Indonesia’s lush volcanic landscapes are home to some of the world’s most fertile farmland. Indeed, farming is a tradition of which Indonesians are rightfully proud as the people here over the centuries have adapted the terrain to suit their needs and their culture, resulting in some of the most gracefully contoured land you’re likely to ever see. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the nation’s crops of rice and tea.
Jatiluwih’s Elegant Rice Fields
On the island of Bali, mountainous terrain once made it impossible to cultivate rice because the crop must be grown underwater. The solution, developed centuries ago, was not only brilliant, but also visually striking: to carve into the hillsides a series of stepped terraces that retain water in which the rice can flourish. Today, you will see these elegantly sculpted hills throughout Indonesia, and those at Jatiluwih are among the most magnificent and culturally significant.
The rice terraces on Bali are supported by a system known as subak, a form of communal irrigation based on the philosophical concept of “Tri Hita Karana.” This set of beliefs unites man and nature via the spirit world. The vast subak complex of canals and weirs includes temples built to honor the water spirit which, it is believed, so kindly gives of itself so that farmers can harvest their crops and locals can gain nourishment. In this benign spirit of giving, water must be shared democratically so that all can thrive – which the subak irrigation system accomplishes. It is one of the world’s most elegant and revealing instances in which cultural beliefs are manifested in man’s relationship to nature, earning many of Bali’s rice terraces and irrigation systems a place on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List.
In your Discovery Tours small group, you will enjoy the privilege of walking among Jatiluwih’s astonishing and magical hills. A local farmer will accompany you, providing insight into a centuries-old farming tradition.
The Scenic Kemuning Tea Plantation
Meanwhile on Java, the slopes of Mount Lawu have been preserved in their natural and magnificent undulating state for the sake of another Indonesian crop – tea leaves. Here, at the Kemuning Tea Plantation, row up tidy row of tea bushes give the hills a terraced look.
The story of tea in Java is a bit complicated. The Dutch East India Company, which ruled Java for more than 300 years, shipped tea from Batavia (today’s Jakarta) long before the leaf was ever grown on the island, as the port city was often used as a collection and packing station for items being shipped to Europe from China and Japan. By the early 1600s, the Dutch dominated the tea market throughout Europe with their Far East leaves, but it wasn’t until 1684 that they planted the first Chinese tea bush on Java. But the plants didn’t take well to the environment, so the Dutch planters, taking a cue from England’s success with the Assam bush from India, replaced the Chinese seeds with Indian seeds in the mid-1800s. Java’s tea industry has flourished ever since.
Your small group will witness the bumper crop firsthand during a visit to Kemuning, surrounded by a rich green canvas of rolling hills. During your visit, wander among the tea bushes as the plantation’s tea pickers pluck leaves around you and fill their canvas satchels to overflowing. You will see that the Dutch influence lingers here as you settle in for a cup of fresh tea at the Ndoro Donker Tea House, a quaint Dutch-colonial style house.
Witness Indonesia’s rice and tea cultures during our Indonesia: Java & Bali small group adventure.