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Posted: 31 Mar 2013 09:42 PM PDT

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Posted: 12 Mar 2013 12:00 AM PDT

CAMERON HIGHLANDS is well known for its cool climate, tea plantations, vegetable farms and scenic views.

And despite recent reports of massive land-clearing activities and landslides occurring there, the hillside resort remains a popular agro-tourism destination for both local and foreign tourists.

Development on Cameron Highlands had begun since 1930s and till today, is still rapidly expanding with more forest land being cleared to make way for farms and commercial areas.

Tour coordinator P. E. Govinda, 40, said although not as cold as before, Cameron Highlands was still a good place for rest and relaxation, and to enjoy magnificent views.

"The temperature may have gone up due to global warming but people still come here for leisure, to buy fresh produce and to go jungle trekking.

"We have plenty of tourist attractions like the Mossy Forest, various tea plantations, strawberry farms, and a museum," said Govinda, who was born at a tea plantation near Sungai Palas.

Govinda was however, quick to caution that efforts were needed to protect and preserve the highlands, which stands at over 1,500m above sea level.

"I have many foreign visitors, from Germany, Singapore and parts of Europe telling me that Cameron Highlands has changed a lot.

"They feel it is slowly losing its identity as a countryside," he said, adding that the rise in temperature and its changing landscape into another town centre saturated with offices and commercial areas were among the concerns raised.

A hotel operator in Brinchang town, Chai Kok Sing, 54, said while the influx of tourists to the highlands was seen as a good sign for business, many things could be improved on.

"For example, there is terrible traffic congestion here during weekends and public holidays and although we have many hotels, there is lack of car parks.

"Issues such as these could cause people to shy away from Cameron Highlands and to stop coming here for vacations," he said.

Chai added that there was an undeniable demand for shop lots on the highlands due to its tourism industry.

"More and more shops are being built, especially near the towns of Brinchang and Tanah Rata, the two more developed areas on the highlands, while projects are also coming up on the outskirts.

"While we do not oppose development, all we hope is that the authorities exercise proper planning and not allow projects to be developed indiscriminately and to their whims and fancies," he said.

On another note, Chai said the agriculture industry in Cameron Highlands, a major producer of fruits and vegetables in the country and also exporter to Singapore, was doing very well.

"New farms are sprouting up everywhere, which is a good thing but I ask that we do not overdo it to avoid further landslides from occurring," he said.

Concurring with Chai, Kampung Orang Asli Sungai Ruil Tok Batin headman Kadir Ahsan said many villagers were still haunted by the August 2011 landslide at the village that caused seven villagers to be buried underneath earth, rocks and mud washed down from a nearby cliff.

The 42-year-old village headman stressed that the environment should be preserved at all costs.

"We must not cause further damage to our ecosystem as this can lead to various disasters.

"There should be proper planning in everything that we do so as not to further affect the environment," said Kadir, who with other villagers have temporarily resettled near Kem Brinchang.

Kadir, however, said development in Cameron Highlands had enabled the orang asli community there to lead better and more modern lives although life was generally, still simple.

"Most of us hold jobs at government departments and private firms," he said.

Kampung Raja resident Saswanee Ali, 28, also enthused about the simple lifestyle on the highlands.

"Around the outskirt areas here, we are surrounded by farms.

"The pace is slow and everyone is content with working hard for part of the day and resting the remaining part," said the poultry seller.

"There are no big shopping centres in Cameron Highlands but there are a number of grocery shops at Kampung Raja, Brinchang and Tanah Rata where locals can get their basic supplies and daily necessities.

"If we really want to shop, then we just travel to Ipoh, about 80km away, but even then, most people just stay at home on weekends to avoid the traffic congestion," she added.

Kuala Terla resident and farm operator P. Letchumanan, 51, shares the same sentiments as Saswanee, noting that life was simple in Kuala Terla, which was considered to be on the outskirts of Brinchang and Tanah Rata.

"Tanah Rata is known as the office area, where most government agencies are located, while Kuala Terla is an area where farms are abundant.

"Tourists like to come here to pick their own fruits and vegetables," he said.

Like many farmers on the highlands, Letchumanan faces a shortage in farm help.

"We hope the Government will allow more foreign workers to be hired by farm operators here.

"An amnesty programme for foreign workers conducted in 2011, had led to many of them running away, leading to a shortage of labour at vegetable farms and causing the livelihoods of farmers to be affected.

"Nothing would make us happier than for the Government to look into our request seriously," he said.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk S. K. Devamany is the incumbent Cameron Highlands MP while the Tanah Rata assemblyman is Datuk Ho Yip Kap. The Jelai state seat is held by Datuk Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail. All three are from Barisan Nasional.

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