Travel Diary (Part 4) – Gaharu Tea Valley, Perak

Day 3 – We have a quick breakfast at Kak Som’s Kelantanese cuisine in Kampung Baru with Bagasta’s Kak Intan, and then we’re head off on the next leg of my tour – the state of Perak, 3 hours’ drive out of KL.

First stop – the HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley. When I think tea plantation in Malaysia’s context, I think of the famed Cameron Highlands (never been there, by the way), but I’m told Gaharu, commonly known as Agarwood, is a special species known for its medicinal benefits in a number of different cultures dating back hundreds of years.

Entrance to the Hoga Gaharu Tea Valley in Gopeng, Perak

Entrance to the Hoga Gaharu Tea Valley in Gopeng, Perak

We are greeted at the entrance by Sybil, the PA to the plantation owner himself. Sybil is chatty and friendly, and tells us her conviction about the healing properties of gaharu, based on her own personal experience with the product. A former corporate lawyer in Kuala Lumpur, Sybil’s life-changing experience with gaharu convinced her to relocate to this rural part of Perak and work here. I sample some of the tea and then we head out for a drive through the plantation, with Sybil as our guide.

We pass by a tree that’s fenced off. Actually two trees, one light and one dark in colour, massive and intertwined with each other.  There’s a story behind it – this is not a gaharu tree; it has been on this land since pre-plantation days.

The locals believe it’s mystical – there’s a legend that says the trees were once a pair of lovers – one a white settler and the other a native, whose affair was doomed because of their backgrounds.

I LOVE this kind of stuff – folklore, myths, legends (heck I even filmed a TV pilot based around this theme a few months back). The plantation workers’ attempts to fell it when they were clearing the land were unsuccessful – apparently all their equipment would mysteriously fail when used on this tree. Finally, they decided it’s cursed and instead they fenced off the tree, built a walkway towards it and displayed it as a tourist attraction.

You’re not meant to trespass the barrier around the tree, but since I’m kind of a big deal (no really, that’s the reason given – actual term used was “celebrity”. Stop laughing). Sybil makes an exception and allows me to climb onto it to take some photos.

Mystery tree

Mystery tree

I pose for a bunch of snaps, then as we’re walking away from the tree, I decide to flick through my phone to see how they’ve turned out. Nothing. None of the photos we just took are showing up on my phone. The last pictures stored are ones we’d taken at Kak Som’s Kelantanese eatery back in Kampung Baru.

I call out to Sybil and tell her about this anomaly. She is surprised but not as much as I expect her to be. She says it’s happened once before – when one of her staff members similarly breached the barrier and climbed onto the tree for photos. My curiosity is piqued and always one to tempt fate, I insist we turn around and try for a second round of photos.

FYI my tour guide Mr. Shaukani doubles as my photographer and this time I get him to check after each shot to make sure that the image is retained on the camera. All good. I’m thinking, I win, tree.

Then, out of the blue, I’m hit with a debilitating headache (I’m not one to get headaches much) which  stays with me for the rest of my visit. Deliciously strange, huh? I’m not kidding when I say I love this kind of stuff.

We continue onto the next stop – a cluster of trees with pictures of animals painted on the trunks. This area looks almost like a playground – very pretty and colourful. I’m told that every year, busloads of tourists from places like Taiwan come here to hug these trees. So I’ve always thought the meme about tree-hugging hippies related to a specific demographic who do it to show their affection for nature, but apparently there’s more to tree-hugging than that – it’s an actual therapy.

Jackie M, tree-hugger

Jackie M, tree-hugger

Sybil encourages us to hug the trees and even tells us how to do it correctly. Apparently if you hold your palm towards the trunk you may feel a vibrational energy from the tree. Typically skeptical, I choose to test out her theory and am stunned that I can feel something. It’s fleeting and attempts to reproduce the effect yield nothing. My tour guide Shaukani and I move on to taking photos of each other hugging different trees for a laugh.

Shaukani Abbas, tree-hugging tour guide

Shaukani Abbas, tree-hugging tour guide

I come away thinking, who knew a visit to a tea plantation could be this fun.

Tour guide – Mr. Shaukani Abbas (two-time winner of Tourism Malaysia’s Tour Guide of the Year Award) Some photos in this series are courtesy of Mr. Shaukani.

Tour Designer – S. Diana Nasution

Tour Company – People Express Travel, KL

Tour Package – 6D/5N Culture, Heritage and Nature Delight


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