Sunday, May 19, 2013

About various Highlands in Malaysia

Here's an interesting article about the various cool highlands in Malaysia. It has some interesting bits of history too about each of the highlands mentioned here starting with Bukit Fraser, Cameron Highlands, Penang Hill and Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut).

Cool, cool hills
By Anwardi Jamil
19 May 2013

More than just a reprieve from the tropical heat, old hill stations are still charming and quaint, writes Anwardi Jamil

Fraser's Hill

Fraser's Hill holds sentimental value for me. In 1990, it was the location for a scene in the first telemovie I directed, Jelita Ku, starring Alice Woon and Connie Ahmad.

I returned to Fraser’s a few times for film shoots. The last time was for a couple of weeks in 1996 at the Gap Rest House to shoot the sitcom, Bukit Fraser, my version of Fawlty Towers.

The beautiful Tudor-designed Gap Rest House was ideal for the series which was based in the 60s and required a colonial hotel, lobby, restaurant and a beautiful English garden.

Today, Gap Rest House is in ruins. You can still view it if you stop by the Gap hanging bridge just before ascending Fraser’s Hill.

Even the one-way traffic flow at the Gap has changed. In the past, the 8km single lane road meant visitors ascending the hill could only do so during odd-numbered hours while even-numbered hours were for traffic coming down.

Today, with the opening of the new exit lane, the flow up the hill is now a constant one-way traffic. This could be why Gap Rest House lost its business and had to close down.

The little town itself is nothing more than a collection of old but well maintained brick bungalows. The local police station is housed in a bungalow with the year 1919 displayed. Beside it is the old Post Office. Facing those two buildings is the Scotts Cafe, a quaint restaurant and boarding house that is a favourite with visitors. In the centre of the town, greeting all visitors is the famous Fraser’s Hill clock tower.

A few steps away you will find the Frasers Hill Golf Club, the oldest nine-hole highland golf course in the country, completed in 1925. Surprisingly, the course is built above a former tin mine.

Yes, Fraser’s Hill used to be a tin mining area. The surrounding hill area was explored by James Luis Fraser, an adventurer from Scotland, who wanted to set up a tin ore trading station on the hill in the 1890s. Not only did he set up the trading post but he also discovered tin deposits around the area.

Fraser also opened his own tin mines and brought in coolies (workers) not only to work as miners but also build the roads leading up to his post at 1,200m above sea level.

The astute Fraser also built a gambling hall and an opium den in the hills for the Chinese coolies. For a lone adventurer, Fraser built his own little kingdom up in the hills.

At the turn of the 20th Century, not much was heard from him and in 1917, the-then Bishop of Singapore, C.J. Ferguson-Davie, went looking for him. But Fraser had disappeared without a trace.

Upon Ferguson-Davie’s return to Kuala Lumpur, he told the British administrators that the cool hills would be an ideal retreat for them.

Work then started to turn the place into a hill station and a retreat. By 1927, nine bungalows and three private properties were built, along with the new nine-hole golf course.

Only 100km from Kuala Lumpur, Fraser's Hill became the destination of choice for the colonists in Malaya and Singapore.

Fraser's Hill was also the site of a tragic incident during the Malayan Emergency. Malayan High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney, was assassinated by communists led by Sui Mah on Oct 6 1951, about 4km before the Gap.

In a final act of valour, Gurney left his Rolls Royce to draw the deadly gunfire away from Lady Gurney who hid in the car. He died on the spot.

Today, a sign can be found at the site of the infamous incident. Surprisingly, the sign does not state the fateful date of the assassination.

Another popular hill station, also in Pahang, for filmmakers is Cameron Highlands. Today, it is the most famous and popular of all hill stations in the country.

Cool Cameron Highlands

Unlike the quaintness of Fraser's Hill, Cameron Highlands is a sprawling hill-valley in the heart of the Titiwangsa Range. It comprises three bustling towns — Tanah Rata, Ringlet and Brinchang.

British government surveyor Sir William Cameron came across it in 1885. His job was to plot the Pahang-Perak border. During his months-long trek, he saw a “vortex of valleys, a plateau, gentle slopes” hidden somewhere between the hills of the Titiwangsa Range at about 1,800m above sea level.

But the area was left undeveloped for 40 years because Cameron failed to pinpoint its exact location, until subsequent expeditions.

In 1925, the-then chief secretary of the Federated Malay States Sir George Maxwell, developed Cameron Highlands and over the next few years, it was not only a cool destination for British officers and their families but was also suitable for tea-planting.

In 1929, Sir John Archibald Russell opened the first tea plantation there — Boh Tea Plantation.

Today, Cameron Highlands draws thousands on weekends and during long public holidays. Many luxury hotels have also sprung up.

Among the more famous is the Tudor-designed Ye Olde Smokehouse where, after a long trek, one can unwind with scones and a cup of tea.

Cameron Highlands shot to global fame in 1967 when an American disappeared on Easter Sunday afternoon.

Silk-baron Jim Thompson arrived in Cameron Highlands from Thailand on Friday, March 24. He stayed at a friend’s bungalow called Moonlight and two days later, he vanished during, what witnesses said was an afternoon walk. He left behind a multi-million dollar silk business, the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company.

The mystery and intrigue behind Thompson's disappearance adds to the appeal of Cameron Highlands.

Fraser's Hill and Cameron Highlands have interesting histories but neither is the oldest hill station in the country.

Penang Hill

There are two older hill stations. Bukit Bendera or Penang Hill claimed to be the oldest hill station but this was based on the “legend” that Sir Francis Light led a trek up the hill in 1788. However, it was not stated when exactly Flagstaff Hill (its original name) was first developed as a hill station. What we know is that sometime in the late 19th Century, the British started building private bungalows at about 800m above sea level.

Penang Hill has the first funicular hill railway. Construction began in 1897 and was completed in 1905. Strangely, the rail service was only launched in 1923.
The original funicular railway became a tourist attraction until mid 1970s when it was replaced by a modern Swiss-made railway system. Today, the funicular train takes passengers to the peak along the 2km track in less than half an hour.

My early memories of using the original wooden funicular train are one of trepidation. The train’s slow and arduous climb imbued passengers of those days (before roller coasters) with apprehension.

Nevertheless, the only memory I have of my first trip to Penang Hill was having an ice cream sundae called the Knickerbocker Glory in one of the cafes.

Strangely, I never shot a movie or television drama there. Penang Hill’s claim as Malaysia’s oldest hill station is challenged by Maxwell Hill in Perak.

Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut)

Now renamed Bukit Larut, Maxwell Hill was officially founded in 1884 and named after the-then British assistant resident in Perak, George Maxwell (who developed Cameron Highlands).

The hill is approximately 1250m above sea level and the road leading up to the peak is only 13km. Unlike other hill stations in the country, Bukit Larut remains pristine since the British developed it more than 120 years ago. One of the reasons is that private vehicles are banned from entering the area. Only government-registered Land Rovers are allowed in.

Nevertheless, Maxwell Hill (as locals and regulars still prefer to call it) is a favourite destination for trekkers and walkers. People are free to walk up the 13km road and it takes a fit person about three hours. Most average walkers only reach the 4km to 5km mark for a brisk exercise.

Today, other hill stations have emerged — Gunung Jerai in Kedah, Bukit Tinggi and Genting Highlands in Pahang. But the original four — Penang, Maxwell, Cameron and Fraser’s — are by far the best hill destinations for their enduring beauty, natural scenery and connection to colonial history.

Source: Cool, cool hills - Sunday Life & Times - New Straits Times

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