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    Pagilaran Offers Agrotourism, Batang - Central Java - Indonesia

    Morning has just broken. The morning dew is still there on the tea leaves across the tea plantation on the slopes of Mt. Kamulyan in Keteleng village, Blado subdistrict, Batang regency, Central Java.

    Every morning, starting at about seven, hundreds of tea leaf pickers head to the plantation, usually in groups of about 20 women each.

    Among them is a supervisor, locally known as mandor.

    ""We should assure that the tea leaves of good quality are picked, as this also determines the wage paid to the pickers,"" said Sutiyoso, a tour guide from PT Pagilaran, which manages the plantation.

    Wearing boots, long trousers, hats, gloves and a big basket on their backs, the tea leaf pickers -- who are mostly women of between 20 and 60 years of age -- are adeptly doing their job with their hands.

    ""During the dry season, I usually can collect some 10 kilograms to 11 kilograms of tea leaves a day,"" Mistiyah, who has been working at the plantation for 25 years, said.

    At noon, they take a break to eat the lunches they bring from home. Some bring rice, others bring steamed corn wrapped in banana or teakwood leaves.

    The side dishes, too, are quite simple, just to make the rice or corn more appetizing to swallow: sambal, sayur lodeh (mixed vegetables cooked in coconut milk) and fried teri (a kind of tiny, salted sea fish).

    ""This is what we eat every day,"" said Surtini as she devoured her lunch along with fellow workers.

    After finishing lunch, they go back to work and will finish only at about four in the afternoon. At the end of the day, they have their harvested leaves weighed.

    One kilogram is worth Rp 325. Collecting up to some 20 kilograms a day, they earn Rp 6,500 for some eight hours of work.

    ""I usually claim the wage every 15 days. It's not much, but enough to live on here,"" Darminah said.

    Tea leaves are transported in sacks with trucks to the tea factory at the foot of the hill, to be wilted and then fermented to produce black tea. To produce green tea, on the other hand, the fermentation process is not needed.

    These picking activities offer a different kind of experience for visitors, especially urban residents.

    The 100-year-old plantation, which is located some 150 kilometers to the west of Batang, or some 45 kilometers away from the neighboring town of Pekalongan, covers a vast area of over 1,100 hectares.

    Cool weather, with a temperature ranging from 18 to 23 Celsius degrees and a location between 840 kilometers to 1,600 kilometers above sea level, makes the area even more attractive for visitors. The plantation also serves as a research field for Gadjah Mada University.

    To have a tour of the plantation, visitors can rent a car at Rp 75,000 to Rp 100,000 a day. For those wishing the night view, they can stay at cottages or a homestay for Rp 80,000 to Rp 300,000.

    Sport facilities and entertainment are also available on the site, including tennis court, tennis table, soccer field and volleyball court.

    There used to be a sky tram, built in 1928 to transport the harvest from the plantation to the factory, but it has been abandoned since 1985 when the road that cut across the plantation was made wider and smoother.

    The area was formerly a coffee and quinine plantation built in 1840 by Dutchman E. Blink. It was discovered that the land was not suitable for those plants and a Dutch company turned it into a tea plantation in 1889.

    After a fire in 1920, Pamanukan Tjiasem Land, a subsidiary of an English company, took over the ownership of the factory and rebuilt the plantation in 1924.

    During their occupation of Indonesia, Japan set the factory on fire, but the English company retained its ownership to keep it operating.

    In 1964 the plantation was put under the management of Gadjah Mada University's School of Agriculture, and it established a commercial arm, PT Pagilaran, in 1971.

    According to the head of the Agro-Tourism Department of PT Pagilaran, Supriyono, the company can produce 20 to 25 tons of wet tea leaves per day.

    With some 4,000 employees, the company produces black tea and green tea. Black tea, which accounts for some 75 percent of its total production, is exported to the United States, Canada, Japan, UK, Russia, Australia and Singapore.

    Source: thejakartapost.com

    photos: wurianto nugroho

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