlooked the garden. We often went there to access the wifi since it did not work in the rooms.
Once we fathomed the maximum potential CH had to keep us entertained, we did two things – a) booked us on a guided tour for the next morning, and b) cut short our stay in CH and do the requisite bookings and cancellations. The guided tour, the next day, was quite refreshing. We opted for the easy one, that involved a guy taking us around in a bus to see the horticulture and agro-based farms that dotted the highlands, dig into strawberries in all the forms they could possibly exist, and a tour of the vast tea gardens that comprised most of the area of CH, not to forget a visit to the tea factory and the incredible view of the tea valley from their tea centre at Boh plantations. We learnt that it covered 4800 ha of tea farms, all owned by a single Scottish girl who had inherited the farm from her grandparents – and whom by this time, we had started to envy. Our tour ended way into lunchtime, and as we tucked into a much awaited meal at ones of the several eateries at Tanah Rata, we multitasked to make our room reservations for KL the next day.
That night, we decided to have a Chinese meal at an authentic Chinese eatery, and settled for clear soup, deep fried mushrooms, stir fried pork and good old bowls of rice, which was quite pleasing. It was here that we were reminded of the quaint Penang, and how the simple Chinese traditions we had experienced there had transformed us into lovers of the authentic orient. Truly, while the most conceived notion of Chinese food worldover is ‘cheap and fast’, we feel it is among the most sophisticated cuisines we have ever come across. I wish people learn to see beyond the chowmeins and manchurians and realise the real essence of Chinese food that lies in its slow cooked dishes and subtle flavours.
We boarded a bus for KL the next morning, and as we drove through the lush green mountains, we could not help wondering why a single British lady would want to come all the way from England to set up a school in these remote locales, and why an Indian who lived 10 years in Australia would buy it from her and plan his retirement in this place that sleeps off after sunset, and why would a Scottish family buy close to 5000 ha of land 7000 miles away from home. Whatever it was that kept them here, was probably enough to drive us mad if we were to stay in this solitude a day longer. Maybe its the fact that India is so diverse and much prettier. Or maybe, its just us.