My first visit to Cameron Highlands was in December 1975 when I was still in high school. We stayed at a chalet not too far from a lake in Ringlet. Nearby the lake were rows of Tudor designed houses.
I remember the lake was a favourite last stop for visitors to Cameron Highlands on their way home. The lake was blue and beautiful. Rows of stalls selling fruits and flowers lined the main road. Young and old would pose for pictures on the handful of boulders with their hair blowing in the wind.
In those days, it was so cold in Ringlet that you could hold a glass of hot coffee in your bare hands in the morning without feeling a thing. It was almost insane trying to raise your mouth after brushing your teeth in the morning.
The water was so cold that it could almost numb the nerves inside your mouth. I don’t remember seeing any mosquitoes or flies during the entire time I was there. A visit to Cameron Highlands was likened to a visit to the English countryside in early spring.
Tanah Rata was the life of the highlands. It was about the only place to get a hearty meal in the shops before the police station and the hospital building. Mardi Tanah Rata and a few shops were about the only attractions in this quaint, small town. Tanah Rata was the popular starting point for most nature walks including trekking to Robinson Falls. It was cold enough to turn your breath into frost.
Brinchang was a very small town with most shops located in a semicircle opposite the fire department. You could see the clouds rolling in the late afternoon. By 5pm, most of the shops will be closed. The town would be shrouded in a thick layer of mist likened to rain drops. Much of the area up the road beyond the fire department was undeveloped. You can feel the cold wind roaring down the road.
It was so quiet in the evening that you can almost hear yourself think. If you venture further up the road during the daytime, you may be lucky enough to see eagles soaring and hovering above in the clouds.
This was how I remembered Cameron Highlands.
Lake is now a crater of hardened mud
Today, as I read about the Cameron Highlands landslides and the subsequent blame trading game, the beautiful lake in Ringlet is long gone. Today, it is a crater of hardened mud. The stalls have long disappeared along with the foreign tourists. Walking or driving in Tanah Rata is like walking or driving along a back street in Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s no longer cold in Brinchang. The cold, blistery wind is gone too. You can walk around in a T-shirt just as you could in any shopping mall in KL. The shops don’t close at 5pm nowadays. The place is like a pasar malam or Petaling Street right up to midnight. They even have flies in Brinchang nowadays. The ambience is all gone for good.
The mismanagement of the development of Cameron Highlands was not an overnight event. It’s been going on for decades since the 1980s. So it’s really both amusing and appalling to see politicians and VVIPs pretending not to see the elephant in the room over the last few decades or more.
Likewise, it was pathetic to hear the PM claiming that development in this country will not be at the expense of the environment during the recent climate change event in East Malaysia.
I clearly don’t recall seeing him presenting a bluepoint for sustainable development for this country since he took office, nor did his administration provide any guidelines to address climate change. As most of us have become to be acquitted with is that every time he waxed eloquent about anything in an international forum, it’s only a PR exercise and photo-op. He cannot be taken seriously.
An apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. The present clamouring in Cameron Highlands by VVIPs and various officials from this administration is nothing more than posturing and gesturing. Malaysians have a very short memory. Soon all these will be water under a bridge. All will be forgotten until another tragedy cost more innocent lives. Meantime, it’s just hot air.