Kretek and Kudus

Kudus feels very different to other Javanese towns. It is home to one of the most important mosques on Java and is renowned as a center for Islamic study. Also Kretek, the ubiquitous sweet-smelling clove cigarette originated here. The windy middle eastern-style streets and burqa-wearing women give this town a uniquely Islamic feel.

The big appeal to Kudus are its fascinating Kretek factories. You can make an appointment to visit most of Kudus’s 25 kretek manufacturers. A company like Djarum employs 25,000 workers located in 16 factories throughout the town and it is Kudus’s biggest employer.

In the blending and rolling room 800 female workers produce around 2,400,000 cigarettes a day. Visit theKretek Museum to find out more about the origins and development of kretek.

For an alternative and more grassroots feel than visiting the big factories, take  a trip to Sogo, a tiny home industry employing about 20 people. Here everything is done by hand and they are one of the few companies still producing the original corn husk hand-rolled cigarette. It’s amazing to see the women, many in their 80s, crouched on the floor dexterously rolling the raw tobacco into perfect kretek.

The Mesjid Al-Aqsa is the city’s most important mosque, founded in 1549. Try to be in Kudus on a Friday when the area is teeming with families on their way to pray. Religious and political statues, pictures and knick knacks are sold just outside the mosque.