Pangalengan After Six Years

Sunday, April 02, 2017

In the new year eve of 2011, along with my college friend, I kind of make myself lost in Pangalengan, a small mountainous town in Bandung, West Java. Back then, we had no clear plan where to stay at night. So we ended up staying overnight at a house of a local farmer.

And just like all my visits to this town, I went to the vast old tea plantation of Malabar where I spent few minutes sitting in front of the tomb of K.A.R. Bosscha, a Dutch man founding the plantation, seeing his house, and of course interacting with the locals.


Five years later, I returned to this town, this time with my wife. We drove at night from Jakarta and took about five hours to reach the town. That night we stayed at a wooden lodge located in the middle of the Malabar tea plantation. By night, the temperature could be as low as 15 degree Celsius.

I had wondered for so long how to reserve a room in that lodge. Thanks to google, I found this blog telling us how to book a room by online.

So I went to this site and made a simple reservation. The respond was unbelievably quick. All I did was transfer some money through ATM. Later, they emailed me a confirmation letter. We had to show it to the receptionist upon the arrival.

First thing we did in the morning was having breakfast. And yes, the lodge provided us a very simple breakfast, a traditional fried rice with eggs, and hot tea. In the morning, the temperature was still below 20 degree Celsius. It would be great to walk around the lodges just to keep ourselves warm.

The lodge was located right beside the old colonial house. The house was built somewhere in 1920s for the founder and the owner of this vast tea plantation, K.A.R. Bosscha. 

I walked around the house and took some pictures of it.


Not far from the house, there was a very old gate, I guessed it was built earlier than the house, with a logo indicating the name of the plantation and the year it was founded. I might be wrong, but I guessed the letter T and M on it stood for Thee Malabar, a Dutch phrase for Malabar Tea.


Instead of walking on the tea plantation, we decided to drive. Our mission was to find the old factory that transformed the raw tea leaves into a very highly valuable export material. Along the way to the factory, we couldn’t help but pulling over just to capture the beauty of the nature in that place.







Finally, we found the factory. It was surrounded by some old houses built for the officers, and workers. Those houses were still in good conditions. I couldn’t help but letting my mind fly back in time to the colonial years just to imagine how life was in the past. For a place located high above the sea level and far from the city, this plantation must have been very vibrant with all the activities.



In order to have a tour inside the factory, we had to leave the cameras at the security guard’s office. They didn’t allow us to take any pictures inside. Well, I cheated. I left the big camera (DSLR) and brought along the small mirrorless one in my bag.

Along the tour, we were guided by Pak Ali, an officer. We were brought to see the early stages of tea leaves procession. All these activities had been brought from time to time since the Dutch colonial years.

At the end, we were pleased to sit at his office and taste some variants of tea. What I can recall, there were white tea, red tea, green tea, and black tea. Nearly all the tea produced at this place were premium and became export commodity to Europe and Japan.

By the way, none of these products can be found here in Indonesia.




Coming out from the factory, we drove toward the tomb of K.A.R. Bosscha. To me, it was like my fifth time to the grave. To my wife, that was her first. We stopped by at a modest nursing house on the road side as I was wondering who ran that house.

We talked with a local woman who voluntarily became a nurse. She told us that the nursing home had been there since colonial time. It was the plantation who managed and ran it for retired workers.


When we arrived at the tomb, we met an old woman who sat on a mat with her granddaughter. It was a bit awkward for me to see an old Muslim woman wearing a veil have lunch on a mat in front of the tomb. She also burnt Chinese incenses. I instantly sensed that she didn’t come to this grave for a pleasure reason.

We met Pak Upir, the caretaker, who had worked at the grave for so many years. Last time I met him six years earlier, he charged me two thousands rupiah for visiting the grave. That day, he didn’t charge me anything. He just told me to wait until the woman with veil left.

Pak Upir told me that the woman had been sick and came regularly to the grave to pray for her wellness. He never allowed the woman to sit close to the tomb as he didn’t want to create an atmosphere of spooky sacred place.

While we were taking pictures of the grave, Pak Upir told us a brief story about Bosscha. The two massive benches on both sides of the tomb were said to be the place where Bosscha read his books under huge tall trees.

Then how come there were two benches built face to face? Pak Upir said the other bench was for the mistress, a local woman who lived together with Bosscha, unmarried.

Later, Pak Upir told me about the ghost of Bosscha which had become popular among the people living at the plantation. Rumor has it. The ghost often found wander in the plantation and kampongs nearby. People describe the ghost figure as an old bald man wearing white shirt and white pants. Sometimes they see him ride a horse or just walk.

Those who happen to meet him will soon show respect and call him “juragan,” a local word for Boss. Having come to the plantation for five times, I feel grateful for never meeting the ghost.

Anyway, Pak Upir was not the only person in the plantation sharing the story of Bosscha’s ghost. Some old people I had met also told me the same story. Apparently, it had become some kind of legend.


We drove back to the lodge for packing. It was past the check out time. We took a quick shower, packed our stuffs, and handed the key to the officer. Before leaving the plantation for town, we stopped by at a small dairy farm belonged to a group of plantation workers.

It was located not far from the nursing home we had visited earlier. I could say that the place was far from ideal of being a dairy farm. All the cows were put inside a dark cowshed with small openings at the windows. The guys at that place told me that they did it in order to keep the cows safe. There were many thefts around the place.

Well, I hope the cows would stay healthy and of course happy. Because somehow I believed that happy cows would, by nature, produce good quality milk. We thanked everyone at the farm for allowing us to get inside and take pictures of the cows.


 

At late afternoon, we drove out of that vast plantation and headed to town to buy some dairy products.

Even though I have come to Pangalengan for several times, I always feel like coming back. Maybe there is something that keeps calling me back. Whatever it is, I hope it’s not the ghost.

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