Text and Photos by Farah S. Kamal

After all the eating and shopping at the street markets of Kuala Lumpur, I was thinking of taking some time away from the humidity, high rises and traffic. A few friends and I were exploring Malaysia for a truly Asian experience. Cameron Highlands was in our mind and my friends checked the hotel concierge for the overnight packaged tour but we found it pricey. We figured out that renting a car would be cheaper. Today, smartphones and data packages are travellers’ best friends, so we booked the hotel and rented a car online, all set for another exciting adventure.

Early morning next day we began one of the most beautiful journies to this historic hill station; four hours of smooth drive on a highway with never ending forest and palm trees all along the roadside. The last hour was a little bumpy but we did not bother as the breathtaking landscape kept us accupied. Small Malay villages, farm stands, mossy forests, water falls, and my favourite fresh green Coconut stalls to sip delicious water from were other additions to a memorable trip. I almost felt like part of the movie Tarzan or Blue Lagoon, just that I was driving in a car instead of hanging from one tree branch to another crossing the jungle. On our way to the hotel we stopped at many farm lands, talked to male and female farmers wearing Portuguese hats working in the serene fields.

We decided to stop by the lush strawberry farms sprawled all along the way and enjoyed relaxing in clean air amidst cactus and flowers. Refreshed with a cup of delicious strawberry sundae, and feeling like kids all over again, we picked strawberries joyfully. All these detours resulted in late arrival to our comfortable guest house.

To base ourselves, we chose Tanha Rata – one of the four peaceful towns of Cameron Highlands nested 1500 meters high on the serene mountains of Pahang, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations of Malaysia. I was excited to find a South Indian restaurant right across the guest house and enjoyed all the masala dossa, puri bhaji, chats and plenty of other fun food.

Next morning, I sipped freshly brewed tea with fresh scones filled with jams and butter for breakfast at the terrace of tea gardens, lost in thoughts, enjoying the fascinating view of tea plantations. With neatly manicured rows of endless tea plants over the rolling hills, Cameron Highlands are the largest tea production region in Malaysia. Though the drive on the narrow winding roads all the way up to the hill to reach this restaurant was a bit scary, I loved the stunning landscape and the short visit to the tea factory. For a tea lover it’s like being in heaven. Happy to the core, I brought back half a suitcase full of tea. After going crazy with tea shopping, I geared up with my camera and strolled down on the hills at the tea garden and photographed around occasionally stopping to chat with the farmers.

I spent rest of the day at the 42 hectre of Agro Technology Park at Tanah Rata, very close to our guest house. Being a kitchen gardener myself and passionate about gardening, it was an excellent learning experience. The place used to be a research centre, Malaysian Research and Development Institute (MARDI), but is now open to public.

MARDI, as I found, is an ultimate photography site. I started from the Rose Garden admiring and photographing 40 varieties of roses, then walked towards the fruit gardens. This was my first ever experience visiting scientific facility of this kind that works to bring out the best in nature. I stopped to interview a group of grads of Agro University mixing top soil for growing vegetable in grow bags. They gave me some great tips on recycling soil for urban farming. The park store was stocked with vegetable and flower seeds, that made my day as I picked a whole bunch of seed packets. At the end of a tiring day, I got back at the South Indian restaurant to unwind.

On our way back to Kuala Lumpur while still at Tanah Rata, we stopped at the weekly food market where farmers from the fields of Canon Highlands sell fresh produce. It was like a carnival with unbelievable variety of brilliant fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers besides Malayan and Chinese cuisine. I could not pass the place without exploring and of course, a tête-à-tête with the vendors.

Nothing matched my excitement back home in Karachi when I sowed and got to harvest one of the green leafy vegetables Andama from my seed haul at Agro Park. Every time I water the bushes or pick the fresh leaves for cooking, I remember the trip of exploring nature and environment at its best, specially learning so much about growing food. •