Cameron Highlands: "Always time to stop by an' 'av a good cuppa tea luv!"

Cameron Highlands Travel Blog

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Moon and neons, pre-dawn Tanah Rata

A tiny slither of a silver crescent moon sits above the pre-dawn neon lights of Tanah Rata, one of four or five small(ish) towns strung along the spine of the Cameron Highlands.  All else is still blackness embroidered by stars.  It’s pre-dawn.  The town still sleeps.  Well, not quite the whole town.  I’m not entirely alone here, sat in the chill.  Myself and - I assume - a couple of early doors local workers, sit in the darkened cocoon of the first public bus of the daily service.  We hug ourselves to be a little warmer.  My intention is to take this bus to the Sungai Palas or ‘Boh’ tea plantation estate to see it as the sun rouses its colours from between the early morning cotton-white sheets of highland mists.

First sign of sun over Sungai Palas tea estate

The bus eventually, sputteringly, stallingly lunges onto the road at close to 7.00, half an hour later that the scheduled departure, but no probs, I was going to be getting to my intended destination stupid-early anyways.  And here I am now, a 2km stroll along a winding road that forms the point of approach to the largest and most famous of the several tea estates that nestle high up here in these cooler Malaysian climes.  The ember-red glow of a sun about to be reborn, hovers just beneath the horizon line as I reach the first accessible, hilly sweeps of the plantation grounds.

I am entirely alone here.  This intensely private dawn moment is absolutely one of the most captivating of my journey to date.  I stand at the shoreline of a rolling endless sea of the freshest, greenest colours and shades to greet my tired eyes for many a month.

Misty dawn at Sungai Palas tea estate
  The beautiful leafy waves of the low-level tea plants.  Their darker lower flanks reaching up through to the lighter tones of the budding tips on top.  All still covered in jewel-like dawn dew at this point in the day.  This dew soaks right through my trousers and top to chest height, but I do not mind.  The sun promises soon to dry me and this is such a soothing natural environment to have plunged oneself into, you just don’t care.

I halt in my progress through the dewy maze and turn to place my gaze over the entire visible stretch of the Sungai Palas plantation, as it flows towards the rising sun.  Milky mists still sit, wrapped around the base and flanks of the plantation hills, but the sun begins to burn them slowly away.  The delicate mists start to soften as light and warmth intrudes upon the scene.

Stevie & the tea :)
  Their gentle dissipation adds absolute poetry to the scene.

I clamber further up the little gaps and runnels that create the lush green labyrinth of the plantation.  I’m not sure if you’re allowed to do this, but I don’t care.  I’m dizzy with the novelty, the beauty of these surroundings and the urge to dive in, and to swim through these emerald green waves.  The act of swimming apt enough as within minutes my clothes have now become completely sodden with the dew upon the bushes.  I bump into Lal Kumar, a Nepalese migrant worker who’s been tea picking here for 4 years but plans to return to his family in Kathmandu in 2 months time. 

Cresting the verge with him the early morning plantation activity now springs into view. Slowly bobbing about amidst the brain-like crenulations of the tea slopes a few men, wicker baskets upon their backs ‘clack-clack-clack’ away with some form of tea-tip plucking devices.

Tea pickers in the green maze of their employment.
  Two large plastic combs raking together before a pile of tips are accumulated and thrown over the picker’s shoulder into the basket.  This action is often preceded by a man with a machete hacking a lot of the tips loose.  On questioning, Lal mentions his co-workers are gathered from Bangladesh and Indonesia.  The usual roll call of some of the poorest economies in the world transfusing their labouring sons and daughters into the bloodstream of another nations economy.  Malaysia itself of course, is not so wealthy outside of the cities.

Leaving the workers behind I stroll the further 2 kilometres to the Boh Tea Centre.  A pleasant walk flanked on all sides by the rolling tides of green tea slopes.  This Tea Centre comprises a tea and cake shop, some information presentations about the history of the Boh tea company and the Sungai Palas estate and also a brief free guided tour of the on site tea factory where the picked tips are chopped and ground down, graded and dried whilst fresh.

Tea mower :)
  I sit and enjoy a fresh pot of Cameronian Gold Blend.  Very pleasing it is too, taken on the airy café veranda set amidst the plantation scenery, now painted an even more lustrous green by the coming of the sun.  I forgo the rather tempting looking cake slices at 5 Ringgit a piece here in favour of my 1.5 Ringgit packet of Oreos… “shhh! Don’t tell ‘em!  I’m trying to budgetise here people!”.  The sparrows and other birds now awakened play hide ‘n’ seek between the endless alleyways and passages of green leafage.  Chirping as they work off their own breakfast.

