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Indonesia: In Search of Sacred Lakes and Tea on the Flanks of Selamet Volcano, Java

November 8, 2015

We took an excursion up the side of Gunung Selamet (or Slamet), Java’s second highest volcano. There were purported to be sacred lakes up there, and our friend Agus also told us about a tea plantation we could visit. That was all the impetus we needed to set off.

The road to Selamet wound through central Java, with the mountain looming in the clouds.

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The land here, as it is everywhere in Java, is intensively cultivated and the rice paddies form their own beautiful artistic patterns.

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We turned off the main highway and began our ascent on a small road, one lane wide but mostly paved. At least at the lower elevations.

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Soon we left the plains behind as road climbed steeply through a pine forest.

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The trees are bled for their sap as well as being harvested for wood.

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We came upon a high lake.

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Here the fish are sacred as is the lake in clearly what is a pre-Islamic tradition. The fish are not averse to hand-outs, which is why they approached us closely.

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Higher up small towns dotted the landscape.

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The houses are more solidly constructed here as the temperatures are far colder than below in the lowlands.

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Road conditions deteriorated, too, once we reached 5,000 or 6,000 ft in altitude. And the inhabitants were of Central Asian stock, clearly Mongolian or Tibetan in origin although I have not been able to find documentation of such a migration.

As is alwasy the case in Java every square inch of empty land was farmed.

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Eventually we reached our final goal, the Kaligua Tea Plantation. Here we entered a surreal world that hinted of  Disneyland.  We even had to pay an entrance fee to proceed.

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But we saw the tea flourishing in all its glory..

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I wondered if we were about to witness an Indonesian version of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

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The main complex of the plantation had been turned into a resort, complete with accommodations and “attractions.”

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Finally, however, despite our arrival during Ramadan, we coaxed some actual tea from the local workers, who proved very friendly. If they were surprised to see us they hid it well.

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Photography by Kit and Diana Herring

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