The time finally came to leave the gluttony, comfort and security of KL and dive back into the unknown. The next town on our list was high up the mountains, where the weather turned much cooler but the sky remained grey behind a curtain of haze. We arrived after dusk and found a hotel a few blocks away from the main street, though Tanah Rata is a very small and quiet town to start with. That night we put on long sleeves for the first time in almost two months and set out to find some dinner. We found a small Indian restaurant where we satiated our hunger and then returned to our accommodation. The night porter was still about, and we talked to him about the different trekking possibilities for the next day. He was very knowledgeable about the area and helped us trace a route. He advised we could catch the bus at 730 or wait until 1030 for the next one. Since we wanted to walk a long way, the earlier option was the best, so we set an alarm for the next morning and turned in for the night.
The bell started going at 6:07, disturbing peaceful dreams. We got ready for a day out in the forest and left without making much noise. When we arrived at the bus terminal, we were told the bus had been discontinued and was no longer running the route: something about it being too old to pass government inspection. Slightly discouraged, we walked back to the main road and put our thumbs up, waiting for a charitable soul to pick us up. We started walking towards the next town, where our track began, and were picked up by a local couple in a truck about 10 minutes later.
They dropped us in the middle of Brinchang and we made our way to the edge of town, paying attention to the landmarks the hotel clerk had told us about to help recognize our way. We easily found the start of track 1, where we were meant to start. We stopped for a minute to get our camera gear in order, and I caught movement at the edge of my field of vision. When I turned I saw this beautiful healthy-looking golden dog running towards us, with a big dog smile on her face and waving her tail. I saluted her and rubbed behind her ears, and she was super friendly and happy. We started walking and she raced ahead, showing us the way, and then waiting until we caught up. She would make incoursions on the sides and come racing back if we got too far ahead. She soon started responding to my call and whistle, and I named her Ayla (the protagonist of the book series I was reading).
The forest soon closed around us, and the track climbed through unbelievable lush greenery. There were trees of all shapes and sizes, and the moss that makes the area famous was starting to show its presence as well.
The last 700 mts became quite rough, and we had to use our hands to help us up some of the steeper bits, where erosion had almost destroyed the path and tree roots were all we could use to support ourselves. It was interesting to see Ayla make her way through all this, mostly going off the human track and into deeper forest to make her way up, converting her clean and beautiful fur into a muddy mess quite quickly.
Eventually we reached the top, where a big phone tower stood. We put our asses down at a rest area for a few minutes, where some other travellers were also chilling. We sat down eating some crackers to replenish our energy, and when the others stood up five minutes later, Ayla left with them. I was sad to see her go, but also glad that she would cheer someone else’s day with her sunny personality. We climbed a rusty tower to get a better view of the mountains around us, but the mist was so thick that visibility was greatly reduced, so we soon climbed down and resumed our journey.
The road took us downhill, towards a raised canopy walk. A few minutes after we started moving, Ayla came out of nowhere and rejoined us, grinning like mad and coming towards me to get some love. When we were about to reach the start of the next piece of the journey, she raced ahead towards a Chinese men, growling and menacing. He picked up a rock to fend her off, and I called her, afraid she would get hurt. She stopped charging, turned around and came back waving her tail like nothing had happened. The man was not as happy, and looked at me with anger in his eyes. I ignored him and set towards the wooden platforms. The dog trailed with us as usual. After the last three hours, walking on these implements was easy and relaxing. The moss got even thicker in this area and was everywhere around us. This artificial walkway was more crowded, and some people were startled to see a pup with us, but most were just curious and asked about her.
Halfway through, it was time to decide if we were going to attempt part of track 14; This path takes you deep into the mossy forest, and takes about six hours of pretty rough tramping. We finally decided against it, so we could walk through the tea fields instead. We spotted a big monkey in the distance, but I could not distinguish its features to see what species he was, though I could say he was much bigger than a common macaque. Ayla saw him as well, and went chasing after him. We turned back to finish the loop walk, resting a while at a view point.
The rest of the way was a slowly descending slope. At one point Ayla went away on one of her side incursions and we thought we had lost her, but eventually she returned to us. We soon left the woods and started seeing signs of humans. First came the vegie farms: strawberries, greens and squashes. Soon the whole landscape transformed to endless rolling hills covered in tea plantations. The sight was certainly beautiful and we hung out taking pictures for quite a while. An Australian guy that was on his own caught up to us and joined our party. We talked for quite a while until we reached the upcoming town. On the side of the road, a beautiful structure made out of stones and recycled materials stood, and we decided to stop there for a refreshment. The pub was unfortunately deserted, and had been for a while judging from the layer of dust that covered everything. We explored the place regardless, and felt a touch of pity for this awesome venture that seemed to have failed.
We finally reached the village centre and sat down to eat the last of the food we had brought along and relax for a while. The dog collapsed at my feet promptly and went to sleep almost immediately. I was starting to dread the time when we would have to part and was not sure how to do it. We decided to go back to the next town over, where she originally found us, in the hopes that she had a family there to take care of her. We started on our way, putting our thumb up only to trucks where we could load her if need be. Walking on the side of the highway with her was a bit stressing, as she sometimes decided to cross to the other side to explore and cars drove by rather fast. I tried my best to keep her on my side, and after a few crossings she seemed to resign herself to walking next to me like a well behaved doggy. We passed a market where Tim got some doughnuts and people stared at us and our four legged companion with curiosity. Eventually a pick-up stopped for us and agreed to let us put the dog at the back. Tim picked her up easily, but she jumped out of the tray into solid ground. After a few futile attempts we gave up; there was not much we could do if she wouldn’t stay in. As we drove away and she realized we were leaving without her, she started running as fast as she could. That image still hunts me; I felt miserable for abandoning our friend after she had been so good and loyal, and cried for her. We were very close to her home town at that point, so we can holy hope she made it back safely and that she continues to surprise and accompany tourists on hikes…
The next day we visited Mardi, a huge complex that features a collection of hydroponic based plantations such as strawberries. Upon entering, Tim borrowed a Minnie Mouse head and posed for the camera.
The gardens also have countless colourful flowers of many kinds. One of the sections has an enclosure full of bunnies, and we spent a long time cutting overgrown grass from the edges and feeding them. All in all it was a nice and relaxing place to spend the day among plants.
That night we were seduced by a corner cafe that sold tower burgers, about the size of an adult head. Needless to say, it was fabulous, and good closure to two wonderful days in the cool highlands…