Life cycle of a tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) : cuttings are cultivated in shaded nurseries until 1 year old.  The young plants are then transplanted to fields and after 2 years the bushes are ready for plucking.

Sun spangled Boh tea estate
  They can be plucked approx every 3 weeks when the new tips ’flush’.

Leaving the Tea Centre I walk back through the estate and outwards into the hills.  I begin to stroll up the 7km path to the summit of Gunung Brinchang, the highest peak in the highlands but turn back after a third of the way.  I’m pretty tired and the near perpetual cloud shroud that sits around its peak shows no signs that it will lift today, making the journey a tad pointless.  On the way back down I spot what I believe to be my first ever Hummingbird flitting about some of the delicate white flowers by the roadside and this just about makes me smile a summers horizon line wide with happiness.

Back on the main road I start the 4km walk to the town of Brinchang.

:D
  I stop at one of the two butterfly farms here to see some more of Nature’s fluttering lovelies.  One of the netted cages, I think, contains a number of my Grandmother’s nemesis.  The Atlas Hawk Moth… one of the largest in the world.  My Grandmother has a mortal fear of all things flappy after working as a housekeeper as a young lady for a man who owned a number of these behe-Moths when they escaped one day and landed on her head!  I seek to confirm my suspicion and ask the farm attendant “Umm, is this an Atlas Hawk Moth?”.  “No!” he says authoritatively “This called a butterfly.  BU - TER- FLYY” he slowly enunciates so as to ensure I do not misunderstand him.
  “Oh I see.  Not a moth then?  Does this, umm, butterfly have a specific name?”.  “Yes!  The moth. The MOTH.  The M - OO - TH!”.  Right.  I see.  Nevermind.

Along the ways to Brinchang (a deeply tourist-hotel geared, uninspiring town) there are a whole parade of the other types of activities that the Highlands are renowned for; strawberry farms,  rose farms, further tea estates, fruit markets, flower markets and suchlike.  I get a bus back to Tanah Rata and pretty much while away the rest of the day relaxing, reading and writin’ stuff.  It’s been a glorious day, and I’m pretty exhausted so I shelve plans for a sunset trek into the hills.  I’ve been lucky too.

"This is a butterfly. BU- TER- FLYY!" ... no it's not Mack, You'll never make a lepidopterist!
  Everyone in Penang stated that the Eastern Malaysian monsoon rains would be whipping the Highlands during my stay, but sorry to say folks, seeing the Sunshine kid in town today, the rain got shy and stayed away.  To bed now.  Early doors tomorrow with a 6.30am bus to Kuala Lumpur.

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Moon and neons, pre-dawn Tanah Rata
Moon and neons, pre-dawn Tanah Rata
First sign of sun over Sungai Pala…
First sign of sun over Sungai Pal…
Misty dawn at Sungai Palas tea est…
Misty dawn at Sungai Palas tea es…
Stevie & the tea :)
Stevie & the tea :)
Tea pickers in the green maze of t…
Tea pickers in the green maze of …
Tea mower :)
Tea mower :)
Sun spangled Boh tea estate
Sun spangled Boh tea estate
:D
:D
This is a butterfly.  BU- TER- FL…
"This is a butterfly. BU- TER- F…
First glimpse of some of the highl…
First glimpse of some of the high…
Tree Print (Brinchang)
'Tree Print' (Brinchang)
Tree Print (Brinchang)
'Tree Print' (Brinchang)
Tea leaves.
Tea leaves.
Lal Kumar, Nepali worker at Boh te…
Lal Kumar, Nepali worker at Boh t…
Tea tip plucking
Tea tip plucking
Device for industrial speed tea le…
Device for industrial speed tea l…
The cafe of the Boh Tea Estate.
The cafe of the Boh Tea Estate.
Child amidst the tea
Child amidst the tea
Beautiful cuppa tea at day break. …
Beautiful cuppa tea at day break.…
Sun breaks out over the green roll…
Sun breaks out over the green rol…
Mr Boh, the mascot of the British …
Mr Boh, the mascot of the British…
Inside the tea leaf processing fac…
Inside the tea leaf processing fa…
Early days grading of the tea leav…
Early days grading of the tea lea…
Pwetty Butterfwy!
"Pwetty Butterfwy!"
There are maaaaaaaaany fruit and f…
There are maaaaaaaaany fruit and …
Brinchang town.
Brinchang town.
Brinchang town (not pretty)
Brinchang town (not pretty)
:DD  Loved this notice board at th…
:DD Loved this notice board at t…
An Atlas Hawk Moth (bain of my Gra…
An Atlas Hawk Moth (bain of my Gr…
Spot the Leaf Insect :)
Spot the Leaf Insect :)
Cameron Highlands
photo by: forevert2