This time the trip was much more pleasant and safer. The new uphill road from Simpang Pulai is wide and the scenery provides a good preview of what is offered at the top. Soon we were in the clouds, breathing the freshest air I had tasted for a long time. This is the best place to take many deep breaths to nourish your lungs with the healthiest oxygen-rich air. The next time the haze hits town, you know where to go.
We stayed at The Equatorial Hotel at Kea Farm. At over 1600 meters, it is the highest hotel on the highlands, and offered a majestic view of the surrounding valleys. In the mornings, the clouds come right into your verandas, and the cold nights can chill your bones.
The cool weather is perfect for doing Qigong throughout the day. With our tight visiting schedule, I only had time to do a little bit of Qigong in the mornings, but it was fun as my two younger children were able to join me. As the road in front of our apartment was surrounded by tall pine trees and a playground with a colourful garden, it was good enough for my Qigong practice.
It always feels great doing Qigong up on the mountains where the air is fresh and cool. It reminds me of the time I did Qigong up on the Korean mountains, at the temple of the Chogye monks, several months ago. Since simple Qigong exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, I try to enjoy this mind-body energizing exercise at every new place I visit. When I visited the Great Wall of China last August, I took the opportunity of doing Qigong on the historic site too. But the steep climb and the hordes of tourists meant that I could only do some stationary exercises.
The several small towns on Cameron Highlands retain much of their English-themed architecture, with most of the hotels, apartments and rest-houses retaining the typical style. You can’t get more English than having hot tea and traditional scones at the Old Smokehouse.
There are many places to visit, and this is a haven for nature-lovers. Although I didn’t have time to hike along any of the famous trails, we did enough walking at the many tourist attractions that we visited.
THE HANGING GARDENS OF BRINCHANG
The Cactus Valley in Brinchang is one place you should not miss. I had expected a desert setting with rows and rows of cacti, but instead found the most beautiful garden. The rows of exotic plants and brilliant flowers are so well tended to, that you can sense the owner’s love of plants. The hillside location presented endless opportunities for creativity, which is displayed with flair. The hanging gardens were a majestic view from across the valley. There was, of course, the whole variety of cactus plants, from the tiniest in small pots to huge ones with threatening thorns. There were strawberries, in neat rows, with the red fruits inviting to be picked. There were apples, grapes, and honey pears too. There were even succulent tomatoes neatly growing among the roses and hibiscus! We took over 100 photographs at this place alone.
BUTTERFLIES ARE NOT FREE
The visit to the butterfly farm was the most exciting for the children. Again many photographs were taken with the butterflies on our heads, our bodies and on our hands. However, when we were invited to help release the butterflies from their “packages”, it saddened me that there is no better way to transport these beautiful creatures.
Most of the butterflies are in fact imported. They are individually packed in transparent paper which is stapled. The thin paper allows them to breathe, but when there are thousands of them jumbled up in a heap, I am sure the ones at the bottom must suffocate. Indeed, many were lifeless when we released them, and others were alive but just didn’t have the energy to fly. Some had damaged wings. Many landed onto the walking paths, only to be trampled by the endless stream of visitors.
THE PLAGUE OF PESTICIDES
The visits to the flower gardens, fruit orchards and vegetable farms exposed the sad reality of pesticide overuse. The need to have nice-looking plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables has forced the farmers to use pesticides. Some of the workers had fingers which showed evidence of chronic pesticide exposure. While there were plenty of healthy-looking fresh fruits and vegetables at the farms and local roadside stalls, we should be fully aware of the dangers of pesticides on our health. Often we hear that our farm produce are rejected by a neighbour country because of the high pesticide content, but the same produce are readily sold to the locals.
There were several stalls selling pesticide-free produce, and at least one selling organic produce. I hope more farmers will switch to these more healthy methods so that the healthy varieties become more affordable. I believe one major reason for cancer to be unabated is our continued exposure to pesticides in our food. We are poisoning ourselves every time we eat. The air, water and environmental pollution only worsen the problem.
May I remind readers of the need to thoroughly clean all fruits and vegetables, unless you are certain that they are organic and pesticide-free. The least you should do is use the veggie-wash which is available at the supermarkets. For better protection, you should ozonize all your fruits, vegetables, meats, and even rice, before eating, storing or cooking.
PURPLE CABBAGES, CARROTS & CAULIFLOWER
We enjoyed browsing at the local markets. As it was holiday season, the tourist sites and local markets were thronged with people, which added to the lively atmosphere. I was fascinated by the purple cabbages, purple carrots and purple cauliflowers. These new richly-coloured vegetables have phytonutrients which the ordinary varieties don’t.
We often lament that the humble cabbage does not have as much nutrients as the other vegetables, because it is not richly coloured. Recently, even the ordinary variety has been shown to prevent lung cancer. Now the purple variety should be even more protective.
Many roadside stalls were selling local delicacies like steamed sweet potatoes, fried mushrooms, and of course, strawberries in many forms – “satay” strawberries, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and just delicious fresh strawberries. We had our fill of strawberries with cream, especially at the strawberry farm. But what I enjoyed most was eating the sweetest raw corn-on-the-cob. Not only was it sweet and succulent, but I know I was getting 100% of the nutrients, some of which would have been destroyed if it was boiled or steamed. I only hope it didn’t have any pesticides!
BEE-WARE OF ADULTERATED HONEY
The visit to a bee farm was a good educational adventure for our children. Cameron Highlands is also a good place to buy pure forest honey. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous traders actually repack honey imported from China ( some of which are adulterated with plain sugar syrup ) and sell this as genuine local honey to the tourists. Some of the bee farms may also be guilty of this as their own production cannot cope with the demands from the thousands of tourists they receive every day. Do be cautious when you buy honey here.
BEST OF HIGHLAND TEA
It was fitting that on our way back we stopped by at a tea-plantation, for this is what Cameron Highlands was originally famous for. Tea is sold in almost every shop in Cameron, but I noticed that imported Ceylonese tea has already conquered much of the market. This is sad as we should be selling our own home-grown tea to the tourists. I guess it is because the imported tea is cheaper due to their lower labour and production costs.
The sprawling plantation covered the entire expanse of the mountain slopes, and the cool breeze and healthy feeling made me reluctant to drive home, thinking, well, with a bit of luck I will be up there breathing the refreshing air again soon!
QIGONG IN THE CLOUDS AGAIN SOON
The journey down by the old road to Tapah was exhausting as the road was narrow and winding. It was worse since it was already night when we started our descent. The one-hour dizzying drive was so tiring that we had to take a long rest the moment we reached the first R&R station on the highway towards home.
Two days after the trip, I received a call inviting me to teach Qigong to a group who will be having a seminar in Cameron Highlands. How lucky can I be!